Last week after a bit of shuffling I finally got my capstone project assignment – Development of an Evacuation App for Oregon Coastal Communities. It was my second choice in projects, and I’m so thrilled I was selected for it!
The project description which drew me in details an app which helps individuals prepare for an evacuation event – both physically and mentally.
The app guides users through an exercise that begins with planning what objects they would take with them in an evacuation event (for Oregon coastal communities, likely a tsunami). It then asks them to enter how long they predict it will take to collect those objects and depart.
In the next stage of the exercise the user is presented with a timer and asked to; start the timer, collect those objects, go outside, get in any vehicle they would use to evacuate, and finally stop the timer.
After the trial run is complete the app displays the user’s results. It compares the actual time to prepare for evacuation with the time they predicted. From there, the user can recursively run the trial again improve their actual time further.
I was really excited by this description of the project. I especially liked that it could showcase many of the software engineering talents I have picked up during my time as a computer science student. But it turns out it is not the full picture.
My group met with our project partners last Friday to discuss the app and development logistics. Our project partners are a Doctor of Civil Engineering and his research assistants. Their current research involves modeling traffic during evacuation events.
Our project partners explained that they currently collect data to improve their models using an ad-hoc solution. They survey test subjects by hand, run the in-home drill using their phone timers, and then have test subjects use “Strava” while evacuating to a safe location to generate “trajectory data”. It is this location + time data that they then feed into their model to train and verify it.
Therefore, their goal for the project is to streamline and automate as much of this research process as possible with an app. All of the functionality I previously described will still be present. However, the app will also be administering surveys, tracking location over time, and exporting data to the researchers.
Furthermore, their ultimate vision for the app is for it to be usable by any team of evacuation traffic researchers with dynamic pre- and post- test surveys attached to the evacuation trial.
When my group and I learned the full scope of the project I think we were intitially “caught in the headlights”. We had been preparing to create a simple, static, stand-alone app. Now it turns out we will be creating a moderately complex, dynamic, connected app. It is much more work than we believed we were signing up for.
We took some time to think, and talked over these developments as a group. As we explored it we realized that the full project is much more exciting than the initial concept! It’s an opportunity to work with data transfer, location permissions, and privacy notices. It’s also an opportunity to contribute to research which could inform important civil engineering decisions. And – perhaps most the most exciting aspect – it’s a project that can make us look very attractice to potential employers.
I am super happy with this turn of events! It’s a bigger challenge than I was expecting – and that’s a good thing!