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Unisa online - Hacking for humanity

Prof Gugu Moche (Executive Dean: CSET) listening to the presentation of challenges

The School of Computing (SOC) in the College of Science, Engineering, and Technology (CSET) hosted its first Computing Pro Bono event. Computing Pro Bono is a community engagement project in the School of Computing. This two-day “Hackathon” event took place on 2 and 3 June 2012 in co-occurrence with the Random Hacks of Kindness (RHoK) Global event, which was hosted in 25 cities all over the world with about 1000 developers participating.

This community engagement event was formally addressed by Prof Gugu Moche (Executive Dean of CSET) and Prof Jan Kroeze (Acting Director of the School of Computing), who both commended and thanked the developers for volunteering their time during the weekend to address challenges affecting our local communities using open technologies.

Seven non-profit organisations participated in presenting social and humanitarian challenges that could be addressed using information and communication technologies. The above-mentioned organisations are CSET, KhanAcademy, African Schools of Excellence, Tsenang Home of Safety, SeeSaw, and SANGONET. The challenges to be addressed are mainly in:

  • Education – Science and Technology,
  • Water and Sanitation,
  • Citizen Reporting,
  • And Donor Relations Management.

Hacking for humanity

Seven teams were formed to “hack” each of the following challenges, just to name a few;

  1. Virtual Science Laboratory for Resource Constrained Schools
    The primary purpose of this challenge is to design and facilitate the development of an open and easily accessible simulation environment that would make it possible for the learners in resource-constrained African Schools to practice and conduct their chemistry and physical science experiments anywhere and anytime. Preferably, the environment should be accessible via offline multimedia formats, such as CDs, DVDs, or LiveCDs, and even low-cost devices. An internet connection should not be a requirement to use or access the experimental environment.
  2. H2O Detective
    The purpose of the project is to assist managers in their decision-making around demand management and distribution losses of water at the local municipality level. In order to help managers understand water usage patterns and how they vary geographically, a mapping application could link water meter data with meter GPS co-ordinates. Such maps could inform decisions around planning and investment for areas with low consumption or connection density (often poorer neighbourhoods and marginalised communities).
  3. Proactive Citizen Reporter
    This challenge involves crowd-sourcing information about problems, issues, challenges regarding public service delivery in municipalities. The ideas are to map the reported issues using different markers and categories (e.g. problem types, cities, municipalities, severity, etc), and to enable multi-channels, such as Twitter, Facebook, SMS, and USSD to report problems.

After spending over 36 hours trying to come up with open solutions for the above challenges, some teams made considerable progress, and others completed the specification of their solutions.

The hacking team of the weekend, H2O Detective, came up with an android application that enables field agents to track, log, and visualise households based on their water usage patterns using geo-tracking and average consumption data from the local municipality.The back-end for the application is complete, and the first prototype of the mobile interface is functional. They are deserving Computing Pro Bono stars.

The team was made up of 4 males and 3 females,and was one of the most dynamic teams of the Hackathon. They each went home with one year’s supply of silver plan Github vouchers, Menlyn Gift vouchers worth R400, and one Samsung Galaxy Note (sponsored by House 4 Hack) which was won by one of the team members who was instrumental in developing the Android mobile interface.

The second hacking team of the weekend was Proactive Citizen Reporter, and the third hacking team of the weekend was KhanAcademy which worked on offline learning material on low cost mobile devices.

CSET staff with the developers, Unisa students, and subject matter experts at the ‘Hackathon’

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