Take Flight, an online platform to enable cross-language video mentoring for audiences across the Arab World, took the top prize at the NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Hackathon 2013. Founded by Sana Odeh, affiliated professor of Computer Science at NYUAD, and sponsored by the NYUAD Institute, the three-day event brought together more than 80 students from 16 countries to work with mentors to brainstorm, develop, and present computer science applications designed to tackle specific challenges pertaining to the region. The applications were presented and rated by a distinguished judging panel on Sunday evening.
The winning team, which included Seth Thompson (Yale University, US), Alex Qin (NYU New York, US), Geoffrey Litt (Yale University, US), and Omar Omran (Lebanese American University, Lebanon), took on the challenge of the high rate of youth unemployment currently seen in the Arab World. The web-based service they built connects students to mentors throughout the world who can provide professional advice. The interface allows users to log in through Facebook and create a profile to indicate desired areas of skill development, in addition to topics the user can teach, in order to create the opportunity for a two-way exchange. Using videoconferencing technology, users can book meetings to connect with others and can even request translator assistance.
Seth Thompson, who was in Abu Dhabi for the first time, said: “I attended this event because I had done some political investigative work in Egypt previously and as a computer scientist I wanted to tie these two fields together. There has certainly been value in bringing foreign students to Abu Dhabi to engage in a cross-cultural dialogue and to bring different perspectives to these issues.”
Second place was awarded to a project called Safe Journey, a mobile application, targeted particularly toward women and children, to promote increased security in using public transportation. The application sends an SMS to a designated contact as the passenger leaves his or her destination and maintains communication with that contact until the passenger’s safe arrival. The team members were: Omar Abdel Galeel (Khalifa University of Science, Technology & Research, UAE), Mostafa Hammad (Khalifa University of Science, Technology & Research, UAE), Abdulla Zoubir Ourad (Khalifa University of Science, Technology & Research, UAE), Abdul Rahman S. Mohamed (Ain Shams University, Egypt), and Amanda Coston (Princeton University, US).
In addition to the winners chosen by the judging panel, audience members were able to vote for teams live during the event; the audience award went to an application called Alert2Sign, a mobile application to make audio-based public service announcements accessible to the hearing impaired through sign language translation.
Odeh said: “We have been tremendously impressed by the creativity and dedication that we have seen from all of our participants and mentors. To develop working prototypes of computer applications in just three days is no small feat, but judging from the range of insightful responses that were presented, it is clear that these applications developed in the Hackathon have the potential to tackle important real-world issues. This is the second time we’ve held this event in Abu Dhabi and we look forward to continued growth in future editions as the NYUAD Hackathon continues to develop into an important platform to promote computer science innovation here in the region.”
The NYUAD Hackathon provides an opportunity to draw students to the Arab World to share and generate ideas, learn new platforms and programming languages, design and develop mobile and web applications, and work with peers from around the world. Sixteen applications were developed by participating students from the UAE, Algeria, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Mexico, Morocco, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and the US. Mentors included academics and professionals from organizations such as Google, NASA, Microsoft Research, and the Arab Academy for Science, among others. Following the presentations, judges and mentors involved in the Hackathon expressed interest in exploring funding opportunities with some of the proposed projects.