Leapfrogging for fun and profit

March 24, 2005, vol. 32, no. 6
By Terry Lavender

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You're sitting in a café reading the paper when suddenly your cell phone chimes. You look around and see an attractive stranger smiling at you and you realize you've met your soulmate.

A fantasy that could only occur in a Hollywood romantic comedy? Not if six interactive arts and technology students have their way. They're hoping that their Leapfrog cellphone application will help people find romantic partners, new friends and business contacts effortlessly.

Leapfrog is the brainchild of Ronn Erwin Abueg, Andrew Draper, Karan Khanna, Chris Gaucher, Jordan Willms, and Cam Fligg, students in Mike Dobson's fourth-year integration class at Simon Fraser University's Surrey campus.

Abueg and his colleagues decided to develop a way for people who share something in common to meet. “What if we could build a system that could connect two people who want to meet one another, but just don't know it yet? It might be that one person is hiring and another is looking for a job, or maybe two people who share a similar interest.”

Abueg describes it as “swapping virtual business cards”. A person creates either a social profile, which lists their likes, dislikes, hobbies, whether they're looking for a party, a friend or a date, or a business profile which includes employment information, whether they're looking for a job, etc. If the person is near someone else who has the software installed, their phone will send the profile to the other person's phone and, if there's a match, the phone alerts them. Even if there's no match, the profile is still sent and can later leapfrog to yet another phone.

Though the application has some limitations (both cell phones have to be equipped with the Bluetooth transmission technology, which only works at short distance and which drains cell phone batteries), it has attracted interest from a local high-tech company. It was also voted the top project at SFU co-op's annual high-tech employer open house, held in February.

The students called the application Leapfrog because a profile is sent from one cell phone to another, and then to a third as soon as it's within range. “It allows individuals to become aware of one another's existence through random encounters,” says Abueg. “When two strangers who happen to share a common interest cross paths, their mobile device would alert them of the occurrence, allowing them to make a face-to-face connection at that moment.”

Abueg and the others researched the market thoroughly before developing Leapfrog. They found no comparable cell phone-based application. Internet services such as Friendster are similar, but don't offer the mobility of Leapfrog.

“People are having a harder time finding opportunities for work and making new friends through their everyday activities,” they say in their project discussion paper. “In a single day, we may walk, take transit, or drive our car to work, school, a restaurant, an airport, a bar, or some other place, and cross paths with hundreds of other people.” Leapfrog, they hope, will help you find that one special person among those hundreds.

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