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Hack Week Winners Develop Mobile App for City of Richardson

The City of Richardson is working to implement a new mobile app developed by a pair of UT Dallas students at a community hackathon event.

More than 200 UT Dallas students formed teams for Hack Week, an event sponsored by State Farm where the students were challenged to use technology to improve city services. The winning team designed a smartphone application that can alert city staff where road repairs such as potholes are needed. Once fully developed, the app would track road patterns and conditions within Richardson by using sensors already installed on Apple iPhones.

“The Hack Week event was a great opportunity for our computer science students to work on practical projects and experience deadlines,” said Dr. Gopal Gupta, computer science department head in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. “The fact that these projects could potentially benefit the community in which we live, work and attend school made it even better.”

Winners Vijay Krishnan and Zain Merchant, both junior computer science majors, will receive $1,000 from State Farm and lunch with some of the judges, including Richardson Mayor Paul Voelker. Their app would crowdsource data to track which areas in Richardson have the biggest road problems, automatically disregarding locations with railroad crossings, speed bumps and other conditions where repairs would be inappropriate.

In addition to prize money, State Farm also is providing a $25,000 grant to Richardson to implement the winning technological solution

“It’s not often you go to a hackathon and see anything progress after you’re done,” Merchant said. “Typically, once you are done, you shove the project away and move on. But seeing it implemented and possibly helping people? That’s really cool.”

dr-gupta-hackweek-quote-oct-2016Taylor Lough, assistant to the city manager of Richardson, said the city was eager to work with State Farm and UT Dallas on the hacking event, which challenged students to develop technological solutions to improve roadway safety, parked car safety and awareness of alternative transportation

“We wanted to get an outside perspective on how to solve problems that, perhaps, we hadn’t thought about,” she said.

Lough said city administrators were available throughout the week to provide information and give feedback to the student participants.

“I was impressed that there were a lot of face-to-face meetings. There were very few emails during the week,” she said. “It was neat to see our subject matter experts interacting with the students.”

State Farm Systems Assistant Vice President Bill Miller said the community Hack Week builds on the company’s existing relationships with the Richardson and UT Dallas.

“We must stay on the cutting edge of technology to confront business challenges, and to help customers. One way we can do that is to offer educational opportunities designed to keep skills current, and that means keeping an eye on the future needs of State Farm,” Miller said.

Merchant said Hack Week was different from other hacking events in which he has participated.

“Usually the hackathons that I go to are 24 hours long. This one was unique — it was spread out over a week, but because of classes, basically you ended up working the same amount of time. Fifteen minutes after the judging, I had to run to the testing center to take an exam,” Merchant said.

Source | UT Dallas News Center


The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over  2,100 bachelor’s-degree students, more than 1,000 MS master’s students, 150 PhD students, and 86 faculty members, as of Fall 2016. With The University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.
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