A team of graduate students from the School of Information Studies (iSchool) took the top prize at the IBM Call for Code Hackathon held last weekend at the Blackstone LaunchPad on the Syracuse University campus.

The event, held on Friday and Saturday, was part of IBM’s global Call for Code initiative, a charge to developers to create solutions that significantly improve preparedness for natural disasters and relief in their aftermath to safeguard the health and well-being of communities.

The five students from the iSchool’s Information Management and Applied Data Science programs formed a team and pitched the idea of Disaster Recovery as a Service (DR-a-a-S) to help execute a disaster relief plan in a transparent and fast way. Team members included Shubham Bhatia G’19, Aditya Chauhan G’19, Shama Kamat G’19, Anmol Handa G’19, and Alan Nguyen G’20.

The team initially found their inspiration from an article published by the American Red Cross that reported on scams associated with relief funds after natural disasters.

“The article on the issues with disaster recovery and relief funds motivated us to design a Blockchain platform using Hyperledger to have all parties or donors on a single platform to contribute towards the cause,” explained Anmol Handa, a student in the M.S. in Information Management program.

“We think this kind of platform would help speed the execution of a disaster relief campaign by bringing all for-profit and non-profit organizations together on one platform to reduce the mismatching of supplies like food, first aid, and clothing using programmable smart contracts.”

The future scope of the project includes plans to incorporate machine learning algorithms to predict the occurrence of any natural disaster with a ‘Disaster Score’ beyond a threshold limit that triggers notifications requesting all the organizations on the Blockchain platform to assist.

“Our iSchool courses on Blockchain Management, Cloud Management, and Big Data Analytics helped us a lot in implementing the idea,” said Handa. “And the experiential learning opportunities offered by the iSchool also prepared  us to execute and build a platform in much more efficient way.”

As they worked on the project, the team members began to think about how emerging technology has the power to change how society can respond in disaster and crisis situations.

“It helped us to think beyond the horizon and understand the importance of technology and the ways it can beneficial for society,” said Handa. “Technology can be the spark that transforms limiting systems and extends economic opportunity to those marginalized populations desperately in need of it. Natural disasters are one important area which desperately needs the attention of the larger community to reduce the impact on lives and the money involved in it. Through this competition, we got exposure to tools like IBM Watson, Chat Bot Engine, IBM Blockchain, and many others which are bridging the gap between a problem and a solution.”

As a reward for their efforts, all first place team members received IBM Cloud credits totaling $500 per person per month for one year and an Amazon Echo Dot smart speaker.

All the Syracuse Call for Code participants will have until September 28 to refine their codebase and provide a final submission and three-minute pitch video to IBM.  Submissions from across the world will be reviewed by IBM and partner judges, and winners will be announced in late October. The first-place winner in the global competition will receive $200,000; second and third place will receive $25,000; and fourth and fifth place will receive $10,000.

An iSchool team also captured 3rd place in the hackathon. iSchool students Mengxuan Tang, Qi Wang, Xueqing Wang, and Zijun Yi were part of a team that proposed using machine learning to study the location of street lane lines via a dash camera. The team envisioned a system that would allow lane line locations to be stored on a database that could be accessed during poor road conditions, such as heavy rain or snow, with information relayed to drivers if their vehicle strayed off course. 

Over 125 students from across Syracuse University participated in the weekend event, working on 12 different projects.

“The event drew diverse representation from across campus, with participants from the iSchool, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, VPA’s School of Design, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Newhouse School of Public Communications, Whitman School of Management, and Falk College,” said Braden Croy, Program Manager at the Blackstone LaunchPad and organizer of the hackathon. “We were pleased with the turnout, and excited to see all of the great, forward-thinking ideas that the teams proposed.”