Mar 22, 2017 | Atlanta, GA
Georgia Tech Digital Building Laboratory (DBL) students and faculty burned the midnight oil during a MARTA Hackathon organized by the City of Atlanta and MARTA. The 24-hour event held in February challenged 36 teams from the Atlanta tech community with increasing MARTA ridership using new data assets and web application program interfaces (API).
“The MARTA Hackathon series is a yearlong initiative between MARTA, Sandbox ATL, Code for Atlanta, and HackGT with the goal of connecting MARTA with the Atlanta tech community to help new ways of thinking and problem solving to emerge,” said Scott Henderson, co-founder and CEO of Sandbox Communities.
“MARTA and the City of Atlanta realize they can find better solutions and breakthroughs by working with a community of experts who happen to be MARTA riders and City of Atlanta citizens,” he said.
The DBL fielded a team of four master’s, Ph.D., and Coding Boot Camp students, and a faculty member as part of its Smart City research initiatives. Over the past six months, the DBL has been working closely with the City of Atlanta and the Institute for People and Technology (IPaT) to develop synergy and programs that connect Georgia Tech with the city, Smart City ambitions, and available data services.
The team focused on tying 3D visualization environments to real-time streaming data from MARTA’s online web APIs. They developed a virtual environment where users could track bus locations in real time and created a digital 3D heat map that allows users to visualize the intensity of people entering and exiting MARTA transportation.
Team member Jieun Rim is a student at the Georgia Tech Coding Boot Camp currently on her way to becoming a full-stack developer. She explained, “As a regular MARTA rider, I use mobile apps like MARTA and marta.io all the time to get the information I need to use MARTA comfortably. Developing new ways (or improving old ones) to connect users to their requested information (like train schedules or knowing if there is an accident) can help us live our daily lives in a smart and predictable environment.”
The Hackathon’s 24-hour sprint meant the DBL team had to come prepared, work efficiently, and communicate with each other.
“The timing was very challenging. We had to complete the project that included understanding MARTA's data structure for over 9,000 buses in the Atlanta area, and applying the right algorithms to it to capture live bus schedule updates and traffic conditions impacting their schedules,” said Esterling Accime, a full-stack web development student at the Coding Boot Camp. “This type of work could take as long as a month for a similar team to do what we did in a day.”
The DBL team completed a prototype of their system during the Hackathon and they plan to continue improving its performance.
“Teams got really far with their ideas, identifying some major pain points for the people using the MARTA system and around the City of Atlanta, and proposed novel solutions for it,” said Diego Osorio, who is seeking a Master’s in Human-Computer Interaction, focused on tangible interactions.
Highlights for the team included learning new skills and networking with Atlanta innovators.
“It surprised me that so many volunteer programmers were willing to share their ideas, codes and experience with other people. The Hackathon is a successful platform for enthusiastic programmers to co-work,” said team member Tzu-Chieh Kurt Hong, a Ph.D. candidate in architecture focusing on design computation.
Five judges representing the MARTA board and executive team, Cisco, and Atlanta met with participants in a science fair-style showcase to determine the top teams.
Kari Watkins, a judge and an assistant professor in civil and environmental engineering at Georgia Tech, said she "was amazed at the quality of the top applications. In only 24 hours, teams created working prototypes to add rideshare into MARTA, build easy to implement kiosks, and do direct advertising on MARTA.”
Debra Lam, managing director for Smart Cities and Inclusive Innovation at Georgia Tech, said, “When it comes to Hackathons, open data empowers people. MARTA is thinking about the future of transportation, and how the City of Atlanta and Georgia Tech can influence it.”
The Hackathon was one of the first visible public initiatives exposing this partnership to the broader Atlanta community.
Deputy CIO for the city, Kirk Talbott, said the city "offers a ‘real-world’ laboratory where research can be applied and scaled to solve urban challenges at a level not easily replicable in a university setting.”
Dennis Shelden, a Hackathon team member and director of the DBL, said, “This is a great example of how the City of Atlanta and Georgia Tech work together to create new ways of tackling emerging opportunities using data to improve the lives of the community.”