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Review, Insight, Outlook: First ASTech Hackathon

Nina Eichenseher,

Laptops on, snacks at hand, idea ready and off you go – over an entire weekend. Every minute full of creative power, spinning minds and impressive solutions. It’s now been a little over one week since our first hackathon. So it's time to look back and discuss some of the details with our mentors Florian, Hanafy and Martin. Of course, we want to know how the idea of organizing a hackathon came about, how the preparations went, which exciting topics were tackled during the event and which solution convinced the jury the most in the end.

How did the idea of organizing a hackathon come about and what was the goal of the event?

Florian: Of course we had this idea for a long time, but the timing had never been right. However, 2021 was and is a year of change and new opportunities for us. We have sharpened our vision and raised it to a new level. Our focus is clearly on exceptional technologies in the field of 360° integral vehicle safety. As a tech company, we also want to tackle cool topics in which technology fans, software enthusiasts and all other creative minds interested in safe autonomous driving can participate.

Hanafy: So it became clear to us that now is the right time for our first hackathon. Our goal was to bring interested people together and give them the opportunity to gain practical experience in the development of automotive software and bring these ideas into the vehicle. With this basic idea in mind, we started planning.

How did you prepare?

Hanafy: First we held several meetings to coordinate and discuss things like target groups, time frames and the exact topics. Over time there were further refinements.

Martin laughs: And as you surely suspect, in the beginning you think you still have a lot of time. However, these meetings tend to become more frequent and a bit stressful as the event draws closer. The countdown is on. Before you know it, the event is already here and of course you hope that you have thought of everything. 😉

So the big day was there, you invested a lot of time in the planning and then it started. What task awaited the participants and how did the event go?

Florian: We also wanted to keep our eye on "Vision Zero" and strive for ideas and solutions that would reduce the number of traffic fatalities. The focus should be on inner city areas. One potential use case was a zebra crossing with a limited view of pedestrians. The aim was to deal with dangerous situations by identifying possible risks, collecting information about the situation and then feeding this information back to the traffic participants. The teams could build on this of course, or come up with a completely different scenario.

Martin: Kickoff was on Friday afternoon. After welcoming everyone to the event, Ole briefly talked about ASTech and our focus. Afterwards there was an introductory round with the participants, us as mentors and the jury. We also went through the topic and evaluation criteria so that everyone had the same understanding. After that, we were ready to start. People had a short time to form teams and then the real part started: Brainstorming together, sketching out the first ideas, discarding them again, discussing new approaches, maybe picking up on the original idea again and thinking them through further. And so on. Just like you imagine a hackathon. 😉 The teams were able to ask us questions.

Florian laughs: That was also super cool for us of course. We were there with full enthusiasm. In some cases, you want to contribute your own ideas and work with the teams, which of course is not the goal of the event. Sometimes we really had to make sure to find the right balance between support and getting involved with the teams.

Sounds great. Just like it has to be at a hackathon. Tell us a bit about how the teams approached the task. What topics did they work on?

Hanafy: Our initial example of an inner-city transition, in which buildings and other obstacles obscure the view of people such as pedestrians as vehicles turn either right or left, was immediately taken up. The first thing everyone did was make a lot of sketches to illustrate their ideas and various considerations. These illustrations helped enormously in deciding what makes sense and what should be pursued - or in the end to determine what actually may not be as feasible as was initially thought.

Martin: The teams researched sensors and different technologies with which they could solve the problem. They even tried to build a prototype of a device. For example, one team had the idea of solving the problem with ultra-broadband communication and smart devices. But the infrastructure-based detection of people in dangerous places using lidar technology was also examined more closely.

Florian grins: Of course, we don't want to talk about the detailed solution proposals at this point – we can't reveal all the details. But I can say one thing: there were really good approaches.

Of course we’re interested in which idea won. And which criteria were decisive for the jury…

Martin: On the one hand, it was about originality. In other words, has something completely new been tackled or is it more of a fresh approach to an old problem? Then we looked at how the teams implemented their idea. What goals did they set for themselves? How much has been achieved? What problems occurred? How was the problem solved? Another important criterion was clearly related to the benefit. Is this something that people would actually use? Does it fulfill a real need? The presentation of the idea was also decisive. And last but not least, even if it was not an official criterion: Did the participants learn something new and have fun doing it? Because the best ideas come to light when you enjoy what you do. This important aspect should always be kept in mind.

Florian: It was not an easy decision for the jury. In the end however, the team with the ultra-broadband idea won the competition. The implementation of their idea was where they were able to assert themselves.

Then congratulations again on a job well done! Hanafy, you said earlier that your initial example was taken up immediately. Were there any other topics that the teams tried out? Or did everyone adopt your suggestion?

Hanafy: Although every topic that came to mind was open to the participants, everyone did in fact take up our original example. I think that was probably due somewhat to the short timeframe. The task was probably just too open for that. The teams nevertheless managed to find creative solutions. That’s a cool thing of course and we're super proud of that. But it probably makes sense to have a kick-off meeting at the next hackathon a few days before the event. Then people could start thinking about it and familiarize themselves with the task.

So there will be another hackathon?

Hanafy grins: Sure!

Florian: We definitely had a lot of fun and took a lot with us. A lot of things went well, but some things may not have been optimal. We held a briefing after the hackathon – not only with the participants, but also internally and with the jury. This was particularly important to us, because it’s the only way we can get the most out of it. Of course, now we also want to see if our suggestions for improvement have an impact.

Martin: We definitely had a great weekend together and are really looking forward to repeating it next year - with new tasks, different challenges and lots of creative ideas.