Incubating the apps of tomorrow | Bangkok Post: tech

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Incubating the apps of tomorrow

A government agency has teamed up with a local bank to provide marketing and project-management expertise to Thai youngsters who have dreamed up promising new IT applications

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Contest-winning mobile apps or software programmes aren't really worthwhile unless they are truly able to serve end-users or organisations in the real world. Many well-thought-out apps might be beneficial to users, but their inventors _ especially young people or individuals not driven by the profit motive _ are sometimes unable to develop their creations because they lack financial support and/or marketing know-how. 

Carbonkun: Life.

The good news is that several Thai students have come up with outstanding apps. Entered in nationwide contests, some of these programs have the potential to serve users in real life and they are fortunately receiving both financial and marketing back-up from Nectec (the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre) and the Siam Commercial Foundation.

Insectica Kingdoms is a 3D battle-strategy game for smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. It is basically an adventure story featuring four different "tribes" _ ants, grubs, grasshoppers and worms _ and the conflicts occurs when a tribe's "kingdoms" comes under threat from invading enemies. There are more than 20 insect characters for players to choose from.

Tanapon Kuljarusin, who studies at King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi, is leader of the team that developed Insectica Kingdoms which won third prize in last year's National Software Contest.

"Each character has different abilities. People can play this game alone via the AI system or they can play with others via local network systems," he said.

Priced at 99 cents, the game is available from the App Store and it will be able to run on Android very soon.

The basic game exercises players' thinking and strategy, Tanapon noted, adding: "We are going to further develop the game by having a story and history for each of the characters."

Kor Kai Rider is a mobile app that allows youngsters to practise their handwriting skills, It was developed by Pongpol Wongkhan, a fourth-year student at Bangkok University. In the past, schoolchildren would form the letters of the Thai alphabet _ kor kai, khor khai, etc _ using pen or pencil on paper. Nowadays they can use tablets for the same task, but before Pongpol had his brainwave there was no program specifically designed to give Thai pupils (and their teachers) feedback on how good or bad their handwriting was.

Pongpol's mobile app evaluates a user's efforts by displaying a rating (average, good or very good) for a passage of handwritten text and awarding it a score which is recorded for future reference.

The developer "game-ified" the idea by designing the app to adding a facility whereby the user can choose to "play" alone or else to "compete" with a database to produce the best handwriting. Write beautifully, notch up a high score and you may very well "beat the computer".

The app was designed for kindergarten students and besides practising the Thai alphabet in its entirety, kids can also choose to concentrate on just the vowels or just the consonants.

Thanks to the financial support that Pongpol received, the app will be available on the App Store "very soon", Life was assured.

Two final-year students in secondary school (Matthayom 6) have showed great vision by developing a social network program they are calling faceBIZ.

Wongsakorn Tessayarat and Songyos Manprasatkul are both pupils at Phuket Wittayalai and their network _ which was suggested by the thriving tourism industry in their home province _ brings together hotels, travel agents, car-rental firms, restaurants and other players in the hospitality business, allowing them to pool customer data, share other information and generally boost cooperation in order to increase business opportunities for all members.

Hotels, for instance, could find travel agents on the faceBIZ system and the parties could communicate and discuss mutually beneficial pricing and other matters, such as package tour groups.

"Initially, we created a desktop version of faceBIZ," said Wongsakorn, "and this helped us win several heats in a software competition. After we'd worked with the Association of Thai Travel Agents, however, we realised that the nature of the travel business required us to develop a mobile-phone version of faceBIZ, too."

The program, which has great potential for helping businesses cut operating costs and find more customers for their products and services, is due to be tried out in the real world next month, but only in Phuket initially. Thanks to the support they are receiving from the Siam Commercial Foundation, Wongsakorn and Songyos hope they'll eventually be able to extend faceBIZ to other provinces, too.

Meanwhile, students at Prince of Songkla University have come up with the environmentally conscious smartphone game called Carbonkun: Life. Designed for use in tandem with Facebook, it simulates the daily lives of human beings and shows how their consumption patterns lead to varying levels of carbon emissions. Carbonkun: Life suggests how players can reduce their carbon emissions by altering their activities and habits and comprises seven mini games. Preeyanuch Supreeleela, a member of the team which designed the game, said there are plans to contact the Ministry of Education to get permission to make the game available through schools. A longer-term strategy sees the game becoming a channel for receiving donations for environmental conservation and recommendation for environmentally friendly products.

Animator is a program for creating 2D moving images which has been developed by students from King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi. Start drawing and the appropriate HTML5 codes are automatically generated so designers do not need to bother with coding and can just get on with the job at hand. Unlike Flash programs which consume a lot more resources, HTML5 simply displays the moving image on websites or mobile phones. The open-source Animator is being offered to students for free and its developers hope to eventually make a commercial version available to professional designers.

Finally, something that seems bizarre and yet is surprisingly useful. Podogram Analyser is a program that analyses the soles of one's feet and was created by Yuttapong Aunhathaweesup, a researcher who has worked in the field of foot-measurement tools. The software was originally developed to gauge the pressure placed on the soles of the feet of diabetes patients, so that wounds commonly inflicted on this part of the body could be better assessed and treated. The data can also be used by cobblers to design metatarsal pads and Yuttapong's program is far cheaper (more than tenfold) than any imported equivalent.

Piyaporn Manthachitra, a senor official at the Siam Commercial Foundation, pointed out that a lot of Thai children are tech savvy, but that they sometime use this knowledge in the wrong way. It was for this reason that an initiative called Tor Kla Hai Terb Yai was launched to support these talented youngsters in making use of IT to benefit society as a whole. By acting as a go-between, linking Nectec and Siam Commercial Bank, the foundation hopes to make the dreams of these whizz kids come true.

Insectica Kingdoms.

Kor Kai Rider.

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