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The Great Cleanweb Beijing Hackathon

Cleanweb is growing, and growing fast! Last July, among many events and exciting notes, the Great Beijing Cleanweb Hackathon took place at Microsoft’s campus, organized by the Beijing Energy Network. Here’s a short recap of the weekend! Thanks everyone!

On a hot day in July, nine people from four continents sat around a table and discussed what they could do for Beijing’s environmental woes. They were taking part in the BEN-Cleanweb Hackathon at Microsoft’s Research Laboratory. Our team was fortunate to be judged the winners by a panel of respected tech and business experts. Here is how it happened:

The morning started with presentations on the environmental themes which were to be the focus of the hackathon and an introduction to the data which was kindly donated for our use. Then we met our team. It included tech experts and professional software developers; a scientist and environmental consultant; a journalist and trade expert; a researcher; a student; and a manager in a medium-sized business.

With our introductions done, we quickly delved into a productive two-hour brain-storming session which covered weather and pollution dispersal, building efficiency, pricing mechanisms, social capital, social media, gamification, psychology, machine learning and big data. It was a joy to be part of. What we came up is a testament to the goal of the hackathon- creative solutions spawned by discussions between people with vastly different, but complimenting, skills and backgrounds. In short, we wanted to promote the use of public transport, biking and walking in favour of cars, and more broadly, to strategically influence Beijing’s urban development to produce a greener and more livable city.

The core of our idea had developed during the earlier presentation by Datatang when they introduced the data they were donating to the hackathon; information on taxi fares taken in Beijing. By applying some analysis, we figured we could do two useful things:

-identify commonly used long-distance routes in specific time periods which would comprise business opportunities for new bus routes, and

-for areas with a high density and number of short-distance taxi fares, we could identify priority streets and regions to be developed into biking and walking areas.

Our developers got to work in testing this hypothesis. Meanwhile, discussion continued amongst the team about what else we might do to maximize our impact, our use of this data and our business case. We figured that the information about where to develop new bus routes could be sold to private transportation companies or government, and that our short-trip information would be excellent input for where to place Beijing’s new bike-sharing stands. We considered how to further instigate actual change, and not rely solely on the work of the public sector. To make further use of the short-trip data, we focused our thinking on the how to incentivize decision makers and how to encourage people to ride to our new biking areas. For this, we developed the concept for a mobile app to leverage the social power needed to precipitate real change. Our app recognizes your form of travel and rewards you through redeemable vouchers. For the vouchers, we would target the participation of businesses such as cafes and restaurants located on those same streets we now know are good candidates for more bikers and walkers. This would allow businesses to use it for promoting brand awareness, advertising and all the while supporting their neighborhood’s development into a biking and walking hub. We added various other ‘sweeteners’ to the app such as gamification and linking to social networks, mapping and location data and more ways to collect useful data that could be on-sold to prospective businesses. For the full details though, you’ll need to download our app…which we hope will be coming soon!

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Martin Barner, Ludvic Guégan, Yue Bing, Lu Yao, Laura Xiao, Florian Metzler, Chen Xi, Stephanie Jensen-Cormier for the photos and awesome recap!