Who we are

Sumanyu Gupta - CS major (Pitt '18), Python developer, overall nice guy

Alan Jaffe - CS major (CMU '18), back-end/server guru, claims to be from Ohio

Rajat Mehndiratta - ECE major (CMU '18), back-end developer, international student from Texas

Alex Xiao - CS major (CMU '18), iOS front-end developer, only guy on the team who uses Apple products

Inspiration

Our idea originated from the countless events that we, as college students, didn't even know about until after they happened. We decided to create an iOS app that linked people with similar interests into groups they could use to track things they're interested in (e.g., tech talks, free food, service opportunities) or want to avoid (e.g., crime, pollen, diseases).

What it is

Sighting is a crowdsourced extensible platform that users can use to track anything they want and find places they might be interested in- in real time. Users form groups they can use to monitor common interests- hackathons, interesting cars, sightings of Walter White- and be notified in real time when and where these events occur in their area. Our app has a simple user interface, a pleasant user experience, and even allows developers to automatically generate notifications.

How it works

Sighting uses an Objective-C-based front-end and a Flask backend that uses DynamoDB running on Amazon Web Services. Our code is currently public on GitHub.

Challenges

Sighting has to tackle many problems due to its extensibility- unlike apps which are specific to weather reports, health data, traffic alerts, etc., Sighting allows users to monitor any topic of their interest over any geographic area. We have to account for an extraordinarily broad range of use cases and create a platform that allows users to mold their own Sighting experiences based on their own preferences. Beyond that, Sighting was built to be scalable and we spent a considerable amount of effort into building the perfect user experience that could work for all use cases.

Use cases

Travelling to a new city: You know you like cheesecake and good scenery, but you don't quite know where to find it in Pittsburgh. On top of that, you've heard some things about crime and don't like crowded spaces. Just join these groups, alert others when you run into these issues, and enjoy a personalized map of the city to help you plan your excursion.

Health and crime tracking: One of the major benefits of Sighting is its ability to track the spread of diseases. By combining user-generated information with the power of automation and big data, Sighting allows users of all types (city residents, hospitals, police officers, Batman) to track the dangers of their local area and even broader regions to identify trends- both small-scale and large-scale.

A day in the life of a college hacker: Tech talks? Oh yeah, Facebook just had one on Thursday. Oh, you didn't know? Well, check out these awesome beanies and shirts they handed out. Yeah, I'll tell you next time. Wait. You can just join the Tech Talks group on Sighting to be alerted in real time about cool tech talks going on (or about to happen) in your area- and even find new ones if you go to a new location.

What's next

As a product, Sighting is going to expand using the Yik Yak strategy- start local to go global. We believe college students are a solid demographic to begin with as they frequently access their phones and are highly likely to create alerts- they've also got interests within their local region and often spend their time looking around for parties, free food, cool events and avoiding drunk people, bad weather, and pollen. College students are also likely to be invested in their local community since they frequently move around within that area.

Beyond that, we're integrating user-provided data with automatic feeds- which, to demonstrate just how extensible Sighting is, can simply interface with the same interface that users use. For example, a bot taking in Pittsburgh crime reports and creating Sighting alerts can provide a reliable and robust source of data for the Crime group.

But what about the chicken-and-egg problem? To encourage users to contribute and provide an initial (and ongoing) source of data, we've set up automated bots using various services (like city Open Data) to report and map information about disease, crime, etc.

Alright. Did you do any customer validation? Yes! Given our plans for the initial userbase, we surveyed 23 college students from various campuses (including UCLA, CMU, UT-Dallas, and Pitt). Of them 21 (91.3%) indicated they would use the app, 16 (70.0%) said they would actually pay for it ($0.99-$1.99), and 19 (82.6%) said they would use the public-facing API to harvest and add data.

Quotes from customer validation:

"Free food? Hell yeah." - student at CMU

"If it's going to save me money by finding free food, sure I'll pay for it." - student at Pitt

"Yes, I would use this for sports groups and men's fashion." - student at UCLA

Speaking of payment, what's the business model? Ah. A real biz dev question. While our focus was mostly technical, we did think up some rudimentary business models for the expansion of the project- in addition to charging users a small one-time fee for using the app (partially to also filter out spammers), we can also capitalize on the rich dataset and therefore monetize the API. Additionally, we can charge businesses who want to regularly use our platform to advertise their promotions- for example, if 7/11 wants to market their Slurpee promotion, they can pay a small fee to increase the visibility of their alert or to exceed a cap on the number of alerts they can generate within a group within a certain span of time.

The point

Sighting solves a very wide set of pain points by simply letting users track what they want to find and what they don't want to find. We believe our hack has the potential to make a massive impact by allowing an incredible wide array of people to track things they're interested in or want to avoid. Hospitals and health organizations can track diseases, people can work together to avoid crime or health hazards, and ultimately everyone gets a map of exactly what they want.

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