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Russ College partners with Athens county students, wins mobile app competition with sustainable solution

Elisabeth Weems | Mar 23, 2018
iFood
Local school children gather to work on the iFood app, a collaboration that Russ College students led to facilitate food donation during natural disasters. From L to R: Laura Zhang (Morrison Elementary School, 5th grade), Anru Tian (Athens High School), Lisa Liu (Athens Middle School, 8th grade), Helen Liu (Morrison Elementary School, 5th grade), and Tina Zhang (Athens High School).

Russ College partners with Athens county students, wins mobile app competition with sustainable solution

Elisabeth Weems | Mar 23, 2018
Local school children gather to work on the iFood app, a collaboration that Russ College students led to facilitate food donation during natural disasters. From L to R: Laura Zhang (Morrison Elementary School, 5th grade), Anru Tian (Athens High School), Lisa Liu (Athens Middle School, 8th grade), Helen Liu (Morrison Elementary School, 5th grade), and Tina Zhang (Athens High School).
Local school children gather to work on the iFood app, a collaboration that Russ College students led to facilitate food donation during natural disasters. From L to R: Laura Zhang (Morrison Elementary School, 5th grade), Anru Tian (Athens High School), Lisa Liu (Athens Middle School, 8th grade), Helen Liu (Morrison Elementary School, 5th grade), and Tina Zhang (Athens High School).

A team of Russ College and local pre-university students has won the 2017 IEEE Global Humanitarian Technology Conference’s Call for Solutions competition for their mobile app to reduce food waste. 

The team of students addressed the issue of food waste when natural disasters strike by using Mockplus, a prototype-development software, to design iFood, a mobile app that facilitates real-time information sharing, global coordination, and the gathering and distribution of food during crises.

Krerkkiat Chusap, a junior electrical engineering and computer science major, worked alongside Anru Tian, a junior at Athens High School; Helen Liu and Laura Zhang, fifth graders at Morrison Elementary School; Lisa Liu, an fifth grader at Athens Middle School; and Tina Zhang, a freshman at Athens High School.

Chusap said the app outsources the work of coordination and distribution to a computer, giving people involved in relief efforts the ability to focus on providing emotional support to the affected. He said it was rewarding to work with the younger students, who brought fresh ideas to the table.

“The students have great minds,” Chusap said. “They have a lot of potential in creativity and can come up with interesting solutions to problems.”

Chang Liu, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, gathered the students in the Center for Scientific Computing and Immersive Technologies laboratory last summer. He said the recognition may motivate some of the younger students to pursue a career in the STEM field.

“This project just shows that if we simplify the technology that we expose to students, if it’s something they understand, they can use it to create something that’s meaningful to them,” Liu said.

iFood was an outgrowth of a food diary app created by Liu’s previous senior design students, who developed a way for diabetes patients to identify nutritional content of food by taking photos. The iFood team modified it to address the problem of food waste.

The project was supported by a grant from Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS), a philanthropic arm of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Ray Alcantara, EPICS program manager, said the project’s standout characteristics were its provision of educational opportunities, its outreach to pre-university students, and the number of young women involved. He added that more than one-third of students who participate in EPICS projects are women.

“When we heard of the growth of the program, because of all of the natural disasters we were having last year, we were happy to see that the students were thinking outside of the box,” Alcantara said. “This project shows how technology can be manipulated and changed to provide solution for another problem.”

Tian said increasing accessibility to technology is raising awareness about humanitarian problems.

“This larger platform that technology creates really can involve more people with these issues, and solve these issues more efficiently than before,” she said. “This combination both solves humanitarian problems quicker, and makes engineering and technology more down-to-earth and something anyone can partake in.”

Lisa, one of Liu’s daughters, said working with her sister Helen and their friends helped her feel comfortable and therefore enabled her to practice teamwork and leadership skills. Her favorite part of the project -- other than her dad bringing the students ice cream on hot summer days -- was learning how phones can be used to provide relief to those in need.

“It was an eye-opener to learn that phones could be used to help people,” she said.

Colleen Carow contributed to this story.