THE SKY IS THE LIMIT FOR TECHNOLOGY
At the tender age of 16, Sebastiaan den Boer developed an app that would allow his father to keep better track of the events of the Tour de France. Sebastiaan discovered that you need more than just programming skills if your goal is to market the app and make it financially appealing. After attending the Business Information Technology Open Day he was convinced: ‘This is the degree programme that I need to take my skills to the next level, so I am enrolling at the University of Twente to further my education!’
Who can actually say, ‘I’ve built an app for my father so he can keep better track of the Tour de France’? Sebastiaan named the app MetroTour and before he knew it, the app went viral. Suddenly, it was everywhere. Customers looking to purchase a new smartphone at Mediamarkt were given the opportunity to start MetroTour to test a particular device. At a certain point the app was downloaded so often that it even blew past the Rabobank app! What an achievement for a 16-year-old young man, with no real background in information technology or business.
During the Open Days, Sebastiaan discovered that Business Information Technology was the perfect degree programme for him, allowing him to gain not only the required expertise in the field of information technology, but also a firmer grasp of the business aspects involved. He would be able to better market any future apps he planned to develop. The spirit of a true entrepreneur. He worked together with five fellow students on their first assignment. The topic was sports. The group decided to design an app for the Batavieren Race (the world’s largest relay race) called Batagram, which allows users to share pictures like on the popular Instagram app. The expertise Sebastiaan gained while creating MetroTour was invaluable to the group and was put to good use to ensure Batagram’s development was on the right track.
Of course there is more to student life than just taking classes and completing assignments: you can also join a sports association, become a board member for a study association or, like Sebastiaan, participate in a hackathon. “In 2015 I took part in the first of a series of hackathons organised by NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge,” explains Sebastiaan. “Together with some fellow Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC-GIS) students, who later encouraged me to enrol in the Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation minor, we participated in the hackathon organised in Noordwijk by the European Space Agency (ESA). We designed an app to help tackle the food problem in Africa. The ITC experts determined which areas on the African continent would be most suitable for growing which crops. Currently a large amount of the harvest is shipped to countries in Europe, who in turn send money back to Africa for aid relief. But of course it would be better for African farmers to trade their own harvest between themselves, which would make them self-sufficient. The app could be a useful tool. I used the business case to help market the app.”
In 2016 Sebastiaan took part in the hackathon again, this time with UT students from various disciplines: International Business Administration, Applied Physics and Business Information Technology. “During the hackathon, we were given the opportunity to expand our team by inviting people who weren’t on teams yet,” explains Sebastiaan. A ‘SpaceBuddies app’ was created during this hackathon: an educational app focused on teaching primary school children about lunar missions. Sebastiaan: “From a very young age, moon landings and spaceships fascinated me and of course I wanted to become an astronaut myself. Did you know that on 16 July 2019 it was 50 years ago that the first astronauts left for the moon aboard Apollo 11? You would have been able to learn this in the app we built in 2016. We even won the prize awarded by the general public for this app. With the knowledge I gained during my Business Information Technology programme I was able to take action quickly, which is a necessary skill during a hackathon considering you only have 24 hours. Thanks to my solid foundation in information technology, I was not only able to do my own programming, but I could also perform analyses to understand the origins of issues. The business component in the programme allows you to market products much faster. As a graduate, you are actually an expert in two fields! This allows you to act action extremely quickly.”
Sebastiaan: “Participating in a hackathon is not just a lot of fun, but also a great learning experience. Learning to act quickly is an absolute must. The development process improved with each app we designed. In 2017 we developed an app we named UberWasser. This app offered beach visitors information about beach safety and where the nearest shops were located for purchasing sunscreen, a quick bottle of water or a delicious ice cream. So of course now you’re thinking, what does this have to do with space? For this app, we used data provided by satellites. In 2018 I took part in my final hackathon. Instead of the NASA Space Apps Challenge, I took part in the European equivalent called Act In Space. Act In Space was organised by ESA and CNES (the French space agency). We created an app called Vindo. The app used satellite data and local measurements (called in-situ measurements) such as air quality to measure the quality of the living environment. By combining this data with data obtained through surveys of the local population, it becomes possible to determine whether the precise amount of green space and the population’s perception of the amount of green space align. This could be extremely valuable in determining how citizens view climate policy and the ways in which it might be improved. The jury labelled us the top in our category, and they flew us to Toulouse for the award ceremony. We even talked to some businesspeople from Airbus who showed interest in our app. Unfortunately our team split up, which is why I am currently looking into marketing a version of our app myself.”
In 2018 Sebastiaan organised NASA’s International Space Apps Challenge in Enschede. It was the first time this hackathon was organised at a university in the Netherlands, leading to an overwhelming 50 registrations for the event. The most impressive projects presented by participating teams are without a doubt the development of the Lab-on-a-chip concept for measuring methane on Mars and the development of a bracelet that allows astronauts to measure the development of oxygen bubbles in their bloodstream. These two projects were finally sent to the international round of the hackathon and the prize included a trip to the United States to be present for a rocket launch.
“It was very cool that I was allowed to organise this event myself, and it absolutely motivated me to get more students involved in the aerospace industry,” says Sebastiaan. The University of Twente did not yet have a student association with a focus on space. Because Sebastiaan is passionate about this subject, he decided to launch this association with the help of two international students back in August 2018. They named the association Space Society Twente and merged with the satellite team TwenteSat, allowing them to share their knowledge and transcend to higher levels.
After obtaining his bachelor’s, Sebastiaan continued his education by enrolling in the Master’s in Business Information Technology. This allowed him to gain further expertise and become even more skilled. And, as Sebastiaan himself said: “I love doing the things I do: developing apps, keeping track of the aerospace industry and learning more about sustainability and climate initiatives. The BIT programme gives students the opportunity to showcase their talents in the area of technology, what technology can do for business processes and how to achieve optimum performance in this area. After the summer holidays I will be completing my final thesis project at CGI, a consultancy firm working in various market segments including aerospace and public transport. My project is on the concept of ‘Mobility as a Service’ and I will mainly be focusing on what travellers need to get from A to B or any wishes they might have. Think about ‘what is the fastest route’, ‘what is the duration of the trip’, ‘I want to be able to read a book’, ‘I want to work in peace and use WiFi’, ‘can I be dropped off at my own house’, etc. Basically, any changes and improvements that may need to be made at stations and in vehicles. A great topic to sink my teeth into, and one that has nothing to do with designing an app. As you can see, I really love building apps but as a BIT expert you can do more, much more and my final thesis project will reflect this. What’s next? Maybe after graduation, I’ll be able to work in a department that focuses on aerospace, because this company also has an aerospace department,” says Sebastiaan, smiling.