There’s a new app on the block that will make Winnipeg’s kids more active, while also mapping out safety zones and routes around schools.
It’s called CounterPoint and students in Red River College’s Business Information Technology program having been working hard for the past two years to help bring it to fruition for the Green Action Centre and the Manitoba Active and Safe Route to School Program (ASRTS).
“The Green Action Centre approached us with an idea to basically capture how kids were getting to school by looking at their routes and their mode of transportation,” said Steve Lawrence, Business Information Technology (BIT) instructor at RRC.
“The main reason they wanted to do this was to find ways to get kids more active. So one way was to have contests between schools; to see which school had more kids walking, or biking, or skateboarding to school.”
In simplistic terms, the app functions like a straightforward counting device, although there is much more to it.
It involves a volunteer standing on a street corner, establishing a line through the road, then counting the number of vehicles or human powered travellers who cross that line in the street.
By simply clicking the 16 modes of transportation icons, a person can plot all the transportation activity in a designated area, refining the data by also plotting the time, duration of the count, and the weather – which can be a factor in to how students are getting around.
Once the data is plugged in, the app generates the totals and graphs them, painting an instantaneous picture of all the activity in the area.
“That data could be sent to the school, or the school division, and also the City of Winnipeg for future tracking and planning,” said Lawrence.
“For instance, you have a lot of kids biking to school, but in doing so they are having to go on a heavy traffic route. Well, maybe this serves as an indicator that now is time to put in a bike path for them.”
The app is the brainchild of Anders Swanson, the Winnipeg-based active transport guru, policy analyst and project manager, who for years has been advocating pedal power. He approached the College on behalf of the Green Action Centre with federal and provincial funding to develop a computer program that would make it fun and easy to count traffic. Anders brother Torin was also instrumental in its creation, working frequently with the students.
“We were eager to get the students working on this due to the complexity of what he [Anders] had done,” said Dan Greenberg, BIT project coordinator.
“We evaluate based on the learning possibilities for the students and we knew this was going to use technology that would be outside their comfort level to do. On top of that, there is a finite time frame of 16 weeks that the students have to develop whatever it is they can get done for the client.”
Two sets of students had a kick at it, working independently at the College while gaining real world experience in consulting and meeting with the client. The first group developed it as a computer program, while this past semester’s students — which include Daniel Craigen, Preston Ross-Sutherland, Qixuan Hong, Lindsay Donogh and David Kratochvil — converted it into an Android app.
“My favourite part of this project is that it I now know that if I have to learn something new to help my client, then I can train myself to do that,” said David Kratochvil, the student leader on the project, who taught himself how to write code for Android for the project. “It gave me a boost of confidence because I feel like I accomplished a real thing – it wasn’t just course work laid out.”
The app is just being released to the public (you can download it here) and Swanson has been shopping it around the globe from Europe, to Australia to the US this past year.
And while the primary focus in developing the app was to promote exercise while defining safe zones around schools, its other applications are quite endless.
“Both existing, and new businesses could also use this,” said Graham Thomson, Dean of Business and Applied Arts.
“When teaching entrepreneurship years ago I used to say ‘look, if you are thinking of opening a location in a strip mall, you’d better go see what the traffic is like.’ This would be ideal for calculating that; it makes it so easy to keep tabs on all the traffic in an area.”