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NomCalm is a new app that monitors dining hall crowd levels

Steven Beck, a first-year computer science and engineering student; Lee Rubinoff, a fourth-year business economics student; and Te Luan, a UCLA alumnus, recently created a new iPhone application that allows users to check how crowded an eatery is on the Hill before they go.

By Anaika Miller

March 6, 2013 3:38 a.m.

As a resident on the Hill about 2 1/2 years ago, Te Luan remembers having a hard time finding open tables in the often-crowded dining halls.

These experiences later inspired him to develop the idea for an app to help students save time while eating in the dining halls.

Luan, a UCLA alumnus, and two current UCLA students recently created NomCalm, a new iPhone application that allows users to check how crowded an eatery on the Hill is before they go.

Luan, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics/applied science last June, teamed up with Lee Rubinoff, a fourth-year business economics student, and Steven Beck, a first-year computer science and engineering student, to develop the free app, which was released in January.

Rubinoff said 40 people found the app and downloaded it within the first couple weeks. Beck said there are about 100 users now.

“As a student, you’re crunched for time, so you want to spend time eating, not waiting in line,” Rubinoff said.

The app depends on its users to self-report how crowded they think the dining hall or restaurant is.

Using algorithms that Luan developed, the app averages this data and displays either a green, yellow or red face next to the dining options so students can check which location is the least crowded.

NomCalm also relies on location services to ensure that users cannot rate how crowded a dining facility is unless they are actually at the eatery. The app also indicates whether or not the dining halls or restaurants are open.

Rubinoff said Luan approached him with the idea for the app last winter, though Luan had been thinking about it since spring 2011.

The two met on a 2011 UCLA summer study abroad program in China. Over the course of the program, Rubinoff and Luan became close friends, Rubinoff said.

“UCLA gave me a lot, so I was thinking of a way to give back to the UCLA community,” Luan said.

Rubinoff said he immediately wanted to become a part of the project because he felt it would help other students save time.

Beck didn’t join the team until this fall, after Luan and Rubinoff sent out applications to computer science students. He said he has been interested in technology for a long time and started working on computer science-related projects two years ago after reading his older brother’s computer science textbook.

It took Luan a month to develop algorithms for NomCalm and Beck about two months to create the interface. Beck said that even though he’d eaten at the dining halls for only two months at the time, he also felt there was value in developing the app.

Currently, NomCalm does not accurately reflect the number of people in the dining facilities because not enough people are using the app, Rubinoff said.

Many students, such as Krystal Ramos, a second-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student, had not previously heard about the app. Ramos said she would use it because she has had to wait for tables to open up in De Neve.

“I feel like the app is really convenient because you can see how much time you’re going to need to get food,” Ramos said.

UCLA Housing and Dining officials said they had not heard about NomCalm, though Rubinoff said his team plans to reach out to dining officials to get permission to use menu information in the application.

Rubinoff said the team is also currently working to make NomCalm compatible with Android phones.

So far, Rubinoff said the team isn’t making a profit, but plans to expand the app this quarter to cover all of the dining options at UCLA, such as Kerckhoff Coffee House, the South Campus Student Center and the North Campus Student Center.

Rubinoff said they also hope to expand the app’s reach to popular restaurants in Westwood like 800 Degrees and Diddy Riese by the spring.

“The next step is getting onto all UC campuses,” Rubinoff said.’

Email Miller at [email protected].

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