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Bike-Friendly App Takes Second Prize in ‘Apps for Metro Chicago’ Grand Challenge

Trailblaze Chicago, an app created by McCormick faculty and students that collects data from bicyclists to determine where bike paths are needed most, has won second place in the Apps for Metro Chicago’s (A4MC) Grand Challenge.

The app was created by a professor and students at McCormick’s Aqualab, a lab that conducts research on large-scale distributed computing.

Fabián Bustamante, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and head of AquaLab, and his students created the app,which is designed to help Chicago-area bikers by showing city officials where new bike paths are needed most. The app anonymously records the paths taken by the users (who can review the routes they've taken), giving Chicago city planners the data needed to decide where to construct the new trails. The app also features a handy dashboard that allows users to see their speed, distance traveled, and location.

Grad students John Rula and Ted Stein and undergraduate John Hudson took part in the project. The team received a prize of $5,000.

The first of its kind, the A4MC competition brought together government offices and software developers to create apps to help improve the daily lives of Chicagoans. The City of Chicago, State of Illinois, and Cook County all contributed data sets that were made available to the app development teams.

“Data belongs to the people, and there is an enormous desire on the part of residents to participate in government and find ways to contribute,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “This competition will allow them to create innovative solutions and experiment with applications that can make all of our lives better.”

The contest began in June and was broken into three rounds. In the first round, judges considered apps that focused on transportation; Trailblaze Chicago placed fourth of 12 winners. A second round focused on community-focused apps. In the final Grand Challenge, apps on a variety of themes were judged by a Grand Challenge judging panel of experts committed entrepreneurship and innovation.

The first-place Grand Challenge prize went to SpotHero, a for-profit online platform that connects parking demand to supply, allowing parking spot owners to earn income by renting their spot when it’s unoccupied.