“I had never participated in a hackathon before,” says Sarah Traoré, a graduate student in environmental conservation and the winner of the MIT’s recent Water Hackathon, “I thought they were usually for computer science majors.”
But when Traoré, a Fulbright scholar from Côte d’Ivoire, who is earning her master’s degree in water, wetlands and watersheds saw the hackathon’s call—to “bring the best minds together to solve challenges being faced in the field of water and find a technology and business solution for them”—she decided to sign up for the challenge.
And it’s a good thing she did. Traoré, along with three team members from MIT, developed a program called RiskInfo that sends flood alerts and safety guidelines via a host of different media, including interactive smartphone app and text messages. Because not everyone owns a smartphone, or even a cell phone, Traoré and her teammates also figured out a way for RiskInfo to communicate with nearby digital billboards so that news of impending floods could be publicly broadcast.
There’s also a community feature that would let a user reach out to a real-life volunteer for help, or where app users can connect, crowdsource information and best practices—even offer to take each other in.
The Water Hackathon put teams in competition to provide solutions to the problem of urban flooding, and though RiskInfo isn’t yet live, Traoré and her teammates are hoping to troubleshoot the code and begin looking for the funding they’d need to move RiskInfo from a working prototype to a field-ready final product.