Past Winners and Current Contenders: IBC Fellows Compete in Nittany AI Challenge

Two IBC graduate student fellows, Kwadwo Amoah and Codey Mathis, will be sharing their research in upcoming AI for Good Expo!

The Nittany AI Challenge is a unique competition at Penn State during which students develop and present novel AI–based solutions to real-world problems in four categories: education, environment, health, and humanitarianism. Winners of the Challenge are awarded money from a $25,000 prize pool, provided with invaluable networking opportunities to help design and learn how to best showcase their technologies, and get the chance to catch the eye of developers from big-tech sponsors like Microsoft, Google Cloud, and IBM Watson. Insect Biodiversity Fellows Edward Amoah and Codey Mathis have both competed in the Challenge.

Last year, Amoah’s team Nyansapo AI competed in the Nittany AI Challenge. Nyansapo, a word meaning “wisdom-knot” in the Akan language in Ghana was chosen was chosen because of its meaning. According to Amoah, just as a wisdom-knot can form a strong foundation for a rope to pull even the heaviest loads, “we believe that if we help a student build strong foundation of literacy and numeracy skills, that strong foundation can carry them throughout their future education.” The technology includes a digital assessment tool that leverages speech-to-text and natural language processing technologies that helps teachers assess students’ knowledge and help meet the students at their own level. Nyansapo AI was one of the winners of the 2020 Nittany AI Challenge and was awarded $10,000. In the year since their victory, Nyansapo AI technology has already helped students in Kenya, particularly during school closures caused by the pandemic. “Schools are closed,” explains Amoah, “but we can still keep on giving kids some engagement to help them improve their numeracy and literacy skills.”

This year, IBC Fellow Codey Mathis hopes to be a Challenge winner as a part of Team InsectEye. “We know that insect decline is a real global crisis, and that to tackle it we need to increase monitoring efforts,” says Mathis. “However, current monitoring techniques consist of lethal traps that are not very time-efficient and requires expertise at insect identification.” The InsectEye technology is comprised of a hardware system that captures images and videos of insects as they go through an imaging chamber (see below), and a software system that harnesses artificial intelligence and computer vision to detect and identify those insects. This technology could replace the lethal collection of insects for long-term monitoring of biodiversity, saving entomologists the valuable time and energy it takes to curate insect specimens while providing large datasets of insect presence, absence, activity, and behavior. Additional applications of this technology include invasive species tracking (i.e., Lycorma delicatula, the spotted lanternfly), agricultural pest monitoring (i.e., Spodoptera frugiperda, the fall armyworm), and surveys for rare or endangered species (i.e., Bombus affinis, the rusty-patched bumble bee). This team is a collaboration between the Departments of Entomology and Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) here at Penn State. 

Both Mathis and Amoah have grown from their Nittany AI Challenge experiences. “I was always focused on what is the best way to develop the best product,” says Amoah of his time during the challenge. “So, it sort of just happened that we won. It was one of the best feelings of my life. I’ve always seen people win things, and you never think of yourself to be one of those people. I’m really grateful for this competition and the opportunity that it gave me, the platform that it gave me, and I wouldn’t have been able to turn the idea into a venture without the Nittany AI Competition.” Mathis also has enjoyed her experience as a contender for the Nittany AI Challenge. “It is very exciting to get this technology, and moreover the biodiversity crisis, in front of the eyes of so many important people in big tech. As an entomologist, working on a collaboration with computer science students was an illuminating experience on the possibilities of artificial intelligence technology, and made the whole concept a lot easier for me to understand. AI can seem very big and scary, but it really can be used to solve just about any problem, including saving the insects.”

To hear more about innovative applications of using artificial intelligence to solve real-world problems, register now to attend the virtual AI For Good Expo next Tuesday from 6-8PM EST. Registration at the following link: To learn more about Amoah’s journey through the Nittany AI Challenge, you can read this blogpost or watch The AI Journey of Edward Amoah. Thank you to the Nittany AI Alliance, Eric Homan for the photo, and IBC Fellow Edward Amoah for text editing.