UMass students develop campus guide application

By Tim Jones

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Courtesy of UMass.edu

There used to be a time where people would actually resort to atlases, compasses and even the stars to direct themselves to their lost and confused souls to their destinations.               

Students at the University of Massachusetts can relate, given the sheer size of the campus, but now they have help that people of the past would only dream of.

With the click of a button, students can now access the UMass Guide application through their iPhone or iPod Touch.             

Designed and developed by Daniel Stewart, a computer science student, the application is an interactive map that can help all people, both new and returning to UMass, find their way across the campus. The guide was also produced with consulting from alumnus T.J. Kelly, who is a web developer for StudentCity.              

So far, the guide, which can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store, includes a search for over 130 buildings on campus, 80 photos of specific locations on campus, as well as driving directions and links to the UMass homepage.             

Stewart decided to tackle the challenge of creating the application after an email from the computer science program asked if there was anyone interested in the project.             

“Needless to say I was pretty bored at the time, so I took up the offer. I also thought it would be a great learning experience,” he said.             

UMass student Stephanie Cheung was responsible for the written work seen within the application.             

“I did research on the different buildings on campus and outlined some of their histories,” Cheung said. She also added that her research also details information about the different schools and majors that located within each building.             

Stewart added that the process was actually rather pricey, but that because it was a University-funded project, the University footed-the-bill for the costs of developer software that Apple requires for its purchase, among other things.

Stewart found the real difficulty was in learning the software.             

“The major obstacle was teaching myself Objective-C, the programming language used to write iPhone apps,” he said. “That required a couple weeks of relatively hard work, reading and so forth.”             

“I was compensated, but it also meant I had obligations to fulfill. There were many deadlines that had to be met over the summer,” Stewart added.             

Stewart has been regularly updating the application, fixing small bugs and adding more buildings to the mix. He says that the next update should include high-resolution icons that will better suit someone with an iPhone 4.             

Users can expect the last large update to include better functionality among the menus.             

In order to download the application, the device being used must have the iOS 4.0 Software Update or higher versions. Droid users can expect an application of their own set to come out in early 2011.             

Stewart says that the feedback for the application has been mostly positive, and he hopes that he can keep delivering what the people want.             

“I hope that feedback continues to be positive, since that’s what motivates me to continue updating the app,” he said.             

Cheung actually used the application herself towards the beginning of the year.             

“I wish they came out with this when I was a freshman so I wouldn’t have been whipping out the paper map every now and then to try to figure out where I was going,” she said.             

Cheung may consider helping to create another application in the future.             

“Do I see myself creating anymore apps in the future? Well, I never thought I’d have any help in creating an app, and I just did, so you never know,” she said.             

As far as future applications, Stewart says that he will maintain the guide until he graduates and then hand it over to the computer science department.             

“There’s also been mention of an alternative-reality app for the UMass campus, so I might grab that opportunity,” Stewart added.

Tim Jones can be reached at [email protected].