Akshat Gautam grew up with severe allergies to dairy, eggs and various nuts, and going out to eat was an uneasy proposition. He was never quite sure whether a restaurant used an ingredient that might produce an allergic reaction.
“We have been to the ER two or three times,” said Prashant, his dad.
Gautam grew out of most of his allergies (he’s still allergic to almonds), but Gautam’s fearful experiences at restaurants inspired the 16-year-old Lambert High School junior to help those who suffer from food allergies make more informed choices about where they eat out.
Introducing AllergySafe, a mobile app that Gautam created to help users find safe menu items at restaurants.
It’s simple: users select up to seven of the most common allergens — milk/dairy, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, seafood, wheat and soy — then pick one of 12 of the most frequented fast-casual restaurants. The app displays only the menu items that are safe for the user to eat. There’s even a map function to find the closest restaurant location.
“This removes that confusion and uncertainty whenever they go anywhere to eat,” Gautam said.
AllergySafe has already received a measure of acclaim. Gautam presented the app at the 2017 Forsyth Regional Student Technology Competition, when he was a freshman, and won first place in the mobile application category. A few months later, he earned first place again at the Georgia Student Technology Competition.
The app also earned the praise of Gautam’s allergist.
“He was really interested in it,” Gautam said. “I think many people at the allergist’s office have begun to use the app.”
Gautam’s interest in software programming started early. While he attended the Marietta Center for Advanced Academics, teachers encouraged students to use methods other than PowerPoint to make presentations. Gautam and his friends often used Scratch, a simple drag-and-drop programming language developed for elementary school-aged students.
Meanwhile, Gautam observed the rapid growth of mobile apps and was struck by their potential to help people, which caused him to dig further into learning software programming through YouTube videos and online forums.
Gautam started with Android Studio, the primary development software for Google’s Android operating system. That’s what he used to make AllergySafe. In Android Studio, Gautam created the app’s user interface -- the colors, icons, etc. -- and input each restaurant’s menu data, then integrated the two.
When Gautam presented AllergySafe at the state competition, the only feedback from the panel of judges was to make a version for iOS, the operating system for Apple’s smartphones. Gautam agreed, so he learned an iOS programming language, called Swift.
“So many people have (Apple) phones,” Gautam said. “That’s a great way to expand the app.”
After almost a year of making tweaks and conducting tests, Gautam got AllergySafe officially released on the Apple and Google Play stores in February of 2018. He released an updated version this past December that included more restaurants, a new design and a warning for users to verify the allergen information themselves.
Gautam is now firmly gripped by computer programming. He’s created two other apps -- CSHelper, which helps students prepare for the AP Computer Science exam, and his latest one, ReMedia, which can analyze the appropriateness of posts on a user’s Twitter account. Gautam also started an organization called Be Code Confident to help spark interest in coding at younger ages by teaching the fundamentals of computer programming through weekly club meetings and workshops at schools in metro Atlanta.
“People always think (computer science is) a really daunting field,” Gautam said. “They think that it’s not possible for them to get into it. But if they’re motivated and have the desire, I want to help them.”
And he’s not done with AllergySafe. Gautam hopes later versions of the app will include more restaurants and perhaps expand its reach to other countries.
“One of the things that’s really stuck with me is how I’m able to use computer programming and software to help other people in the world, just through my love of computer programming,” Gautam said.