Carnegie Mellon Team Wins First Prize at Random Hacks of Kindness-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon Team Wins First Prize at Random Hacks of Kindness

November 18, 2009 - Team “I’m OK,” comprised of Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley researchers and NASA scientists, won first prize at the Random Hacks of Kindness Disaster Relief Codejam Unconference held November 12-14, 2009 in Mountain View, CA.

Eric Park, Project Scientist at Carnegie Mellon Silicon Valley, informally led the team, which also included Trey Smith, Systems Scientist, and Ted Morse, Software Engineer. Chris Cinelli, Otavio Good and Hansel Chung were also part of Team “I’m OK.” Park, Smith and Morse are all part of the GeoCam Disaster Response Project, a research team at NASA Ames Research Center. GeoCam helps disaster responders get information faster by using GPS-enabled cell phones and web-based sharing of photos and maps.

Random Hacks of Kindness is an initiative that brings together disaster relief experts and software engineers to work on identifying key challenges to disaster relief, and developing solutions to these critical issues. The Disaster Relief Codejam was the first of a series of Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) events that will bring the community together for a "give camp" to solve real world-problems related to Crisis/Disaster Relief.

During the Codejam, teams created open source software and process ideas to address disaster relief problems submitted by attendees. There were 12 teams in the competition, and winners were determined by a panel of judges from sponsor organizations including NASA, Google, Yahoo!, and the World Bank. Team “I’m OK” addressed the problem of urban cell networks which get bogged down during disasters due to an overload of users trying to reach their loved ones. Smith, who also gave a presentation on NASA's involvement in disaster relief, explained how their team created a mobile phone app entitled, "I'm OK" with just one button. “It sends a single SMS to a server that in turn notifies all your friends and family that you're okay through whatever services you use to connect with them, like SMS to their phones, Facebook status update, Twitter update, etc. This is particularly useful because SMS messages don't burden the cell network as much as phone calls, and can often get through when calls can't,” said Smith.

The “I’m OK” app is now running on Android and the iPhone. Park views events like Random Hacks of Kindness as crucial to sustaining creativity and motivation to meet the challenges of providing successful disaster relief. “People are becoming increasingly aware that technology can play a major role in effective disaster relief and events like this are one of the best ways to rally the tech community towards a common humanitarian goal,” said Park.