The City of Palo Alto announced the winners of its first-ever Apps Challenge Saturday evening, with the developers of Play Palo Alto a mobile application that encourages volunteer work in the city through games -- taking the top prize of $3,500.
The finale event to announce the winners was held at the Midpeninsula Community Media Center in Palo Alto, from where it was also recorded and live streamed on the center's website. Contestants and community members gathered there to learn about the nine finalists' apps, all aimed at improving life in Palo Alto, inspiring positive action and fostering community.
Determined in part by public online voting, the challenge's winners also included a pet adoption app, AdoptMe!, which took home second place (and a prize of $1,000) and accessibility tool Enabled City in third place, with a prize of $500.
Part of the 2nd National Day of Civic Hacking, the Palo Alto Apps Challenge has been a months-long undertaking. A panel of judges, including Mayor Nancy Shepherd and a number of Silicon Valley professionals, began reviewing the 74 different entries at the end of February, narrowing them down to 10 finalists (one dropped out).
At Saturday's ceremony, first-place winner Play Palo Alto creators Francesco Ferrari and Richard Logan discussed how community members can use the application to find and sign up for local volunteer opportunities, as well as be motivated to participate by earning points. According to the project's website, those points can then be redeemed for discounts and prizes at local businesses.
Ferrari said he thought of the idea for the app while in high school in Italy, thinking that "turning volunteering into a game" might get more youth interested in community service.
The second-place AdoptMe! app seeks to encourage pet adoptions by allowing shelter volunteers to share photos and details about available pets. Already functional, the application is already being tested with local organizations such as Palo Alto Animal Services and the Humane Society of Silicon Valley. Project representative Helena Merk said that the group plans to donate its prize money to the Palo Alto Animal Services shelter.
Michael Simkovic of Enabled City, which helps disabled individuals identify accessible services and locations in Palo Alto, described how he and other team members rode a wheelchair around the city to test the performance and usefulness of the application.
All together, the nine finalists offered solutions involving a wide variety of issues and activities in Palo Alto, such as bicycle transportation, carbon consumption, urban farming and teen engagement.
One finalist, Tall Tree Teens, whose project focused on making teens more involved in local government, was developed by members of Gunn High School's Girls Tech Club. Another finalist app, clickPA Mobile, was organized by local high school students to alert teens to Palo Alto events based on their interests. On the Apps Challenge website, the city reported that 30 percent of participants were under 18.
Jonathan Reichental, Palo Alto's chief information officer, emceed the finale event and briefly interviewed each of the finalist groups on stage. Pre-recorded videos were also screened for all but one of the groups, further explaining the story and inspiration behind their apps. Public voting for the winners closed at 8:45 p.m. after each group had a chance to speak.
Singer/songwriter Karl McHugh performed a few songs during a "musical interlude" while the winners were being determined. Tyler Hardison of Stanford Federal Credit Union, the contest's main sponsor, also spoke briefly, as did City Manager James Keene.
Keene talked about the many problems facing both the world and the Palo Alto community, such as climate change, an income gap and health issues -- many of which require significant "changes in behavior" to address. He said he sees innovation -- these projects serving as examples -- as key to inspiring change that the city needs and should encourage.
"In Palo Alto, we see ... the city itself as a platform for community and change," he said, "and this is just another invitation to our citizens, whatever your age, to help us discover the future and lead to a good life."
To learn more about the winners and finalists, go to the Palo Alto Apps Challenge website.