Entrepreneurs are often defined by their ability to find inspiration in the ordinary. This distinction holds true for team Unfoldit – one of six teams competing this week for cash and prizes in the 2019 InVenture Prize at Georgia Tech finals.
Members of Unfoldit, the only team made up exclusively of computer science (CS) students, say they found inspiration for their InVenture Prize entry in a question on an American Dental Association admissions test.
“The admissions test asks questions about punching holes in folded paper to confirm that an applicant has some reasonable spatial skills, which could indicate potential ability to work with mirrors inside a patient’s mouth,” said Jackie Elliott, a fourth-year CS student, and the team’s data and asset architect.
Elliott and her teammates – second-year CS majors Max Brauer and Ryan Miles, third-year CS major Cliff Panos, and fourth-year CS major Michael Xu – were working to identify a project for the Fall 2018 Idea to Prototype course. As part of the development process, they found that other entities like elementary schools and medical researchers also use fold/punch tests to measure spatial awareness abilities.
“We found that elementary schools use these test in part to identify students for gifted and honors programs,” Elliott said.
So, with this inspiration, the team created Unfoldit, a paper-folding and hole-punching game that enhances and tests spatial awareness abilities. Although initially inspired by testing applications, the team is marketing Unfoldit as a “brain game.”
“We see a lot of potential in the market for apps designed to develop the mind. People reach for their phones during downtime, but increasingly they want something more productive, rather than scanning Instagram or other social media,” said Xu, one of the team’s iOS developers.
With the inspiration in hand, the team took the next several months to bring the concept to life. One of the biggest challenges during this time was achieving the scale that the team had in mind.
“We knew we were going to have lots of levels,” said Panos, also an iOS developer on the team. “We wanted to make things fast and fluid, but as CS majors, the first thing we all thought was that this sounded like a memory problem.”
"If Unfoldit takes the top prize, they will be the first all-CS team to win the InVenture Prize at Georgia Tech," Mary Hudachek-Buswell, GT Computing lecturer and team Unfoldit advisor
The team knew that to ensure the best user experience possible, hard-coding solutions for 1,600+ levels would make the app too cumbersome and too slow. They got around this snag by developing an algorithm that computes solutions as users progress through the levels.
With the new algorithm calculating where holes will appear for all levels, team members say they then worked to make it very easy to write the levels by using as little data as possible to describe a level.
“We spent a lot of time making sure that we are loading in all the levels and data at just the right time so that the app will launch really, really fast,” said Panos. He said the same approach was used in loading saved user stats and game progress.
The team has yet to establish Unfoldit as a limited liability corporation, but they say that is on their to-do list.
“We think Unfoldit is just like tic-tac-toe – it’s a concept that nobody can own so it can’t be patented. We have, however, filed for a trademark on the logo, because we think the real value is in the brand,” said Panos.
Unfoldit is currently available for iOS and Android.
"If Unfoldit takes the top prize, they will be the first all-CS team to win the InVenture Prize at Georgia Tech," said Mary Hudachek-Buswell, College of Computing lecturer and team Unfoldit faculty advisor.
Team Unfoldit takes their shot tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. at the Ferst Center for the Arts at Georgia Tech in the final round of the 2019 InVenture Prize at Georgia Tech.