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For Free Food on Their Campus, Hungry Students Consult ‘Food-Bot’

As a senior at Carnegie Mellon University last year, Greg Woloschyn went five months without paying for food. His secret: Foot-Bot, software he created that now helps students on campuses across the country.

The computer-science student and his friends, during their earlier college careers, had—like many students on tight budgets—scoured the campus for events offering free food. Mr. Woloschyn decided to use his programming skills to aid in the effort.

He first created an e-mail account that could screen messages from every mailing list on campus, searching for mention of food-related keywords such as “snack,” “cookie,” and “pizza.”

On his winter break, he decided to write a program, which he called Food-Bot, that would scan messages and event listings and use the information to populate a food calendar on an open Web site.

That’s how he fueled his five months of free eating. “It was a pretty crazy record,” he says.

The experience taught Mr. Woloschyn at least two lessons: Not all free food is equal. And some free-food events are more welcoming than others.

Using what he learned from classes in artificial intelligence and natural-language processing, Mr. Woloschyn trained the program to assign ratings to the types of food mentioned in event listings—steak gets a 10—and assign each listing an awkwardness rating. If the event is sponsored by an ethnic or religious-affiliated group, it could be more awkward to come just for the food, he says.

For his effort, Mr. Woloschyn won Carnegie Mellon’s Smiley Award, which recognizes the best student development in technology that helps communication among people.

He has expanded Food-Bot to more than 10 other campuses, including the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Maryland at College Park, and Case Western Reserve University.

He hopes to make money off the site eventually but isn’t sure how. For now, his goal is to attract more users and continue expanding. This summer he plans to develop mobile applications for Android phones and iPhones.

He’ll be aided in that effort by his day job, as a software engineer on an Android-apps-development team at Qualcomm.

At the company, he’s found himself in a community of kindred noshers. His co-workers were impressed by his work on Food-Bot. But they’d already established a mailing list for food scavengers.

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