Yale Freshman Wins iOS Hackathon


Yale freshman Leo Shimonaka has won the Rochester Institute of Technology's 2015 iOS App Challenge, a five-day hackathon that this year focused on creating novel iOS multimedia apps using Apple's proprietary coding language, Swift. Shimonaka's app, "Miru," marries the digital and physical worlds by making additional digital information relevant to your current location available through the iPhone's camera and GPS technology.

"Unlike virtual reality, which is fully simulated, my app gives users the freedom to tie digital entities, known as nodes, to real world objects and locations through augmented reality," said Shimonaka, who earned entry into the event by winning the Apple Prize at HackPrinceton 2014. "For example, I could create a node at the coordinates of an event I'm hosting. Then when a user is in the area looking for something to do, they could use their camera lens to not only find my event but view comments and RSVPs from attendees, check-in upon arrival, and using the integrated ApplePay feature, even register and pay for attending."

In addition to these location-based features, the app is also capable of interacting with objects. For example, in this semester's "ENAS 118: Engineering, Innovation, Design" class, Shimonaka learned to use Arduino microcontrollers to interact with physical objects using Bluetooth technology. Such Bluetooth-enabled objects can be controlled with Shimonaka's app when their shape is recognized with the camera.

"At the end of my app presentation, I controlled a Bluetooth-enabled lamp, turning it off and on with the app," said Shimonaka, who believes such interactivity is a key innovation for his app. "A lot of augmented reality projects supply information without insight. My app focuses a lot on interactivity and being able to make 'dumb' objects smart. My platform provides the ability simulate smart objects, shifting the social hub from an obscure url to a physical space and uncovering insights hidden to the naked eye."

Shimonaka, a freshman Computer and the Arts major, developed and presented the app in collaboration with Simon Horn of Yale and Brian Ngadimin of the University of Rochester. For their first place win, they each won a MacBook Air and a job interview at Apple.