Hack Week Yields Pothole Protection

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Students apply technology to develop solutions to community problems

A glance at the clock shows you should be out the door by now, but your morning routine is taking a bit longer than expected. After a cup of coffee – and one to go – you grab your keys and lunch, and safely drive with two hands on the wheel and two eyes on the road towards the office – hoping you won’t be late. Traffic is lighter than usual allowing you to make up some time. Confident your hectic morning is looking up, you reach for your coffee. But, just as you take a sip, the jolt from hitting a pot hole sends a hot splash of coffee onto your khaki pants. Your day is officially ruined all thanks to a bump in the road!

The Problem:

What if there was a solution; allowing you to avoid bumps in your morning routine, coffee-stained pants, or blown tires? What if potholes could be identified, patched and repaired? Wouldn’t the world be a better place?

There’s an app for that, thanks to University of Texas at Dallas, computer science students, Zain Merchant and Vijayagopal Krishnan.

The Program:

In September 2016, Zain, Vijayagopal and dozens of other University of Texas at Dallas students participated in the first annual Richardson Community Hack Week. The program was a collaborative effort between the city of Richardson, TX, and sponsor State Farm, which has a major employment hub there.

“With a growing presence in Richardson, we wanted to identify a community need in collaboration with the city,” says Lori Manning, State Farm Director of Philanthropy. Manning adds partnering with a priority school was key. “Including IT students from UTD in the process was the perfect way to generate creative solutions.”

The goal of Hack Week was to address challenges facing Richardson; to make it a better place to live, work, and play. Participants listened as local representatives spoke about problems they wanted to solve. Zain and Vijay took it one step further. They addressed a nearly universal problem challenging communities across the country, pot holes.

“The week was a challenge,” Zain admitted. “We were up against more than 200 other students.”

The Solution:

“It was a simple solution. One that lies in the hands of most,” Zain confessed.

An iPhone app registers when a car drives over potholes, road hazards, etc. When a hazard is recorded enough times, the city would be notified the road is in need of maintenance.

The duo’s idea was chosen as the overall winner of the competition. They received a cash prize for their innovative idea.

“I wanted to participate because I liked the idea of being innovative, but most importantly I wanted to help communities,” Zain said.

The Future:

“I was impressed,” remarked Richardson Mayor Paul Volker about the innovative spirit of all involved. A computer science major himself, he was amazed by the brilliant ideas the university students produced.

“I had the pleasure of judging the finalists. I am excited about the possibility of the plan coming to fruition and solving some of the problems we have in Richardson.” Volker adds, “The fact that university students can participate where they are actually giving back to the community and using their minds to do so, I think that’s exciting.”

Zain agrees the payoff was giving back to the community, “Not many times when you go to a hackathon do you see anything progress after you’re done,” but he’s excited this might actually be a solution, “seeing it actually implemented and possibly helping people is really cool.”

The app is not yet available. However, the City of Richardson is in the process of promoting and implementing the technology. A $25,000 State Farm grant is being used to fund the effort.

“I was able to learn a lot and am thrilled our idea won. We are helping not only our city, but others as well. It’s quite an honor,” Zain said with a smile.

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