CMU-SV Participates in National Day of Civic Hacking-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Friday, June 7, 2013

CMU-SV Participates in National Day of Civic Hacking

CMU-SV students Yuki Nishida and Jason Leng explain SSN to CityCamp Palo Alto visitors.
CMU-SV students Yuki Nishida and Jason Leng explain SSN to CityCamp Palo Alto visitors.

On June 1-2, 2013, thousands of citizens across the U.S. came together at nearly 100 different locations to hack for change during National Day of Civic Hacking. Using publicly released data, code and technology, ordinary citizens teamed up with software developers, entrepreneurs and government officials to create solutions to challenges that impact our communities. The denizens of Silicon Valley, no strangers to innovation themselves, had the opportunity to participate in a number of events including CityCamp Palo Alto and Google’s Hack for Change hackathon. Carnegie Mellon University’s Silicon Valley (CMU-SV) campus participated in both events showcasing new technology.

The City of Palo Alto-organized civic innovation festival, CityCamp, attracted over 5000 participants and close to 60 sponsors to downtown Palo Alto, Ca. With the tagline of “come to inspire and be inspired,” CityCamp offered activities for everyone from curious children to the hackers and developers that contribute to Silicon Valley’s history of innovation. As Palo Alto Chief Information Officer (CIO) Jonathan Reichental told the Palo Alto Online, “it’s in our DNA that we’re able to have this event.”

The free festival included a mini maker faire, local bands and even a technology “farmers market.” The Palo Alto Art Center and Pacific Art League provided hands-on art activities and the TechShop tent included laser printers, 3-D printers, electric cars and robots for families to tinker with. Five idea hackathons and numerous TED-style talks relating to the themes of connectedness, sustainability, resilience and health were held throughout the event.

CMU-SV showcased a booth featuring Survivable Social Networks (SSN), an emergency technology that is part of the Silicon Valley Resilient Network, first introduced at the 3rd Annual Disaster Management (DMI) Workshop last fall. SSN is a service that provides social networking tools accessible via smartphones to help neighbors connect with other during and after a disaster without dependence on traditional power and communication networks.

“With sponsorship from the City of Palo Alto, we have been studying how to support connectedness and resilience in neighborhoods when disaster strikes. As such, CityCamp was a great opportunity for us to demonstrate our Survivable Social Network to the community and gather their reactions,” said Dr. Bob Iannucci, Director of the CyLab Mobility Research Center at CMU-SV.

Festivalgoers who visited the SSN booth ranged from domain experts interested in establishing research partnerships with CMU-SV in the mobile mesh network domain to Carnegie Mellon alumni eager to connect with fellow Tartans and offer their support for the emerging technology.

“We got a lot of great questions about how SSN would work in a disaster situation, such as how it could resolve power and network connection problems,” said Jason Leng, a CMU-SV graduate student in Software Engineering who helped field questions at the booth.

Yuki Nishida, a MS Information Technology student at CMU-SV added that it was exciting to see SSN get a lot of attention from CityCamp attendees. “Talking to so many people helped us to realize what part of the technology ordinary citizens – the future users of SSN – are interested in and concerned about,” explained Nishida. “I believe the interest of those people in information technology will be really helpful for both SSN and other DMI projects.”

The emergency response community, including many partners in CMU-SV’s DMI, was out in full force at CityCamp, high-fiving children dreaming of becoming firemen and policemen as well as informing citizens of communication systems such as the Palo Alto Police Department’s Mobile Emergency Operations Center (MEOC). “These systems are designed to help us respond to and recover from a wide range of events from earthquakes to terrorist attacks,” said Kenneth Dueker, Director of Emergency Services for Palo Alto.

“CityCamp was a great venue for members of the public to see how technologies are being experimented with,” he continued, “and how our Emergency Services Volunteers are part of these novel and forward-looking experiments in the tradition of Silicon Valley.”

Elsewhere at the Googleplex in Mountain View, Ca., hackers were hard at work creating protoypes to show how data on health and the environment can be used to improve quality of life at Google's Hack for Change. Eat Healthy For Less, a meal planning mobile web app that uses the Consumer Pricing Index to help people achieve nutrition goals while saving money on groceries won the hackathon. The team behind the app included Trey Smith, Systems Scientist at CMU-SV and NASA Ames, and Samer Buna, MSIT-20 graduate of the Silicon Valley and Pittsburgh bicoastal program.

The app begins by asking consumers questions about their nutrition goals and then produces a week’s worth of dinner recipes and the corresponding shopping list used to make those meals, living up to its motto: “Ready to Shop in 60 seconds!”

“We think our app could have a big impact on a lot of people who want to eat healthy but aren't sure where to start,” said Smith. "Most people in the U.S. spend a significant part of their paycheck on food, and that's especially true for the working poor. Also, a lot of people have food allergies or need to change their diet to manage diabetes or heart disease, and making that process easier for them could start to change health outcomes.”

Google has encouraged many of the participants, including the winning Eat Healthy For Less team, to continue with their ideas past the hackathon. “We think Eat Healthy for Less has startup potential, and our hackathon team would love it if we could hand off development to a small entrepreneurial team, perhaps from CMU-SV,” said Smith. Here in Silicon Valley, hacking for change isn’t something done just a few days out of the year; it’s a way of life.