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Waterways mapped in UWSP mobile app

The Wisconsin River has been called the nation’s hardest working river, but thanks to a new mobile application (“app”) produced by the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, enjoying the river in Central Wisconsin has become easier.
 
The Wisconsin Waterways app shows depth contours and map information for 13 Central Wisconsin water bodies, including the Stevens Point Flowage of the Wisconsin River. In addition to water depth contour information under normal water-level conditions, the app includes the locations of old log pilings, points of interest such as nearby parks and boat launch locations, and municipal boundaries.
 
Content for the app (available for download to Android devices at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=edu.uwsp.wisconsinwaterways) was originally generated as part of a bathymetric survey and mapping project conducted by the UW-Stevens Point Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Center. A team of faculty and students led by education specialist Christine Koeller collected more than 120,000 data points over 2,800 acres of the Stevens Point Flowage.
 
“We took it only as far as a paper version,” says Koeller, whose group printed 6,000 copies of the Flowage map for distribution, while the Lake Wausau Association printed 5,000 copies of that map. “But we really wanted to take it mobile and give people the opportunity to use the depth information that we collected in a mobile environment: ‘Here I am out on my boat, this is where I’m located, this is where I want to go. What’s the safest route? What are the potential locations I might want to visit kayaking, boating, fishing, duck hunting?’”
 
Students in CNMT 480, a capstone course in the UW-Stevens Point Department of Computing and New Media Technologies, were tasked with bringing these maps to life in a mobile environment. Supervised by professors Tim Krause and David Gibbs, CNMT 480 students work with clients both local and nationwide on technology-based projects. To date, students have worked on roughly 250 projects and contributed about $1.4 million to the local economy, according to Krause. During the semester-long course, students average 200 to 300 hours working on their projects.
 
Students Dirk Kahl, Sam Franz and Justin Knight were assigned to the Wisconsin Waterways project. They did not start from scratch; a group of classmates had previously built a functional prototype of the app. While that work provided guidance on working with the ArcGIS platform on which the original map was built, the prototype lacked certain desired features.
 
“It was a bit of a challenge,” says Kahl, who graduated in May and is working for Herrschners as a developer. “There were a few things we had to remove from the application to restructure it, and since these are our colleagues and friends, it was sometimes hard to say ‘This is not the way to do it, this is how it has to be.’ There were a lot of sleepless nights but it turned out a lot more suited to the functionality we were looking for.”
In addition to the technical side of executing the project – “our professors do a very good job of teaching us how to think like a programmer, think logically and make apps maintainable going forward,” says Kahl – students also learned valuable lessons on project management.
 
“They used a method called Agile management for project planning and management, which is new to me but made me think we should probably be managing our student projects in a similar fashion,” says Koeller. “The students always came in well prepared and organized, communicated effectively, stayed in contact with me once a week, and it’s very clear to me that they were trained how to do that. I think they did a fantastic job.”
While the app team is excited to have launched the Android version in time for use this summer and fall, development will continue. In addition to added functionality such as the ability to store information about specific locations, an iOS version remains under development. On the content side, the app has been built to add new water body maps created by the GIS team.
 
Krause sees projects like Wisconsin Waterways as part of a larger community service provided by UW-Stevens Point students and faculty. “If you live in a major metropolitan area, this kind of information is available, but a lot of times in rural areas like Central Wisconsin, it gets overlooked,” he says. “We’re able to provide the tools, resources and data to folks who really need it. If it weren’t for collaborations like this we wouldn’t have that. It’s vitally important for our students to be a part of that so that hopefully a year or two down the road, as they’re settling into their careers, they can think about how they can take what they’ve learned at Point and apply it to give something back to their community.”
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