Jonsson School Pair Takes First Place at Smart Cities Hackathon
March 6, 2017
Pablo Sarquis Peillard
Two computer science students from The University of Texas at Dallas recently won a first-place award at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas for their Alexa-based tool that maps safety on the street.
Junior Pablo Sarquis Peillard and sophomore Raviteja Lingineni were on a five-member team that developed and built a working model for the interactive tool during a 30-hour Smart Cities Hackathon at the show. Other team members were students from the University of California, Berkeley and Brown University.
“Ravi and Pablo had the technical skills and also the leadership and communication ability to pull together a team, and set achievable deliverables in a very short time frame,” said Rod Wetterskog, assistant dean of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science. “They had to decide on the project, assess the skills of the team members and then build the project. Their work was very impressive and shows the caliber of students we have at UT Dallas.”
The team’s Gotham product is a conversational Alexa tool that provides a safety index heat-map based on geographical parameters collected from OpenData as well as feedback from community members. Data is gathered from outstanding arrest warrants, Las Vegas police calls for service, and code enforcement violations to produce almost real-time information on an hourly basis.
The team members topped 310 other competitors to win the Best Use of Underwriter Laboratories award.
“It was challenging,” Lingineni said of the team’s quick work. “We didn’t get any sleep that night.”
Gotham empowers citizens to make smarter decisions based on known threats, said Lingineni said. It also gives feedback to local government agencies so they can improve operations and minimize community risk. Users can leave messages that trees need trimming in a park, for instance, and Gotham will create a work ticket so local agencies can respond.
It’s not the first competition Lingineni and Peillard have won. Individually they have garnered recognition at the UT Dallas Business Idea Competition and AT&T Hackathons at the Dallas Entrepreneurship Center. Peillard has worked at two startup companies he connected with at conferences like the Consumer Electronics Show.
“I took a semester sabbatical after I met these companies and heard their plans. I got inspired and went on to build apps with them,” Peillard said.
They also put their creativity to work at the UTDesign Makerspace, a 3,500-square-foot collaborative place where students can share knowledge and tools to develop and create mechanical, electronic or computer software products. Lingineni is president of Makerspace, and Peillard is its director of operations.
“Problem-solving is my passion,” Lingineni said. “You can really feel empowered because there are so many applications for computer science. It pushes you to become an entrepreneur. A lot of people have ideas, but you need developers.”
Peillard is taking a Startup Launch class at UT Dallas this year to enhance his entrepreneurial skills.
“When people say, ‘No, it’s not possible,’ I try to figure out a way to say, ‘Yes, make it a reality,’” Peillard said.