By Conor McCue

DENVER (CBS4) – Over the past year, the pandemic has exposed what some call the digital divide, or the gulf between those who have access to computers and the internet and those who don’t. At Metropolitan State University of Denver, one student believes the solution is already in the palm of many people’s hands.

As the fall semester began at MSU Denver, Dominique Hunt, a senior studying industrial design, noticed a growing need while working in Information Technology Services Department. With classes moving online, computers were a necessity, but Hunt said there weren’t enough loaners to go around.

“They needed a resource, and we were that resource, but we couldn’t provide it,” Hunt said. “That’s when I realized there was a problem and I needed to create something.”

Hunt’s solution is called the PhoneBook, a 3D printed dock that converts your smartphone to a fully functioning laptop. The colorful device includes a removable keyboard and a rechargeable battery pack. When plugged in, the phone is both a receiver for the screen and a trackpad.

(credit: CBS)

“Your phone has a lot of processing power that makes it just as powerful to your laptop,” Hunt said.

Hunt developed the PhoneBook in Associate Professor Amy Kern’s Advanced Industrial Design studio course, where he worked through four phases of prototypes over the course of the semester before settling on the final design.

 “Dominique came in with an excellent idea right off the bat and pretty much ran with it,” Kern said.

At the urging of Kern, Hunt entered his idea in the Stanford Center on Longevity Design Challenge, a global competition that encourages students to design products and services to improve people’s lives. Hunt finished second in the competition, beating out 221 other entrants from 37 countries.

(credit: CBS)

“With industrial design we’re always looking for the right idea for the right person in the right climate. He had the trifecta,” Kern said.

With some of the reward money, Hunt plans to bring his idea back to Kenya, where he lived most of his life.

(credit: Dominique Hunt)

“With the cost so low, and everyone already owning a mobile device, that’s where it can really benefit them, because now they have a computer,” Hunt said.

He hopes to empower his community with information, and hopefully bridge the digital divide in an affordable way.

“The PhoneBook would be able to give people access to internet and computing earlier than they might have before,” Hunt said. “I think that this would be a product that would positively impact human life.”

Hunt has already sent several prototypes to Kenya and hopes to visit soon. Through an MSU Denver alumni connection, he has also started to discuss production opportunities with an organization in his home country.

Conor McCue