Nova Scotia

'Sketchy' high school Wi-Fi inspires teens to design new app

Some tech-savvy teenagers from Fall River, N.S., have designed a cellphone app that can help you get essential information from the web, even if you don't have Wi-Fi or data.

OffNet allows users to search the internet on their phones without using Wi-Fi or data

Lochlan Graham, Zack Rooney and Cooper Gagnon hope their app will help people in the developing world. (CBC News)

Look out Silicon Valley.

Some tech-savvy teenagers from Fall River, N.S., have designed a cellphone app that can help you get essential information from the web — even if you don't have access to wireless internet or a data plan on your phone.

Users of the OffNet app have to have a cellphone that's capable of sending and receiving text messages.

Then they simply use the app to text a question to a remote server. The server does the internet search for them and sends a text back with the information they're looking for.

The app can only be used to access websites that are primarily text-based, such as weather, directions, news, definitions, Wikipedia or Twitter.

'Very sketchy' Wi-Fi

App developer Zack Rooney, 17, said he and his classmate, Cooper Gagnon, were inspired to design the app after getting frustrated with the "very sketchy Wi-Fi" available at Lockview High School in Fall River.

"You're in biology class trying to look up, you know, what mitosis is," Rooney said, and "lo and behold, the website's blocked or the Wi-Fi cut out on you."

"It's really annoying," he added.

So, the teens decided to create a solution that could "give us the information we want, whenever we want it."

The app can only be used to access websites that are primarily text-based, such as directions, weather, news, definitions, Wikipedia or Twitter. (CBC News)

Won design competition

They signed up for a week-long hackathon competition at Saint Mary's University in Halifax and ended up winning with their OffNet design.

Rooney was 15 years old at the time.

The duo has spent the last two years developing the app to the point where it's now in the testing phase, and available for public use.

They've even brought on a third student, Lochlan Graham, to help with marketing, and they've started reaching out to private companies that might be interested in working with them.

'Super-duper cheap'

Rooney said they only managed to find one other company — based in France — that has developed a similar kind of app, but it costs as much as a data plan to use, "so, it doesn't make sense."

On the contrary, "we found a way that we can do it for super-duper cheap," he said.

Ultimately, the goal is not to make money from the app, but to make the world a better place, Rooney said.

It is "ingrained in me to always want to help other people," he said, "and this is just another opportunity to do that."

Help the developing world

Rooney, who travels to Ecuador with his church every year to work at a camp for kids, gave the example of an Ecuadorian farmer with a cellphone — but no data or Wi-Fi — who might want to know what the weather will be like tomorrow.

This app would allow him to do that, he said.

The plan is to perfect the app and then disseminate it in the developing world.

"We want to be that bridge to the next billion users on the internet," Rooney said.

With files from the CBC's Information Morning