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Engineering undergraduates take first place, $10,000 prize for app that deters texting while driving

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Friday, December 20, 2013

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Media Contact: Herb Booth, Office:817-272-7075, Cell:214-546-1082, hbooth@uta.edu

News Topics: engineering, students

A team of UT Arlington undergraduate engineering students has taken first place and a $10,000 prize in the second annual AT&T Coding Contest for developing a cell phone app that discourages motorists from reading text messages when driving faster than 15 mph.

The team included senior James Fielder, freshman Keyurkumar Patel and juniors Zedd Shmais, Kevin Chung and Andrew Toscano. All are Computer Science & Engineering students.

The 12-week competition included 25 teams. The University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez, Georgia State University, Faulkner University and University of California-Los Angeles took second through fifth place, respectively.

UT Arlington team who won AT&T Coding Challenge

The UT Arlington team that won the 2013 AT&T Coding Challenge are (from left): Keyurkumar Patel, Andrew Toscano, Kevin Chung, Zaid Abdulla, Sidharth Goyal and James Fielder.

It was the second time UT Arlington has earned first-place honors in the national competition.

James Fielder, leader of the team, said the project was especially gratifying since it answers vital and problems that people face every day.

“A lot of people, especially young people, text and drive every day. Some cities have even passed laws against it,” Fielder said. “It was great to work on a project that is so current. We feel the app can make a difference in peoples’ lives.”

College of Engineering Dean Khosrow Behbehani said, “These students represent the best of UT Arlington innovation and ingenuity. This national prize shines a bright light on our Computer Science and Engineering Department and our students’ ability to develop solutions that benefit humanity.” 

David Levine, senior lecturer in the Computer Science & Engineering Department, advised the team but emphasized that the winning design was student-driven.

“It’s important to know that the AT&T contest was an engineering contest, not just a programming contest. They had to document, design and build the app, not just program it,” said Levine, who added that the team also participated in the highly competitive Association of Computing Machinery International Competition in Waco earlier this semester. There were more than 70 teams in that contest. “What’s more amazing is that none of these undergraduate students have ever taken a smart phone programming course.”

The AT&T contest challenged students to devise software that curbed or prevented the social pressures of texting while driving as part of the communications giant’s “It Can Wait” anti-texting-while-driving campaign. The UT Arlington team’s app incorporates AT&T’s protocols to encourage and reward drivers who refrain from using their phone while driving.

The app allows users to temporarily block, but save text messages when the device is moving at a certain speed. The app prevents text message alerts that might distract the driver. The app also enables a personalized text message to notify approved senders that the phone’s owner is driving and will return the message later.

The app also includes a rewards system. Points would be awarded to users of the system on a per text basis, ones that are blocked while driving, and could be redeemed at restaurants and stores that chose to be a part of an anti-texting-while-driving program.

“Someone might get a dollar off a hamburger at a local restaurant,” Toscano said. “I think that would appeal to students, who text constantly.”

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 33,300 students and 2,300 faculty members in the epicenter of North Texas. It is the second largest institution in the University of Texas System. Research expenditures reached almost $78 million last year. Visit www.uta.edu for more information.

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.