When planning a trip, we often search the internet for all the information about a destination and try to find the best sites and tips, thinking we will find the best solutions on the internet. However, we often come across a handful of information that is not always accurate and get frustrated trying to organize a trip.
A team of students from Algebra University College that brings together master students of applied computing, data science and digital marketing is currently working on developing an application that would help travelers in a completely new way. If you happen to find yourself in a new city, for instance during a business trip, and have a few hours to spare before the next meeting, you could get on the app and enjoy a personalized tour, together with interesting facts and anecdotes about the buildings and squares in your vicinity. You could tell the app what kind of content you are interested in and that you have four hours at your disposal. The project called Travelty is, therefore, conceived as an app for travelers and tourists who want to find tourist attractions quickly and receive a personalized tour.
Dino Tretinjak Mesarić, Federica Fioretto, Hrvoje Čardžić, Hrvoje Matković, Ivan Kožul, Kristina Lučić, Petra Barto and Stjepan Bošnjak-Matić are members of the student team gathered around the Travelty project and they are very clear about their goal – they want to create an app that will offer a more personalized and practical way of traveling, taking the travel experience to a new level.
“Travelty highlights personalization, voice functionality and ease of use. It saves us precious time. Depending on the desired destination or our current location and how much time we can or want spend at a destination, the app will suggest several options. The voice functionality will allow the user to not have to read the information about a certain landmark, instead, the application will them all this, like a proper tourist guide,” the students explain.
The project brings together two “trending” areas – technology and tourism
Tourism is a big business and today everyone wants to apply innovation in creating the perfect digital experience that saves time and fully meets users’ needs. “That is never an easy task,” say the students developing Travelty, “but the idea arose out of a desire to use new digital technologies in the realm of tourism. Many of us don’t like group trips and prefer individual travel that includes family and friends, but we still want to find out all the important and interesting facts about the place we’re visiting and also have fun while we’re there. We want to see and learn as much as we can and make the most of our trip, depending on how much time we have.”
“The app is not reserved for tourists alone. You could find yourself on a business trip with a few hours to spare, but no time to research the place you are visiting. The app will then offer you several options based to your personal interests and the time available. There are many more possibilities and we are constantly coming up with new ideas,” say the students.
These innovative students are, of course, aware of the fierce competition in this market, especially where tourism and technology overlap and there are countless products and applications already on the market, but they believe they have a solution in which personalization and voice capabilities will make that difference.
Machine learning is key for the success of this kind of project
What is particularly intriguing is the environment in which this project has been created and developed – as of recently, Algebra University College has introduced a compulsory graduate-level course in which they develop their own ideas for an innovative entrepreneurial project, following the principles and methodologies of startup companies.
Algebra provides the students with mentors and they engage in intensive work on their own project for the duration of their two-year master program. Since the teams of enterprising students deliberately bring together students from different fields – applied computing, digital marketing, data science – this is an excellent opportunity for them to exchange knowledge and ideas from various fields and gain very useful experiences of team management. “It is certainly interesting that all of us come from different fields, because we learn from each other and have a chance to see what it is like when developers, analysts and marketing experts work together,” the students say.
Karlo Knežević, the mentor of this team and lecturer at Algebra University College, currently completing his doctoral degree at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, is an expert, among other things, in machine learning algorithms and evolutionary computing (EC). It is precisely the application of machine learning in this project that has enormous potential. Not only can the users receive their desired recommended content, but it would also work for the partners who want to use the app for advertising, because it makes it easier for them to find their target groups and offer a particular service.
“Given the fact that more and more people travel, mobile communication has become so absolutely ubiquitous, and wearable smart technology is in full swing, such solutions have great potential, which has already been recognized by certain companies. People’s travel habits have changed dramatically compared to twenty years ago. Today, tourists plan their trips in advance and want to know beforehand what services are available at their desired destination. When they arrive in a destination, they want to have the services at their disposal depending on their personal preferences. This sort of travel paradigm greatly affects the way services are advertised to tourists, while at the same time providing tourists with more options,” explains Karlo Knežević.
He points out that in the further development of this project, the student team will rely on the application of machine learning techniques, such as natural language processing, data grouping and content classification. In order for the team to more successfully predict tourist wishes, they will also use neural networks, all the while keeping in mind the scalability of the solution.
“Of course, this project is challenging because it incorporates several approaches: processing large amounts of data and machine learning, connecting to third-party app interfaces from various domains of application and marketing,” said Knežević, “but the fact that the project is comprehensive only makes it more complex and stimulating, which will further motivate the team to successfully implement it,” he concludes.
A personalized marketing approach helps even amidst fierce competition
Given the number of services and applications in this area, competition is definitely fierce – but this does not have to be an obstacle when developing new, innovative products, explains Stella Antolović, a senior lecturer at Algebra University College. She is currently completing his doctoral studies at the Faculty of Economics in Zagreb and has gained most of her experience and expertise in the field of marketing working on various projects related to IT and education. She uses that experience in her capacity as a team mentor on this project, helping them tackle various marketing challenges.
“The solution that the students are working on puts them squarely in a red-ocean market, with very strong competition and constant pricing battles, which is precisely why they need to pay more attention to the concept of their product and the service they are developing. If they succeed in hitting that ‘sweet spot’ in accurately guessing the users’ needs, desires and habits and attracting a critical mass of users who will be thrilled with the product, they will be able to gradually take over their fair share of the market through a system of recommendations,” explains Antolović.
Of course, there are ways to go about it in such situations as well. “I would say that the crucial strategy here is personalization. It is key for the marketing approaches offered by the digital sphere. Most services in this market are designed for groups or sections of travelers, whereas this app is smart on an individual level.
This app will allow each traveler to create their own profile, and it will learn based on the information provided, over time becoming their very own personal guide for each trip. This is not just a smart app, but a concept that could affect the trends on the travel market. I personally can’t wait for my smart guide who will turn my next trip from a typical tourist tour into a boutique and uniquely local experience,” says Stella Antolović.
Students working on the Travelty app as part of their compulsory, yet obviously very innovative, useful and fun course at Algebra University College, have only words of praise for the support they have received. “Our mentors have encouraged and heartened us from the outset and have given us loads of good pointers and advice,” say the students gathered around this project.
Silver Care: How can younger generations help the elderly who live alone?
Another innovative idea comes from a second group of students at Algebra University College – an app that brings children closer to their elderly parents or other family members who are elderly and live on their own. An interdisciplinary team of students envisioned creating Silver Care, a solution that would consist of a mobile app and a smartwatch. Once again, the team consists of students who excel in different fields – software engineering, digital marketing and data science, striving to create a solution that will make it easier for young people to care for older family members living alone, while providing older people with a calmer and more organized daily routine.
The Silver Care application would remind the elderly to take their medication on time, emphasizing which medication to take and in what amount. Elderly people, as well as the person taking care of them would receive reminders about doctor’s appointments and prescription renewals. Since the elderly often have poorer vision or hearing, the students’ solution would allow for additional light or vibrate features for notifications. Silver Care will also make it possible to periodically measure the senior user’s heart rate and to detect a possible fall with the help of a smartwatch.
The team behind the idea for this application consists of Sara Barić, Lucia Matić, Vid Tomišić, Matea Marinić, Ivor Dončević and Mate Kovilić, all master students at Algebra University College.
“It’s incredible that there aren’t more different apps designed to connect seniors and younger family members and improve their life together. I am very pleased that we spotted this space and that we are working on an application that could offer many opportunities in the future,” says Sara Barić addressing the gap in the market they have noticed. “The goal of our project is to offer users some peace of mind and we intend to achieve this by creating an app that will allow them to easily and instantly find out how the people they care about feel and make sure they are safe,” adds Lucia Matić.
“We think the project is very interesting, on top of the fact that there aren’t many similar projects on the market specifically designed for the elderly, which also gives us a comparative advantage on the market. This project involves collaboration and teamwork between students from the areas of digital marketing, data science and software engineering. The current situation around the Covid-19 pandemic, the prolonged periods of isolation, etc., make having an app, which makes it easier to care for your loved ones, especially the ones living far away, all the more important,” says Matea Marinić.
The project’s value lies in the fact that it addresses the ones that most companies overlook
One of the mentors working with the team of students developing Silver Care is Zdravko Kunić, a lecturer at Algebra University College, a seasoned technology expert, entrepreneur and expert in data science. Given his experience in designing specialized IT systems and a background in different industries, this team has an excellent mentor by their side.
“This project is not just an entrepreneurial idea that seemed convenient to implement within the student coursework,” explains Kunić, “it was conceived ambitiously and without academic restrictions right from the start. Its potential market success would not only be measurable by the number of downloads or the app’s popularity, but it is precisely the application of data science could be the game-changer that will, in addition to immediate benefits for both groups of users, generate additional social value by making a scientific medical and healthcare contribution. Therefore, it should come as no surprise if the Silver Care project does in fact reach the market and becomes successful,” he concludes.
Stella Antolović, a lecturer at Algebra, is in charge of providing mentoring support in terms of marketing for this team as well. “Silver Care is one of several projects that clearly demonstrates that young people are in tune with the needs of the society and feel empathy with vulnerable groups,” she said.
“I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of ideas motivated by reasons other than simply generating revenue, related to improving the quality of life in society, especially for those groups of people that get overlooked by traditional companies. When they pitched their idea for an app that helps take care of the elderly, especially those living on their own, I felt exactly what they were talking about. I thought about all the lonely elderly people, but also about their families who are surely struggling with the guilt of not being able to devote more time to them. In fact, I thought it was odd that such an application did not already exist, and that is a sign they are on to something great,” concludes Stella Antolović.
What is it like working on these innovative student projects?
“The most interesting part of the project is that, since we study different areas, we get to share knowledge and complement each other, while also gaining new insights and learning from each other as we work and have fun doing it,” says Ivor Dončević, a student enrolled in the data science master program at Algebra. “At the start of the project, we all worked together to create a productive atmosphere as team members, and as the project progresses, each member becomes more involved in certain segments based on their respective skills, knowledge and motivation,” emphasizes Ivor.
His specialization being data science, he elaborates on its role on the project. “The role of data scientists is to collect data that will help the application function better. If this app becomes widely used, data analysis could provide information on medication use, in terms of which medication is most effective or most used by people who need them, and as such could make this medication more readily available,” he explains.
Matea Marinić is Ivor’s colleague enrolled in the same data science master program. “The role of data scientists is to collect data, which is one of the most time-consuming processes. In this case, it involves collecting all the data related to the elderly, such as information about different medications and how they are administered, of course, with the permission of our users who are fully aware of how data is being collected and have given consent to these terms in compliance with the GDPR and other regulations. After that, our job is to conduct analyses and provide our marketing colleagues with relevant information so that they can adjust their marketing strategies to the market and for our developer to fine-tune the application according to the wishes and needs of our market target group,” explains Matea.
Team programmer Mate Kovilić summarizes, “the role of data scientists on this project is to observe the activities and changes in the database and use that data for analysis in order to spot potential problems and suggest improvements that could be made.” It is not surprising that data science is at the core of this project since it is currently one of the “trending” areas of technology application, whereas these students have decided to use it for the wellbeing of the community.
“This course has allowed me to gain teamwork skills and has made me realize how useful it is to exchange knowledge and ideas with people from different fields in order to create a product and service. I also realized that it is extremely demanding to initiate a startup and takes a lot of time to develop a good idea and see it to fruition,” says Ivor Dončević.
Stepping out of their comfort zone is vital for the students to grasp the essence of entrepreneurship
“The enthusiasm and progress speed of Silver Care, after the project’s initial definition and mentoring sessions, has given the students a very clear and hands-on insight into the fact that entrepreneurship is one of the best ways individuals can influence the progress of society, regardless of their field of expertise. I was pleasantly surprised by the team’s efficiency in solving problems and dealing with business challenges, despite their lack of previous entrepreneurial experience, which I consider a good indicator of the bright future of this project in the real world,” says Zdravko Kunić, one of Algebra’s student team mentors.
In the world of entrepreneurship there are no universal recipes for successfully managing a business, therefore, resolving unexpected situations requires from the team members to frequently step out of their comfort zone, which is one of the most important experiences students can gain, along with the confidence that such situations build, challenge after challenge,” concludes Kunić summarizing the value of this experiences for the students in working for two years on their own projects as part of their coursework.