Schurz Innovation Prizes honor students’ mobile app designs

Author: Gene Stowe

From left, Todd Schurz, Schurz Communications CEO; Nitesh Chawla, Computer Science and Engineering; winners Taylor Seale and Ryan Shea; Christian Poellabauer and Pat Flynn, College of Computer Science and Engineering; and Frank Schurz, chairman

Students from Assistant Professor Christian Poellabauer’s mobile computing class presented six out-of-the-box, media-related mobile applications on Dec. 10 in the first Notre Dame-Schurz Innovation Prize competition.

Schurz Communications, owners of the South Bend Tribune and other media outlets across the United States, cosponsored the contest, in which science and engineering students develop and test digital media solutions. The final competition was held in the auditorium of the Eck Visitors Center.

Juniors Taylor Seale and Ryan Shea won the $3,500 top prize with “Map Pics,” an application that broadens photo sharing from a friends-based model to a location-based model.

The app displays a map of all the images taken in a certain area—different locations on campus on a football Saturday, for example. During big events, Seale and Shea point out, there are a lot of people sharing photos via Twitter and Facebook. Rather than seeing photos in a friend’s news feed, users could click a pin on a map and see all the photos uploaded from that location, from all users.

The app, which can be linked to Facebook, also would make advertising available, such as restaurant dinner specials in the location searched. It can be developed to filter photos more specifically and to exclude undesirable photos.

David Lopes and Nathan Wickham won the $1,500 second prize with “News Cloud,” an app that helps readers find the stories they want to read. The app offers floating keywords that readers can combine to pinpoint articles.

The app can make money with both traditional and sponsored advertising. It can include features to limit a search to a certain section, such as sports or news. Keywords are presented in different sizes to indicate their frequency in stories.

“Searching for news is boring,” Lopes says. “We don’t know what we want to read about sometimes; we just want to be shown what’s hot.”

Justin Bartlett and Eli Kloswick won the $1,000 third prize with “Mobile Radio Contest,” which offers an update to the already passé text-based contest entry. Contestants enter by shaking their phone—the app provides instant feedback about whether you won and where you placed.

Users would provide email addresses to sign up, and necessary information would be stored under usernames. Requiring contestants to enter a phrase given by the station would boost listenership.

Notre Dame-Schurz Innovation Prize

Other competing apps were:

“Room Me” by Everaldo Agular, aimed at matching roommates by comparing profiles and scoring similarity. The Facebook-like app could be attractive to apartment complex owners and utility providers as well as a market of 21.6 million college students and others across the country seeking shared housing.

“iReporter” by Jonas Elias Flesch, which connects ordinary people who supply content to journalists, who fashion the material into professionally presented stories. The app could be developed to include user authentication, moderation of contributions, tracking of contributors and a social media-style website with a section for submitted material that was not used by the journalist.

“What the FM?” by William McGough and Patrick Raycroft—both pianists and passionate musicians—brought together traditional radio and smartphones. The app allows users to identify songs they hear on the radio, and tap and build playlists from the broadcast. Users also can listen to a 30-second song preview and click to buy the song from iTunes.

“There are not a lot of great digital ideas around radio,” says Todd Schurz, CEO of Schurz Communications, who praised the students for developing two ideas around the medium. Participants could potentially be recruited for work at the media company, which has committed $25,000 per year to the contest for two years, or the apps could be developed commercially.

Schurz was on the prize jury along with Pat Flynn and Nitesh Chawla, both professors in the College of Computer Science and Engineering, and Frank Schurz, chairman of Schurz Communications. Schurz Communications is funding a similar media innovation challenge at Indiana University in Bloomington.