Tesla STEM team vies for national award with ‘Take Me There’ app

The ability to get around in day-to-day life is something many in the able-bodied community do not think about much.

But for those living with disabilities, there are a number of things to consider, from transportation options to accessibility.

This was something Rhea Shinde learned as a volunteer at Little Bit Therapeutic Riding Center in Redmond.

So when she and her classmates at Tesla STEM High School near Redmond were assigned to create a mobile phone app to submit to the Verizon Innovative Learning App Challenge, the ninth-grader came up with the idea for an app that worked to make things easier for those living with disabilities. Shinde pitched the idea to her six teammates — all ninth-graders — and out of that came “Take Me There.”

Tristan Stephens, another member of the team, said the app gathers data from various sources such as Google, to come up with the best route users can take to get to where they need to be.

Shinde said users can also enter their needs, whether that means they need wheelchair accessibility or are visually impaired and need the app to provide voice instructions.

As they worked to refine the app, Shinde said they talked to another student at STEM who is in a wheelchair to get her opinion and feedback on how they can improve “Take Me There.”

“She liked the idea,” Shinde said.

She added that the goal of their app is to help users be more independent, noting that the other student they consulted with is a senior and must rely on her parents to go places, from school to the mall.

The team — which includes Ayan Gupta, Rudy Banerjee, Sid Chandrasekar, Stephen Yamasaki and Rachel Oommen in addition to Shinde and Stephens — submitted their app to the challenge in November and have since won one of two Best in State awards as well as one of four Best in Region awards for the Pacific region.

The group is now up for the challenge’s Best in Nation award. The seven teens presented to a panel of judges Wednesday afternoon about their app and are now waiting to learn the results, which will be announced next month. The judges will select eight Best in Nation recipients.

Best in Nation teams will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to present their completed apps at the annual Technology Student Association (TSA) Conference in Orlando, Fla. in June. They will also receive a $15,000 award for their school or out-of-school program and training from Massachussetts Institute of Technology experts to develop their concept into a working app, which will then be downloadable from the Google Play store.

The STEM team has already won $5,000.

Another way teams can get to the TSA Conference is by winning the Fan Favorite award. This contest is based on votes via text messages and winners receive the same awards as Best in Nation winners. To vote for the STEM team, text “TAKEMETHERE” to 22333. Voting runs through Feb. 14.

Team adviser Melissa Wrenchey said this is the third year the school has participated in the challenge. She said STEM participates in many challenges and competitions and teachers build that into their curriculum. Wrenchey said through these projects, the students learn how to problem solve, work as a team, make sure everyone’s voices are heard and more.

“It really was a team effort,” she said about the group’s work.