Students demo apps to change your life

April 26, 2013

New mobile applications developed at University of Toronto could change the way we treat addiction, teach kindergarteners, and even how we experience a night at the theatre.

Students from Professor Parham Aarabi’s Mobile Applications Lab and Professor Jonathan Rose’s interdisciplinary app design class demonstrated nine new Android and iPhone apps at a showcase on Thursday, April 25. About 100 people came to see the demos and try the apps out for themselves.

Dr. Niraj Mistry is a practicing pediatrician completing his master’s in e-health at McMaster University. He says the most common reason parents bring children to see him is fever, and he usually prescribes Tylenol or Advil. But doctors work in milligrams, and medicine bottles usually describe concentrations in millilitres—a reason why these two medications are commonly under- or overdosed.

Along with Pooja Viswanathan, a post-doctoral researcher in occupational therapy at the Toronto Rehab Institute, and David Xue, Mistry’s group developed Snap’n’Dose, a mobile app that lets users take a picture with their phone of the drug identification number (DIN) present on every medicine box, enter their child’s age and weight, and get an easy-to-understand dosage for that particular medication. Parents can also save children’s detailed profiles, track symptoms and set a timer to remind them when it’s time for the next dose.

“Any parent who’s had to deal with a child falling sick, it can be so stressful,” says Viswanathan. “We wanted to design something to help with that.”

One group designed an Android app to help people recovering from addiction disorders. Current practice encourages patients to journal their thoughts in situations that may trigger binge consumption, but Elizabeth Guy, a PhD candidate in psychology, says this can be inconvenient and is often skipped due to shame and embarrassment. MindfulME lets users easily record their mood, activity and location, and presents them with a list of intervention options to avoid a binge.

Over time users can see patterns in behaviour, such as mood in different places, mood vs. time of day or craving levels in different locations. The app can then generate pop-up warnings if the user moves into a vulnerable location, such as the user’s favourite bar or their enabling friend’s house.

“Knowing that contexts are a big trigger, that idea was already in my mind,” says Guy, who developed the app with Shobhit Puri and Yvonne Chen.

René Rail-Ip, Paul Grouchy and Hao Yan wrote an app that lets you control a robotic arm by moving your phone around. The arm follows the phone’s movements in real space. It can also ‘memorize’ a pattern and repeat as many times as you like. They envision it helping around the house, doing dishes or feeding you candies while you lounge on the couch.

Rose’s class puts grad students from all over the university in groups with programmers, usually from Computer Science or Electrical & Computer Engineering. Groups work together to realize the design and functionality goals of the non-programmer, or ‘apper’.

“We have a diverse set of apps here, and that’s because of people who aren’t in the field jumping in,” says Rose. “That’s what we can do uniquely here at U of T, being so interdisciplinary—once you work with these ideas, lots of exciting things happen.”

Kindergarten teacher and OISE student Michelle Chan teamed up with ECE master’s students Linghan Li and Jordan Saleh to bring mobile games into the classroom. Their app LunchTIME uses an interactive Mr. Wolf character to help children learn to tell time on analog clocks. Students complete levels, enter whether the level made them happy, indifferent or frustrated, and earn ingredients to build a sandwich to feed the animated Mr. Wolf.

Children between four and nine have tested the app and enjoyed the gaming aspects of the learning tool, says Li. He found the process satisfying, too. “Making a finished product is always rewarding,” says Li. “And getting the laughs of everyone at the end, that’s fun too.”

Other apps demonstrated at the showcase included an iPhone ‘heart tricorder’ that can record your heart rate using a photo of your fingertip, forehead, and recording your heartbeat with the phone’s microphone, a personalized service to record and control strenuous activity for patients with congenital heart conditions, an app that turns any surface into a touch-sensitive device, augmented reality for theatregoers, and an object tracking system for phone cameras.

Media contact:
Marit Mitchell
Senior Communications Officer, ECE

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