After a few hours on a road trip, you tend to start eyeing the highway exit signs to see which ones have better food options. But if you’re one of the nearly 15 million Americans who have food allergies, the threat of a reaction may make you think twice about stopping.
16-year-old Akshat Gautam was one of these food allergy-sufferers as a child. He had severe allergies to dairy, eggs and nuts, and whenever his parents would take him to a restaurant, he says there was always “confusion and uncertainty” about what he could safely eat.
Though fortunately he did begin to outgrow his allergies as he got older, Gautam still sees an issue with the lack of transparency in restaurant ingredients. A self-taught developer, the Atlanta-area high school junior has been learning Java and Android programming since 8th grade.
“Since I was young, I would read articles about how people were developing different prototypes and experimenting with computer science in different research fields. It inspired me to start learning computer programming from a young age,” he says.
Gautam was determined to put his development skills into action to solve the food allergy information issue. He determined that a mobile app would be the most convenient format to deliver the information, and began gathering data.
Gautam’s app, AllergySafe, lets users create a profile to quickly filter out unsafe meals at popular fast-food restaurant chains based on specific food allergies. Restaurant options include Chick-Fil-A, Chipotle, Dairy Queen, KFC and others.
The app also has a location feature that send users nearby safe restaurants they can visit when on the road.
“I had to do a lot of testing since it deals with vital information about food allergies and make sure allergens listed in the menus were accurate,” says Gautam. While this information is usually publicly available, it’s often buried on restaurant websites and may not be a full list.
To gather feedback from his target customers, he reached out to local allergist offices, including his own physician, to find a group of users to test the app. He received positive feedback and in 2017, took home first prize at the Georgia State Technology Fair.
One year later, AllergySafe launched in the app store with six restaurants (now 12).
Once all fast food chains are on the app, Gautam plans to expand to fine dining and other restaurants. The app is free to download and use.
AllergySafe is only one of the ways Gautam wants to help people through his app development company, Versatility Apps. He also created a tool called CS Helper, which helps students prepare for the AP Computer Science exam by given them a recap of the material.
Another app mimics the current iPhone features that allow users to send a SOS alert with GPS location to a trusted contact. And yet another, ReMedia, analyzes how appropriate a user’s Twitter account is.
“The goal is to develop as many applications as I can to help people and keep them free [while I’m in school]. In the future, I would like to take them to a bigger scale,” Gautam says.
To share his passion for computer programming, he also founded a non-profit called Be Code Confident. The organization offers one-hour weekly club meetings to elementary and middle schools in the metro Atlanta area to help students learn about coding.
“When I got to high school, I started doing a lot of computer programming and I realized that I could have started at a much younger age. Then I realized that there weren’t computer education resources necessary to pursue this.”
“I created Be Code Confident to spread the core fundamentals of computer science to students… regardless of socioeconomic status,” he says.