Cairo hackathon aims to help save water in Egypt

June 24, 2019 devadvin

Motivation

Code and Response focuses on creating and deploying open source technologies to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. According to the United Nations, Egypt could run out of water by 2025, when it is estimated that 1.8 billion people worldwide will live in absolute water scarcity. The Nile is the source of 97 percent of Egypt’s water, but is also the destination of increasing amounts of untreated agricultural and residential waste according to this BBC report. Developers at the hackathon were encouraged to focus on solutions for natural disasters related to flooding and drought, which can help protect accessibility to clean water.

What happened at the hackathon

There were 450 people who applied to participate in the water-themed Code and Response hackathon, which was held on June 22-24 in Cairo, Egypt in partnership with RiseUp. About 50 participants, in teams of 2-5 individuals, were accepted for the friendly hackathon. Representatives from each team came by to the GrEEK Campus (a shared working space or entrepreneurs, startups, and Subject Matter Experts) in the center of Cairo on the evening of June 20 to pick up some tech tips and education, and to gain an understanding of the themes of the event – including mitigating the effects of natural disasters, such as drought and floods.

On June 22, the hackathon started in earnest at the American University in Cairo (AUC) campus at Tahrir Square in the beautiful Oriental Hall. It was like having a hackathon in a palace with the excellent facilities of a university – and with the bonus of an art exhibit and well-stocked bookstore nearby! The proceedings started with motivating sessions from Ahmed El Alfi, Robusta; Nehal Hefny, Red Crescent; Sabine Holl, IBM; Ayman Ibrahim, Cairo Water Week; Amal Khalifa, Purdue University Fort Wayne; Alisa Maclin, IBM; and Rasha Marzouk, UNICEF. It was great to have a representative from Cairo Water Week, an initiative from the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation that is closely tied to the theme of this event.

The teams, who were a mix of university students, recent graduates, and industry professionals, were all dedicated and knowledgable. Some participants were studying pharmacy, but most were computer scientists and engineers. The teams went through the usual stages of a software hackathon with ideation, followed by prototyping, and then pulling together a presentation and demonstration for the judges. Some teams contacted experts for advice on how to get more datasets, or consulted with government or private sector personnel to get feedback on their proposals.

Round 1 judging

The teams who persevered and presented to the judges on June 21 were:

  • Cantalopa – A Points System for Household Water Meters
  • Catastrophe – Smart Irrigation
  • Eco – Evolving Rice and Other Crops to Grow in Salt Water
  • Hackers – Monitor Private Use of Water and Provide Discounts- reducing the incidence of droughts
  • Innovators – Improve cascade pump stations operation via IoT and Machine Learning
  • The Green Life – Create Desalination Plants for Water
  • Hodhod – Volunteering Platform for Disaster Situations
  • X Solutions – Monitor Water levels in Floods

The judges were made up of some of the speakers from the opening session, with the addition of: Sherif Aziz, RiseUp; Sherif Makhloof, AUC; and Randa Mounir, Environmental Consultant. The judges identified the top three teams, listed here in no particular order:

Team Cantalopa – A Points System for Household Water Meters

Team Cantalopa’s project is to encourage a significant reduction of water use in households to cut down the risk of drought. The Cantelopa team is focused on getting people more involved in the efforts to conserve water through a ‘Points and Reward’ system for water use. The government would award points to households that are below a calculated average each month. The rewards for acumulated points would include discounts on future gas bills, in addition to promotions and vouchers from sponsors. The project would be funded through government and external sponsors. The team used Ionic for the user interface, Cloudant for data storage, and plan to use Cognos for Analytics. The Cantelopa team are all students from the German University in Cairo.

team cantalopa

Team Catastrophe – Smart Irrigation

Team Catastrophe created a smart irrigation system with IoT services and Machine Learning. By customizing the amount of water used and reducing the risk of drought, the project targets farmers and agricultural engineers as well as victims of droughts who will benefit from better water usage. The project is made up of a mobile app connected to monitors and control systems. It also accesses databases to store information on plants as well as user profiles. The team trained a neural network by using TensorFlow to recognize hundreds of different plants and assigned different moisture thresholds to each one. In order to deploy the project, monitors and control systems in the form of sensors and water valves need to be added to water irrigation systems. The team estimated that the additional cost to the irrigation system is less than five percent. The team is made up of recent graduates from the German University in Cairo and one undergraduate.

Team Hodhod – Volunteering Platform

Team Hodhod provided a community app toolbox to help volunteers respond to disasters like floods. The team used the Alexandria (Egypt) flash flood in 2018 as a motivator, however the app can be used to support volunteering in a variety of natural disasters. Team Hodhod provided a unified platform that can be used by volunteers and entities, such as relief organizations and local governments. The volunteering toolbox enables volunteers to see where they are most needed and the platform provides a unified dashboard that gives an overall view of what is happening and supports decision making based on facts from behind the scenes. The app detects and predicts natural disasters by using Watson Machine Learning by analyzing feeds from drones. It also uses computer visual recognition to analyze patterns and the level of the disaster. Natural Language Processing (NLP) was used to analyze social media activity to tell if a disaster is happening in real time. The team is made up of established industry professionals who have participated in multiple hackathons before – including the Hajj Hackathon in Saudi Arabia, which also appears in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest hackathon ever held.

“Hodhod” in Arabic refers to the hoopoe bird – a flock of hoopoe birds is said to have rescued King Solomon, hence the name of the team.

Round 2 judging

After 24 hours of coaching and team preparation, the top three teams presented to the Round 2 judges in the legendary Mena House Hotel, which has a view of the pyramids in Giza. The judges included some of the Round 1 judges, with the addition of Wael Abdoush, IBM; Reem El Saady, EBRD; and Michelle Peluso, IBM. Apparently, the result was very close as the teams were all wonderful and the improvement in their demos and delivery was significant. The awesome Team Cantalopa was selected as the winner. Many congratulations to the team members Marwa, Rana, Mai, and Nadine!

Summary

In summary, this Code and Response hackathon was energizing. It not only raised awareness of water scarcity issues in Egypt and in other parts of the world, but it inspired the participants to take action and develop solutions in a variety of domains, like scientific research, agriculture, water management, disaster relief, and consumer use of water. The quality and earnestness of the participants, as well as the organizers and tech leaders, was outstanding.

Hopefully, there will be some teams from the Cairo event who will continue working on their solutions and submit them to the Call for Code Global Challenge. And to the rest of you, I encourage all of you to gain inspiration from these teams who participated in the hackathon. As demonstrated from the results and solutions that came out of this Cairo event, you can see that when developers work together toward a common goal, they can create solutions that could have lasting positive effects.

Submit your solutions to the Call for Code 2019 Global Challenge at https://developer.ibm.com/callforcode/. The deadline is July 29, so you still have some time. If you are interested in a similar water theme, we have the thing for you: A solution starter kit on Improving Flood and Drought Prevention and Response.

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