Laps around the dining hall or cafe without finding a seat. Climbing up the library stairs only to see there is no peaceful place to set down your books and study. These are the problems that Cornell Design & Tech Initiative hopes to solve with their new app Density, which was launched on the Apple App Store on Monday.
“It’s the same way you would check the weather real quick before you go out,” said Kathy Wang grad, one of three designers of the app. “You don’t want to be caught going outside and being rained on the same way you don’t want to go to a place and find out there’s literally no seats for you and waste time.”
Andrew Xiao ’20, the app’s product manager, says it was partly inspired by the popular navigation app Waze, which displays user-submitted route details to help people to avoid traffic and other inconveniences.
“We want to do the same thing with traffic flow,” Xiao told The Sun. “We track the traffic flow of certain campus facilities in real time and then we report it to our users, which allows them to avoid crowded places and find the best places to go at the best time.”
The app provides a simple interface for students to look at live and historical data for the “busyness” of dining locations on campus, using an algorithm that uses card swipes and historical data to approximate the traffic of each location. Coming up with the algorithm turned out to be “pretty hard” because of the variables involved.
“Knowing how many people were coming in and buying things wasn’t enough,” said Raymone Radi ’20, one of the app’s developers. “We didn’t know how many people actually sat down after they got something or how many would just come and sit. We’re trying to tell students how busy a place is and it’s hard to do that without knowing some other things than just transactions.”
According to Xiao, Cornell Design & Tech Initiative has been “mulling over” the idea for a density-tracking app for two years, but actual development and user research only began two months ago.
“Our goal was to get the entire app out to the student body before finals since I think that’s one of the pain points of students,” Wang said. “That’s when you experience the most crowdedness at places and it’s the most valuable time. We definitely want to see how it does during finals.”
Due to the short development timeline, the group has yet to test the app outside of the project team. Radi pulled out the app in Libe to demonstrate to The Sun how it worked.
“If you wanted to just go to Libe like right, this is not really accurate, it’s pretty busy, but it tells you historical data for all the Fridays we’ve measured. For now, it thinks it’s not too busy in Libe. We’re still working on the algorithm,” he admitted.
Again inspired by Waze, the team hopes to improve the app’s accuracy through user feedback.
“We’ve created a feedback function that allows users to tell us if the reported data is accurate to what is going on as well as just general points that we can improve on,” Xiao said.
While in the current iteration of the app this feedback will only be used by the team to refine the algorithm, the team hopes to eventually relay the crowdsourced information back to its users.
Other potential future features include expanding to other facilities such as libraries and fitness facilities, and the team plans to spend next semester using the feedback to improve the product.
“It’s gonna be super helpful to get feedback,” Radi said. “If a lot of people download it and tell us what’s wrong and what’s good, that’ll help it become a lot better.”
Ultimately, the team hopes that the app will help guide student decisions and “just make people’s lives easier,” Wang said.