Earlier this month, two teams were named overall winners at HackPrinceton, one of the nation’s top hackathons. The event brought together college students from all over the nation to bring their software and hardware ideas to life as they competed for various prizes.
For the hardware design category, Ethan Gordon, David Liu and Jeffrey Han designed the ASL Tegra, a product that enhances the ability of deaf people to communicate more effectively with the hearing. To take home the title in the software design category, Rohan Doshi, Juan Sepulveda Varon, and Ruiqi Mao created an application called JusText, which essentially allows phones to access information on the Internet through text messaging (check it out at JusText.me). I was fortunate to have an opportunity to interview Rohan Doshi, one of the team’s contributors, and ask him a few questions about HackPrinceton, JusText, and his life as a college student.
Q: What did you guys make?
A: If I were to tell you to turn off the data and Wi-Fi on your phone, it would be like a dumbphone—a non-smartphone—it can call, it can text, but that’s about all it would be able to do. It’s representative of the 3 billion people in the world that use non-smartphones (that’s 2 in 3 people in the world who aren’t mobile phone users). If I were to tell you to use the same phone to, say, get my latest twitter update, give me driving instructions to somebody’s grandmother who is in a nursing home in downtown Trenton, and give me a stock price for Apple, you would say you can’t do that with current technology because you don’t have internet. I would say, ‘yeah, you’re right normally,’ but then we came up with the technology that changed that. We came up with the technology that turned all 3 billion non-smartphones into smartphones. I would introduce to you what [we] created at HackPrinceton, called JusText. The vision was simple; connect all phones, dumb or smart, to the Internet via text. We have a phone number associated with a server that we set up. Basically our code on the server will fetch all the information you need from various databases and open data sources and compile it and text it back to you. What we’ve done is created a conduit for every phone in the world to access the web without having Internet data. So what we’re doing is we’re expanding the reach of the technologies of various tech companies to the other half of the world [without smartphones]. We believe it has a lot of potential from a social standpoint. It also has a large monetary benefit; it’s much cheaper than buying a data plan. The great thing is that we’re using existing infrastructure and giving people access to the web. And that’s the big vision. We’re just trying to make connections between all people and that’s JusText.
Q: What was the biggest challenge at HackPrinceton?
A: I think all of us can agree that the biggest challenge was making sure that we had enough functionality built in within the 36 hours. Of course, we couldn’t do everything in the world, but we put together a pretty comprehensive list of basic functionalities to get going.
Q: What about HackPrinceton was the least challenging?
A: For me, personally, I think it was the pitch. I was so excited to tell the world about what my team came up with. It was kind of cathartic, in a sense, letting all the pent-up emotions and excitement expel themselves.
Q: What draws you to apps?
A: The thing is, I’m actually not an app developer; I’m originally a web developer. I had a web-designing company back in high school, and decided to continue some of my skill sets oriented towards the web.
Q: Are you still involved with your web-designing company?
A: I’m not too involved anymore since I became too busy. Basically, I built websites for local companies and I focused on a technology involved with video chatting called Web RTC. It’s peer-to-peer video chatting and the big idea is that it enables a connection without any sort of plug-ins or downloads… I don’t actually make apps, per se.
Q: What is your favorite app?
A: Does Gmail count? [Laughs] I honestly can’t pick a favorite app… um… probably Shazam. I think it’s pretty clever. There’s actually a really cool electrical engineering class here at Princeton where you can reverse engineer the mechanisms behind Shazam.
Q: What’s your favorite flavor of Skittles?
A: I’m not a big fan of sourness. I’m more of an M&M’s guy.
Q: But regular skittles aren’t sour?
A: I forgot about that…
Q: How are you handling your life as a college student?
A: [laughs] I’m really close to my roommates and the people on my floor; it’s fun to go out with them. The challenge is balancing academics with clubs and dance team.
Q: Dance team?
A: I’m on Bhangra, a traditional Indian dance that’s high in energy and full of color.
Q: What plans do you have for the future?
A: I definitely want to pursue this. We received very positive feedback at HackPrinceton. I’m very excited with where our design can go. I’m looking forward to seeing how the future goes and seeing how my fellow teammates make the trek with me.
Image Via Wikimedia Commons