Since he was young, Akhil Arularasu (24Ox) has looked for ways to simplify tasks—the fastest way possible to get from point A to point B. Instead of folding his clothes, he opts instead for a plastic clothes folding board to do it for him.
“My mom would call that lazy but I would say that’s efficient,” he said.
So, of course, he didn’t bother turning off his GroupMe notifications. It was entirely too much work for too little reward. That is, unless it’s the start and end of break when GroupMes are inundated with hundreds of students spamming them to look for someone—anyone—to split an Uber with to and from the airport. The messages, coming in bunches several times a day, overtook the chats. In fact, it was nearly impossible for students to find other people to rideshare with, let alone other important messages lost in the sea of Uber requests. Arularasu, an intended computer science major, figured there had to be a better way.
Using HTML and Python, Arularasu spent the last week of his winter break building the Emory-Ox Airport Rideshare Finder website. The site, which launched on January 3rd, allows students to enter their rideshare information with the date and time of their ride, as well as their name and contact information. Using the “search” function, users can set their date and time preferences and see a list of students with rideshares in that time period. From there, students can use the contact information listed to find one another and split an Uber back to campus. Once a rideshare is full, users can use the update feature to add that information to the rideshare finder listing.
Though the turnaround time was remarkably fast, building the website came with some technical complications, such as using Flask, a web framework for building web applications, to deploy the website first on a local server and then into a cloud server.
“It’s not easy to get a website running,” Arularasu said. “It’s even harder to get it running on the web. But I think, once I had the idea, I feel like everything else kind of just came to me.”
Once the initial version of the website was up and running, Arularasu turned to his friend, Alan Shnir (24Ox) to test run the site.
“I was more of just looking at the interface and seeing like, what would make sense for a simpleton like me?” Shnir said. “We were just thinking of simple things like … what is the most basic stuff that would help ease the process of somebody using a website?”
They added a column under the search function that displayed information on whether a rideshare was full as well as a tutorial video on how to use the website. Arularasu also added a section for suggestions.
“As with all programming, you’re not gonna get stuff done on the first try,” he explained. “The suggestion box is really powerful as far as helping me understand what the students of Emory University and Oxford College want, and I encourage people to use that.”
A couple students put in a suggestion about sorting individuals based on the time their rideshare was scheduled for. Arularasu made the change, and now, the website lists rides in chronological order rather than the order people entered their information into the system.
Oxford SGA helped get the word out about the new rideshare finder by posting it on their Instagram. Oxford SGA Vice-Chair of Transportation and Technology Kush Patel (24Ox) said that this initiative will be a lasting tool for students.
“I believe that bringing awareness about the website will give students another resource to aid in transportation throughout their time at Emory,” Patel said.
What started as an Oxford initiative soon spread to Emory’s Atlanta campus. Ranking Member of the SGA Legislature Khegan Meyers (24B) saw the website and reached out to Arularasu to ask if he could create a version for the Atlanta campus. Arularasu created a new database under the same website for rideshares back to Emory’s Atlanta campus.
With its first run after winter break, the website has already seen over 100 students requesting a rideshare on the website and over 15,000 clicks, according to analytics from the site’s backend. Arularasu said that many students have expressed their appreciation for the site.
“Special shout out to all the students at Oxford college for being so supportive,” Arularasu added. “I didn’t realize that so many students would actually use it, and it would actually be such a benefit to the Oxford, and maybe even the Emory, community in the future.”
In preparation for the next travel wave, spring break, he plans to make a few more updates to the site, such as wiping student data every few weeks for privacy concerns.
“His drive and innovation speaks to what is in the Emory student body,” Meyers said. “There’s a lot of really innovative, bright people that can really create something to improve the student body … and I’d love to see more things like this happen.”
The success of the website is perhaps most surprising to Arularasu himself as something as simple as ignoring GroupMe turned annoyance into initiative.
“That laziness of me not turning off my notifications on my phone, that kind of spurred me to want to do something,” Arularasu said. “I’m so glad that it really took off.”