Hackathon demonstrates value with great idea for easing train congestion

It’s amazing the good ideas that can come from a hackathon (yes, I know, the second hackathon story in a row, but this is too good to let pass by).

So here’s the idea: cameras in train carriages pump images to an AI that lights up indicators on the station platform telling passengers where the less crowded carriages are. How simple is that? And how much of a difference could it make to peak-hour train travel?

That idea came out of a hackathon this week and is a great example of the sort of results you can get when you set clever people free to come up with solutions. Of course, having an idea is a long way short of having a financially viable solution – but in my experience the idea is often the hardest part.

Hackathons have come a long way in a short time. They no longer tend to be entirely geeky events resulting in inordinately clever chunks of code. These days it’s as much about the pitch and the presentation as the coding along the way. And that is a good thing because bigger ideas like this can never be realized in a weekend, but are certainly worth pursuing.

But they can go further. In the hackathon this week:

The project team members take on the titles of hackers (programmers, engineers), hipsters (user experience, designers) and hustlers (sales, marketing).

The thing that really needs to happen is getting more deeply cross-disciplinary teams into hackathons: so it’s not just about coding. A couple of years ago Actuarial Eye got a group of actuaries to apply their skills to problems being experienced by charities. The people involved get to use their skills for good, the charities get access to skills they otherwise couldn’t afford: everyone wins.

Hackathons are a concept whose time has come so let’s hope we see more and better. And let’s hope we see more great ideas like the congestion indicator.

Image: Darren Fraser.

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