NMSU alumni, faculty and staff make strides in creating programs for mobile devices

By Carlos Andres López ’10

They’re on smartphones, tablets, watches and many other mobile devices. You use them with a tap of your finger and turn to them for just about everything: Need a ride? Want to binge on viral videos? Looking for love? Well, there’s an app for all that and more.

Millions of apps have flooded the market since Apple introduced the App Store more than a decade ago. Mobile app development is now a vast, multi-billion-dollar industry projected to employ some 14 million app developers by 2020. And, consumers are on track to download an estimated 352 billion apps to their mobile devices by 2021, according to industry analysts.

As a result, a growing number of creative minds from NMSU are ready to make waves in the app industry. Some NMSU alumni and faculty have already made strides in the field, developing sophisticated programs that educate youth and adults, help local business owners stimulate their enterprises and support agricultural industry needs in the 21st century.

Learning Games Lab

At NMSU, Innovative Media Research and Extension, a division of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences’ Cooperative Extension Service, has been at the forefront of creating educational, research-based games and media for more than 20 years. 

At the heart of the operation is the Learning Games Lab, a research and development studio led by a team of ACES faculty, many of whom earned undergraduate or graduate degrees at NMSU and later returned to NMSU after completing doctoral work at other universities. Faculty work with the lab’s production team to translate university-based research into media tools, such as games, videos, animations, virtual labs and apps.

“Everything we do is based around changing a person and putting research into practice – whether that be creating a game, an animation or a series of short viral videos,” says Barbara Chamberlin ’93, director of the Learning Games Lab. “We look at the changes and develop the technology that’s appropriate, and a lot of times, it makes sense to create apps.”

The Learning Games Lab has been developing apps for mobile devices in partnership with NMSU and other universities, agencies and nonprofit organizations for about a decade. Since 2011, the lab has created 28 apps covering a range of educational topics for users of all ages, and four additional apps are currently in development. 

“From a livestock record app for kids to track their digital data for their 4-H projects to a game where you can develop your math skills or a plant database to look for plants on the Navajo range, it’s a pretty diverse app collection,” Chamberlin says. “All of it is based on research at the university. All of it is designed to help improve life for people.”

NMSU alumni, like Anastasia Hames ’16 and Philip McVann ’07, make up the majority of the production team at the Learning Games Lab. Hames, a graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Creative Media Institute, started working for the lab in 2017, assisting with art production and animation. She has lent her talents to several projects, including three apps, and works closely with McVann, an eight-year veteran of the production team who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, to digitally replicate art mock-ups.

“I didn’t really know too much about this lab, but I really wanted to use my degree,” Hames says, “And, this is the perfect place to do it. I love working with the people here.” 

McVann agrees. “I get to use my degree. I get to draw all day and be creative. But, it’s not just drawing. We’re doing scriptwriting, we’re doing storyboarding, we’re doing art and sound production. We have to wear many different hats,” McVann says.

Tasty Spot

For NMSU alumnus Todd Bisio ’94, the emerging brewery scene in New Mexico served as an inspiration for his first mobile app.

Bisio, a graduate of the College of Business, founded an Albuquerque-based platform company, Catapult Inc., in 2016. The following year, Bisio launched Catapult’s first product, Tasty Spot, a food app designed to bring new revenue streams to local food establishments and greater convenience and access to customers.

“We decided to develop a food app because of the growing brewery scene in New Mexico, and because we have a passion for stimulating local businesses,” says Bisio. “There was a lack of information about where local breweries and restaurants were and what they had to offer, and we wanted to fill the void.”

The solution? Bisio’s Tasty Spot. 

Designed to showcase local businesses in the Albuquerque area, Tasty Spot has separate platforms for customers and vendors, such as local restaurants, breweries and coffee shops. One platform shows customers an interactive map of nearby vendors in real-time where they can browse menus, place delivery or pick-up orders and purchase food items. The other side of the app helps vendors accept orders, print order tickets, set prep times and customize confirmation codes. 

“We made a much more robust platform with two apps that talk to each other in real-time,” Bisio says. “I’m excited that we can offer a platform that’s lower in cost to restaurant owners and that removes all of the large-chain clutter to help stimulate locally-owned and operated businesses.”

On top of running his company, Bisio also serves as an adviser at Arrowhead Center, an engine for sustainable economic development housed at NMSU. That’s where NMSU graduate student Jonas Moya ’16 received help to start his agricultural-app company, Vidi Opus, and launched his first app, CattleCast, in 2018.

CattleCast

CattleCast equips cattle producers with the technology to trace their cattle as they move through the supply chain, using advance ear tags that collect information on each animal and blockchain technology to protect aggregated data. The app also helps mitigate risk and improve profits.

  “Our goal is to provide users with a low-cost, all-inclusive platform that will easily collect and transfer data as the cattle move through the supply chain,” Moya says. “With this insight, cattle producers will be better able to take advantage of new markets and track the performance of their cattle, even after their cattle leave their operation.”

  The current version of the app, available by monthly subscription, only features a basic break-even calculator. But, Moya is working with industry experts and business accelerators to expand the app’s capabilities based on consumers’ needs.

  “With more affordable technology available and better reliable networks than ever before, there is no excuse not to incorporate technology into agriculture,” Moya says. “Let’s allow these tools to improve efficiency and profitability.”

A software developer and programmer with NMSU’s Innovative Media Research and Extension, Frank Eshelman works on a game app in the Learning Games Lab. Since 2011, the lab has created 28 apps focused on educational topics with four currently in development.

Todd Bisio, co-inventor of the Tasty Spot app, talks with a class at NMSU about the business behind the app.

Students listen to Todd Bisio,
co-inventor of the Tasty Spot app, discuss app development.