Our Innovation Centre in Australia, Perth, recently had the opportunity to host a hackathon, exploring safety and productivity solutions for heavy vehicles.

Launched in December by the state’s Transport and Innovation Minister, Bill Marmion, the hackathon was held as part of the government’s commitment to innovation, aligning with objectives in the Western Australian Innovation Strategy released in November last year.

It ran for three weeks and included nine teams from four Western Australian universities–Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, Murdoch University and the University of Western Australia. The challenge was to design smart license plates for heavy vehicles, with a prize of $10,000 up for grabs.

With the need to constantly communicate throughout the hackathon, our centre selected Cisco Spark as the tool for collaboration. Weeks before the event, specific rooms were set up for the organising committee, participants and partners.

While everyone was very impressed with the functionalities of Cisco Spark, we decided to take things up a notch and coded a bot to help with the event. The bot created new rooms on demand, such as putting teams in touch with their mentor for a group conversation.

The bot also facilitated submissions, placed a participant in contact with the organising committee, sent reminders about upcoming deadlines, provided the hackathon information pack, gave details on government agencies, information on Cisco Spark, and pointers to useful resources. And it did all of this as if it were human.

This was made possible by powering it with natural language understanding (NLU) capabilities. We even built a mechanism to collect feedback over a phone call. This piece of magic was carried out by integrating with Tropo’s cloud API for voice and message exchange.

Though the bot was built specifically for the hackathon, we plan to use for similar events in the future.

It’s exciting that Cisco Spark has the flexibility to integrate with other tools such Box and Google Drive, so we can add new features, or automate file transfers or send notifications on mail, or even to throw up funny cat photos–we have a suitable framework in place.

At the end of the hackathon, each of the teams submitted their plate concepts and presented it to a judging panel of industry and subject matter experts. This was followed by an awards night at the centre, where:

  • Murdoch University Team 1 (Robert Pezzaniti, Josephine Brain, Andrew Forbes and Radek Sebesta) was awarded the $10,000 first prize
  • Curtin University Team 2 (Amir Rajabifar, Bryan Kwok, Joshua Morley, Christian Brunette and Jordan Truswell) received a commendation

The smart plate designs are being reviewed by Main Roads Western Australia to assess opportunities for a prototype.

Email: tgoerke@cisco.com

Twitter: @tomgoerke

LinkedIn: https://au.linkedin.com/in/tom-goerke-269204


Tom Goerke

Director, Innovation Centers Australia