When two Hermiston High School juniors started their Technology and Web Development class at the beginning of the school year, they wanted to develop their skills and make something useful.
A few months later, they’ve created an app that got the attention of U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, and may be of help to a much wider audience.
Rogelio Lemus and Ethan Orozco created an app that was selected as the winner of the Congressional App challenge. They created the “B.A.N.A.N.A” (Basic App to Notify Authorities of Non-Authorized Abductions) app, which helps recognize photos uploaded to the app, and tells the user whether the photo matches anything in a statewide database for missing people.
Walden called the students to congratulate them on the app, and invited them to a reception in Washington, D.C., which the students hope to attend.
Orozco and Lemus said they came up with the idea for the app pretty quickly.
“It had been a while since I coded, so the first week was getting warmed up,” Orozco said.
“I really wanted to use API,” Lemus said. API, or application programming interface, is a set of tools and methods for building software. The students used code created by someone else — a practice their teacher Robert Theriault said is common in programming — and rewrote portions of it to meet their specific needs.
Theriault said the students began programming in the second week of school. Though they borrowed code from someone else, they had to learn how it works and figure out how to make it work for their own app.
“The code they studied showed how to compare two specific faces,” he said. “They had to rewrite it so it would compare other faces, not just those two.”
They connected the app to a small sample of photos, to test if it works.
To make the app fully functional, Lemus and Orozco still need to upload the full database. There are currently photos of four missing people on the app now.
“It’s still in beta testing,” Theriault said. “They downloaded photos off of a website for missing people in Oregon.”
The two only had a month to create the app, between the beginning of the school year and submitting it to the Congressional App competition.
Theriault said the students are members of a quickly growing computer science program.
“There’s a lot of interest, and it’s a growing program,” he said. “There’s an AP (Advanced Placement) class that feeds into this one, which now has 20 students.”
Hermiston has several computer science classes, including intro to computer science, AP computer science principle, and Technology and Web Development, as well as an independent study.
Theriault said though he’s had a few students who have entered the app challenge before, he’s found that many schools in eastern Oregon don’t have a computer science program.
“In all fairness, we’ve only had one for two years,” he said.
Two years ago, another Hermiston student won the challenge, and traveled to D.C. for a reception.
“When we got to D.C. the first year, we were one of a few public schools that won,” Theriault said. “There were a lot of tech schools and private schools.”
Theriault said he’s tried to find other opportunities for his students to develop their skills. They participate in a programming challenge at George Fox University. Still, he said, because it’s in a bigger area, they’re often competing against kids with a lot more tech experience, or parents who work at major technology companies.
Though they were most focused on the technical aspects of the app, Lemus and Orozco had some fun with it, too.
“It was pretty fun coming up with the name,” said Lemus. “I wanted to come up with an acronym.”
Though there was some debate about the name — the term “non-authorized abductions” made their teacher question what an “authorized abduction” would be — but they knew the name would help people recognize the app.
“You’re not going to forget it,” Lemus said.
“I haven’t done anything like this before,” Orozco said. “It challenged my skills and I was pretty happy with the results.”