Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Image from Clarus Commerce website
In my last post I focused on an article about San Francisco becoming the first US city to have a dedicated IoT network. In the article it mentions that there will be a "hackathon" in San Francisco from 20-22 November. From the article:

"In November, SIGFOX and the City of San Francisco will jointly sponsor a hackathon, in order to allow developers and makers to use the technology and generate new ideas for how SIGFOX's network can be used to create innovative smart-city solutions."

I didn't know what a hackathon was (it's not for nothing that my email name for this blog is nontechieteacher!), but my students knew about it, and together they attempted to explain it to me. I say "attempted," not because they weren't able to explain it well, but because different students focused on different aspects of what a hackathon is, depending on their own point of view and on what they most associate it with. The different ideas contribued gave us a lot to talk about, and formed a very useful brainstorming explanations session.

The explanation on Wikipedia is:

"A hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest or codefest) is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development and hardware development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects in competition with other teams."

The information on the website leads to Tickets for the Hackathon with further information for participants in the section "Why attend":

The winning categories listed are:
  • Best start up project - most promising project to start a successful business modernizing cities;
  • Best civic innovation project - highest impact project that improves citizens' lives;
  • Best technical project - most technically advanced and ambitious project.

Students can brainstorm ideas of what could be developed, or what they would want to develop themselves. Then they could discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each idea.

There's plenty of material here for all types of engineering students!

Another aspect of the hackathon information on the website given above is the suggestions listed under "Prototypes Ideas for a smarter City (sic). It says:

"Here are several examples of applications that might tickle your fancy for this hackathon. Feel free to suggest more and think outside the box!"

So if students need some inspiration for their brainstorming, this material can be presented. The first one listed is Air, Water quality, Noise control, Energy efficiency with the prompt:

"Setting up ubiquitous sensors will help refine our understanding of where pollution happens, and where to focus efforts to limit its effets for healthier living. Is air quality better in neighborhoods with different transportation mixes? How does the weather affect energy consumption in businesses? Can the City cuts its utility bills by smarter use of sensors?"

Each of the examples has a prompt like this, which could certainly generate ideas. The full list of examples of applications:
  • Air, Water quality, Noise control, Energy efficiency
  • Inventory/Fleet management/Sensors on City equipment
  • Traffic, transportation, parking, potholes
  • Security
  • Kids, pets
  • Seniors, autonomy
  • Art, street art, performance, interactive performance
  • Fire detection, Earthquake, Flood warning systems, Disaster relief
  • Wild animal tracking
  • Parks, urban farms, beekeeping
Photo of a hackathon from Wikimedia blog

For more general information about hackathons, this article from Wired magazine online, "The Hackathon is On: Pitching and Programming the Next Killer App," is very useful.

Link: http://www.wired.com/2012/02/ff_hackathons/all/1

Some interesting excerpts from the article:
  • "Hackathons, with their come-one-come-all ethos, have emerged as the new forum for networking, learning, and beta-testing new apps and ventures."
  • "Venture capitalists are looking to hackathons as a new way to spot fresh faces worth recruiting and good ideas worth finding."
  • "The trend has already spread beyond the conventional tech world. There are women-only hackathons, hackathons for teens, hackathons for colleage students, hackathons to fight autism, hackathons to improve education, hackathons to help veterans, hackathons to build Occupy Wall Street protest tools, hackathons on clean energy, hackathons on grocery shopping in Vermont, and 14 hackathons to troubleshoot water pollution -- footage of which was streamed live from nine cities including Bangalore and Nairobi."

This certainly sounds as if hackathons are a part of my students' lives - now and in the future.

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