Maxwell Stone, an 8th grader at Alice Deal Middle School in Northwest D.C., won the 2018 Congressional App Challenge representing the District of Columbia. Stone, aged 14, created an app called “Landmarks the Spot.” Other D.C. entries came from students at Washington International School, School Without Walls, and McKinley Technology High School.
Stone’s winning submission is an application for history students of all ages. Seeing a landmark, one may not know its name, or may want to learn more about it. “You take a photo, or choose a photo, and you press the ‘detect’ button. Your device uploads your photo, scans it for the landmark, then gives you back the information. Then you press the ‘more information’ button, which opens up the wikipedia page for it,” he explained.
This is not the first app Stone has created, but he did feel this was a good one to submit to the contest.
“I normally try to learn a new skill when I create a new app,” he said. “Google had recently released a firebase ML API for machine learning, and I thought I could do something with that, and identifying landmarks seemed like a good choice for a Congressional App challenge.”
In layman terms, Google’s ML API (machine-learning application programming interface) provided Stone with a machine-learning module fully integrated into mobile development platforms, and allowed him to imagine developing an app that also incorporated Google’s Vision API for image labeling, optical character recognition, and face detection. His app uses both APIs.
“There are some app creator programs, but I coded the app myself. I’ve been learning IOS Swift (an Apple programming language) for three years now,” said Stone — and yes, if you’re doing the math, that means Stone has been coding in this language since he was eleven years old.
“Maxwell has mostly been self-taught in computer programming,” said his mother, Lisa
Stone. She continued, “Most programmers will tell you `I learned to program by having a problem I needed to solve,’ which basically is how he [Stone] has taught himself, through looking stuff up on the internet and YouTube videos. There are a lot of YouTube videos on how to code. A friend of ours, who has another 8th grader, has been teaching an informal coding class for a handful of kids after school. They don’t do app programming in that class, but web development, which has been complementary to this work.”
The Congressional App Challenge involves a bi-partisan group of Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, who host district-wide Congressional App Challenges for middle school and high school students, encouraging them to learn to code and inspiring them to pursue careers in computer science.
“Ingenuity doesn’t require money, wealth or privilege,” said the Director of the Congressional App Challenge, Rachel Decoste. In 2018 the challenge had over 5,200 participants from 45 states and territories. There were 420 winners from Congressional Districts around the country.
App entries can involve teams with up to four members. Stone developed his app on his own.
He says that his next challenge will be to create an app for kids in his neighborhood to link up with neighbors who might need their services for tasks such as mowing lawns, raking leaves, or shoveling snow. This will require him to develop his skills in marketing and other areas of business. He is focused on building upon skills he has already mastered to learn new things.
Stone’s “Landmarks the Spot” app is available for IOS devices as a free download on iTunes.