Students Develop Android Phone App for UMaine Navigation

ORONO — As use of cell phones is banned in some university classrooms, one course at the University of Maine requires them.

In a course offered in the spring of 2011 by the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, students developed a mobile application for smart phones to better manage their academic life on campus. The application, freely available through the online Android Market, is an open-source application that allows students and others to view weekly class schedules, class locations, textbooks, and contact information for instructors. It provides information of parking, building map, directory of all faculty and staff, which could be particularly helpful to new students and visitors, according to Yifeng Zhu, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, who taught the class.

Seniors Jason Monk of Pittsfield, Maine and Robert King of Richmond, Maine — who are now computer engineering graduate students working as research assistants on projects funded by the National Science Foundation — and computer science undergraduate Jerry Zhu from China were in the class. They created their own database for information retrieved from several University of Maine online databases and then wrote a script to collect data ranging from student, faculty and employee contact information and maps showing buildings and parking lots to university calendars, classes and sports and special events. Separate from the university servers, they say their independent server will not cause any security conflicts with university servers.

With GPS technology, the app can guide a person to a parked car or classroom.

“This one is very helpful for new students,” Professor Zhu says. “They want to visit different buildings but don’t know where they are. It’s a great tool for visitors and news students, and even for me, and I have been here for some years.”

The app is compatible with Android operating systems, the designers say, such as Droids, Nexus or Galaxy, but is being modified for expanded use. “Our goal is to make a similar version that will run on Apple iPhone and iPad,” Professor Zhu says.

The class was offered as an independent study course, which included working with both hardware and software, designing tiny circuit boards and developing software applications for cell phones. Zhu says he’ll offer the class at different skill levels alternating from small independent study groups to a larger, lecture-based format.

Future features for the UMaine application include a GPS locator to identify where BAT buses are at any given time and adding campus dining service menus. Zhu says he and future students will continue development of the application, temporarily labeled “University of Maine Beta.”

Zhu says the design and development experience both prepares UMaine graduates for careers in the latest computer technology fields, but also addresses a critical need for computing technicians in Maine, as defined by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the chancellor of the University of Maine System. University of Maine System Chancellor Richard Pattenaude recently announced a new collaborative effort to double the number of graduates in information science and technology over the next four years.UMaine itself is reorganizing academic departments to create a School of Computing, merging its Dept. of Computer Science and its Dept. of Spatial Information Science and Engineering.

“As laptops, smart phones, and social networking websites have become a part of young people’s daily lives, more students are curious about computer technologies and become interested in pursuing studies in computing,” Zhu says.

The latest annual survey by the Computing Research Association also shows that the enrollment of new students in fall 2009 from the computer science, computer engineering and information departments of 185 universities increased 8.5 percent over the previous year, according to Zhu. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects computing occupations will grow by 22.2 percent between now and 2018, adding a total of 785,700 jobs, making it the fastest growing cluster of all professional occupations.

Contact: Yifeng Zhu, 581-2499; George Manlove, 581-3756