Active Travel Hackathon
This week we attended the Active Travel Hackathon which was organized by Transport for London, Met Office and Ordnance Survey. The event was hosted by Amazon Web Services and sponsored by CloudReach.
The challenge was set by Transport for London and it was to develop an app or service to encourage more active travel around the city by walking or cycling.
The three organizing institutions each provided data about the city including weather forecasts, air quality data, pollen data, metrics on public transport infrastructure and mapping services.
The attendees formed teams of no more than five and had 24 hours to come up with a solution.
Tom, Meg and I attended the event from the Informatics Lab along with a dozen other Met Office staff. We decided to form a team of four including an external attendee, Harry.
Our solution to the challenge was to build a sightseeing app for tourists which would encourage them to walk between London's premier sights. By dynamically generating walking tours between locations we can route tourists off the beaten track via close by lesser known hidden gems they would miss if they used public transport. It also provided them with weather forecast information and suggested they do use public transport if conditions were poor. The idea stemmed from the assertion that by taking public transport, visitors to the city not only miss out on some of the sights of London but that they also add significant unnecessary load to the public transport network.
We started with pen and paper to work on user journey mapping for the app, focusing on the options we would need to provide, and how to make the app accessible and easy to use. We then produced some initial mockups using Adobe Illustrator to begin visualising what 'Sights' would look like. Creating a brand for the app early on helped us to work with an end product in mind.
The first screen the user would see provides them with a list of sights they may want to see around London. They can select sights from a pre constructed list or search for specific ones using the navigation bar at the top. 'Sights' then gathers data from the various providers including route information, weather forecast and tube status info and then makes an intelligent suggestion on which method the user should take. The suggestion is automatically highlighted via a toggle button, however if the user is unhappy with the suggestion, they have the option to toggle to another method of transportation. Finally, the user is presented with a map view to guide them through their journey. The most notable feature of the app however, is that along with directions, the user also receives notifications when an attraction that may interest them is nearby.
As we were making use of external APIs from the three data providers we decided to build a client only web app using ReactJS. This meant we didn't have to worry about building a backend, writing lambda functions and managing databases. We could simply write the client and host it using AWS S3 for a scalable and low maintenance application.
We were excited to win third place with our app, although there were many other great entries and all were deserving of prizes! Entries we found particularly interesting included an Alexa app for commuters, a gamified travel app for collecting landmarks and a cycling app where users from different boroughs could compete.
Hackathons are a great way to innovate, learn new skills and meet new people, and we definitely felt that the Active Travel Hackathon was a worthwhile cause to get involved in. We definitely enjoyed the challenge!