Carnegie Mellon University
October 07, 2015

INI soars to grand prize win at Emirates Travel Hackathon

By Jessica Corry

Crafting the perfect vacation online just got easier, after three Information Networking Institute (INI) students coded their way to Dubai at the Emirates Travel Hackathon held November 7-8 in San Francisco, CA.

Over a 24-hour period, Runway at Twitter’s headquarters was abuzz with caffeinated minds as 294 talented hackers worked to redefine the online travel experience. The grand prize trip to Dubai went to CMWe, composed of three Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) INI students and two CMU Language Technology Institute (LTI) alumni, while fellow Carnegie Mellon teams Dream Hackers and Team Monopoly received API prizes from event partners.

In an effort to shake up the flight search experience, CMWe created an application called “Emirates Globetrotter.” By parsing user’s Facebook profiles, the app recommends a destination that is attuned to the individual’s likes and interests.

“If you take a vacation every winter with your wife and two children, and your Facebook profile indicates that you like beaches, surfing and water sports, our application wouldn’t recommend that you book a ticket for a single person to Death Valley in July,” explained Abhishek Shivanna, a Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT)-Mobility student, of CMWe’s app. “Once the suggestion has been made, the user is free to tweak the search parameters to change the travel dates or number of tickets, or just move on to the next suggestion.”

Each team had 120 seconds to pitch to a panel of judges. The apps were evaluated based on level of completion, novelty of the idea and how well it adhered to the hackathon’s theme.

According to Wendy Fong, strategic programs manager at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley, CMWe passed the three-minute presentation marker, but the team insisted on going on for an extra minute. The judges were impressed with their presentation and that the team was able to command the stage. 

“CMWe used machine learning to build real user model’s ‘personas’ and then applied that model to personalize flight searches,” explained Fong, noting that the team’s emphasis on artificial intelligence took this app above and beyond other recommendation engines.

Competing alongside CMWe was a team of technologists drawn from the INI and the CMU Integrated Innovation Institute. Dream Hackers sought to motivate travel enthusiasts to realize their dreams through a game-like application involving badges and trophies. By featuring statistics, like the number of countries visited and miles traveled on an interactive world map, the app provided a visual representation of the user’s dreams.

“So maybe you want to go deep-sea diving or attend a music festival, but you don’t know where to find a location where you could accomplish those dreams. We can do that for you.” explained Raaghav Srinivasan, an MSIT-Information Security student. “You have the dreams, we have the plans!”

It was Srinivasan’s first hackathon, and he arrived without a team. However, Dream Hackers quickly hit it off, learning a new programming language and building a solid prototype in 24 hours.

“The entire experience of brainstorming the idea, writing code to give it shape and finally pitching the idea was amazing,” he said. “It was a good platform to learn new technologies and it made me a better team player.”

CMWe’s Shivanna added that, for INI students, hackathons are an ideal arena to apply classroom skills to real-world problems. “You learn how to be a better product designer by thinking about your application from a customer’s perspective. What is that they actually want? Why would they even use your product?” he said.

For Team Monopoly, made up of five Integrated Innovation Institute students, the main highlight was the presence of industry partners. “Several experts gave talks and walked around to meet with the teams, which provided us with valuable feedback as well as profound inspirations,” said Chloe Chen, M.S. in Software Management.

In addition to the incredible learning experience, Carnegie Mellon students walked away with some amazing prizes.

The CMWe team nabbed the grand prize along with the following API partner prizes: round-trip tickets to Dubai, a $2,000 airBNB voucher, Squarecircle Bluetooth speakers, solar lamps and free space at the Runway startup incubator.

CMWe Team Members:

  • Abhishek Shivanna (MSIT-Mobility)
  • Mayank Singh Shishodia (MSIT-Information Security)
  • Phani Shankar (MSIT-Mobility)
  • Rohan Ramanath (School of Computer Science - Language Technology Institute)
  • Rahul Goutam (School of Computer Science - Language Technology Institute)

Dream Hackers won the following API prizes: Splunk Thingsee, mbientLab MetaWear and a StubHub honorable mention.

Dream Hackers Team Members:

  • Raaghav Srinivasan (MSIT-Information Security)
  • Vishal Chandnani (Integrated Innovation Institute, M.S. in Software Management)
  • Pascal Cezi (SAP Labs LLC Intern)
  • Michael Janke (SAP Labs LLC Intern)
  • Fabian Wiebe (SAP Labs LLC Intern)

Team Monopoly Team Members (Integrated Innovation Institute):

  • Tien-Jen Chang
  • Denise Teng
  • Chih Chi Hu
  • Cef Ramirez
  • Ansheng Ling
  • Chloe Chen

Congratulations to all of the Carnegie Mellon students who competed!

About Emirates Travel Hackathon: Emirates Group hosted the Emirates Travel Hackathon at Runway in Twitter’s global headquarters in San Francisco from November 7 to November 8, 2015. The exciting 24-hour coding marathon brought together talented developers and designers to build new and innovative travel-centric applications using web and mobile API's.