Mbongeni Ndlovu, centre, is developing an artificial intelligence app to help coaches, fitness trainers and therapists. Andrew Kendall, left, St. FX’s industry liaison and knowledge transfer manager, and computer sciences professor James Hughes stand alongside their masters of science pupil. Photo courtesy James Hughes

St. FX student develops AI coaching app

By 
  • October 24, 2020

Mbongeni “Bo” Ndlovu’s scientific journey began, in a sense, when he was a young boy living in Bulawayo, the second-largest city in Zimbabwe.

“My father (Sibusiso, who passed away in 2009) had a huge influence on my passion for technology because he would purchase software like desktop computers that I would mess around with,” said Ndlovu.

Fast forward to 2020 and the 25-year-old Ndlovu is in Canada where he is a master of computer science student at St. Francis Xavier University, a liberal arts educational institute in Antigonish, N.S., which over the past two years has supplied him with the confidence and know-how to develop a new high-tech app.

His prodigious knowledge in designing algorithms and data collection, coupled with a burgeoning understanding of artificial intelligence (AI), has led to an app to arm fitness coaches with the software to devise training programs for individual athletes based on their sport, position and unique physical characteristics.

Ndlovu’s experience as a strength and conditioning intern for the past four years, and leading St. FX’s Olympic Weightlifting Society for the past two, has illuminated how time-consuming a process it is to build individualized training programs for peers and clients. He wants to expedite and streamline the process.

Other benefits coaches can look forward to include tracking the muscles affected in each specific drill and then being provided with fatigue and injury recovery protocol. Physical therapists will also benefit from these features.

He hopes to complete a “foundation version” of the app within the next six months.

Dr. James Hughes, one of Ndolvu’s instructors and mentors, said that it was a casual conversation in August 2019 at the school fitness centre that was a catalyst for all that has occurred.

“He came up and started asking a lot of sophisticated questions that you just wouldn’t expect an undergraduate student who is just dipping their toe into the subject matter,” said Hughes, an assistant professor in computer science at St. FX. “You could tell he was an independent student who was keen on learning all he can.

“Every time after that, he has shown his tenacity and has made it clear that he is one of those students that you just know he will be successful at whatever he decides to do.”

Hughes offers pointers for Ndolvu as he works towards his software-inventing goals, but he stresses that success thus far “is all Bo,” and very little feedback is required.

Ndlovu’s AI app’s commercial and scientific potential is so apparent he has earned about $60,000 in financial support via a Mitacs Accelerate Entrepreneur Award. The non-profit research organization helps student entrepreneurs take advantage of the supports provided by their studies to commercialize the technology rapidly.

He has formed a company called OlyUp Technologies Inc. — OlyUp for short — to move his vision forward.

“A company is a group of people that work together to solve problems for the greater good of the world,” he said. “I have quickly realized that I will need people to help me along the way to ensure this product is the best version it can be.”

Ndlovu’s entrepreneurial savvy was nurtured at St. FX where he graduated with an advanced major undergraduate degree in enterprise systems from The Gerard Schwartz School of Business in May.

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