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Irish developers help provide hope in hackathon
Two teams with Irish participants have come up with winning projects in an ambitious EU hackathon tasked with developing solutions to the challenges created by Covid-19.
The EUvsVirus pan-European Hackathon brought together teams of developers, programmers and designers from Europe and around the world to solve problems caused by the global pandemic.
It was organised by the European Commission, led by the European Innovation Council and in close collaboration with EU Member States.
The event attracted over 20,900 participants, including more than 400 from Ireland.
They developed a total of 2,160 projects that produced 117 winning solutions. The Ireland based winners were ‘MyBubble’ and ‘My Slots’, both of which provide hi-tech ways of practicing social distancing for business continuity.
Research carried out by the My Slots team found that over a third of those asked (36.7%) avoid shopping because of queuing, and almost two-thirds (65.6%) avoid shopping if they find a queue when they get to a store.
To tackle the problem, they developed a web-app that allows retail stores to define time slots for customers so they can avoid queuing.
Existing booking solutions are often complex and rely on consumers having a smartphone, which makes it difficult for some, including elderly and vulnerable people, to access the service.
However, the My Slots solution provides booking codes that can be printed out or simply written on a piece of paper if no smartphone is available.
The My Slots team featured a diverse group of young talented developers from across Europe and the US including Daniel Shoroye from Ireland.
“We were all looking at ways to tackle different issues and we agreed on this one problem of queuing up to enter and managing the flow of people into stores,” he said. “Basically, we wanted to make the solution as simple as possible and to be as inclusive as possible.
“It’s actually the elderly and vulnerable who suffer the most because of having to queue so we tried to have a system that anybody can use.”
The My Slots team was delighted when they got the results and found they were eligible to go forward to the EUvsVirus Matchathon (22 to 25 May 2020) for an opportunity to team up with elite universities, companies, investors, accelerators, venture capitalists and public authorities.
“A hackathon like this connects all different European countries together,” said Daniel.
“It would have been difficult to build this idea and find the team members that I’m currently working with, so the hackathon has been incredible."
The other project with an Irish participant, MyBubble, is an app designed to help people emerging from strict social distancing to make the transition back to work.
The app uses reminders, positive reinforcement and a rewards system to help employees and employers comply with the latest public health guidelines.
MyBubble uses Bluetooth technology and a behavioural science-based approach but it’s designed to be user friendly and fun to use.
The team included members from Canada and the USA as well as software developer Kate O’Brien from Ireland.
“I had a bit of time on my hands because of the restrictions and I like hackathons so I ended up joining this one,” says Kate.
The team brainstormed and came up with the concept for MyBubble and began designing the app.
“We realised a lot of people were really scared about being safe going back to work.
“In shops and other spaces there’s often lines marking out the recommended two metre distance but that’s not the case in many workplaces.”
The challenge was to build something that would help people feel less anxious and that they would actually want to use.
“When you go out, a little reminder pops up asking if your trip is really necessary,” Kate says. “You’ll also get notifications to wash your hands or wipe your phone when you arrive back home.”
After being selected as a winning project, the MyBubble team will now continue to develop their app.
“Winning has given us a lot of reassurance that making an app to keep you alert, informed, and safe in the 'new normal', is an idea that is worth pursuing,” Kate says.
Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation, Heather Humphreys, said she was thrilled that so many Ireland-based innovators and mentors took part in the hackathon, which she described as “a historic moment of European solidarity and hope”.
“In a time of crisis, people from across Europe and beyond have come together to hack out innovative solutions to the issues created by this unprecedented pandemic,” she said.
My Slots video and website
MyBubble video and website