These computer science seniors defied tradition to win the first hackathon they ever entered – GeekWire

Once a staple of the startup world, the in-person hackathon was one of the collective habits that fell out of favor during the pandemic—so much so that a group of six Seattle University computer science students were nearly halfway through their high school years. without competing in any.

That changed the weekend of Dec. 2, when they joined 300 Seattle-area students at a hackathon hosted at Amazon by transportation analytics company INRIX, in partnership with Amazon Web Services.

The Seattle University team used historical traffic, weather and collision data in San Francisco to train a machine learning model that predicted likely incident hotspots in the city based on current conditions, creating a heat map for strategic positioning of emergency personnel .

Their only previous experience with hackathons came from one team member participating in virtual hackathons. It was the first time any of them had come together in the real world to compete in a hackathon, as one of 20 teams turning their ideas into working prototypes over 24 hours.

As a tech rite of passage, hackathons typically involve long hours, lots of caffeine, and little sleep.

Students work on their projects during the INRIX hackathon at Amazon on the weekend of December 2nd. (INRIX Photo)

But the Seattle University team took a different route. They stopped regularly for water breaks and short walks, went outside the hackathon room and got to know each other. Some team members have never met before.

“We were all very good at taking breaks, maybe because we haven’t had the experience before or that stress of a hackathon before,” said Felix Pham, one of the students on the team. “We really take time to enjoy each other’s company outside of working with each other.”

They were also resilient and flexible, two hallmarks of strong hackathon teams.

Their initial idea involved using camera data to help insurance companies install new cameras. However, about four hours into the event, they discovered they would not be able to access the traffic camera API (application programming interface) they had planned to use.

Undeterred, they turned to a new idea. Instead, they used the “dangerous delays” API to predict where accidents are more likely to occur under different conditions and at different times.

The front end of ResponseSight ML, with a heat map showing areas most likely to experience dangerous delays and collisions based on current conditions.

They used an AWS Lambda function to handle calls to the INRIX API. On the front end, they built an interactive map using Vue.js to display predictions from the machine learning model. The model was trained using historical data in AWS SageMaker. The website was hosted using an AWS S3 bucket.

Perhaps most importantly, they got something of a decent night’s sleep after leaving the gym in the evening and finishing their work from home around midnight. This helped them stay clear when they presented their project that Sunday morning to the judges at the hackathon and then to the audience.

And they won everything.

“When we finished, we gave each other big hugs all around,” said Mark Brophy, a computer science major with a second level in entrepreneurship who was the only team member who had participated in virtual hackathons before. “We delivered a product, presented it very well, and it was a great experience for all of us.”

INRIX CEO Brian Mistele spoke to students during the hackathon. (INRIX Photo)

INRIX, based in Kirkland, Washington, holds an annual hackathon at Santa Clara University, but this was Amazon’s first Seattle hackathon.

The idea is to give students hands-on data experience for location-based services and also help INRIX identify future summer interns. Members of the winning team must jump to the front of the line for a final internship interview, skipping the pre-interviews normally associated with the selection process.

The event began with remarks by Ed Lazowska of the University of Washington’s Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering and INRIX CEO Brian Mistele. Hackathon organizers challenged students to use INRIX’s API to build a prototype that reflects the values ​​of “smarter, safer and greener.”

Many of the students were using APIs and AWS services for the first time. They received mentorship and training from INRIX and AWS employees as they turned their ideas into prototypes.

Each team was given five minutes to present to the judges. The first six teams from this process pitched to a hackathon audience of 300 people, with the Seattle University team emerging victorious.

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