Need help finding access to temporary housing, food banks or health services? You can always call 2-1-1 at anytime–but soon there will also be an app for that.
A team of University of Texas at Austin students spent last fall developing a smartphone app called “CallScout,” designed to help Austin residents have easier access to social services information. VP of UWATX’s 2-1-1 Navigation Center, Kay Garza, said this app is an important step to bringing information to more low-income individuals because they are more likely to have phone internet access than home internet access.
The project took these 12 students to New York in January, where they competed against student teams from other schools, such as Stanford and UC Berkeley, for the grand $100,000 Watson University Competition prize—and won! The app uses Watson technology developed by IBM. Watson is a supercomputer that can quickly sift through large amounts of information to answer complex questions, keeping “in mind” natural speech nuances.
CallScout allows users to ask Watson a complete question, i.e. “Where can I find food for my family?” The app will then list nearest food pantries based on the user’s location, along with contact information, hours of service and user reviews. It also allows users to create their own review of the service received, so others using the app may see useful information when choosing a service to best fit their needs. The UT Austin students created a video showing exactly how the CallScout app will function.
The Navigation Center will work in conjunction with the app, providing more detailed help to those who need it and monitoring the app to make sure it is providing correct and useful answers. The app will also provide the Navigation Center with useful data, such as what types of services are most needed or areas where more people are using the app.
The team will utilize the $100,000 prize as seed funding to finish building the app and launch it. According to the Austin American-Statesman, “there are strict rules regarding how the funding can be used, and in order to receive any money, the app must be rolled out commercially within one year.” The team of students and UWATX’s Navigation Center hope to launch the first version of the app by the end of summer 2015.