Software Development as Community Outreach

Michael Jipping, Ph.D. | Professor of Computer Science

If you’re asked to imagine a “life-changing” app — go ahead, try it — do you flash back several summers to Pokémon Go, the sensation that pulled thousands outdoors to re-experience the world around them?

Dr. Mike Jipping is proving that an app need not be flashy or viral to profoundly, positively alter lives.

He’s working through a steady stream of projects to improve the lives of people with cognitive impairments — by coding apps. For each app, his goal is to make the life of at least one person at least a little easier.

Finding students who share this vision has been easy. Participants in the Hope Software Institute (HSI), the Department of Computer Science’s student-faculty collaborative research program, have teamed with him on several coding projects. “They want to do software development that affects peoples’ lives and makes folks more independent,” Jipping says. “They don’t want to write an app to play a game on your phone, but to help somebody live a better life.”

In recent years, Jipping and students have created a number of products for people who needed assistance an app could provide. To help a part-time Hope student use Holland’s local bus system, which a spatial processing disorder made hard for him, they coded MAXTracks in the summer of 2014. Articulus, a Chrome extension that simplifies the reading level of web pages, was developed for Black River High School students stumped by advanced language on websites they consulted for schoolwork. In 2016, HSI students developed Bilancio for iOS, which helps people with cognitive impairments budget their money effectively. (They updated it for Android in 2018.) Jipping provides the apps to users at no charge.

In 2019, he began developing an app to help people initiate or join a conversation with an acquaintance. It will remind them of details from prior conversations. “This is for folks with impairments, but it’s also for me,” Jipping says, setting the scene. “You show up at a party, or you meet someone on the sidewalk, and you start a conversation with them — and you’re trying like crazy to remember who they are.” This app, still in development, would identify the acquaintance’s voice, locate it in the phone’s database and pull up his or her name and relevant details. The final hurdle in the project will be to code the app to separate and identify the voices of multiple speakers in a conversation.

“I think that if I can use technology to make peoples’ lives better, that’s what God wants me to do with my ability,” Jipping asserts. “This is not just writing something to prove that it can be done; it’s writing something to make someone live better, to overcome obstacles and barriers. Technology can do that — and do it well.”

Natasha Strydhorst

Author: Natasha Strydhorst

Natasha Strydhorst writes research-focused stories in sundry scientific spheres.

Photography: Steven Herppich