Desk app streamlines homework-solving process

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of STEM App

Homework sucks, but it doesn’t have to.

This is the philosophy behind a tablet app called Desk, developed by six UT undergraduates to change the way STEM students do their homework. Business honors sophomore Daniel Miyares, who works on the operational and business sides of Desk, said the current system for homework is inefficient.

“When students currently solve a homework problem, they have a textbook, calculator, pen and paper and a laptop open,” Miyares said. “They’re going back and forth and copying from a bunch of different places. It’s really inconvenient.”

Instead, Desk allows students to take a picture of a problem with their tablet, take notes and turn written math statements into text. The app can also take an equation and quickly return the answer. Miyares said that while the team has considered taking the app to high schools, college students are the current focus.

“I think right now we are solid on targeting college students,” Miyares said. “Professors are much more willing to accept many different kinds of homework, as opposed to K-12 where it’s what the teacher wants. College students also have more control over their workflow in general.”

According to Cage Johnson, the founder of Desk and an Electrical Engineering and Business senior, the team still needs to fix a variety of bugs and will then simultaneously release the app to the iOS App Store and the TestFlight Beta program. Johnson said the app should be released within four weeks and will cost about $7.

“At the end of a long project, it gets kind of tiring,” Johnson said. “I feel like I’m crawling right now, but we will get it done.”

Desk is a project five years in the making. Johnson originally wanted to create better human-computer interaction, and he decided the most practical idea was a calculator app that breaks equations up into blocks, which can be rearranged. Johnson said that he had the idea for the app in 2012 but it took until 2015 to develop a prototype.

“I showed my first version to people and they would say, ‘I already have a calculator’ and show me the default calculator,” Johnson said. “I realized I wasn’t solving any (problem). I reevaluated everything, and I figured we needed to have an integrative problem-solving environment.”

Johnson started building the current version of Desk as part of a design project in the fall of 2015. However, the project fell through, and Johnson formed a new team last fall and entered into this spring’s Longhorn Startup Lab, a class for student entrepreneurs. Johnson said that since the start of the semester, the team has spent about 10 hours each week working on the startup.

“It’s awesome to see it finally coming to fruition,” Johnson said. “I always wanted to start a business while I was a student here at UT. I’m super grateful this particular team got behind it. I don’t know when there’s been a better team than this one working at UT.”