Attending a 24-hour “hackathon” software design event in November, neither Greg Hosking nor Luke Jodice had experience with React Native, the coding language their group used. But, after many hours of work and very few hours of sleep, their group emerged from the competition with an award-winning app.
Hosking and Jodice, along with Matthew Cruz and Jamyang “Z” Tamang, all students at Endicott College in Beverly, have coded a prototype application to record and securely store footage of police interactions or any interaction where someone feels unsafe.
“The really cool experience for me was that we used a programming language called React Native and personally I had never used it. I had other programming experiences with similar languages so I didn’t know nothing,” said Jodice, a junior computer science student at Endicott.
Their app differs from a standard phone camera in that the files aren’t stored locally on your phone – if anything happens to the device’s recording, the file will still be accessible from a user’s account. .
“The great thing about the app we’re working on is that if for some reason that video gets deleted from your phone or whatever happens to your phone, it will actually be in a safe place. rather than just being locally on your phone,” says Jodice.
The group developed the app prototype as part of WHACK, a virtual hackathon hosted by Wellesley College in partnership with Major League Hacking in November 2021.
Although a hackathon might conjure up images of coders sitting in dark rooms with green code on their screens, Hank Feild, associate professor of computer science at Endicott, said hackathons are actually a very social and productive experience.
“When you talk about a hacked system, we use the same word, but hackathons are the furthest from that. It’s not about compromising the system,” Feild said. to build something, to prototype something fairly quickly.”
During the hackathon, the team worked mostly on the front-end of the app, or what users would see, Jodice said. Matthew Cruz, one of the team members, came up with the original concept, and then the band used it.
“We were able to create an app where you can show your camera and flip it over, so the front camera as well as your back camera, and sort of configure the basics of the app, the different pages involved in that,” Jodice said. “Not really a ton of backend stuff, more like what you’d actually see when you open the app.”
At the end of the competition, the group’s application won the award for best hack for social good.
“What we launched during the hackathon was a prototype, it just does what it does and we hope to build on the network, sort of delete it and start from something cleaner [and] cooler and then go from there,” said Hosking, a sophomore studying computer science and applied math. “We absolutely want to review the interface and implement the appropriate back-end so that the user can access the videos.”
The group hopes to eventually launch the app on Google Play and Apple’s App Store, but Hosking said they’ll have to put in many hours of work before that’s possible. They hope to complete development this spring, before Tamang and Cruz graduate.
“As far as programming, like half the time, you’re just looking at an error wondering what’s going on and spending four hours debugging it, so there’s going to be plenty of hours for that,” Hosking said. “Hopefully this will fit into the time of our schedules this semester to work on it a few times a week and finish it by the end of the semester, maybe release it. That would be great.”
Jodice said he thinks the bulk of the work the group will undertake this spring will be to develop a system to create the profiles and store all the records.
Feild, the faculty sponsor of the university’s computer club, shared the opportunity to enter WHACK into the group, but let them take the reins from there.
“The team is made up of two seniors, a junior and a second,” Feild said. “It was just a really cool thing to see that it wasn’t like a cohort that was just a class of people taking classes together. … The fact that we were able to put them together and make them work quite seamlessly from the sounds, I think that was really cool.
Although the app can be used to record anything, Jodice said it’s meant to provide a level of accountability.
“I personally think it means a lot, especially if you look at the news from the last two years,” Jodice said. “I know a lot of law enforcement usually have the cameras, that would basically be the other side of the camera.”
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