Bellingham Woman Teams Up With A Hong Kong Group To Develop Literacy Apps

Jul 24, 2017

A Bellingham woman has teamed up with computer scientists in Hong Kong to develop literacy applications. The group, AutoCognita, has now advanced to the semi-final round in two multi-million-dollar contests.

The contests are run by XPRIZE, which pools money from wealthy donors such as Elon Musk with the goal of inspiring people to come up with solutions to big problems such as illiteracy.

Dana Rozier is from Bellingham and has worked as a teacher and curriculum developer. She said that after her youngest child turned 18, she decided that she wanted to get involved in something big like this. So she started exploring the contests on the XPRIZE web site.

“One for global literacy with kids and one for adult literacy in the United States and when I saw that I thought, `Oh my gosh, this is it. Here’s a grand challenge I could work on for the rest of my life because literacy is so huge,’” Rozier said.

She looked through the groups that had entered and AutoCognita caught her eye. She said that after a Skype conversation with the founder, Frank Ho, she joined their effort.

They’ve been working on their apps for almost two years. For the global contest, they had to come up with a product in English and Swahili.

They hired a Kenyan woman to help with that. As for their adult literacy app, they designed it to emphasize reading that people encounter in everyday life, for example, at the grocery store.

“So I went into a lot of the stores in Bellingham and Seattle and took pictures of a lot of the signs, and then adults can tap on the sign and hear the word `bananas’ being read or `29 cents,’” she said.

Rozier said about 1,000 people are now starting to test out AutoCognita’s adult literacy app. Later this summer, the team will find out if their Swahili app will be tested by kids in Tanzania.

The contest winners will be announced in 2019.