‘SnowFi’ app earns Grand Rapids developers first prize in state competition

Posted at 7:11 PM, Oct 08, 2014
and last updated 2014-10-08 19:11:27-04

GRAND RAPIDS. Mich. — With an app for just about everything on our smartphones today, even the State of Michigan is getting in on wanting to help developers create the next big thing.

The second annual "Code Michigan" event, which is sponsored by the state and several private companies, awarded a group of three developers from Grand Rapids first prize during the competition this past weekend.

Eric Buehler, Josh Hulst and Ryan Graffy are the local minds behind the application called "SnowFi" which is designed to show users where snow plows are and what roads they've cleared to make winter commuting safer and easier.

Hulst, who is also co-founder of the Grand Rapids-based Michigan Labs gave FOX 17 a preview Wednesday of how the app works.

The application uses Google Maps as a backdrop and highlights streets in red as snow begins to accumulate on them. Through GPS tracking on snow plows the app can provide real-time positions of plows.

"The snowplows are simulated data positioning and you see this one here, it actually turned green as it started going down the road, that means that road section is actually being plowed," Hulst said while demonstrating the app.

By using existing GPS data from snow plows already being collected by the state, the team built upon the mission of what "Code Michigan" is all about: using existing government data to promote transparency to improve citizen engagement and efficiency.

The state dubs it 'civic coding.'

"It's all about getting that data out there and making it available for everyone to use," Beuhler said.

The "Code Michigan" competition took place over the weekend simultaneously in Detroit, Newaygo, and Marquette. The three $5,000 first place winners from each city then went on to compete for the $10,000 grand prize. The "SnowFi" team took home first place in Newaygo and the overall grand prize, something none of the members said they expected.

"It was really exciting, it was great how they took care of us, provided us with the data, and they didn't have a lot of expectations as far as what the outcome would be," Gaffey said. "In that sense it set the bar really high to go where the creativity goes."

The next big hurdle will be getting other municipalities on board with the project, but the team has already received positive feedback from the state about the possibilities of improved efficiency with the app, according to Hulst.

The team also has to determine how to make the application profitable and whether they will be able to offer it for free to users, decisions that will be made over the next few months as work continues.

While "SnowFi" is still in early its early development stages Hulst and his team say it's possible it could be ready for users by the end of this winter at the earliest.

Calhoun County allowed residents to use a similar service on its website last winter.