A mobile app conjured by a group of Helena High students might turn heads in Silicon Valley.
It would also turn everyday objects into digital 3D models, which could then become the stuff of video games or 3D printers.
Instead of taking photos with your phone, imagine using it to help create true-to-life replicas.
The idea has proven to be a winning one for the six computer science students. The team recently topped state and regional contests for the Verizon Innovative App Challenge and will soon learn if they’re the best in the nation.
They’ve already bagged $5,000 for Helena High by winning the West region, which includes every state west of the Dakotas. If they win at the national level, the team will bring home another $15,000 for the school and tablet computers for themselves.
The competition asks middle and high school students to develop an original concept for a mobile app that fills a need in their school or community.
Helena High, advised by teacher Buffy Smith, beat out more than 20 submissions around the state. Laurel Middle School won the state competition among middle schools with a “Speak 360” app that would assist students who are speech or hearing impaired.
Teams submitted detailed descriptions of their idea and produced a video to pitch it. At the national level, the pitch also included a judging by Verizon executives and MIT professors via videoconference.
No programming is required, but teams must bring their skills to bear to demonstrate that the app isn’t entirely out of this world, according to junior Jake Pennington.
“You had to show how it could be plausible,” he said.
If their “Exact 3D Extract” idea seems farfetched, think again, the students said.
The app would work like this: The user would rotate the phone 360 degrees around an object, while the app creates a digital rendering.
That rendering could then be edited with software like AutoCAD or Google SketchUp, senior Bridger Howell said, or sent to a 3D printer for physical reproduction.
“All it does is make the model,” Howell said.
While the team said the app would be simple and user-friendly, the mathematics behind it is quite complex.
Pennington mused that their app could encourage development of hardware accessories, such as a railing to stabilize the phone or a turntable to spin the object. Both would make the models more accurate, they said.
One factor they’ve had to consider is if mobile devices would have enough processing speed to handle the modeling function.
“Theoretically,” Howell said, “it could be something that could take a long time.”
However, the students noted that the pace of tech development suggests that what is unfeasible one day is within reach the next.
Today’s mobile apps haven’t come close to reaching their full potential, senior Sage Smith said.
Pennington said the 3D extract idea was conceived with a future in mind in which 3D printers become commonplace in average households.
“It’s going to be big. I could see it replacing modern manufacturing,” Smith added.
If that’s the case, Smith said he’s pretty sure their concept will become reality somewhere, in some form.
“The judges seemed really impressed with our idea,” he said.
This story has been updated to include the name of adviser Buffy Smith.