FALL RIVER: Ever want to get online but there was no Wi-Fi or Internet service? Well that may no longer a problem for you thanks to a new app built and created by three Fall River youths.
OffNet lets you check directions; weather; tweet; and more all while not needing an online connection or use of data. It is the brainchild of Zack Rooney, Cooper Gagnon, and Lochlan Graham, three Fall River teens with a knack for being tech savvy. The three are all Grade 12 students at Lockview High.
There is one main goal for the creation—and need—for an app like this, Rooney explained.
“In this world we have four billion people without access to the internet, but they do have access to a cell phone or even a Smartphone,” said Rooney. “We want to be that app that brings the next billion users onto the internet. It’s something that we here in North America take for granted.”
He said something as simple as a farmer in Ecuador wondering what the weather will be like for the next few weeks so he can plan out his crops. That’s who OffNet is targeting to help.
“It would change their life exponentially,” said Gagnon. “What Google and Facebook are forgetting is that an Ecuadorian farmer, for example, might have a cell phone, but they won’t have data.
“What we’re trying to do is get rid of data and Wi-Fi altogether.”
Rooney said what OffNet does is only give the person requesting information the text, so no videos. On Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat there are a lot of videos.
“We have cleaned up a few of the more popular websites that people would use, like getting directions; definitions; twitter; weather; Wikipedia; and news articles,” he said. “Those are very text-based websites.”
He gave an example of how the app works when looking for the weather. In this case, he entered Fall River and hit send.
“What that is going to do is send a message to a server that we own,” said Rooney. “We have a program that will read that text and send back the relevant information.”
OffNet works on any cell phone that can send and receive text messaging, even flip phones, said Graham. It’s built more specifically for Android phones.
Gagnon explains the inspiration for the app came from himself and Rooney being in a coding competition at Saint Mary’s University. They were trying to solve a problem that many at their school, Lockview High, had—very intermittent and off and on Wi-Fi service.
“We wanted to figure out a way to connect people to the internet without Wi-Fi or data,” said Gagnon. “We also figured out that data pricing is quite excessive, so this was another way to connect and get the basic services that you need.”
Rooney said they started working on it in May 2015; combined the three have put in more than 500 hours working on learning how to make apps and then creating it. Graham joined the two in October 2016, more on the marketing side of things.
“Lochlan was you could say the light because Cooper and I were like “we’re done. We can’t get anywhere with this,’” said Rooney. “Lochlan came up to us one day at school and said to us that we had an awesome app and that we definitely could get it out there so people could use it.”
Gagnon said the motivation was the competition itself, where they had a week to build it and show it off to judges. It was along the lines of OffNet although less fancy. They showed the technical background of what it does, and that impressed the judges enough that the duo took home scholarships from SMU.
Rooney had his interest sparked from seeing website’s Gagnon had done and coded. He taught himself how to code in Java and XML through the Android Studio program and watching YouTube videos.
“I had no previous history with programming until I did this app,” he said.
Graham said they want to take a more philanthropy role with OffNet, as opposed to profit-driven
“We want to make sure our technology is sued in the right way with the right people, not for a profit,” said Graham, as Gagnon and Rooney shook their heads in agreement.
“All three of us have said we really aren’t in this for the money. The money is almost a side thought,” added Rooney. “We really want to share this internet with the part of the world that doesn’t have it.”
Graham said people at Lockview students have downloaded the app and used it without any issue when the Wi-Fi would be bad or their internet went out. The feedback has been nothing but positive.
“We hope that eventually many people in the Third World and developing countries can benefit from it,” he said.