If you visit the University of Washington (UW), you’ll likely see students glued to their smartphones. That’s not surprising—smartphones seem to be everywhere now, and for students, these “computers in your pocket” have become constant digital companions. But on May 4–5, some UW students were more attached than ever to their phones, as they spent 24 hours participating in the first “TouchDevelop@UW Hackathon,” trying their hand at programming directly on their smartphone.
The UW students were using TouchDevelop, a novel application development environment from Microsoft Research that enables users to code right on their smartphones, with no need for a separate PC. TouchDevelop thus brings the excitement of the first programmable personal computers to the now ubiquitous mobile devices.
With TouchDevelop, users can create Windows Phone applications that use the data and media that are stored on their phone, as well as the phone’s camera, GPS, and other sensors. And since smartphones are always connected to a network, TouchDevelop utilizes cloud services for storage and computing. What’s more, TouchDevelop applications can take advantage of social networks, allowing for the creation of programs that connect with the user’s online friends.
The enterprising students came up with some truly creative apps. For example, one student produced Inspekt, a facial-recognition application that helps visually impaired people identify others. By using Inspekt on his or her Windows Phone, a visually impaired person trains the device to recognize friends and co-workers. The user then takes the phone to meetings or social events and points it toward people and the phone recognizes known individuals and audibly communicates their names.
Color Recognition was another “visual assistance” app that came out of the UW hackathon. This program is intended to help people who are color blind recognize the color of objects. The user merely points the phone and taps the screen, and the phone replies with the color of the objects in its view.
Other UW students created games for the phone, including TapTrisQ, a puzzle game, and DongleBlaff, a board game. All in all, the event was an exciting opportunity for Microsoft Research to tap into the ingenuity of today’s computer science students—and for the students to discover the power of touch-screen coding on the smartphone.
Want to try your hand at scripting on the Windows Phone? Visit the TouchDevelop website for information and tutorials.
—Arjmand Samuel, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections