Trinity Students Win Contest With App To Fight Child Obesity
"Work it off!" App Wins National Award
BY WILLIAM WEIR
October 18, 2010
Two enterprising Trinity College students have won a national award for a smartphone app that gives kids immediate nutrition information about the foods they eat.
Pauline Lake and Nina Limardo won the student category in a U.S. Department of Agriculture-sponsored contest for "Work it off!" — their app for the Droid phone.
The award is $10,000; Lake and Limardo will get a portion, and put the rest into further developing the app and bringing it to the mass market.
The competition, "Healthy Apps for Kids," promotes using technology to fight child obesity. It was sponsored by USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and funded by General Electric.
The app Lake and Limardo created is aimed at pre-teens and young teenagers. To use it, kids speak the name of a food into the phone; voice recognition software then registers the food and calls up the amount of calories in a typical serving. It then suggests an activity, such as running, to work off the calories, and also the amount of time needed to do so.
The user can select that activity or opt for an alternative. If they choose an alternative, the app then suggests another activity — basketball, for instance — again with the amount of time required to work off the calories. For each selection, the user gets points awarded based on how smart their choices are.
"They can actually post their points on an online database and look up their scores and compare them to their friends," says Ralph Morelli one of the supervisors for Trinity's chapter of the Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software Project.
Lake and Limardo are members of the group, which was founded at Trinity, Wesleyan University and Connecticut College. The project supervisors, Morelli and Trishan de Lanerolle, acted as advisers on the app's development.
Limardo, 20, and Lake, 21, learned about the contest in early summer, 10 days before the deadline for submissions. They got to work immediatley.
"So it was kind of scatterbrained, but it turned out well," Limardo says.
In September, contest officials told them their app was a winner in one of the 12 categories.
Lake, who has a double major in computer science and education studies, said it was the first app she and Limardo had developed.
"There were a lot of things that we had to find our way around," she says. "We really had to teach ourselves about databases and Google App Engine."
Limardo, a senior who is majoring in dance and theater, says the arts and computer programming aren't as far apart as they might sound.
"I'm really into interactive media, so I might make programs or applications for performances," she says.
Morelli says the award is exciting, but the work isn't done yet.
"We're going to use some of the prize money to get students to polish it up and get it released, probably some time in the spring," he says.
To see an online video demonstration of the app, go to http://www.tiny.cc/hrqle.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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