The idea for Mobell, an application meant to service customers with disabilities, won the Poly Hacks 24-hour hackathon on Friday, Jan. 18. The event took place at the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, also known as the HotHouse.
The minds behind the winning pitch are graphic communication senior Katy Barnard, graphic communication juniors Linnea Landgren and Eric Grossman, computer engineering juniors Alex Garcia and Dominic Gaiero, statistics junior Steven Taruc, computer engineering sophomore Kedwin Chen and graphic communication sophomore Emily Ticknor.
The three concepts or ‘trails’ the participating teams could choose to build their idea around were sustainability, education and inclusivity. The team chose to focus on inclusivity during the 24-hour period of innovation.
Barnard, who helped formulate and market the idea, thought of Mobell’s concept after an experience she had hours before the event. While at Kreuzberg, a cafe in downtown San Luis Obispo, she witnessed a man in a wheelchair waiting patiently for someone to open the front door of the restaurant.
“I watched this pause and it just made me think about how that experience would happen all the time if you have mobility restrictions,” Barnard said. “The idea was originally to be like a doorbell… ‘Mobell,’ because it started at being stuck at a door and wanting to get into a location and being able to silently and [have the accessibility to] ask for that help and not feel humiliated — to be able to be empowered and independent in your everyday life.”
Mobell would have three user interfaces: a web version for managers, a mobile version for employees and a mobile version for customers. According to the team members, the customer would select the sort of aid they need on the app, requesting the help of a store’s employee. The nearest employee would then get a notification of the request, along with the location of the customer in need, attend to the customer and mark the task completed on their mobile device. The purpose of the manager interface would be to see the data of the employees’ services — customers would have the ability to essentially rate their experiences with the employees that assist them, similar to the 5-star system on the Uber app.
The team said the goal is to eventually license the app to companies for use in their stores.
“People living with disabilities are going to want to go to businesses that are ‘Mobell-certified’ as opposed to ones that aren’t,” Grossman said.
According to Grossman, the team plans to create a map of the locations of ‘Mobell-certified’ companies as well as getting the Mobell logo put in the windows of stores, similar to how logos of accepted credit cards or public health food grades are posted at the front of businesses.
For Grossman, he said that one of the defining moments of his experience was getting praise from Nancy Dickenson, an expert in the field of Grossman’s major concentration and the keynote speaker of the hackathon. Dickenson is a user experience (UX) consultant and has done product design for big-name companies such as Apple, ABCNews, HarperCollins and eBay.
“[Dickenson] is involved in every huge company you can imagine. She’s prolific. And she absolutely loved [Mobell],” Grossman said. “Up until that point, there’s always self-doubt … This isn’t her exact quote, but she said something along the lines of Mobell empower[ing] both the people with disabilities as well as the businesses using Mobell. I thought ‘that’s exactly what it does, that’s perfect.’”
Landgren said she found participating in the hackathon reiterated a familiar experience of being nervous before speaking, only to realize she had nothing to worry about.
“I was really stressed backstage but once I got up there I felt super comfortable and I was just going for it and I didn’t hesitate. It was nice to feel under control in such a high pressure situation,” Landgren said.
As one of the youngest members of the team, alongside Ticknor, Chen said he joined the hackathon as a “spur of the moment decision,” but found the experience to be interesting as well as rewarding.
“Something I learned from [this experience] was I can no longer excuse something with ‘I don’t know that’ anymore,” Chen said.
The future for Mobell does not have an exact plan because all the team members are in different stages of their college career. The team said they each want to continue working towards the final product.
“The Hothouse [has] a summer acceleration program people can get accepted into … after we pitched, there were multiple people in the room that came up and were like ‘Hey, you guys should really consider doing that,’ which was an honor to hear,” Landgren said. “It’s really different being all at different places. But we do wanna pursue it.”
Barnard said she is looking into taking on Mobell as her senior project. Grossman said that, along with his fellow team members Gaiero and Garcia, he would also like to progress the app development for his senior project next year.