Over a weekend in September, more than four-hundred students from Cornell and nearly thirty regional colleges and universities gathered to participate in BigRed//Hacks. Along the way, organizers marked the fifth anniversary of Cornell’s oldest, student-run hackathon.

Sponsored by the likes of Wayfair, IBM, Bloomberg, Google Cloud, and others, the theme of this year’s competition was “community superheroes”—blending social consciousness with grand vision. As Katie Li, co-director of BigRed//Hacks put it: “We’re hacking for good.” 

Sixty-seven teams were given challenges to address and then thirty-six hours of continuous hack time to offer a digital solution. The results were as intriguing in their problem solving as they were an indication of the problems besetting the state of the world, especially in terms of the onset of radical climate change.

Talking with four Cornell Computer and Information Science (CIS) sophomores—Jimena Fernandez, Avani Aggrwal, Olivia Zhu, and Gracie Jing [pictured]—we learned about their app “Shelter Me,” which allows victims of climate catastrophe to find nearby shelter. A kind of Airbnb for the climate crisis: find a shelter, let hosts know you are on the way, and then find relief in the generosity of neighbors.

But to get to the shelter, one needs transportation. And, as it happened, another competing group—Victor Butoi, Alexander La Cour, Andrew Yates, and Jacob Chvatal—developed “Hestia” (named after the Greek goddess of the hearth). Using Google maps, the app provides the “coordinates of disasters.” A stranded person can ping a current location in the midst of an ongoing event—a distress call—and the app finds drivers to undertake retrieval and extraction. Since the location marker is indifferent to terrestrial conditions, the app works for floods, where people may need to be rescued by watercraft or aircraft.

CS Assistant Professor Ross Tate, who teaches “Open-Source Software Engineering” in the Computer Science department returned to BigRed//Hacks as a faculty advisor and to orchestrate judging. He noted:  “Since we first started these hackathons, the industry has made valuable resources more and more accessible to students, and every year I am impressed by how the students creatively incorporate these new resources into their own insights to help address a problem they personally care about in just one weekend.”

Check out all the student projects at this link.

Continue reading about the hackathon in this story from The Cornell Daily Sun.