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Int’l students in Canada invent visa ‘bot’

Three international students in Canada have invented a robot, which will work through Facebook Messenger, to assist future prospective international students to traverse the Canadian visa application process.

Ruhi Madiwale, Dhivya Jayaraman and JeyaBalaji Samuthiravelu, computer science graduate students behind RovBot.Ruhi Madiwale, Dhivya Jayaraman and JeyaBalaji Samuthiravelu, computer science graduate students behind RovBot. Picture: RovBot Inc.

"Other countries like US, UK will be our future targets"

Ruhi Madiwale, Dhivya Jayaraman and JeyaBalaji Samuthiravelu are all post-graduate students in computer science at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, originally from India.

Before they arrived, each had to apply for visas to study in Canada. Samuthiravelu told the The PIE News that he had problems with the process, including with timezones affecting his ability to talk to advisors in Canada and gaps in specific information.

“The information given by the government website is more general and is not catered to any specific individual… or understanding their needs,” Samuthiravelu said.

A further issue the trio identified was that when they did get through to universities’ international student support services, they spent a significant amount of their time answering the same, often basic, questions.

“The bot would help universities answer basic questions, so advisors could answer more complex questions”

And so the idea for RovBOT was born.

The technology can be added to the institutions’ current systems, to spread the workload for counsellors and advisors dealing with the increasing numbers of internationally mobile students choosing Canada as their destination.

“[Using RovBot, universities] could answer questions in a better way,” Madiwale, the group’s self-styled ‘tech evangelist’, told The PIE News. “The bot would help them answer basic questions, so [the advisors] could answer more complex questions which require human presence.”

The trio only began working on the project in May, but have already developed a user interface and are now working on the beta version.

“We are developing our algorithms… so we can go and test it with the user at the end of January,” Madiwale said.

This fast progression has been aided by several sources, including the university’s own ShiftKey Labs and the ‘Innovation Bootcamp’, part of Nova Scotia Community College’s Sandbox entrepreneurship project. But interest in their project – and crucially, funding – has also come from government sources.

“As of now we are funded by the Nova Scotia government, and we also got a warm response from the Nova Scotia Office of Immigration,” Madiwale said.

The aim is to integrate fully with university international offices across Canada.

“[Universities] like our idea. And they are looking for a way to take this into their systems and use it for the benefit of international students,” said Madiwale.

And although RovBot is still in it’s early stages, it is clear the group have their eyes set firmly on international growth.

“As of now we are training the bot with information specific to Canada… but other countries like US, UK will be our future targets,” Samuthiravelu said.

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