RHoK’ing Hackathon coming to Austin on December 2-4

In June, I travelled to Seattle to participate in Random Hacks of Kindness #3 (RHoK for short, which is typically pronounced “rock”). RHoK is a hackathon like many others, a chance to develop on a project for 24-36 hours and show off your application to the other hackers, but RHoK applies a slight twist to the traditional hackathon. Instead of trying to launch a new company in the span of three days or being confined to one particular API, RHoK aims to produce new ideas and solutions for social good, specfically producing software (and hardware) that will help those in crisis situations or dealing with climate change. RHoK is a 2-year-old event, holding worldwide coordinated hackathons at over 20 sites over the same weekend. Historically locations like Toronto, Bangladesh, New York City, and many others have hosted RHoK. RHoK Seattle was graciously hosted by Microsoft who allowed us to use several large conference rooms on their Redmond campus throughout the course of the weekend.

At the kickoff reception representatives of NASA, CrisisCommons, Microsoft and others talked about the need for tools to help first responders communicate effectively and applications to support those faced with a crisis (for example floods or earthquakes). Additionally, team members from NASA talked about the Open Government initiatives, which have produced large amounts of freely available data as well as the desire for NASA to produce more open source projects from our government. The reception was a great chance to meet other hackers from the Seattle area, along with a number of people who came in from Portland and California as we mingled and listened to music by DJ Maxx Destruct.

Starting with coffee and bagels on Saturday morning, we went through an exercise to determine the available skills of everyone at RHoK Seattle and then moved to start identifying the needs of the various problem definitions provided by the RHoK core team. There were representatives available for several of the problem definitions and the room gradually coalesced into a half dozen teams, each focused on a different problem and solution. The problems attacked at RHoK Seattle included the creation of mobile sensors that can easily be deployed around a disaster to capture environmental information at a variety of altitudes, real-time mapping of tweets and other data coming from a significant event, a notification application that pushes needs and directions to first responders via SMS, as well as a solution for connecting businesses with left over food with volunteers willing to deliver the food to those in need.

Just before lunch on Saturday, each team reported on exactly what they were intending to work on and what needs they had that other teams might be able to lend a hand on. Design and coding commenced, and by dinner many teams were able to stand and report on the functionality they had completed thus far. Many of the teams worked late into the night, and some even worked through the night. On Sunday the coding continued and at 4 pm each team took a turn presenting their work and talking about what they would do in the future. A panel of judges evaluated each presentation and the work of each team on its ingenuity, completeness, and a number of other factors and awarded prizes to the top teams. For a quick taste of RHoK Seattle, Johnny Diggz put together a video showcasing the weekend.

Having attended RHoK #3 in Seattle to see what the event is like, a few of our Engineers petitioned Bazaarvoice to sponsor RHoK in Austin. Now six months later: rhokaustin.org is ready to go. All the details for the Austin hackathon on December 2-4 are available on the site, and we’d love to have even more engineers, designers, HTML gurus, and project managers come to RHoK #4 in Austin. It’s going to be an amazing event and we hope to see you there!