This is What’s App

The beautiful transportation hive that is Grand Central Terminal echoed with an excitement that differed from the norm on the morning of September 24, 2013. Instead of a cluster of commuters, there was a crowd of technology enthusiasts that buzzed about Vanderbilt Hall awaiting the announcement of the 2013 MTA and AT&T App Quest winners.

“This MTA AT&T App Quest challenge exemplifies the excitement that engineering can bring to our lives,” said Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly) President Sreenivasan.

Barbara Cohn, Chief Data Officer of the New York State Office of Information described the event as “innovation in action.”

Under the golden light of ornamented chandeliers, six teams—including team Subculture.fm, representing the NYU-Poly Incubators—watched and waited as a host of speakers praised them all for participating in a months-long journey to create and develop Smartphone applications that would enhance the commute for the MTA’s 8.5 million customers.

Marissa Shorenstein, President of AT&T New York, spoke to the collaborative effort between the sponsors of App Quest and its sponsors: AT&T, NYU-Poly, the MTA and ChallengePost.

“The App Quest challenge is a unique opportunity to marry our shared commitment to innovation among all of our organizations,” Shorenstein said, “and produce tools that riders across the five boroughs, and even beyond, can use.”

What started out as a research project with the MTA evolved into a hackathon in May where teams quickly conceptualized and presented the seedlings of apps in a whirlwind of a weekend.  From there, the App Quest challenge continued and participants were encouraged to further develop their apps through August and enter a final submission. A total of 49 teams entered the global competition meant to improve the commute of millions of subway, bus and rail riders through the use of real-time data supplied by the MTA.

A total of $40,000 in prize money was awarded to Citymapper (Grand Prize, $20,000 and Wish List prize, $2,000), SubCulture.Fm (2nd place, $10,000), Transit App (3rd Place, $5,000) AccessWay (Honorable Mention, $1,000), Bus NYC (Honorable Mention, $1,000) and Moovit (Popular Choice award, $1,000).

Antonio Pellegrino, recent NYU-Poly graduate and a member of team SubCulture.Fm—an app that allows MTA customers to identify their favorite subway musicians performing in the NYC subway area—is already looking forward to improving the team’s app.

“The money will allow us to spend time adding features we wanted to include,” Pellegrino said. “For example, [giving users the ability to] donate, buy songs, contact the artist and so on. This will bring the app to a new level.”

Before the winners were announced President Sreenivasan said the competition, “is the tip of the iceberg of what is possible if academia and private sector come together [...], it goes to show where  very humble beginnings can actually lead us. This began as a grad school project to develop apps for smartphones and the fact that it has evolved to affect a large number of mass transit riders is a testament to our technology schools.”

Congratulations to this year’s participants and Antonio Pellegrino, Loren Abdulezer, Susan Abdulezer, Edward Cercado, and Pranav Patel—all the members of team SubCulture.fm. All finalists can be viewed at 2013mtaappquest.challengepost.com/submissions.