Students Create App to Combine Text, Multimedia

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Gone are the days of cramming with bulky textbooks, readers and note books, as a notes mobile application that enables users to aggregate text, handwritten notes and multimedia content - developed last fall by four UC Berkeley undergraduates as part of an elective course - may help students study more efficiently.

Created in an Industrial Engineering and Operations Research program elective course, the app is backed by a sustainable business model that won the team the first-ever University Mobile Challenge in Barcelona. A beta version of the app will undergo test runs this week, with an official version projected to launch by the end of the summer.

While studying and highlighting his mechanical engineering textbook, Taylor Griffin, a mechanical engineering and economics major, came up with the idea of an app that would allow for highlighted text, images, audio and video to be aggregated into one note on a smart phone for quick viewing.

"You have a 300-page course reader, you have seven textbooks, you have webcasts, you have slides every now and then, and when you're studying - how do you cram for classes effectively? What we wanted to do was create something that would aggregate all of those together," said Jade Trinh, who graduated in December with a degree in business administration.

The idea won them first place last month at the Mobile Challenge, a competition established by the Berkeley Mobile International Collaborative, a nonprofit organization that connects universities to enterprises and mobile companies, according to Trinh. The challenge hosted 11 university teams from around the world.

The team members had independently enrolled in a campus elective course focused on combining aspects of engineering with entrepreneurship. By the end of the semester, they had created a sustainable business via a mobile note app.

"The entire premise of the class was to try and create a business out of a mobile application," said Trinh. "Beyond like a one-time app download where you can get x million downloads for a dollar, we wanted to actually try to create a sustainable revenue model for a business - that of course had to include a web service."

Their sustainable business model is based on a "freemium" plan, Trinh said. Users can download the app for free and get a fixed amount of storage space in a document cloud. They can then pay for additional storage space in the cloud, which is backed up onto the internet. Users will also be able to buy and sell their notes online, with a percentage of profits going to the startup.

The group plans on launching a beta version of their app early this week, though they have made some changes to the app since the Mobile Challenge.

Previously, the group had used Optical Character Recognition software - which extracts text from images and translates it to electronic text - as well as their highlight extraction algorithm to isolate highlighted portions. Because OCR software takes a long time to develop, the team used a trial version of an existing OCR software from another creator, according to Apoorva Sachdev, a third year electrical engineering and computer science major.

But to continue using the outsourced OCR software, the team would have to pay for a license to be able to market their app, Karthik Lakshmanan, also a third year EECS major, said. So instead, for the beta version, the team eliminated the OCR feature and will only use the unique highlight extraction algorithm they developed in conjunction with image recognition software. The software will select and "cut out" highlighted portions of text, change the background from the highlighter color to white and paste the image onto the note.

Until they get enough positive market feedback from the beta version, the team will exclude the OCR feature, but the notes will still be "rich media content," so users will be able to embed images, audio and video content. The team hopes to launch the app on the Android market by fall 2011 and on the Apple market by fall 2012.

Tags: UC BERKELEY, INDUSTRIAL ENGINEERING AND OPERATIONS RESEARCH PROGRAM, UNIVERSITY MOBILE CHALLENGE, BERKELEY MOBILE INTERNATIONAL COLLABORATIVE


Jessica Gillotte is the lead business reporter. Contact her at [email protected]



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