Team Access Earth (l-r: M. McCann, KC Grant, J. Gallagher)

Access Earth, an app designed by students of NUI Maynooth, has been selected to compete in the Microsoft Imagine Cup 2014 World Finals in Seattle later this summer.

App has potential to change lives of disabled people around the world

The app, designed by NUI Maynooth computer science students Matthew McCann, KC Grant and Jack Gallagher, provides information on buildings’ accessibility for those with mobility impairments.

Team Access Earth wants to make the world a more accessible place for everyone. Access Earth allows people to make an informed decision on whether or not a building is wheelchair accessible by providing information on facilities such as ramps, wheelchair-accessible toilets and counters, along with an overall building accessibility rating for those with mobility impairments. It does this by harnessing the local knowledge of volunteer networks across the world to catalogue individual buildings’ mobility points. Using the app will bring this information to anyone who needs it, from elderly people to wheelchair users, and to their friends and families.

Practical solution to real-life problem

The idea for the app came about after NUIM student Matthew McCann travelled to London for the 2012 Olympics. “The hotel I booked into had advertised itself as wheelchair accessible”, recalls Matthew. “Upon arrival, I quickly learnt that this was not the case. There were three steps up to the hotel entrance, no ramp, and many of the doors were too narrow to be navigated by a wheelchair. As someone with cerebral palsy, this lack of accurate information is something I have become accustomed to over the years, and I knew I wasn’t alone in that respect”.

The team-members, who are all students of Computer Science at NUIM, were influenced by their professors’ emphasis on the practical application of their programming skills for problem solving and entrepreneurship. Based on Matthew’s experience, the team recognised the need for a practical app for the disabled community, and have spent the last two years developing and testing the product. They have now been afforded the opportunity to travel to Seattle with their team mentor, Donal McClean, to showcase the app at the Imagine Cup Finals.

Promoting innovative thinking

NUIM is delighted to see its students recognised at the Microsoft Imagine Cup Finals. Tom Lysaght, Acting Head of the NUIM Department of Computer Science, stated that “This is the fourth time in eight years NUI Maynooth students have been selected to represent Irish universities at the finals and this is testament to the great emphasis NUI Maynooth places on encouraging students to apply the skills they learn in the classroom to innovation in the outside world. The Access Earth team therefore deserve huge credit for their hard work, creativity and vision in designing an app that has the potential to make such a significant difference in the lives of so many. These attributes combined with their true entrepreneurial spirit will stand to them as they graduate from NUI Maynooth and embark on the next stage of their careers.”   

Imagine Cup Finals

Team Access Earth is among only 35 teams to be selected from a total of 170 semi-finalists from 72 different countries to compete in the Imagine Cup finals. Since 2003, students from across the globe have created new technologies in diverse fields. The best of these are selected to compete at the world finals in three categories: World Citizenship Competition; Games Competition; and Innovation Competition.

The Access Earth team has been nominated for the ‘global citizenship’ category, along with 12 other finalists from Australia, China, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Serbia, Taiwan, Uganda, and the USA. This category recognises those who have demonstrated an innovative application of technology for social good.

 

The World Finals will take place in Seattle from 28th July to 1st August, 2014.  Please click here to learn more about the Microsoft Imagine Cup.

For more information about programmes of study and research at the NUIM Department of Computer Science, please click here.