From Bangalore to Bucharest to Berlin, and many places in between, IBM and its partners hosted several hundred events this year in support of the Call for Code 2019 Global Challenge and the IBM Code and Response program.
At these events, hundreds of developers have contributed their time and skills to build sustainable open source solutions that can help communities prepare for and recover from natural disasters. Some of these tech-based solutions are borne out of developers’ personal experiences with floods, wildfires, or other severe weather experiences – instilling in them a desire to ensure others may avoid what they endured. Other ideas came from developers who were inspired to help after seeing the devastating effects on helpless individuals.
Whatever their motivation, developers who answered the call have come from all walks of life. We’ve seen first-time coders, college students, established developers, and retirees who have all created some inspiring and promising ideas.
Take a minute to catch up on some of the winning ideas that have come out of a few of this year’s hackathons and meet the developers behind them.
University students sparking change
UC Berkeley was one of the first universities to open its doors to IBM’s Code and Response and the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU). The two organizations joined forces in January to “engage and equip university students with the skills and technology resources they need to help turn their ideas into tangible action.” On April 26-27, students gathered to learn about Call for Code and how they would be able to make impactful solutions. It was a very committed group, with some great individual stories and solutions and there were also a number of students who had never experienced a hackathon before. One student said that “This was the best hackathon I have ever been to because of the mentors. There have not been such personalized mentoring available at the other events I have participated in, including the one with Microsoft a couple of weeks ago.” (For more information on mentors, read “How mentors can benefit you and where to find them.”
The winning solution was developed by a team of three French students (Thomas Galeon, Pierre-Louis Missler, and Meryll Dindin) from UC Berkeley who named their team AsTer. The team focused on building a disaster management platform, dispatching the right resources at the right time given the input of the people on the field. This required building a resource dispatcher by using AI-analyzed emergency calls during a natural disaster. They based their example on the city of San Francisco and simulated the dispatch of forces on the field. They visualized the shorter route for the emergency forces to go directly on the ground. One of the team members had also served as a firefighter bringing some direct first responder experience to the team.
The second place team, BlockAid, created a platform for provenance of relief aid in disaster-stricken areas in order to help victims who are not able to receive humanitarian aid. They did this by creating a transparent blockchain platform where aid is tracked and deails of key production items can be seen in real time.
The third place team, criSys, created a disaster relief communication network powered by a secure online portal. It gives disaster relief organizations, big and small, a way to communicate needs and supplies in a crisis. Their solution would support pinpoint marking and zone marking for areas of interest. Authorities are able to add pins of different levels of urgency. Crises are organized in channels, which allow text/audio/video communication.
Miami Dade College
At Miami Dade College, students who grew up in Florida are not strangers to tropical storms and hurricanes. Those who were affected by Hurricane Irma and its aftermath just two years ago used their first-hand experience to fuel their innovations. Students who experienced Irma said they were left without power and internet following the category 5 hurricane in fall 2018 for up to two weeks.
The first place team at the hackathon, Project NEAR, developed a mobile app that shows survivors the resources available to them in nearby stores. It notifies users of any restocks or new supplies that become available as time goes on and provides a way to mark yourself safe in a time of emergency during the aftermath, where recovery attempts are being made. They wanted to make it as simple and user-friendly as possible, mimicking commonly used social media apps as their inspiration.
Romi Bhatia, the Executive Director at The Idea Center at Miami Dade College said that a common complaint he hears from people are that tech communities can come off as too siloed or too elitist and not everyone can access cloud tools. That’s where IBM’s stance on open source and their vast catalogue of cloud services changed some of the minds at the Miami Dade hackathon. Bhatia said he has been hearing from students that the amount of resources IBM has can allow them to take their solutions to the next level.
UC San Diego
At the University of California San Diego, some students used their location in southern California as the backdrop of their solutions. San Diego is prone to wildfires and is close to two active faults. Project Phoenix's Elina Shankar reflected on her personal experiences of growing up in the area, where she knew people who were displaced and devastated by fires and joined the hackathon in order to help with efforts of mitigating these risks. Project Phoenix used artificial intelligence to connect displaced people with nearby shelters and logging their identities to speed up the process of reuniting loved ones.
Team Emergency Response Cloud won the hackathon with their clever chatbot solution that prioritizes emergency calls at the moment a disaster strikes, solving the problem of network overloading. They implented their solution by using IBM Cloud Watson Assistant.
Emily Loui, Program Coordinator at UC San Diego, said that many "students want to be changemakers, but they're not sure how. Events like [hackathons] give them a step-by-step breakdown. So not only do we present the social justice issue and present the problems, but we offer them the tools to create a solution."
Hurricane Maria survivors create change in Puerto Rico
Last year’s inaugural Call for Code competition held a hackathon in Puerto Rico, where Pedro Cruz notably created his DroneAID solution, which won him first place at the hack. Pedro noticed that this year marked a notable increase in people going to events and hackathons creating solutions, particularly more students. “More students from different types of backgrounds – art backgrounds to business – are going to these events to learn. I’ve seen more interest and the community grow since the last year’s hackathon in Puerto Rico.”
Fredy Del Vecchio, a developer, and Jessica Northam, a psychosocial support specialist, used the trauma and PTSD that victims of Hurricane Maria experienced in the community as inspiration for their first place solution at the hackathon, called commSTRONG. With the added emphasis on healthcare in this year’s challenge in mind, Del Vecchio and Northam created an AI chatbot app that prepares individuals and families before, during, and after a disaster. In the reality of a natural disaster, Del Vecchio and Northam noted that there were simply not enough first responders, particularly those well-versed in trauma, to access all victims. With commSTRONG, the chatbot acts as a psychological first aid tool, designed to give a set of steps to a victim in a state of panic to ground them and activate them to take action, such as getting to a safe location.
In second place, developer Javier Cordero Pérez built his Emergency Locations Kit since lack of electricity and internet and mobile connectivity is a high probability when a natural disaster hits a community. Using Cloudant, he developed a GPS Maps application with a small footprint that could be distributed for people to install in their phones through a mesh network, such as Project Owl’s.
The Call for Code 2019 submissions are now closed, but you can still stay connected. Check out our resources on Code and Response, sign up for the community and receive updates from us.