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Rice Apps releases Atlas, considers other ideas

By Andrew Ta     8/28/14 7:37pm

The 10-member student group Rice Apps recently released their second product, Atlas, an app that allows students to search for places on Rice University’s campus and display them on Google Maps, according to founder Waseem Ahmad (Brown College ’14).

Ahmad started the initiative last November while he was president of the Computer Science Club.

“Rice Apps is an initiative of the Computer Science Club that was started to empower developers to improve student life through technology at Rice,” Ahmad, who currently serves as a mentor to some Rice Apps teams, said.

According to the Rice Apps website, there is often room for improvement in daily college life processes, and many of these improvements can be made through software projects.

“[Rice Apps] aims to provide the program and resources for students to create and improve open-source projects at Rice,” the website states. “Our goal is to produce multiple projects each year, which can be maintained and improved by future generations of Rice Apps developers.”

Ahmad said Rice Apps is currently working on four apps: an unreleased dining app and a new schedule planner, as well as the already released Atlas and Owlections, a secure and convenient online platform for conducting elections at Rice.

“[There’s] a dining app that provides servery menu information on the go,” Ahmad said. “The app will allow users to vote on their favorite items at each servery and be notified where and when they’re being served. Another project involves building an improved schedule planner. I’m leading and mentoring the Atlas team, [whose] mission is to provide Rice students with useful campus information such as building location, shuttle information, classes, places to eat, parking, etc.”

According to Ahmad, a petition system built specifically for Rice was brought up by Student Association President Ravi Sheth.

“[Sheth] thinks a petition app would make it easier for students to bring up issues within the Rice community and collect signatures for running for elections,” Ahmad said.

Ahmad said other projects were considered, but with limited time and resources, it became a matter of prioritization regarding what was to be worked on.

“[We] considered an application that helps you find roommates and off-campus housing, an Uber / Lyft-like mobile app that the night escort could use to pick up students in a more efficient manner and offload some of the calls RUPD receives, and a lot of other ideas,” Ahmad said. “But we had to prioritize based on the amount of impact they stand to have across the community and how much effort is required to implement minimal functionality.”

According to CS Club Treasurer and Rice Apps member Xilin Liu, Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson and Martel College senior Sheth recently reached out to Rice Apps to develop an undergraduate well-being app.

“[Rice Apps] is pretty interested in helping with creating the app since its our first administrator-backed proposal,” Liu, a Duncan College junior, said. “[Sheth] and Dean Hutchinson and some other members created this idea, [and it’s] the first ‘customer’ request we've gotten, so we [will] try to find some people to work on it once the year starts.”

According to Ahmad, although Rice had business plan competitions, there was a lack of implementation-focused initiatives, so when he heard about similar efforts like Penn Labs at the University of Pennsylvania and Application Development Initiative at Columbia University, he felt inspired to create Rice Apps.

“I'm a huge believer that successful projects and companies are a product of good execution and not necessarily good ideas,” Ahmad said. “The concept behind the PageRank algorithm wasn't new when Larry and Sergey started Google and many people had thought about electric cars before Elon Musk did. Therefore, I wanted to see more people at Rice executing their ideas and putting what they learn in classes to use.”

Ahmad said Rice’s computer science program provided a strong foundation, but there were few classes that encouraged students to simply explore software engineering.

“I see Rice Apps fulfilling this need of a creative outlet,” Ahmad said. “Since people across the classes are part of Rice Apps, it also serves as a mentorship platform for many of the underclassmen in getting good internships and becoming better engineers.”

According to Ahmad, Rice Apps is an application-based group because there was initially more interest in the group than what could be reasonably managed.

“We wanted the organization to be small so everyone could move fast and minimize organizational overhead,” Ahmad said. “Since then, we have been bringing more people on board organically based on interest and projects to work on.”

Liu said any Rice student is welcome to work with Rice Apps.

“If you're a Rice student with an idea –– fully formed or not - that could help Rice, you can hit us up, and we can publicize it and get you connections to start it up,” Liu said.

All of Rice Apps’s work is open-source and available at https://github.com/rice-apps/. Owlections can be found at http://owlection.appspot.com/, and Atlas can be found at http://atlas.riceapps.org/. More information on RiceApps can be found at http://csclub.rice.edu/riceapps.

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