This is the first year of Code For A Cause's (AngelHack's Non-Profit branch) Code 4 Impact challenge during our Global Hackathon Series, and with 27 submissions at the half-way point of our Series, I'd say it's going well. Let's meet the Washington DC event winners, 911 Beacon.
Note, this interview has been edited for conciseness and brevity.
"Because 911 should be able to find you faster than Uber can” seems to be the tagline behind your guys’ project, 911 Beacon. Can you tell us where your idea came from?
The idea came from a Last Week Tonight (John Oliver’s show) segment that came out the week before the hackathon, where the topic was about how 911 operators had trouble locating people using existing the telephone infrastructure. I suppose we took it quite literally when he suggested that solutions around the issues had to exist.
We agreed that there seemed to be a need for new technology to fill in where older systems got left behind.
Was this the original idea, or did you guys pivot at some point during the hackathon?
Yes, it was the original idea. We wanted to create an app that made use of a maps API that been made available to us. Using geographic info to assist emergency first responders was actually one of the first ideas suggested, and we just ran with it.
The general idea/goal stayed the same throughout, but the implementation or details on how to better achieve the goal were all changed slightly through the process. (New things like the flashing alarm, the specific wireframe flow for the app, the automatic timed functions, etc)
Can you tell us how the team formed? Did you all know each other prior to the event?
"The cool part about hackathons is that it’s not necessary to know people before going. I joined the group after the opening ceremonies when I overheard Tori and David commenting about how they only had two people because people had migrated to other projects. Leland joined us when David went to find a fourth member, and Marisa became the fifth member when she walked by our group and asked if we needed a designer," answered Philip.
"This was my first hackathon, I knew no one, and I don’t really know how to code beyond some pretty basic concepts. I nearly panicked and left after the first ten minutes. Then I started talking to David, he encouraged me to pitch the 911 Emergency app concept at the beginning of the event, and we picked up the other members of the team along the way," added Victoria.
"We agreed that there seemed to be a need for new technology to fill in where older systems got left behind."
Before we get back to the project, tell us about the actual event. You guys were at AngelHack Washington DC. How was it? Tell us your favorite parts!
The event was great. It was amazing opportunity to connect with new people and work on an inspiring project.The AngelHack staff was well organized and friendly - this created the right environment for people to engage each other and share ideas. I suppose the best parts were getting constructive feedback from the judges and seeing the great ideas created by everyone, though we would have loved more feedback.
The best part was the availability of representatives from the tech sponsors to help with APIs. In other hackathons I’ve been to, tech sponsors rarely send enough representatives to help hackers with the questions and frustrations that inevitably accompany coding. But beyond the many representatives, the free food, friendly attendees and staff, and slick location at Microsoft’s offices made AngelHack Washington DC pretty damn awesome.
In your mind, what one thing does every hackathon need to make it a successful event?
I think that hackathons simply need many attendees to be successful - more people means that there are more opportunities to bounce ideas off others and more chances to find a project you really want to work on. Gaining a large number of attendees, however, is always a tricky proposition that is commonly remedied by free food, free energy drinks, and prizes (particularly at the collegiate level).
Ok back to 911 Beacon. We’ve talked about the inspiration, can you tell us a little bit more about the tech? What APIs did you guys use?
What are your future plans with the project?
Admittedly, we weren’t expecting as enthusiastic a response as we received from AngelHack. In the days since, I’ve spoken with several friends who work in emergency services as EMTs, firefighters, and 911 dispatchers - and they have unanimously stated their approval of the idea behind 911 Beacon. In light of this response, we’ve decided seeing this project through, both to gain development experience and to fix some of the flaws in the current emergency services infrastructure.
When you get an idea this good, and a response which seems even better, you run with it.