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Global Hackers Marathon Creates Solutions to Global Problems
07.01.10
Random Hacks of Kindness - Hacking for Humanity

Reducing risk of landslides, alerting people to disasters and creating a citizen help network are the top three award-winning solutions created by hackers at the Washington DC "Hacking for Humanity" event, part of a global "hackathon" that took place June 4 through 6, 2010, sponsored by NASA, the World Bank, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!.

Organized by Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK), the global marathon applied the skills of software developers to sustainable development and disaster risk issues. Other events took place in Sydney, Nairobi, Jakarta, Puerto Alegre and Sao Paulo.

More than 300 people attended the kick off reception at the State Department followed by weekend "hackathon" at the Microsoft offices. Hackathons are a fast-paced competition where software developers have a set amount of time to solve challenges defined by subject matter experts. At the end of the two-day marathon of hacking, 16 hacks were submitted to for judging.

"NASA is proud to be supporting Random Hacks of Kindness and promote wider usage of our open data to solve the world's greatest challenges," said NASA CIO Linda Cureton.

The winner was the Chasm project, a collaboration between a dedicated developer team and a subject matter expert from The World Bank. The Chasm program assesses landslide risk, an increasing risk facing some of the world's most vulnerable communities. The algorithms to understand and model the risk existed, but were too complex to be used by engineers in the field.

The Chasm team created web-based software that allows engineers to enter data and then visualize and interpret it to understand the risk. Local communities are better able to build with landslide prevention in mind. The World Bank has already expressed an interest in implementing the program in the field in the Caribbean region this summer.

The second-place winner was an application that allows emergency messages related to disasters (e.g., evacuations for hurricanes, tsunamis, other weather alerts) to appear on a browser or mobile phone similar to the Emergency Broadcast System for U.S. television.

Third place was a citizen help network that lets citizens practice helping each other in everyday situations so they are ready to help each other in a disaster and alleviate overwhelmed 311 and 911 networks.

All global marathon locations worked off the same evolving wiki site addressing the problem definitions, and were connected by videoconference and IRC chat channel.

Some hacker groups collaborated globally, for example teams from RHoK Sydney and RHoK DC collaborated on the development of the person finder application.

For more information go to www.RHoK.org.