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Girl, 11, wins hackathon with barking app to curb distracted driving

Victoria Walker’s three dogs were the 11-year-old’s inspiration for her $20,000-prize-winning mobile phone app to deter people from texting while driving.

Her app, called Rode Dog, lets a recipient send barking sounds to the errant texter until they put down their cellphone.

“It’s going to keep barking at you until you turn off the phone,” she said.

Walker beat a room full of adults, including her own mother, to capture the top spot at the hackathon sponsored by AT&T to look at solutions to distracted driving.

The Grade 6 student from Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., told Torstar News Service on Monday that she figured the only fix was peer pressure.

“Texting and driving is a really big problem,” she said before leaving for school, where her best subject is math.

“There’s no real way you can prevent it. This creates a social and family responsibility that will alert you to stop.

“My parents, they always text and drive, so I think with Rode Dog I could help prevent that. Teens get into car wrecks and admit using their phones. Everybody has an awareness of the dangers, but need help to stop.”

Her own dogs, Miles the husky, Spikey the Rottweiler and Beta the chihuahua, “always like to bark and it’s really annoying,” she said.

“They bark when they sense a danger.”

So she chose a “not too loud, not too high” and only moderately annoying bark for her app.

Once it’s up and running, in about three weeks’ time, users can use that bark or buy customized barks tailored to their targets, she said.

Walker had arrived solo to the hackathon on Sept. 7 and only teamed up with a designer, 28-year-old David Grau, on the second day. When she made it to the finals against four other developers, others joined her team and they spent 10 days in a race to build the app.

The competition was part of AT&T’s “It Can Wait” campaign, which found in a survey that 75 per cent of teenagers reported that their friends commonly texted while driving.

Drivers who text are 23 times more likely to be in an accident, the telecommunications company said, and 100,000 auto accidents a year in the U.S. involve driver texting.

Walker, whose mother is a business developer for startup Pivot HQand encouraged her to compete, figures she’ll either be an entrepreneur like her mom or a professional basketball player when she grows up.


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