KLU Bootcamp 2022: Chatbots & More

KLU’s Boot Camp took another deep dive into technologies this year, focussing on the use of chatbots in public transportation and logistics. Tasked with creating chatbots and virtual assistants for public transport provider Hamburger Hochbahn AG and IFCO, the world-leading supplier of Reusable Packaging Containers (RPCs), students worked together in teams under the guidance of IBM to create applicable solutions for real issues.

There’s a palpable buzz at the KLU on this fine spring day. Outside, Hamburg’s handsome HafenCity is bathed in sunshine, while inside bright minds from a range of backgrounds and fields of study collaborate to forge innovative solutions at the university’s annual three-day Boot Camp. Developed and organized by KLU, the format offers Bachelor students a unique experience: within three days, the students get in touch with experts of the field as well as members of KLU’s faculty to tackle real problems of the industry. The work mirrors the typical KLU study experience: real life cases, teamwork and the combination of theory and practice. While the partners Hochbahn, IFCO and IBM provice insights from the field, KLU adds the theoretical knowledge and input.

Close contact to the industry

“It’s great,” says Hoang Uyen Khe Le, who originally comes from Vietnam and studies Logistics at the University of Applied Sciences in Würzburg-Schweinfurt, of the Boot Camp. “Here we get to work on actual case studies and get feedback from actual companies and this is really important. At university we can often come up with something theoretical, but, without real input from the companies themselves, we can end up running around like headless chickens and end up with products that are not useful. So, for me, this is a really good experience with a practical, hands-on approach that I really appreciate.”

Boot Camp classmate Jasmin Bauer, an International Management student at the Technische Hochschule Ingolstadt in Bavaria, agrees: “The courses at the THI are more theoretical and now you get the chance to also do some practical things, you get to find and implement solutions that you don’t have at university.”

To find a solution for Hochbahn, Boot Camp participants, who hail from a variety of academic fields, including logistics, engineering, and the social sciences, were encouraged to put themselves in the shoes of commuters and first-time visitors to stations where a lot of transportation means come together, such as Hamburg’s main station. What would a visitor need from a chatbot or virtual assistant with regards to finding the best exit or an onward mode of transport, and how could that be best delivered?

 

Combining theory & practice

“It’s one of the main goals of us here at KLU to not only dwell in pure theory, but to put the knowledge to work: How can we use the results of research to tackle today’s problems of the industry?”, says André Ludwig, Associate Professor of Computer Science in Logistics at the KLU. Finding companies who are willing to work together with the students is therefore one of the main goals of each Boot Camp. This year, high-ranking representatives of Hochbahn and IFCO joined the participants on campus and online. “We have the Chief Digital Officer of IFCO with us today, so we looked at the results and they potentially take away some of the ideas to their decision process”, says Prof. Ludwig. “We also had the leading people in the innovation management of Hochbahn to also take away ideas and report and transfer them into their innovation activities and potentially even use it.”

Complex challenges

In the case of IFCO, students were asked to consider farmers and their issues regarding ordering the right number of RPCs, delivery times of the containers and what they needed to do when they required more, as well as the documentation vital to with these processes.

Developing something seemingly as complex as a chatbot was definitely a challenge, says Esteban Rodriguez, a native of Costa Rica and a student of Business and Management at University of Europe for Applied Sciences in Hamburg. “I’m not a tech guy, so I was a little bit worried, but in the end everyone could do the programming. It was not easy, I can admit that, but with the proper instructions, we could make a chatbot in two days.”

Teammate Jamin’s own initial concerns stemmed from having to work with people she had never met before. “You meet new people and that’s a challenge for me because I’m more a shy person, but the participants are all so friendly. I’ve met a lot of great people and made new friends, so it’s really nice to be here.”

Teamwork

She was also impressed by the teamwork demonstrated by Esteban and her other classmates. “Everyone tried to do something, and everyone had good ideas that we could try to include in our chatbot and we had some problems, but we all helped together to find the solution and that’s why the group worked well.”

Having developed their chatbot or virtual assistant, students had the opportunity to present their ideas to Hochbahn and IFCO on the final day of the Boot Camp.

As for the experience and knowledge gained from the Boot Camp, as well as opportunities to work and network with industry heavyweights, Esteban remarks: “It was a lot of input, so we had to focus all the time, but it was good, we got out of our comfort zones. We explored the different views of looking at logistics or looking at these companies, which are huge in Germany. It’s really good to get perspectives from the people who work in the field. Because we’re students, we know some things, we come from different backgrounds and looking at our presentations, they can understand that we understand the business.”

Once more the concept of bringing both sides to the table – combining practical insights and theoretical input – more than worked out. “It was great watching the interaction of students and professionals”, says Prof. Ludwig. “We’re already looking forward to the next Boot Camp this fall.” The topic then: Sustainability.

“I would definitely recommend the Boot Camp to friends and classmates,” adds Hoang. “It’s the type of experience we don’t get every day. It would have been a big miss if we hadn’t got to be here.”

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