Law and Innovation

45 minutes of sleep.  45 measly minutes was all he was allowed, but with a mind racing, it was more than enough.  For a chance to meet a handful of the innovative individuals at Microsoft, Ubisoft, Deloitte, RBC (Royal Bank of Canada), TD Bank…he could survive.

So University of Toronto brother Francois Gouelo (EE899) presses on through the exhaustion, working alongside his three other teammates in the 2017 UofTHacks (Jan. 20-22), the annual hackathon competition hosted by the university.  Their task seems simple enough in theory: create an idea, engineer and program that idea, and bring it to life before a panel of judges.

But for the native Frenchman, it will take all his skills and training to bring the project to life.

Originally from Paris, Gouelo came to Toronto for one reason: to train his quick-witted brain in the ways of computer science.  The major was hard to study in France, but in Toronto, Gouelo could dive headfirst into the fray.

Which is precisely what he did.

InCase aims to simplify the law and make it accessible for everyone.

The 2017 UofTHacks competition was the first hackathon Gouelo had ever attended, but he says he felt the technical skills were there.  His group consisted of other computer science majors, designers and even one student studying violin.  Together, they had 36 hours to develop their project, an app called InCase.

Gouelo explains that the idea for the app came from the observation from his girlfriend, coupled with a story one of his fraternity brothers told him about receiving a speeding ticket, that many people are not aware of their basic rights under the law. The idea behind the app was to give accessibility to everyone on the most basic rules of the law, from traffic laws to contracts and more.

The challenge then became this: how to take this lofty idea and simplify it into a user-friendly app.  Enter NLP, or Natural Language Processing.

Gouelo and his team developed the app with NLP, and more specifically, a form of categorization, and made it such that it could be accessed by voice command anywhere (think Siri).

“The idea of making it text to voice really sprang from the idea if people are using the app while they are either driving or being pulled over, we didn’t want any sort of issues,” said Gouelo.

InCase would use voice recognition and immediately begin to categorize the keywords spoken to take the user to what they needed.  This categorization model was created using Microsoft’s Azure Cloud SQL database. Though the team was not able to perfect every aspect of the app, the project caught the attention of the panel of judges, earning Gouelo and his team a spot in the top ten at the competition.  In addition, the team earned a special prize from Microsoft for utilizing its software the best.

While the thrill of success was energizing for Gouelo, his true prize was the experience he took away.

“I’ve learned so much from these 36 hours, whether it be on the backend of things, whether it be on the law, whether it be developing an app and making it look good,” said Gouelo. “There were so many things from not just my group but other groups; being able to work with people across Canada that I wouldn’t otherwise have a chance to meet, that was truly the main award.”

Through this opportunity, Gouelo has found his passion for innovation and hopes to continue to create freely after college, either with a company such as Microsoft or building his own company.

Gouelo (second row, far left) was skeptical about joining a fraternity at first but has formed lasting bonds with his brothers.

As for his chapter, there is nothing but support for their inventive brother.

“So me spending 36 hours at a hackathon while the brothers are having an event to recruit people, you’d expect some brothers to be like, ‘Hey, why are you doing this’, said Gouelo, “But with my chapter, the guys really recognize what the priorities are, which is academics and Lambda Chi Alpha is an organization which is supposed to boost you through your academics, help you meet the right people, and create friendships.”

UofTHacks is just the first step for Gouelo.  He hopes to flush out InCase and possibly sell it to the masses.  No matter his goals, he is always backed by the brothers he found in a home away from home.

“We all have different aspirations,” said Gouelo, “but at the end of the day, we all show up at the house, we all know each other and have that multi-faceted cultural background.”