Technical.ly Philly

Oct. 10, 2011 10:00 am

Apps for SEPTA hackathon features new data sources and mass transit projects [VIDEO]

Simple SEPTA, an application meant to be the ‘sleekest’ interface for a variety of data sources from the region’s mass transit agency took top billing at the Apps for SEPTA hackathon hosted at the Devnuts hackerspace in Northern Liberties this weekend. The native app, not yet live to the public, was built by Bryan Chacosky, […]

Simple SEPTA, an application meant to be the ‘sleekest’ interface for a variety of data sources from the region’s mass transit agency took top billing at the Apps for SEPTA hackathon hosted at the Devnuts hackerspace in Northern Liberties this weekend.

The native app, not yet live to the public, was built by Bryan Chacosky, Hunter Blanks and Michael Hand and won the top of three prizes out of a field of a nearly dozen projects. See Simple SEPTA’s Github work here.

[Full Disclosure: Technically Philly was a sponsor of the event and this reporter was a judge.]

All told, more than 30 participants took place on at least eight teams, though other side projects and deviations were shared as is often the case. At least six officials from the SEPTA emerging technologies team were on hand throughout the two-day event. In addition to a half dozen small projects to make SEPTA more rider friendly, the transit agency announcedit had opened up a dozen new data sources, as documented on a SEPTA URL including the word ‘hackathon,’ an innovation itself.

“I have never seen a city agency be this supportive and this present at a hackathon,” said Mark Headd, the Voxeo Labs developer who organized the event with web development firm Jarvus, which operates Devnuts and Technically Philly recently profiled. “So it’s no surprise we saw so many strong, viable products come out of it.”

The two-day event in the cavernous, single-room collaborative coworking space, interrupted by the occasional BBQ and football toss in the adjacent Liberty Lands Park during the beautiful weekend, became a de facto part of the State of Young Philly week organized by Young Involved Philadelphia.

Apps for SEPTA presenting projects:

(1) SimpleSEPTA by Bryan Chacosky, Hunter Blanks and Michael Hand (first place) –Sleek interface culling together various SEPTA data sources into single native app.

(2) Travel Board by Maurice Gaston and Justin Walgran (second place) — A dashboard of upcoming schedules for frequent trips, including the development of a related API. Development details here. Video of the presentation here.

(3) Bus Maps by Mjumbe Poe and Aaron Ogle (third place) — Web app creates a distance-limited bounded box around a given location highlighting nearby mass transit options and routes. See Github here.

Philly Bus by Tim  Wisniewski — Text message an intersection and a bus route line (i.e. Frankford and Berks #3) to 215-987-5416 and receive the nearest bus stop and upcoming bus times.

SEPTAlking by Mark Headd — A voice and instant message SEPTA schedule command tool. Github here.

SeptNuts by Rich Gottlieb, John Fazio, Chris Alfano and Anthony Harley (Team Jarv.us) — An extension of the wide-ranging SEPTA.mobi platform. Video of the presentation here.

Septority Report by Chris Alfano and Matt Monihan (Team Jarv.us 2) — Using the open-source technology behind Xbox Kinect, the tool allows users to motion-sensor scroll through SEPTA schedules. Video of presentation here.

Buslist by Kevin Lee, George Purkins, Adam Hinz — A simple grid-based time estimates for bus and trolley schedules built for slow-moving smartphones.

Just Missed It by Lloyd Emelle — Tracks upcoming departures and integrates QR codes for line schedules. Video of presentation here.

Square Train by Tim Lytle — Using the SEPTA real-time API, this tool automatically checks trains into Foursquare when they arrive in their station. More details here.

Additional participants included the crew from mobile app data host startup Cloudmine, which was also a sponsor. Video of their pitch here.

Nine projects came out of the day, as detailed in the sidebar to the right, and included three winners, as judged by Indy Hall co-founder Alex Hillman, SEPTA Director of Emerging and Specialty Technology Mike Zaleski and this reporter.

“There’s not a bad project among them,” said Zaleski.

The hackathon followed the much hyped unveiling of real-time bus and trolley tracking in June, in addition to a variety of open and supported schedule APIs and tools. Because of the evolving transparency of a once hesitant agency, the event caught coverage from the Inquirer and the Daily News.

“And we encourage everyone to keep working on these projects, too,” said Headd, noting that all of the presented projects were worth developing further. “There’s a lot more great work to be done here.”

The three prize packages included Indy Hall short-term memberships, SEPTA swag, cash and the opportunity to pitch the winning entries to SEPTA management.

The hackathon was a model for how future civic-minded events could operate in Philadelphia. Data-focused city agency employees were a resource to help support, inspire and push forward the creative projects that resulted from Saturday morning brainstorming. Developers and designers took their questions to the source, and many inspired projects were developed, with the blessing of the authority who had a place at the table.

Headd noted that this style of hackathon could be done with almost any other city agency or other major institution, opening up information for better utility and increased transparency.

“This hackathon was great because I have never touched this type of data before,” said developer Kevin Lee, who worked on a simplified transit schedule tool. “And I’ve now built something that I know at least I’ll use to make riding SEPTA easier.”

More photos of the event here. Check out tweets by searching #Apps4SEPTA.

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Christopher Wink

Christopher Wink is a cofounder and Editorial Director of Technical.ly, the local technology news network. Previously, Wink worked for a homeless advocacy nonprofit and was a freelance reporter for a variety of publications. He writes regularly about news innovation and best business practices on his personal blog here. The bicycle commuter loves cities, urban politics and squabbling about neighborhood boundaries.

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