Students for a Smarter Planet ..leaders with conscience
UC Merced
May 28th, 2014

This is the third blog that I’ve written as a participant in the UC Merced Mobile App Challenge. If you’re interested, here’s a link to the second, and the first.

On May 16, 2014, UC Merced’s School of Engineering hosted its annual design expo, Innovate to Grow, which included the five finalists from the Mobile App Challenge (MAC). It was also a finals competition for other School of Engineering programs: Engineering Service Learning (ESL) and the Innovation Design Clinic (Capstone).

I happened to be in the situation where I had to present both as a finalist for Shower<Less as well as for my ESL team, where both groups were presenting during the same hour but in different classrooms. I would have to somehow figure out how I would present for ESL as quickly as possible then run over to the MAC presentations—across campus, in a full suit.

After we volunteered to present first and got through the Q&A session for the ESL presentations, I ran over to the classroom where the MAC presentations were being held. I got lucky and showed up as soon as Shower<Less was about to present, but I was disappointed later that I hadn’t gotten to see the other groups’ presentations.

Admittedly, even though I had rehearsed extensively for my ESL group, I wasn’t quite as prepared for Shower<Less’ presentation. I had an idea of what I wanted to talk about; I came up with a cheesy opening line about water and its importance to us as a resource, but it was clear that it was unrehearsed and somewhat painful to sit through. Other than that, we got through our presentations without a hitch. In a way, I wanted it to be that way. Because we didn’t have as many technical details to show for, we would have to have more of a conversation with our audience.

In the end, Shower<Less didn’t end up winning the overall prize and finished in the semi-finals. The winner of the overall prize was the team behind the app “Music Notes.” But participating in the Mobile App Challenge was overall a great experience where we learned team building, product development, and of course the technical expertise involved in the app itself.

Thank you IBM for your generous support for MAC and allowing CITRIS to provide this opportunity to UC Merced students. Thanks for reading!

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If you didn’t get a chance to read my first blog about UC Merced’s Mobile App Challenge, you can find it here.  This is the second in a series of three blogs on my experiences as a participant in UC Merced’s Mobile App Challenge:  .

April 26, 2014 was our deadline for the Mobile App Challenge Semi-Finals. Out of the award categories: Crowd Favorite, Most Innovative Technology, Most Sustainably Minded, Most Creative Idea, and Most Civically Minded, my team, Shower<Less  was set on winning the Most Sustainably Minded award.

Early on, we realized that the future growth prospect of the Shower<Less app would be the most enticing aspect of our app to judges. We were focused on one clear goal from the beginning: limit controllable indoor water use through reducing excessive shower times or meet acceptable average shower times. So, while David worked on finalizing the technical features for the app, Jordan, Jeff and I brainstormed incentive schemes that would keep people using the app. We needed to anticipate questions from judges while coming up with a truly original idea to keep people using the app.

Our pitch went pretty well, but the poster session was our opportunity to impress the judges. We had a few ideas. The first was to partner with water providers and to offer users of Shower<Less rebates for limiting shower usage. However, a judge, who actually came up with nearly the same idea during a hackathon, mentioned that water companies have the exact opposite motivation. They’re in the business of selling water, so they want people to use more water. We quickly scrapped the idea.

One idea particularly captivated the judges. They really enjoyed the idea of integrating social network incentives into the app, including competing against friends to take more efficient showers, or creating teams where if friends collectively meet certain average shower time goals for a specified time (like one month), they would receive a discount or unique offer to a company’s products or services. There may be large companies who are trying to reinforce a “green” corporate image, and Shower<Less offers would allow them to do just that. This would entail free marketing for the companies participating and further incentivize users to continue using Shower<Less. One judge semi-jokingly asked if you he would get a bonus for group showers, which actually isn’t a bad idea (joking).

There were no other apps in our category of sustainability, so we won by default. But the experience of developing a product and thinking about consumer incentives from a variety of perspectives was invaluable, especially for the Mobile App Challenge finals. We’ll need to develop the incentive scheme further if we are to be competitive against the other apps.

The Mobile App Challenge finals are taking place during the Innovate to Grow event this Friday May 16, 2014.

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With only two classes on my schedule in my last semester at UC Merced, I decided I needed to find some way to keep myself busy. So when a friend asked me to join his team for UC Merced’s Mobile App Challenge, I was interested but honestly somewhat clueless to how I could contribute as an economics major with, let’s say, not a very technical background especially in making mobile apps. But after thinking it over I decided it would be an interesting side project where I would be able to exercise my creativity. And if we won something in the process, it would just make my decision even better.

The Mobile App Challenge at UC Merced is hosted by CITRIS@UC Merced, a UC research administration. Fifteen undergraduate student teams compete for awards in a variety of categories. It was founded at UC Merced in 2011. Currently, it runs annually at the Berkeley and Merced campuses in order to encourage entrepreneurial and innovative thinking through mobile apps. You can find all of the apps made over the years here.

After we brainstormed for a bit on how exactly we would go about making an app, we formed a team between myself, two environmental engineers: Jordan Vida and Jeff Laird, and our resident programmer and former participant in the Mobile App Challenge, David Eighmey. The initial idea that we came up with was “Shower<Less” (be clear to distinguish showering less as opposed to going without showers). As we are currently in the middle of a drought—one felt stronger here in the Central Valley than elsewhere in California—we decided our app would be an attempt to limit water usage. We feature a method of limiting one of the more controllable indoor water uses: showers. Essentially what the app features at the moment is a timer, educational materials, and a data visualization of how long one spends in the shower correlated with how much water they used. Clearly, a vision for the future was needed. So I found my role. I ended up in charge of handling the presentation materials, creating the poster, and thinking about the future business potential for the app. If you want, you can find some more information on our app here.

We met a few times to go over the technical details of the app which wasn’t the difficult part—the hard part was finding a way to convince people that our app would be useful. We already anticipated that most people would say, “But it’s just a timer!” We decided the best way to do this was to create an incentive scheme that we knew would be intensely scrutinized during the semi-finals… which is exactly what happened.

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April 29th, 2013

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Download Video   Scroll down to view the video.  Students make the college wall posters go mobile.

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FLASH BACK: Remember when cell phones became popular in the 1990s?

Now that I have made you feel old, these so-called mobile devices (bricks) refused to fit into pockets, did not have color screens, and must have weighed three pounds! No judgment.

Now let us reflect on how far we have come.  A new category of cellular devices emerged. Smart phones: our pride and joy.  Without them, our world ceases to exist.  Collectively, we email, search the Web, play games, pay bills, socialize, organize our lives - the list is endless.

In this fast-paced, smart phone era, UC Merced students are creating, programming,and monetizing the next great apps for smart phone users.

This year, 15 teams from freshmen to Ph.D. students are competing in the second annual UC Merced Mobile App Challenge. Teams are tackling real-life problems, such as a hassle-free way of dividing bills between housemates, a game assisting individuals with learning disabilities and a concept that will revolutionize the physical shopping experience.  As the 2013 spring semester begins, teams will meet with top industry mentors for advice and guidance in development and marketing strategies. And as the semester comes to a close, each team will pitch their app to UC Merced students, faculty and staff as well as potential investors in the hopes of claiming the UC Merced Mobile App Challenge bragging rights, scholarships and other prizes.

Stay tuned! In the next couple of weeks, we will be announcing the app challenge teams and their advancing ideas that will soon flourish into reality.


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