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FEATURE STORY

In India, a Hackathon to Promote #SafeRoads and #SaveLives

September 9, 2015

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Winners of the road safety hackathon organized by the Kerala Road Safety Authority and the World Bank Group

Photo Credit: Roli Mahajan/World Bank

Story Highlights
  • On August 22–23 the Kerala Road Safety Authority supported by the World Bank Group organized a hackathon to promote road safety.
  • Over 180 young developers took part in the 36-hour non-stop event to build technology and create solutions to make India’s roads safer.
  • The programs and applications will help improve road safety by upgrading the engineering of Indian roads.

It’s 2.30 am in the early hours of a Sunday morning and Jikku Jose is hunched over his laptop amidst a sea of cables, workstations and coffee cups. The engineering student is among the 180 young developers who are part of a 36-hour non-stop event where they are trying to create solutions to make India’s roads safer.

The country’s first-ever road safety hackathon is underway in Trivandrum, Kerala, at one of the largest IT parks in the nation. The hackathon, organized by the Kerala Road Safety Authority and supported by the World Bank Group, has asked developers to create either software or hardware based programs or applications that will help improve road safety by upgrading the engineering of Indian’s roads, ensuring that traffic rules are enforced, promoting driver education, or improving emergency care for accident victims.

“We are passionate about simple and elegant solutions,” said 29-year-old Jose, who along with team member Rakesh are working towards building their start-up company. “We are fighting against time to create a real time dashboard to respond to any traffic emergency.”

Their all-night efforts have clearly paid off as the solution they came up with – called ‘Third Eye’ - won the first prize in the software category. Third Eye’s dashboard, located at the police control room, allows anyone with a mobile phone to instantly alert the nearest police station of a road accident through a simple text message. The system uses open standards protocols to virtually connect any device that complies with the API.  “Our effort is to reach the entire population without adding any further technology or extra cost,” beamed Jikku.


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A young developer takes part in the 36 hour non-stop hackathon. The event helped identify great talent and ideas that will be used enhance road safety.

Photo Credit: Roli Mahajan/World Bank

" We are fighting against time to create a real time dashboard to respond to any traffic emergency. "

Jikku Jose

29 year old developer

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Young developers create solutions to make India's roads safer.

Photo Credit: Roli Mahajan/World Bank

The first prize in the hardware category went to twenty four-year old Nithin who developed a ‘smart helmet’. Embedded with a radio device, the helmet can be paired with a motorcycle in such a manner that the engine will only start when the rider puts the helmet on. Nithin, a mechanical engineering student, hopes this system will not only enforce the use of helmets but also act as an effective anti-theft device.

Since motorcyclists are particularly vulnerable to being hit from behind due to poor visibility, the smart helmet also has a sensor based light that will come on if the brake light fails, indicating to the vehicle behind that the bike has slowed down.

“The product can be retrofitted to helmets or can be embedded in helmets by manufacturers,” said Nithin. And given the high percentage of fatalities among bike riders, he added: “I hope this system will help change the disturbing statistics on motorcycle fatalities.” 

The prize for the most innovative solution went to three final year students from the Federal Institute of Science and Technology in Angamaly, Kerala. The trio - Krishna Venu, Albert Jose and V S Ajayson - developed a mobile application called ‘Bon Voyage’ that gives credit points to drivers for good driving. The application can be accessed from a mobile phone or a computer with an internet connection. The app enables Google maps to analyze the speed of the road user, check if the driver had obeyed speed limits, and if so, award credit points. Drivers can redeem these credit points as online gift vouchers, as tax benefits, or as reductions in their insurance premiums. The aim is “enforcement without enforcing,” said Ajayson.  “We are trying to develop a system that can motivate people to be good both on the road and in their hearts.”

These techies couldn’t have got a better platform to showcase their ideas. “Hackathons provide a great environment for ideas. You meet like-minded people who can offer tips and advice and give feedback on your prototype. You can also assess how marketable your idea is,” added Albert Jose.

R Sreelekha, the Transport Commissioner of the Kerala Road Safety Authority, and the moving force behind this initiative, couldn’t be more pleased with what the hackathon has achieved. “The event helped us identify some great talents and ideas. Within the next couple of months, we shall evaluate these ideas and products and then sign agreements with team members to purchase or upgrade their products for public use,” she said. 

Whatever path the government decides to choose in implementing these ideas, one thing is certain. The hackathon has instilled in these young engineers a sense of social responsibility – particularly in promoting safer roads in the country.    


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