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January 6, 2015

How Our Hackathon Can Help Cities

Posted by Sanjay Purohit (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:12 AM

Participants-at-EdgeVerve-Hackathon-2014
Participants at EdgeVerve Hackathon 2014

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of observing at EdgeVerve's recent (and incredibly successful) hackathon. The experience taught me one thing - our urban centers have bright futures!

The theme: "Technology Solutions for our Cities." The participants: 50 teams that we hand-selected from an entry pool of more than 350. All the teams that applied were talented so we had the advantage of being able to choose the very best of the best. During the second-to-the-last weekend of 2014, we hosted these 50 teams at EdgeVerve's headquarters in Electronics City in Bangalore. So from the very start of the 24-hour-long event, from Saturday morning to Sunday morning, we were in the middle of the one the world's largest cities with the event's mandate to come up with solutions to make such an urban core a better place in which to live and to do business.

Hackathons are relatively new events. Everyone who participates has to do so in person. Human interaction carries with it a kind of energy that can't be replicated over fiber optic cables. Plus, let's not forget our event's theme: Cities are places in which people need solutions related to transportation, women's safety, education, and the environment.

One participant described the event really well. He said that the hackathon was filled with "connected devices and involved people." Isn't that what we need to improve the issues facing our cities? Another participant said that EdgeVerve's first hackathon focused on a cool place, smart people, great ideas ... [an] awesome event. Among my favorites solutions to come out of the event was an app that located potholes in city streets. "[Potholes], be prepared to be buried!" was the rallying cry.

Another ingenious app looked to address the shortage of clean, potable water around the world. The solution? An app that shows when plants "request" water. Never a chance of over-watering plants that don't need it. Truly this app was a synthesis of life sciences and computer technology.

Despite the serious issues we faced, the atmosphere was filled with camaraderie and fun. A self-appointed hacker with a red-hot list of music became the de facto DJ for the 24-hour session. That was helpful, because as the sun began to rise and the hackathon moved into its final hours, participants needed a little musical (and caffeinated) boost. Many ideas that were just ideas on Saturday morning began to come to life on Sunday morning.

As the event wrapped up, we got to see all sorts of exciting inventions: Apps that monitor and map the conditions of roads - using both mobile apps and the Cloud. Then there were the drones. So fun to look at but with great applications as well. One of them could detect environmental pollution in our cities. Another could pinpoint air quality from region to region.

Hackathons are the manifestation of a broader phenomenon that is beneficial to society: crowdsourcing. It turns out that we human beings are a lot more resourceful and ingenious when we get together in large numbers and share our intellectual brainstorms and ideas. That's what EdgeVerve's first hackathon did for a narrow band of society: the next generation of technology leaders who are committed not only to improving their enterprises but society overall.

I'm already getting requests to make next year's hackathon open to computer scientists from outside of the company as well. It's an interesting idea. Stay tuned...

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