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Day-Long 'Hackathon' Turns Techies Loose On Louisville's Problems

Computer coding
Creative Commons

Coders, designers and anyone else interested in city data will converge Saturday to create data-driven tools for Louisvillians. The day-long hackathon at the Gigabit Experience Center in Russell will focus on “the internet of things,” or interactions between environment and technology.

“It’s taking that intelligence behind Facebook or Google, and being able to embed it in the city itself,” said Matthew Gotth-Olsen, who works for Louisville Metro Government and is one of the hackathon’s organizers. “Our environment is getting wired, from streetlights, to traffic sensors, to environmental sensors… all this stuff is getting wired into a network so we can really get an awesome picture of what is going on in the city.”

Through Metro Government’s open data initiative, people have access to public data on a variety of topics: 311 reports, restaurant inspections, air quality, crime. This data is available in both static, Excel spreadsheets or dynamic, web-based systems like APIs.

Michael Schnuerle is the city’s data officer, working for the office of civic innovation. Before joining Metro government, Schnuerle was a founding member of the Civic Data Alliance, the citizen force behind Louisville’s tech innovation.  He says the CDA and Metro government partnership is the foundation of these hackathons.

“[The Civic Data Alliance] created something and we’ve helped in any way that we can as far as technical support or offering more data,” said Schnuerle. “And then a new service is available to the public.”

Previous hackathons birthed projects such as areal-time TARC online map, the CityVoice feedback system for Dixie Highway, and the installation of wireless smoke detectors for vacant properties.

Some projects for this weekend’s hackathon will be tackling voter registration by potentially creating a tool to help users find their voting precinct and set reminders. The American Printing House for the Blind will also be there, figuring out how to create or modify tools for those who are visually impaired.

Still, there’s no way to know what exactly folks will produce at the hackathon until it’s wrapped up.

“Part of a hackathon is the spirit of it. Kind of the spur of the moment, innovative, flash of insight,” said Gotth-Olsen. “We want to give people room to innovate without a lot of restrictions.”

Margeaux Spring is a co-captain with the Civic Data Alliance. She’s a professional coder, but said the CDA is also made up of designers, students, retirees, data scientists and policy junkies.

“You don’t have to code to come to these,” Spring said. “We don’t want to just build things. We want to build things that solve problems in different neighborhoods.”

By the end of the hackathon, teams will present their progress on their projects, but it’s unlikely any will be complete. Gotth-Olsen said the true intent is to continue working on the tools, either through Metro Government or the CDA, or through sharing the ideas with other cities.

The hackathon will be held this Saturday at the Gigabit Experience Center, which is in the Louisville Central Community Center at 1300 Muhammad Ali Blvd. The event runs from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and everyone is welcome.