How a hackathon can help build a smarter city

Jamie Stevenson
London 51° 30' 23.112" N, -0° 7' 37.956" E" E

Smart cities don't happen overnight. For all the breathless excitement surrounding our cities' increasingly sophisticated infrastructure, developing technology to truly innovate and impact our everyday lives requires work, and no little ingenuity. Now, a Finnish initiative is aiming to make Tampere smarter, with a recent hackathon playing a key role in driving innovation.

Last month, the City of Tampere Region Economic Development Agency Tredea held an Indoor Navigation Hackathon as part of the Smart Tampere initiative, which aims to develop solutions to help drive innovation in the city. We spoke with Kimmo Rouhiainen, a consultant and start up activist who is part of the initiative, and who helped facilitate the hackathon.

Kimmo says, "The Smart Tampere initiative aims to develop Tampere's infrastructure and make the city smarter. We are driving a number of projects to make this happen, with one, key part being the Indoor Navigation Hackathon. Thankfully, we have many experts in this field who are willing to help out and contribute to this project."

Indeed, one of these experts is HERE - which provided solutions to help support the hackathon. We spoke with Lauri Wirola, a HERE expert in positioning, who told us more about the company's contribution to the event. He explains:

"There is a lot going on in Tampere - a new commuter train system is in the works and the city is under heavy development, both in terms of infrastructure and in digital services. This is where HERE came in."

"Roughly a year ago we launched a project called City Track - a platform where, for the first time, we brought together indoor and outdoor positioning, and indoor and outdoor maps for the whole central area of Tampere.  We have previously tested in various buildings and sites throughout the city, but with City Track we are trialling out how we can enable the entire city centre with location services, outdoor and indoors."

With focus from both parties on innovating Tampere's infrastructure, it is perhaps unsurprising that HERE and the Smart Tampere initiative found each other. So how did the hackathon work?

Hack to the future

The event, which took place over a weekend, gave participants the chance to team up to develop new indoor navigation technologies using solutions from HERE. Lauri tells us more:

"HERE was the technology provider for the hackathon. We created a digital map of the premises, and then provided Kimmo and his colleagues with our SDK and the tools to help enable indoor positioning services in that building."

"Then, the participants were able to use indoor maps and indoor positioning through the HERE Mobile SDK, and start building their own apps on top of that."

On the final day, the apps were presented and the results filmed. The finished products, Kimmo explains, were impressive:

"All of the participants were able to create and demonstrate a mobile app in a couple of days, using the HERE SDK. In only a few hours, they could build a map with their position, and this was a wonderful moment - seeing the participants realise that they could create a map that they could actually use."

The event, Kimmo tells us, was a successful one, with the participants finding new and exciting ways of using this technology. He adds:

"People were especially interested in combining the challenge with an outdoor art event that was taking place in the same venue. In-fact, one of the teams attempted to create new art, through the app they developed. There were unexpected results throughout the weekend, that were really exciting to see."

Positioned for success

The goal of the event, according to Kimmo, was to show that solutions could be built over a weekend, and that developers could quickly and effectively develop applications that could make a difference to Tampere.

As for HERE, Lauri explains that the hackathon helped highlight that indoor positioning is a fresh area, with room for development:

"We only added our indoor positioning capabilities last year, so we're still in the learning stage, asking, 'what can be done with this technology?' We are so eager to engage in this kind of smart city initiative, because it's a wonderful way for us to understand how people can use the technology, while gaining valuable feedback on features and what could be improved."

With the Smart Tampere initiative running until 2021, there's a good chance that such events will become more frequent, and that with help from companies like HERE, Tampere can become a smarter city.

Images courtesy of Susanna Lyly

Topics: Indoor maps, Developers, Features, Powered by HERE, Smart cities