Nate Burchfield and Matt Kole said they just wanted to have fun. The two senior information science majors had to apply theories learned in class to a project, and did the "coolest" thing they could think of—make an application for their smart phones.
Their application, "Should I Drive?" has already been downloaded more than 8,000 times. The application asks the user to enter basic information about how much alcohol they’ve consumed and their weight, computes the numbers and tells the user if it is safe for them to drive a vehicle. However, both Burchfield and Kole caution that the application is meant to be entertaining and is not a substitute for a person’s judgment. The application is available free for download to anyone with an Android phone.
The whole process of developing an application began in Burchfield and Kole’s Decision Support Systems class during the 2010 spring semester. The class, which was focused on the application of theoretical concepts, allowed students to apply their education toward something practical.
"We had a semester-long project where we had to create something, some type of application… it had to make a decision at the end of it," Burchfield said.
Most of the other groups in the class worked on projects that revolved around charting complex data and developing applications to make analyzing data easier and more efficient. Burchfield and Kole ended up doing more work for their project than the project required, but the duo said they wanted to do something unique.
"It doesn’t have to be something serious," Kole said. "We didn’t want to analyze the G.D.P. of Spain with the revenue of Microsoft."
After the pair decided to focus their efforts on something fun, they needed an idea. That came from Burchfield’s roommate, who suggested making a blood alcohol calculator because he thought it would be a neat gadget to show off to friends.
The application has room to enter three different types of alcohol and allows the user to choose specific types of beer, wine and liquor. When the information is entered, the application uses an algorithm to calculate the user’s blood alcohol content.
Along with BAC, the application gives unique responses meant to be funny, such as "You should probably call an ambulance, you’re probably going to die soon." and "How are you even using your phone right now?" Burchfield and Kole included the sarcastic responses to make the application more entertaining for users.
"It’s fun to show off to people when you’re at the bar," Burchfield said.
Despite the application being intended for fun, the pair also included responses that list potential legal repercussions of driving drunk, such as fines and jail time. They included the statements, Burchfield said, to remind users that drinking and driving is a serious, potentially deadly situation.
The pair added one more feature to the application that is, arguably, the most important. After the user has calculated their BAC, a "Call a Friend" feature pops up and takes the user to their dial pad or contacts list. That way they can call a friend to get them or call a cab.
Although the application they created seems simple, Burchfield and Kole readily admit the project had numerous challenges. Beyond the complexity of coding and troubleshooting the application, the pair had to figure out how to entice people to use the application.
"It has to have a basic premise or function people desire, but outside of that it has to just look good and feel good," Kole said. "You want to make things easy to use and appealing visually, and then that’s how you get people to use it."
A successful application must also have what Kole and Burchfield refer to as the "Wow" factor, meaning it has to impress people enough to entice them to use it. They split the workload for the project up; Kole handled the programming, calculations and logic. Burchfield focused on the interface of the application, including pictures and buttons. The two were able to hammer out the basics of the device relatively quickly.
"It still took me probably 24 hours to develop it, of sitting in front of a computer and typing in stuff and testing stuff," Burchfield said.
After development of the application was finished, Burchfield had to place it on the marketplace, look for bugs and fix any problems that came up.
Some of the issues that came up were surprising for the information science majors. A friend downloaded the application and found she could not see the screen properly because of the dimensions of her phone. Burchfield spent six additional hours fixing the problem and adding a scroll bar so anyone could view the application.
Burchfield was inundated with complaints from people in Canada and Europe because there was no metric conversion on the application, but he decided not to add metric measurements due to the work involved.
Both Burchfield and Kole said the project took a lot out of them, but it was worth the outcome. Burchfield will be looking for a job in the information science field after graduation, while Kole plans to attend graduate school.