Code, Design, Sustainability

Random Hacks of Kindness Parramatta

This weekend I’ll be participating in the Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon being held at the Western Sydney University “LaunchPad” near Penrith. To my understanding, this is the first RHoK being put on by the Parramatta crew.

It’s been a while since I’ve engaged in hackathon-style activities, but this one caught my attention given its emphasis on Western Sydney (now that I reside in the Blue Mountains, I’m keen to engage in more activities closer to home). But also because of the nature of the projects that are being pitched/developed across the weekend.

The gist of the projects were outlined at a recent information night:

Commons Sensor A project launched by Western Sydney University’s Institute for Culture and Society, this project aims to build a database of objects that belong to “commons” – public property, creative commons, open source software, communal spaces. We will have a specific initial focus on Parramatta, and the hackathon challenge will be to find some creative ways to visualise and imagine some of this data in ways that will engage the Parramatta public.

Darcy St Project Darcy St Project is a Parramatta-based social enterprise that runs barista and coffee brewing training to long-term unemployed, recent TAFE graduates etc. Western Sydney is a difficult place for young people looking to find work. We’re looking to build an app that assists with training, a kind of “barista mentor” that helps people not only with the technicalities of making coffee, but also how to get ready for the hospitality job market.

Empower Parramatta Community-driven solar power brings exciting possibilities to generate low-cost renewable energy in the city. However it also brings challenges, particularly for many of the apartment complexes that are spreading through Parramatta and other urban corridors in Western Sydney. Is there another way?Empower Parramatta is looking to raise awareness of community solar, plus develop a business model and technical proof-of-concept for a peer-to-peer decentralised energy network, targeting apartment blocks that currently have little incentive to invest in solar (distribution among different unit owners etc).

Kolorob In developing urban areas like the slums of Dhaka, Bangladesh, essential services like health, education, training, finance and employment can be difficult to find. They may not be registered, they may operate informally, or details about their locations, cost and operating hours may be inaccessible. Even though mobile and smartphone use is growing rapidly, location services like Google Maps or Open Street Maps provide only partial solutions. To address this, Save the Children is sponsoring an ambitious project called Kolorob in several slum areas. Through the project, communities are mapping different services, and the project is also developing an app to show where these services are and provide detailed information on them. Our challenge is to tackle one specific part of this puzzle: how to navigate from A to B. We will be building upon existing routing services provided by OSM and try to handle some of the unpredictable routing challenges in informal settlements – no formal roads, frequent changes, walking only paths and narrow passageways that rickshaws can navigate, even if cars cannot.

I’m probably going to be spending a good portion of my time in the Empower Parramatta team across the weekend. It’s shaping up to be quite interesting, with pre-hackathon discussions on how things like blockchains might be used to create alternate energy markets to support peer-to-peer energy sharing. Some international context: TransActive Grid and Ethereum Enabled Community Energy Market Sharing Economy. (As an aside, I also was interested to note, given my recent thoughts, that Slack was chosen as the official social channel for the event.)

So I’m keen to connect with some talented folk to see what emerges! Hopefully you can join us :)

Image credit: Ecotrust