The g largest computer party in the world took place in Germany over the weekend. And it had a serious background: Under the motto “WirvsVirus” tens of thousands of people tried to find digital solutions together against the corona crisis . The federal government organized a so-called hackathon together with seven civil society partners from Friday to Sunday evening. These are events with the aim of jointly developing software for a specific problem within a certain time.
In this case there were several problems to solve. How can we ensure childcare in times of Corona? How can fakenews be combated? How do we keep track of current numbers on infected people? How can we organize neighborhood assistance digitally? Up to: How can it be ensured that directly marketed strawberries and asparagus still find their customers during the crisis?
The result: 1500 ideas and applications
The organizers selected over 700 such challenges starting on Friday evening, the end result was 1,500 ideas and applications. More than 40,000 people had signed up to the initiative, and the Slack communication platform did not initially meet the requirements. The Canadian chief of the messenger service then switched on Twitter. Eventually everything worked, albeit with a delay. The participants got together in teams on Friday evening and started programming. A world record attempt, as some users said on social media.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” says 25-year-old Cornelius, who already has experience with hackathons. He studied physics in Cambridge and is now active in the area of market research. Usually, according to Cornelius, people meet physically during such an event. This was not possible with Corona: “We all worked completely digitally, wrote about the Messender, organized video calls and made a lot of calls – almost nobody knew each other before the weekend.
Many even forgot to eat and sleep
Even if the start was very chaotic and some participants dropped out at the beginning or during the weekend, it didn’t take long for the teams to find their focus. According to the organizers, more than 1,500 companies and start-ups supported the participants. Many teams had even forgotten to eat and sleep, digital state minister Dorothee Bär (CSU), who acted as one of the initiative’s mentors, reported in a video message to all participants on Sunday morning.
“We were working on a solution to check how the population implemented social distancing ,” says Cornelius. Various data sources had to be searched for and connected to each other. One came from the US corporation Google, which compiles for its map service Google Maps how busy restaurants, sights and other places are in a city. If you want to access this data, you usually have to pay. Google made it easier for the data team that Cornelius was in.
“In addition, we have integrated many other sources into our solution, for example in some cities there are light barriers that measure the movement current at some hotspots. ”Research facilities such as the Fraunhofer Reallabor in Lemgo provided municipal data. Public webcams provided real-time images, and an algorithm automatically counts the people to be seen. Privacy was taken into account, says Cornelius: “All data is aggregated, we do not use personal data.” The first results of his team at the weekend showed: In many places, social life has dropped to up to a quarter of normal operations.
The organizers, some of whom had not yet got to know each other personally, and who were in charge of the Fellowship Program Tech4Germany or the Prototype Fund sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Research, let the teams work completely independently and provided them with the whole weekend via emails and live broadcasts on Youtube with all the necessary information, dates and deadlines. The partner organizations organized purely virtual press conferences for journalists.
Now the greatest challenge begins. The organizers, authorities and experts now have to sort the 1,500 projects and select the most promising.