Airports, Airlines, Aviation

MashHacks Travel Hackathon at Hack/Reduce in Cambridge

Last Saturday tripchi (aka Chandra Jacobs, me, the author) participated in a Mashable Hackathon at Hack/Reduce near Kendall Square, in her hometown of Cambridge, MA. The theme of the #MashHacks Travel hackathon was right up my ally – mobile travel technology! The sponsors of the event, Emirates Airlines and Mashable, were offering up a round-trip ticket to Dubai (via the Dubai International Airport, no doubt!) for each member of the winning team, with several cash prizes offered for the runners up.

Chandra poses with her Travel Saved My Life Branded tripchi shirt at MashHacks Travel Hackathon
From Mashable’s Picture Gallery – you gotta love that I’m wearing my branded “Travel Saved My Life” tripchi t-shirt from my Indiegogo campaign at the MashHacks Travel Hackathon

The MashHacks Travel Hackathon Pitches

The MashHacks Travel Hackathon started around 930AM, where a few folks (including me) pitched several ideas to the group to potentially work on for the day. The ideas I pitched as food for thought at the MashHacks Travel hackathon were:

  • FriendFinder – Build a Facebook app that alerts me when friends of mine are in a city I visit. This is really a friend’s (Tarit Mitra) idea, but I figured this would be a perfect forum to try to build it.
  • Build a service that automatically checks me in to my flight 24 hours in advance, as soon as online check-in is available.

Someone else pitched one of the features that we’re currently building in to the tripchi airport app – the ability to find others to share a taxi with (huge pain point at Boston Logan, where you can stand in the taxi queue up to an hour).

The hard part at these hackathons (even ones as focused as MashHacks Travel hackathon) as a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none generalist types like me is finding a team, especially when the team size is limited (in this case to 4 people). The core team needs to have a rockstar developer and a designer – only then can the remaining spots be filled by non-coders.

The other challenge was that I was still on crutches, which made is quite difficult to work the room and search for a team. I decided to start building out the ppt for my own idea in the meantime, as the teams were forming, just in case I couldn’t find a team in the end. During this time I met several interesting people, including Tejal Patel, a new entrepreneur trying to put medical supply kiosks in to airports. I also met an Italian health-sciences entrepreneur, Alessandro Mora, who is looking to build a platform to connect researches to collaborate and share information.

Let the MashHacks Travel Hackathon Hacking Begin

After a while Brendan Ciecko approached me and asked if I wanted to join his team – so nice of him! They had already started brainstorming using smart beacons (generically called Bluetooth Low Energy beacon), which are proximity beacons that send a signal using Bluetooth technology. When a smartphone or tablet is in the beacon’s range, it triggers a notification on the device (up to 50 meters). Brendan had brought some of the actual beacons to work with, and even had a cool name worked out – FlyBeacon. We brainstormed a list of a dozen ideas we all brought to the table and finally ended up focusing on the airport experience as the general theme on where to use the beacons.

MashHacks Travel hacking Underway
Mashable MashHacks Travel hacking Underway

Meet the FlyBeacon team at the MashHacks Travel hackathon.

  1. Brendan Ciecko – talented designer and brander, Founder and Creative Director at Ten Minute Media
  2. Max Binshtek – a successful android developer and programmer
  3. Chandra Jacobs – you guys all know me 😉
  4. Ari Roshko – admittedly an “old school” programmer, and very knowledgeable about a wide-range of technology from hardware to software

We took the rest of the day at the MashHacks Travel hackathon to build both a grand vision for use of beacons throughout the travel experience, but also to build a tangible and functional mobile app that solved one small problem. You can take a look at what we submitted as our FlyBeacon hacakthon entry here on the ChallengePost site.

What we ended up building was an Android app that notifies you when you baggage hits the baggage claim belt so that you can pick it up. Not only that, but a tracking system put in place to help airports and airlines more smartly manage and track luggage from beginning to end, while making the data transparent to the passengers, and extending the relationship with the airline from offline to online throughout the passenger journey at the airport.

The MashHacks Travel Hackathon Pitch

As part of our MashHacks Travel Hackathon pitch we demo’d what it looked like on the mobile app as the passenger’s bag approached.

Fly Beacon Pitch at MashHacks Travel Hackathon in Cambridge

We ended up winning 3rd place out of a dozen or so teams at the MashHacks Travel Hackathon, based on the following criteria:

  • Innovative Concept – Is the concept creative, forward-thinking, and resourceful?
  • Interactivity with User – Is the user readily engaging with the content of the app?
  • Usability – Is it easy to learn and navigate the content?
  • Project Longevity – Is this project the start of something bigger? Is there potential for a business venture, an open source project, or internet virality?
  • Impact – Is this project immediately useful? Could the correlations the team identified offer immediate consumer/social impact if addressed with your recommendation(s)?
  • Gut Reaction – What was your overall first impression of this app?
  • Aesthetic Design – Is the data presented in an aesthetic, effective and imaginative way?
  • Project Execution – How much of the app was the team able to complete in the time of the hackathon?

It came with a small cash prize ($500). Here’s the FlyBeacon team waiting for the results to be announced at the MashHacks Travel hackathon:

FlyBeacon team photo at Mashable MashHacks Travel Hackathon at Hack/Reduce
FlyBeacon team photo at Mashable MashHacks Travel Hackathon at Hack/Reduce

The Other MashHacks Travel Hackathon Winners

  • First Place – Breeze: a mobile app to improve the airport experience. It had several sub-features that tripchi also includes. The app allows users to find quiet areas in airports by pulling data from Twitter’s API, as well as available power outlets. Breeze also texts flight status information to a traveler’s designated contact based on data pulled from a flight tracker API (FlightStats).
  • Second Place – Playover: an app that searches for long layovers which allows travelers to explore additional cities. You gotta love this team – including HitList’s Gillian Morris alongside GDS company Amadeus’s Tadhg Pearson.

What fun we had at the MashHacks Travel Hackathon! And, the best part is that the winning team’s concept validated tripchi’s vision around Airports 2.0 and the consumer need. Gotta love that!

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