Global 'creative marathon' sees scientists and technologists building solutions to COVID-19 problems
University of Birmingham students are co-ordinating a huge global initiative in which participants around the world are working around the clock to combat issues created by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Will Russell, who is studying computer science at the University’s College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, is helping to lead the global online ‘hackathon’ called Hack Quarantine alongside other students - Tom Goodman (computer science) and Avery Cunningham (metallurgy & materials) - with over 2,500 technologists and scientists across five continents taking part.
Will, who is in his second year of his undergraduate degree, explained: “The hackathon is an invention marathon where participants can work with people around the globe to build a project related to technology.
“It isn’t about hacking into a system, it’s instead about hacking something together and learning a great deal in the process.
“By working with medical professionals and industry, we’re providing knowledge and tools to empower hackers to work towards improving health, remote working and helping vulnerable populations.”
The hackathon, which will run until 12 April, offers ‘hackers’ four themes for their inventions: supporting those quarantined or at risk; creating new technology to improve health; finding ways to improve remote working; and improving awareness and behaviour.
Will added: “COVID-19 has a huge variety of problems surrounding it, which we've tried to address with our four different themes.
“We are asking anyone taking part to be as creative as possible and come up with a project that finds ways, for example, to make it easier for individuals or groups to get food without leaving the house or something to help with cabin fever.
“Other projects could be how we can use technology to help doctors and nurses on the frontline - anything from using a thermal camera to help with early detection, or an app for contact tracing.
“With information changing every hour, it's getting very difficult for people to keep up with what they need to know, so we are asking participants to come up with projects looking at how we can use technology to ensure the public are engaged and informed on the ongoing situation without causing panic.
“Perhaps we could create an app that reminds people to wash their hands or something that monitors webcam’s on laptops to warn them when they have touched their face?”
Supported by businesses GitHub, Twilio, Platter and Capital One, the initiative is being backed by Major League Hacking which is the official student hackathon league and each year holds 200 weekend-long invention competitions that inspire innovation, cultivate communities and teach computer science skills to more than 65,000 students around the world.
Hack Quarantine is open to anyone over the age of 13, and includes workshops and talks on everything from web development to creating mobile apps, which are live streamed and available on YouTube.
Will concluded: “We are urging people to get involved. We're aware that this may be completely new to some people, but we don't want that to be a reason to stop them joining in!
“Our talks and workshops vary from beginner to experienced level so there's something for everyone – just go to the website and start getting involved.”
When the hackathon comes to an end, a team of judges will review all project submissions before choosing the best inventions. More information can be found on the Hack Quarantine website.
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