CACTC senior develops DrivePad app

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When you ask Estevan Feliz what he did over his summer vacation, his answer might surprise you.

Feliz, with his DrivePad app, is being hailed as being Vinli’s youngest app developer, and he has yet to graduate from high school. He spent an entire summer teaching himself the computer science skills needed to create an application to help those students who are completing their 50 hours of practice driving to log their hours.

Feliz, a senior enrolled in the pre-engineering/robotics program at the Cranston Area Career and Technical Center (CACTC), is set to graduate in the spring. He says he has found his passion in the computer sciences, and it although he’s been into computers since he was about three years old – taking them apart and putting them back together, building them from scratch – it was the day he got his driver’s permit that really got his wheels turning.

“About a year ago, I was getting my learner’s permit and they passed me a little white booklet at the DMV and told me to please complete 50 hours of driving,” he said. “I looked at it and I thought to myself, ‘Why don’t I make this into a digital format?’ Everyone has a phone or other device in their pockets, and I told my dad that I was going to make an app.”

It was a lofty goal for some, but not for Feliz.

“I had done some previous game maker-type of computer work but I had never tried to create something so big that it would be released,” he said. “That summer, I took a month to look at online websites and tutorials. I found a crash course online and learned from that and then I got started.”

Feliz’s goal was to create an app for students who need to track their drive time for their learner’s permit, an app that would track hours driven, time of day, and weather conditions during those hours.

“My challenge was that Photoshop was not my strength. I had to create about 400 files with all of the icons, images, and buttons, and Photoshop was used heavily,” he said. “I watched lots of tutorials about effects, shades, colors, color blending, and things like that. The way I designed the app, I wanted the user to be able to customize the design. I made nine themes to start with and I had to make every button a specific color, so I did all the blues first, all the reds next, and in the end I had 16 options for the user to customize the app.”

Feliz had to learn a new computer language, Lua, in order to create his DrivePad app.

“It was my first time using this, and I used the Corona SDK software development kit which allows you to design one app and release it for multiple platforms,” he said. “I had to make minor tweaks to allow the app to run on iPhones and Androids, just by changing a couple hundred lines of code.”

At the same time Feliz was learning new computer languages and software programs, he was also learning to drive.

“I wanted to make sure that I showed people that I was using my own application to log my 50 hours,” he said. “I used that time to make my trial runs. I’d go out and drive, see an issue or a button that didn’t work and go home and fix it.”

The process for using the app is simple and very user-friendly, according to Feliz.

“You get into the car, open the app, click ‘new session,’ and it starts tracking when you press the play button. It stops when you are done driving. I also added in the ability to log the weather conditions and the time of day, as well as certain skills used during the drive time, such as a three-point turn,” he said.

It is important to note that drivers with a learner’s permit are not driving alone, but rather with a legal adult in the car with them, so that the drivers are not utilizing their phones for the app while they are driving.

A year ago, Feliz submitted his app to Google Play and began going through the approval process. He did the same for Apple.

“It’s been on Apple for two months now,” he said proudly.

As exciting as it is to have an app for sale in the Apple store, Feliz was even more excited when he received a request from Vinli, which specializes in bringing connectivity to automobiles.

“This past May, I received a request from Vinli, and they asked me if I wanted to do a partnership with them to integrate my application with their platform,” he said. “They have a smart OBDII adaptor which plugs into the car, and can turn any car which is a 1996 or newer into a smart, internet-connected car. This little device allows you to download apps from their store and use them in conjunction with a device in your car.”

Feliz’s application, in partnership with Vinli, allows users to actually track their routes on a map and their miles driven.

“This is a mutually beneficial relationship,” he said. “My users would want their device, their users would want my app to track their kids’ hours driven.”

This past summer, Feliz added a new feature to his app based on user feedback – the ability to back up onto Google Drive.

“The issue that people were having included having a phone that had been dropped or broken, forgotten or replaced with a new phone, and having all of the data stored on the old device,” he said. “This back up allows people to sign into their Google Drive account, allowing them to easily and simply back up data with the tap of a button.”

Throughout the process, Feliz has made several changes and updates, adding in new and better features.

“I had to think of a lot of things,” he said. “My goal was intended to help students drivers track their hours for the DMV and I definitely had them in mind. I have added two important extra features to the app, [including] an anti-cheat system so that if you’re not driving, not moving for five minutes, it automatically pauses the time-tracking. It uses GPS to make sure you are moving.”

Another important feature Feliz incorporated into his app was the ability to delete an entry that contains a mistake as well as the ability to manually enter in pre-existing hours if a user had used a logbook before having the app.

Additionally, once the log has been completed, users can export it to an email and send the entire report by entering their email address at the time of setup.

“The app will automatically create a report of the student’s log and export it,” he said.

The app can also be reset for another child, such as a younger sibling who is now logging their own 50 hours.

The entire process has been one big learning experience for Feliz, and as he applies to colleges, he has a better idea of what he’d like to be doing in the future.

“I had no prior computer science classes, I had to teach myself a lot,” he said. “After doing this application, it showed me what I really wanted to do and I plan to major in computer science in college. Originally I thought I wanted to go into engineering, and I do still love engineering, but I really loved doing this and it’s been a really great learning experience for me.”

To learn more about Feliz’s DrivePad app, visit drivepad.weebly.com. 1

YOUNG DEVELOPER:

Estevan Feliz, a senior enrolled in the CACTC pre-engineering/robotics program, has developed an application designed to help students who have their learner’s permit log their driving hours. (Herald photos by Jen Cowart) 2

SPECIAL FEATURES:

When used in conjunction with the Vinli platform, the DrivePad app has additional features and benefits available, such as being able to track their routes and miles driven. 3

KEEPING TRACK:

Once drivers have completed their 50 hours of practice time, they can export their entire log to an email and print it out or send it off.

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