On registration day at the University of Washington, alarms go off all over campus at 5:50 a.m. Thousands of students stumble out of bed, load the UW website, and hit refresh over and over. Then at 6 a.m. there is a flurry of action.
Students furiously hit the submit button hoping to get a spot, but classes fill up within seconds. They spend the next hours, days, or weeks reloading the website to see if seats are available.
But Dave Rodenbaugh says some students don’t have to do that anymore. And that is thanks to former UW student Mitchell Hashimoto who got fed up with the process in 2007.
“He was a freshman at the time,” Rodenbaugh said. “Being a computer guy, Mitchell decided that writing a program to help him out and do this for him automatically was better than sitting at the computer all day.”
Hashimoto wrote a program that became UW Robot. Rodenbaugh bought it from him three years ago. UW Robot does the watching and waiting for the thousands of students who use it. When a spot opens up, the program sends a notification.
The service comes at a cost. Students pay between $1 and $3 per class notification. They can also opt for a $50 lifetime membership.
Wolfram Latsch is an economics professor at UW. He says many of his students complain about getting up at 5 a.m. to get a seat in one of his classes, and that UW Robot makes registration more efficient from an economic perspective. “But from the point of view of public policy,” he said, “[UW administrators] have an understandable interest to not allow services in the university to be privatized.”
UW Robot is not affiliated with the University of Washington. A UW spokesman says the registrar’s office has questions about its fairness but doesn’t plan to change anything that would affect the service.
Rodenbaugh says UW Robot plans to replicate the service for other schools in the next year.