Student teams from DSI competed in IBM’s Call for Code Hackathon recently in Columbia’s Davis Hall, with the three top teams winning prizes. The Columbia hackathon was part of IBM’s global Call for Code initiative, a worldwide initiative to inspire developers to use sustainable software solutions to solve pressing global problems. The hackathon challenged developers to create solutions specifically aimed at preparedness for natural disasters and help aid relief efforts. The purpose of the hackathon was in league with DSI’s overriding mission, which is to use data science for the good of society.

Nearly 100 Columbia students registered for the Saturday hackathon, working from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m to create code-based solutions that can help people cope with natural disasters. At 7 p.m., each team had three minutes to present their projects to a panel of IBM judges.

A DSI team took first place for developing a prototype of an app called “RescYou,” whose aim is to connect emergency contact information and medical data to a person’s facial ID. The technology can be used in situations where injuries prevent victims of disasters from communicating, , or in cases where they do not know their own contact information, which might, for example, befall children. The prototype includes a facial-recognition tool that the team designed using IBM Visual Recognition technology. Before an emergency arises, an individual would record their image and contact information with the app. After a natural disaster, first responders would upload photos of unidentified persons into the app, which would match it with the person’s previously recorded image, emergency contact information, and pertinent medical information. “The IBM Call for Code competition at Columbia was an excellent opportunity to work on our coding and project skills, said team captain Thompson Bliss, a master’s student at DSI. “We had a lot of fun brainstorming ideas and we were excited to see it all come together in the end. Overall, it was an extremely fun and rewarding experience.” The other team members are Jacob Faktor Klein, Patrick Ian Lewis, Benedikt Dietmar Schifferer and Patrick Kwon.

Second place went to a DSI team called RedBridge for building a website designed to help first responders get emergency supplies to people affected by a disaster. The team built an online tool that combines artificial intelligence and human intelligence to quickly locate, identify, and quantify the needs of those affected by a disaster. The website will allow first responders and rescue workers to map, allocate, and track the necessary resources, such as food, medicine, or clothing and determine how to get them to people in need. “The goal of our project was to help provide a more intelligent strategy that can be used for resource mobilization in the wake of a natural disaster,” said team captain Kevin Gao, also a master’s student at DSI. “We used IBM Watson artificial intelligent to aggregate and extract the information we’d need to map the needs of people who need immediate help. It was a great experience.” The other members of the team are James Xue and Yifeng Fan.

Taking third place was DSI team RationAI, who created a mobile app to help people find the food supplies in the wake of a natural disaster. As news of an impending storm spreads, people tend to flock to stores and stock up on staples such as milk, bread, and eggs. This app would help people to navigate this “food-hoarding phenomenon” by telling them which food is available at which store. Users are directed to the nearest store that has the food they’re looking for in the stock. Once in the store, users could take photos of the shelves and download the images onto the app so that other shoppers can see what’s available in real time. “This was my first hackathon and it went better than I ever expected,” said captain and DSI student Akshat Mittal. “To see how we were able to implement and accomplish in such a short time was an inspiration, and I’m pumped up to enter more hackathons.” The other RationA1 members are Chandrasekaran Anirudh Bhardwaj, Hrishikesh Telang and Elsherif Mahmoud.

The first-place team won $500 in IBM Cloud credits and the second and third place teams each won $200 in cloud credits. All of the teams are invited to enter IBM’s global competition, where judges will review submissions from all of the hackathons that have been held since May at universities, companies and conferences around the world. Global winners will be announced at the Call for Code Global Prize Event and Concert on October 29th at the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco. The first-place winner of the global competition will receive $200,000; second and third place winners will receive $25,000 each; and fourth and fifth place winners will receive $10,000 each. The project judged to have the greatest potential to alleviate the effects of natural disasters will be implemented with the help of IBM, The Linux Foundation, UN Human Rights, and American Red Cross.

Second-place winner Red Bridge plans to submit its project for inclusion in the global hackathon, says team member Gao. Bliss said his first-place team will not enter the global contest but will present a refined prototype to IBM employees on October 29 at the IBM Cloud Garage in New York. Akshat said his team will continue to develop its project during free time and over winter break.

“We were all blown away with the quality of what the Columbia teams were able to produce in such a short time,” said Stephanie Parkin, program director – IBM Developer Content. “Several teams had running code in just 12 hours and we were impressed with their critiques and their interests in each other’s projects, especially around the data-science models.”