Multiple teams engaging in a brainstorm that lasts 24 hours or even several days. These so called “hackathons” – a term combining the words ‘hacking’ and ‘marathon’ – are an increasingly popular tool that is used by organizations and institutions to come up with solutions and new ideas. The main goal of most hackathons is software development, although some hackathons concern social issues (for example dementia). Hackathons are organized in a competitive manner: the participating teams are competing against each other to become in first place. The price that is associated with winning provides the extra motivation that is needed for the participants.
Not only companies may benefit from these hackathons, cities can also benefit from organizing them. So called “smart city hackathons” already took place in San Diego and Philadelphia (U.S.); Guadalajara (Mexico); Selangor (Malaysia) and Rajkot (India). A great aspect of these types of events is that they can bring together all sorts of people, including business owners, investors, academics, entrepreneurs and developers among others. Moreover, smart city hackathons enable to promote and improve innovation and at the same time serve as a steppingstone for promising talent and starting entrepreneurs. Since teams are not only coming up with ideas, but also have to translate these into an achievable and presentable plan, it is a very fast way of creating innovation.
A result of a smart city hackathon is the ‘Smart Alert for Safety’ project, winner of the hackathon for an Internet of Things service in Philadelphia. The ‘Smart Alert for Safety’ project uses sensors to transmit seasonal and structural data to the service in order to save lives and prevent property damage. The idea presents configurable, multi-lingual alerts that text or call people if they are at risk, such as elderly people on a hot day. Another example is the winner of the Rajkot Smart City hackathon, team Electroblitz, that developed an alert system for direct pumping in water distribution.
Hackathons can be extremely useful in the creation of smart and resilient cities. They are accessible to a wide variety of people, including the younger generation, making them a perfect place to explore fresh and innovating ideas and to strengthen the relationship between the different actors within a city.