UT App Gains National Attention, Opens Chance for Collaboration

A transportation app developed by a group of UT industrial engineering students has gained some national recognition.

The Community Transportation Association of America has chosen the team of industrial engineering students for its 2015 William and Budd Bell Award, given annually for contributions that help improve the lives and transportation options of seniors and the disabled.

The app allows those who rely on Knoxville–Knox County Community Action Committee (CAC) transportation to alert the system of their physical, mental, or linguistic needs, making their ride much safer.

“This app really holds the potential to help a lot of people who might not otherwise be able to easily get to where they need to be,” said Rupy Sawhney, UT’s Heath Fellow in Business and Engineering and faculty leader on the project.

That improvement in ability to get around town and the growth in quality of life that goes with it speaks to the heart of CTAA’s mission.

While William Bell’s work primarily focused on seniors, his wife, Budd, devoted so much of her time to helping the disabled and underprivileged that she gained the nickname “Florida’s Conscience” for her efforts there.

Presenting the award, CTAA Regional Director Jo Ann Hutchinson said, “This year’s winner is being honored for their work in bridging the technology gap between older adults, people with disabilities, and the mobility they need.”

That same drive to help others is what led to the UT-CAC partnership, with the Knox-area transport group seeing the potential it held for riders.

“This will open up new opportunities for people with disabilities to be more independent,” said Karen Estes, CAC transit director, when the app was announced in 2014. “Having a way to communicate their routing, personal, and safety needs will be a tremendous help.”

The idea first came to former UT student Eric Arendt, a graduate student in the department who succumbed to cancer in March 2014.

With the blessing of his widow, a team of students brought the idea to fruition in his honor. That team included Venkata Kamala Lavanya Marella, Hongbiao Yang, Dhanush Agara, Li Yuting, Vijaykrishnan Srinivasan, Gajanan Arha, Enrique Macias De Anda, Geiwei Zhang, Dinesh Patolla Reddy, Abishek Chimalapati, Issac Atuahane, and Bharadwaj Venkatasen.

The group has gone through a series of testing and tweaking phases, and is now refining the app and making sure it is in the hands of those who need it most.

As the app has become reality, the group has expanded its outreach efforts.

Knoxville mayor Madeline Rogero is a big proponent of the app, as are several other key governmental groups and businesses—thirty-five in all.

More than that, the various potential impacts of the app have opened the team’s ideas to include the possibility of partnerships with other entities at UT.

“This is something that affects social sciences, social services, business, a number of different things,” said Sawhney. “The possibility exists for collaboration across many, many departments here at UT.”

As for its impact on Knoxville, Sawhney noted that the app fits in with Rogero’s goal of seeing the city be one of the most disability-friendly in the country.

 

CONTACT:

David Goddard (865-974-0683, david.goddard@utk.edu)