On Saturday and Sunday, Lucas College and Graduate School of Business and Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering joined forces with
student organizations – IDEAS at San Jose State University and SJ Hacks – collaborating with IBM to organize a two-day hackathon called “Call for Code” on campus.
“Call for Code” is an online virtual hackathon launched by IBM, whose purpose is to build solutions for disaster preparedness. Seventy-five SJSU students formed 15 teams who took part in the challenge which provided students the opportunity to apply their skills to critical global issues.
IBM launched the worldwide initiative at the end of July.
“From IBM’s point of view, it is very crucial for us to do something about it. We feel helpless, keep giving money but where does the money go,” program strategy leader for IBM San Francisco City Developers’ Advocacy team, Juanita Dion-Chiang said.
With this initiative, IBM hoped to “bring everyone in the community, not only technology developers, to come together, thinking about what they can do to help each other, using technology to get them together,” Chiang added.
As one of the main sponsors of this event, Chiang said the company was passionate about collaborating with the good quality local university that produced talented people.
“SJSU students form a very unique bunch because they know where they are situated. They have a lot of competition surrounding them such as other universities... but they have their own technology in mind,” Chiang said.
IBM reached out to SJ Hacks and IDEAS club, in order to hold this event at SJSU. SJ Hacks President Akshey Nama said, “This is just a smaller version to give people a taste of the hackathon and they can continue their ideas into the larger event.”
SJ Hacks treasurer Akarshak Jaiswal thought that the hackathon offered an experience that classrooms and other educational workshops did not have. “You get to work in a fast-paced competitive environment, which allows you to quickly learn new skills and learn things like how to manage your time to be able to work efficiently,” he said.
The winning team was the team of “Uncharted 5,” which was formed by five software engineering students, including Hrishikesh Rendalkar, Harini Balakrishnan, Swetha Chandrasekar, Sourabh Namilikonda and Hemambujam Veeraraghavan.
They created a project called “nearable.” “Everybody comes out with a mobile application, which only involves the software component, but we wanted to do something beyond software,”
The idea behind their project was that in case a disaster happened in a store such as Walmart or Costco very suddenly and not every customer was familiar with the exit route or evacuation procedure, “nearable” would help guide them to safety. The team’s idea was to utilize beacon technology “to track people based on the beacons that are present with them.”
Veeraraghavan said the strength of their product relies on beacons being available in Walmart and Costco, so it’s not necessary for people to carry it with them for usage. When there is a natural disaster, users would be able to use the map on the application to navigate themselves to an exit door.
Veeraraghavan added, the project’s main idea was to avoid human intervention during an evacuation
to prevent confusion.
“We want to use technologies that are already present outside and then incorporate the code that we have written on that,” Veeraraghavan said.
After getting feedback and plenty of encouragement from the judges, Balakrishnan said, the team had planned to continue developing their project and enter the global challenge of “Call for Code.”
Larry Gee, a professor from the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business, said the hackathon was remarkable to SJSU because it involved interdisciplinary students from three main colleges.
“We have a triangle, the beauty of it is that we have the strengths of business people, computer science people and software engineering
people,” Gee said.
The initiative is supported by the United Nations Human Rights Office and the American Red Cross. CEO of Northern California Coastal Region American Red Cross Trevor Riggen said “Call for Code” created a good opportunity for the next generation of coders and developers to work on projects that would help the disaster relief teams
serve people better.
Riggen said the most critical problem that technology could really help with was delivering accurate real-time information to people.
“There is a big problem now that information on Twitter and Facebook is recycled during a disaster. It is very hard for people to know whether this is the latest fire outbreak or this is the one that someone has retweeted from four
days ago,” he said.
Riggen added, “Disasters have always caused chaos. It’s just people being unconnected, not knowing where to go, what help to get, how to be safe... so information
is a big part of that.”
The team of “C-Cubed” won the first runner-up prize. The team members, Aashish Subramanian, Pankaj Mohapatra, Vasu Bansal, and Akshay Goel, are graduate students majoring in software engineering and computer engineering. They wrote a code for a resource-based issue in two days.
“We realize that people make donations but the resources are wasted in the end [because the organizations couldn’t get to people in need on time],” Subramanian said, after speaking to an American Red Cross representative and learned about the issues that the organization faced during disaster relief.
He explained that their idea was to precompute the required resources and crowdsource these requirements so that the organizations would be able to get the resources to disaster areas before disasters actually occur.
“Coming here, meeting different organizations and working for them, help us to understand their needs and develop something new for them. It also allows us to get new ideas about the society needs in a short time.” Bansal said.
The “C-Cubed” members said they joined this event with their passion for code in mind. “Writing a code for non-profit organizations means a lot. Since we have the passion for writing code, why not write code that benefits our
society?” Goel asked.