Engineering Students Launch New Apps

mobileappsFinding out where to eat, what’s happening, and how to get around are common questions on every college campus. At Vanderbilt the answers to these questions can be found quickly and easily using new applications developed by engineering students for iPhone and Android mobile devices.

The new free apps—Dining, Campus Map and Events—were recently released in the iPhone and Android app stores. Using a phone’s GPS, the information the apps present is targeted to where the user is located at the time and can be filtered based on their interests, giving them information that helps them immediately to navigate the campus and plan their day or night.

The applications were developed by the Vanderbilt Mobile Application Team, or VMAT, a group of computer science students working both in and outside of class with faculty members Douglas Schmidt and Jules White to conduct research on and develop mobile applications. White is teaching a class this semester about smart-phone programming, and both have been mentoring research projects as well.

“Mobile applications provide an amazing opportunity for undergraduates to have an impact on the future of computing,” says Schmidt, professor of computer science and associate chair of the department. “This is a whole new paradigm of software development and deployment. Students 18 to 22 years old can have a big impact while they are still in school.”

Through VMAT, led by students Hamilton Turner and Aaron Thompson, students mentor one another and apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to solve real-world challenges.

“VMAT is about two things: students teaching students by building relationships in the engineering community, and bringing mobile solutions to Vanderbilt,” says Turner. “I saw a need at Vanderbilt for a mobile solution space and had a little bit of ability to help with that, but I couldn’t accomplish a fraction of it on my own. With VMAT we have senior students training and mentoring junior students, with the goal of creating a lasting, cross-semester effort.”

The students’ application work also gives them significant research experience. “At least three of these students have been first authors on research papers—that’s really unusual for an undergraduate,” says White, research assistant professor of computer science. “Undergraduates are uniquely qualified to do new things in this field that no one else can do because they are so familiar with these devices and tools already.”

The VMAT code is all open-source, meaning it can be used and further built upon by other developers. VMAT students have at least five new apps in the works this spring, all driven by their perspective of what would be most beneficial to university students.

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