The city announced Thursday evening the 10 Palo Alto residents whose ideas for mobile applications, from a social network for dog owners to a crowd-sourced database of wheelchair-accessible places, were selected as finalists in Palo Alto's first Apps Challenge.
City leaders created the competition to engage civic innovators and build a deeper sense of engagement between government and residents, they said Thursday. The challenge is also being held as part of the 2nd Day of National Hacking.
"The idea is to almost crowd-source civic engagement," City Manager James Keene said. Seven judges, including city employees, screened the applications, many of which addressed pressing city issues such as transportation, parking, the environment and bicycle usage, Chief Information Officer Jonathan Reichental said.
Fittingly, this week also marked the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, Reichental noted.
The 10 finalists and their app ideas are:
- Cynthia Typaldos, Adopt Me! Animal shelter adoption app.
- clickPA team, clickPA Mobile app platform for fun teen activities. (The clickPA team was a 2012-2013 recipient of the Palo Alto Weekly's Holiday Fund).
- Francesco Ferrari, Play Palo Alto app raises civic awareness through games and challenges.
- Ruthellen Dickinson, Dogs in the Neighborhood! A dog owners' social networking app.
- Lisa Altieri, GO CO2 Free Palo Alto! game to encourage residents and businesses to lower their carbon footprint.
- Oren Shneorson, The Farm app serving growers and gardeners to have coordinated planting seasons for better cross-pollination.
- Oren Shneorson, Crowd Parking mobile app directing drivers to the nearest available parking space.
- Molly Munson, BikeWatch app that highlights bike safety in the city, provides bike maps and shows details of bike thefts.
- Sharon Chen, Tall Tree Teens app database of teen opinions and trending topics that lets students choose their topic and add their opinion, making their voice heard in the community.
- Michael Simkovic, Wheelchair Friendly Palo Alto app, a crowd-sourced database of places accessible for disabled citizens.
A panel of judges reviewed 74 submissions, with 30 percent sent in by youth under age 18, Reichental said.
Samidh Chakrabarti, a judge and principal on the Civic Innovation team at Google.org, said the process was an intense one due to the high volume quality applicants.
"It's a testament to the incredible creativity of the Palo Alto community. They made our job very hard," he said.
Finalist Sharon Chen, a Gunn High School junior, said she wants to do research in computer science at a university laboratory and create applications to help in biomedical fields.
Michael Simkovic said he was inspired to develop an app for disabled persons because he has a friend in a wheelchair.
Oren Shneorson, a coder who worked with VMWare but left last year to "figure out the next thing out there," secured two finalist spots. He didn't think he could work on both applications within the given time frame.
The parking issue affects him the most personally, considering how much time people must circle in downtown to find a parking space, he said.
Getting help from eager students might be a solution. Helen Merk, a Pinewood School freshman, is ready to help code the Adopt Me! animal shelter app that Cynthia Typaldos is developing. The student approached Typaldos and her team after Thursday's ceremony to offer her services.
Typaldos, who is involved in her third start-up business, said she and her team, which includes finalist Ruthellen Dickinson and teammates Nancy Cook and Brian Smith, submitted seven proposals. As people who have rescued animals, they said they feel the city's animal services could use applications that could leverage social networks.
The applicants ranged in age from people in their sixties to teenagers.
Reichental said that competitions such as the Apps Challenge can inspire careers in young people. He recalled being 11 years old when he wrote a program called Speak and Spell and earned $200.
"I became absolutely hooked," he said.
The finalists now have six weeks to prepare their applications for an April 27 showcase at the Palo Alto Art Center. The top three winners will win prizes ranging from $3,500 to $500. Winners also get free incorporation services through Palo Alto law firm Wilmerhale.
An event announcing the final winner will be held May 31 at the Midpeninsula Community Media Center. Free tickets are available; it will also be live-streamed online.