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Thursday, Jan 26, 2023

Hackathon Enlists San Diego Developers to Find Smart Solutions for City Problems

Sensors strewn across San Diego’s smart streetlights, stoplights and parking meters collect data every day. But much of that information isn’t being put to use.

A program launched by Smart Cities Accelerator, Labs + Environment (SCALE) San Diego, U.S. Ignite and the City of San Diego plans to change that. The Ignite – SCALE- San Diego program will launch this month with a hackathon to find promising solutions to the region’s most pressing problems, and develop them into something cities can implement. Cox Communications is also helping fund the program.

“Cities are drowning in data. They don’t have enough resources or data scientists,” SCALE San Diego co-founder Daniel Obodovski said. “We believe we have so much talent here locally that we can help the cities with these problems.”

Obodovski has been doing this since 2016, when he helped organize the first smart city hackathon with the City of San Diego and UC San Diego. Those events were good for bringing the community together and brainstorming some great ideas, but Obodovski wanted to take it one step further.

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“The city was interested in (the ideas), but we didn’t have a program around how to make it happen,” he said.

In 2017, San Diego was named one of the cities to join U.S. Ignite’s Smart Gigabit Communities program, which included grant funding from the National Science Foundation to build infrastructure that uses high-speed connectivity.

This year, teams at the hackathon will come up with solutions for at least one of three key problems: Food access in low- and medium-income neighborhoods, adaptive transportation and city planning.

“We are always looking for inventive, sustainable and economically feasible solutions to solve pressing city issues associated with transportation, air and water quality, affordable housing and other common urban challenges,” Erik Caldwell, San Diego’s Deputy COO for Smart and Sustainable Communities, said in a news release.

Teams selected from the hackathon will be invited to join a two-month development program, where mentors and subject matter experts will meet with them every two weeks and help them build out their solution. At the end of that period, judges from the City of San Diego, U.S. Ignite and investors will pick a winning project for a cash prize.

The winning team can choose to incubate their solution, or partner up with the city or a local tech company.

“People are really eager to start working on real-world problems, but don’t always know what those problems are,” Obodovski said. “The biggest opportunity is having their solution evaluated by city, tested by city and potentially used by the city.”

The schedule of events is as follows:

April 6: Info session explaining challenge areas, prizes and other details about the hackathon event.

April 12-14: Three-day hackathon where individuals will team up to develop ideas to help the City of San Diego.

April to June: Work with experts on mentors in refining ideas from the hackathon into useful solutions.

Late June: Reverse pitch competition where the winning team will have the opportunity to build out their solution through the SCALE incubator. A panel of judges including representatives from SCALE San Diego, US Ignite and the City of San Diego will pick the winning solution.


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