Students design software that helps reunite lost animals with owners
Upper Valley residents missing a beloved pet will soon have a high-tech resource to turn to, thanks to a group of Dartmouth students and an innovative computer science program.
The program, called EPICS for "Engineering Projects in Community Service," is a course taught over two terms. Students in the program identify and partner with community agencies to create web-based tools to suit the organizations' needs. Past partners have included the Montshire Museum of Science in Vermont and Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity. Currently, a group of students is working with the Upper Valley Humane Society (UVHS) to design an online system for reporting and returning lost pets.
The Lost and Found Pets project members, Clea Barnett '08, Emily Greenberg '08, Susan Mlodzianoski '08, and Micheal Olushoga '08, in consultation with the UVHS staff, did extensive research on dog and cat breeds, physical characteristics and patterns. The result is an exhaustive form that allows people with lost or found pets to give a detailed description of the animal. The software then applies an algorithm to identify potential matches. Humane Society staff can then review the results to try and reunite found pets with their owners.
Associate Professor of Computer Science David Kotz, who taught the course spring term, likes the program for the real-world problem-solving skills it teaches. "EPICS projects engage students completely-they're working on a real project for a real customer, and get to experience the whole project life cycle," says Kotz. "They interview the customer, develop a list of requirements, develop a prototype, obtain customer feedback, and conduct extensive testing. Along the way they learn about working in teams and about the latest web technology."
Chris Bailey-Kellogg, assistant professor of computer science, founded the program at Dartmouth after working with a similar program at Purdue University. In addition to the educational benefit to students, he says, "the custom software can make a big difference in how these great organizations carry out their missions in the community. They are highly involved in the EPICS partnerships, working with the students to sort through the issues, assess possible approaches, and test prototypes. They have the chance to really define how the software will address their needs."
Jill Harris, president and CEO of the UVHS, recently got a tour of the website, testing it for usability while the student designers took note of her comments and suggested refinements. After more trouble-shooting sessions, Harris and the designers hope to launch the program in fall 2008, with the help of incoming EPICS students who will take over the project. "One of the most heartbreaking situations that we encounter is when a family has lost a pet," says Harris. "With this software, our hope is to increase our reach so that more people will register and report lost or found pets. Particularly compelling is the opportunity to improve the odds for reclaiming cats-currently, only about one or two percent of the stray cats that come in to the UVHS are reclaimed by their guardians."
By GENEVIEVE HAAS
Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.
Last Updated: 12/17/08