VORA wins Rep. Michelle Steel’s 2021 Congressional App Challenge in California’s 48th District

Rep. Michelle Steel has named Katherine Hua from Woodbridge High School and Melody Yu from Sage Hill School as the winners of the 2021 Congressional App Challenge in California’s 48th District.


When asked what inspired the creation of VORA, the students said, “As Generation Z kids born into the age of electronic devices and the Internet, my partner and I have used computers for as long as we could remember. Having been acquainted with the fascinating novelty of electronic devices since an early age, we developed an enduring interest in the computer field. As we grew older, we picked up coding basics and began learning languages such as Scratch, Python, etc. In an overlap with our academics, we shared several interests and a liking for STEM, especially programming. This passion motivated us to pursue learning about computer science and programming, and exploring fields like AI, Python, Javascript, and more.

     Until recently, we couldn’t imagine a way to utilize our curiosity and skills to contribute to the people in our community. Then, my teammate’s grandfather began losing his vision from age-related macular degeneration and started to struggle with daily life. Learning about his condition and observing how a person can suffer from vision impairment emotionally and physically sparked our interest in sensory augmentation devices. Upon researching for a visual aid to compensate for his loss of vision, we realized that most available aids were limited to walking sticks and guide dogs despite modern advancements in medical technology. The tech gap between current options and existing technological advancements was shocking, but it inspired us to create an app as an alternative solution.

     After researching more about pre-existing electronic aids and prototypes, and exploring more of computer science, we came across the concept of object recognition using Computer Vision. Computer Vision is a field of artificial intelligence that uses advanced, complex image processing algorithms to help computers understand images, mimicking the human visual system.

     During the planning and beginning stages of our project, we discovered Tensorflow, an open-source library developed by Google for machine learning and artificial intelligence. Object detection models trained by Tensorflow helped give us the inspiration to build a mobile app that can recognize what kinds of objects are in their proximity and warn users through speech feedback.

     This journey was how we were inspired to develop this app for the Congressional App Challenge. Along the way, we picked up insights from many different experiences and ideas as we explored modern hardware and software. We hope that our app VORA can make use of our programming insights to help the visually impaired increase their safety, independence, and quality of life.”

The 2021 Congressional App Challenge yielded 2,101 fully functioning apps. After eighteen months of disruptions to educational cadences for students everywhere, the Congressional App Challenge came roaring back with 7,174 students registering for this year’s competition. All told, 340 Members of Congress hosted Congressional App Challenges in their districts across 50 states, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Mariana Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C.

The Congressional App Challenge is an official initiative of the U.S. House of Representatives, where Members of Congress host contests in their districts for middle school and high school students, encouraging them to learn to code and inspiring them to pursue careers in computer science. Each participating Member of Congress selects a winning app from their district, and each winning team is invited to showcase their winning app to Congress during our annual #HouseOfCode festival. The program is a public-private partnership made possible through funding from Omidyar Network, AWS, theCoderSchool, Facebook, Replit, Accenture, and others.

The 2022 Congressional App Challenge will launch in June of 2022, and eligible students can pre-register for the competition now.