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#HackTheTraffic Event Leveraged Austin’s Newly Released Bluetooth Data

Hackathon participants photo

Galvanize Austin provided the event site.

With gridlock causing commuters to waste time and energy in daily traffic, CTR is stepping forward to create solutions. In partnership with the Austin Transportation Department (ATD), CTR hosted a hackathon event called ATX Hack the Traffic (or #HackTheTraffic) to foster and incubate innovative solutions to common daily problems.

Born out of the Data Rodeo, which leverages CTR’s expertise to create a repository for transportation data and tools in the Central Texas region, the hackathon brought together more than 75 developers, designers, analysts, and transportation enthusiasts to help develop new, open-source travel sensors, analytics tools, and other visualizations to improve Austin traffic. Sponsors for the event included the ATD, the Texas Advanced Computing Center, Data.World, and Open Austin.

Hackathon workshop photo

The workshops were particularly popular.

The event was timed to coincide with the ATD’s recent publication of more than 80 million anonymous Bluetooth data points, which allowed participants to learn about the city’s data collection technologies, experiment with ways to extend those technologies, and use the data in addressing transportation problems. The hackathon featured four proposed challenge topics: SBC Traffic Sensor; Bluetooth Data Aggregator; Data Processing; and Mapping and Visualization. Participants were encouraged to develop their own challenges if one of the four topics did not appeal to their interests or skills.

Teams and Turnout

Two teams of hackers presented their successes at the end of the event. One team began to develop an open-source alternative to the existing traffic sensor software with the goal of producing a more flexible tool that addresses shortcomings in the existing software. Another team developed a traffic analytics dashboard to visualize the data and make travel predictions based on it. (The team that was developing the travel time estimation web app is continuing their work, providing their source code on GitHub.) Both teams took only the first steps toward realizing their goals, but their ability to make meaningful progress in such a short amount of time is an indication of the potential benefit in facilitating in public outreach events such as hackathons.

“Six hours is hardly enough time to understand the data, work with it, and to create a useful tool. Nevertheless, two teams (both primarily composed of UT students) developed their work to the point where they could present it at the end of the event,” commented event organizer Jen Duthie. Read Dr. Duthie’s account of the day.

Because ATX Hack the Traffic drew a range of participants—some of whom had limited knowledge and experience with coding and data analysis—the hackathon featured instructional workshops on data analysis and mapping/visualizing data. Workshop turnout overshot expectations—both exceeded the seating capacity of their classrooms and ran over the time allotted due to participant enthusiasm and engagement.

Proofs of Concept

One group of hackers was able to use the Raspberry Pi units (low-cost, high-performance computers) provided to collect Bluetooth data from other hackathon attendees’ cell phones. Subsequently, ATD installed a Raspberry Pi in a City of Austin signal cabinet, which is now successfully collecting Bluetooth data, further demonstrating the feasibility of deploying this equipment. The applicability of the Raspberry Pi to successful data collection offers a solution that is orders of magnitude more cost-effective than the existing BAT 433 devices, offers dramatically greater flexibility, and avoids the issue of vendor lock-in.

“The hackathon is an opportunity to find low-cost technology infrastructure while giving people real-world experience and opportunities to work with other engineers and city planners,” stated John Clary, ATD’s Systems Analyst and co-leader of the hackathon.

Next Steps

St. Edwards Hackathon Logo#HacktheTraffic was the kick-off event for the series of three hackathons planned for 2017. The planning team has been invited to hold the second transportation hackathon in conjunction with ATX Hack for Change (June 2–4), a civic hackathon focused on community problems, hosted annually by St. Edward’s University. Events like these bring Austin one step closer to becoming a fully integrated, smart city that implements cutting-edge technology to provide up-to-date traffic solutions.


Posted by Maureen Kelly  |  Category : Events