CLAYMONT — When Typhoon Haiyan decimated the Philippines in November, residents and others caught up in its destruction found their cell phones rendered useless because tele- communications infrastructure was gone. A group of students from Archmere Academy saw an opportunity amid the tragedy to alleviate this kind of situation in the future.
Five boys – juniors Andrew Hurst, Christian Kraft and Nick McIntyre, and sophomores Joseph Spall and Greg McCord – developed coNextGen for the Verizon Innovative App Challenge, a nationwide contest for middle and high school students to apply their knowledge and creativity to address a need or problem in their community. Archmere’s team, under the guidance of computer science teacher Jared Campbell, won the Delaware competition before being eliminated in the regional round.
Kraft said the team did some brainstorming after Campbell told the class about the challenge and came up with a communication system that could survive the loss of critical infrastructure. Their idea became coNextGen, a database of personal information that uses Bluetooth technology to pass the information from phone to phone.
“This was right about the time that the typhoon in the Philippines hit,” Kraft said last week. “We’d just heard about it. One thing that really hit us was that there were about 1,800 people lost after the typhoon took place. We wanted to come up with a way to solve that problem.”
More than 6,200 people were killed by Typhoon Haiyan, and approximately 1,800 people remain missing. That is the group this app is designed to help find.
Users of coNextGen would enter their personal information along with any message they want others to see into the app, Hurst explained. “As two people walk past each other, get close to each other, what will happen is the information will sort of cross over to each one, and as more and more people pass each other, it will eventually get back to a Red Cross aid station or something.
“The idea is to avoid using the telecommunications infrastructure in case it’s not functional. You don’t want to have to be totally reliant on that. You want to have a way to get out a message or your location.”
The students show how the app works at www.youtube.com/watch? v=morvI-Ehvzc.
During the development stage, the students could not find an app that relied on a low-energy source like Bluetooth. Hurst said Bluetooth is generally used for short distances, cell-phone towers for long distance.
All five of the boys enjoy writing computer code, so they all chipped in on various parts of the project, according to one.
“Really, everybody did everything. It’s not like we had one specific role to do just one thing. We all helped each other out,” McIntyre said.
The announcement of state winners came from Verizon on Jan. 22, which was a Wednesday, but school was canceled because of snow. So the students checked out the Verizon website as soon as they woke up.
“To me it felt pretty good, seeing Archmere Academy and coNextGen,” Kraft said.
The app did not undergo any refinements before the regional competition, Spall added, but they are likely even though it did not advance to the national round. The group plans on continuing with the coNextGen idea. Kraft said the main goal is “to get large phone companies to see this and to hopefully put it in their software when people buy [phones]. If that would be the case, then anyone would be able to use this function, and when the next natural disaster comes, many people would be able to be located.”