As aspiring astrophotographers and space enthusiasts, we wanted to have a dedicated platform where we could share our passion for this fields with other people with similar interests. Given that we are invested in this field, we observed the lack of networking within the astrophotography community. To help remedy this problem, we developed Astrova, a dedicated way to seamlessly communicate and chat with other astrophotographers, no matter your skill level. Astrova allows astrophotographers to share pictures of their photographs, and the process which they undertook to capture the photographs and edit them.
Problems with current platforms
Most astrophotographers currently post their content on Instagram, however there are a few main problems with the platform. First, people getting into astrophotography are unable to learn more about the process, as they only see the end result, potentially discouraging them from exploring this hobby. Secondly, images on Instagram "last forever", encouraging content creators to focus on making their pictures "perfect", rather than reflective of the true process. Another social networking platform that we drew inspiration from was Snapchat. Snapchat allows users to chat via sending pictures, and the pictures were deleted shortly after viewing. We preferred this sort of platform, as it allows for a more informal conversation about the process of astrophotography, rather than one merely seeing the end result, However, Snapchat pressures the user to stay active via "Snap scores", and we wanted our platform to be free of this stress. Furthermore, productive conversation rarely takes place on Snapchat, another reason why Snapchat isn't the ideal platform for this. We developed Astrova to be the nexus of social networking apps, through combining the multimedia messaging of Snapchat, the "networking" aspect of other prominent companies including LinkedIn, and the widespread reach of Instagram.
The central feature of our app is CosPics, which are pictures (relating to astrophotography) that one can take and share. Once one views a Cospic, it is deleted from our database, and they can no longer see it. This reduces the stress of one trying to make their picture "perfect" and encourages users to give a more accurate snapshot into the process of astrophotography.
What it does
When the user opens up the app, they have to login or sign up. From there, they can view the cospics that were sent to them. Once they view the CosPics, they are deleted from our database and no longer viewable. If one wants to post a CosPic, they can choose to do so from either their camera or the photo library. Once they're selected a picture, the user can choose who to send it to within their circle.
How we built it
We built this app in the Swift Programming Language within the XCode IDE and used the Firebase SDK to make Astrova truly a social networking app. Specifically, we used Firebase Authentication to authenticate users, Firebase Storage to store the images uploaded, and the Firebase Realtime Database to manage user data (Cospics uploaded, messages sent, etc.)
Challenges we ran into
- I didn't have much experience with databases before this, and this was my first time working with Firebase's realtime database. I was able to get around this by reading and rereading Google's documentation for Firebase.
- Building an end-to-end social networking platform was far harder than I anticipated, specifically removing image data after it has been viewed (this took me 3+ hours to figure out, but this feature was really important both for the scalability of our storage bucket and privacy).
- We had issues implementing our planned User Interface into a UITableViewController and were ultimately unable to do so. However, we are currently fixing this issue and will post an update once it is done.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
- Astrova is the first-ever multimedia messaging platform for astrophotographers. We're proud that we were able to apply our technical skills to build something completely novel!!
- In this 48 hour hackathon, we were able to build an end-to-end social networking web app, and we're really proud that we were able to make this fully functional!
- We are really proud that we were able to use our skills in UX Design and App Development to solve a problem that we faced; it's a really good feeling when you are able to solve a problem you're facing with technology :)
What we learned
- We learned a lot about databases; specifically how to store and access user data efficiently within a database.
- We learned how to integrate the Firebase SDK within an XCode Project.
- We learned how to implement UIs designed in Adobe XD into Swift Storyboards.
What's next for Astrova
We plan to share this project on social media to get further feedback, and then publish it to the app store. We are also exploring implementing the Scade SDK so we can build our app to an Android device. Furthermore, we plan on scaling this beyond the astrophotography community, and allowing people to create their own communities to share passions about hobbies they enjoy.