Chin co-organizes Smart Gigabit Communities Reverse Pitch Challenge

Julian Chin

Chieh-Li "Julian" Chin, visiting research scientist at the iSchool's Center for Digital Inclusion (CDI), is a co-organizer of the Smart Gigabit Communities Reverse Pitch competition at this weekend's HackIllinois.

Strategic collaboration among the University of Illinois, the City of Champaign, a student-driven hackathon and two National Science Foundation programs—the US Ignite Smart Gigabit Communities Program and the Midwest Big Data Hub Program—kicks off this weekend.

The University has been awarded a $20,000 grant from US Ignite to host the Smart Gigabit Communities Reverse Pitch Challenge in our community. The community will provide matching contributions in cash and/or in-kind, totaling $40,000 in available resources for the Reverse Pitch event to support the development of smart gigabit applications.

From February 23-25, university students from around the nation will converge at the Thomas M. Siebel Center for Computer Science to participate in HackIllinois, a student-driven hackathon. One of the components of this year's event is the Reverse Pitch Challenge.

Aimed at gigabit communities, those with very high speed community data networks, Reverse Pitch events provide funds to develop applications that use the gigabit resources at the community's disposal in service of larger community goals.

Data science application developers partner with gigabit communities to create solutions to problems or mine data in ways that enhance efficiency, save resources, or uncover solutions to problems.

Members of the Reverse Pitch organizing team met with City of Champaign representatives to discuss this first-ever partnership and how access to more or better information would improve processes or potentially drive down city costs.

"They talked about pain points to see where software or data analysis could help," said Tracy Smith, Director of IT Infrastructure for Campus Research IT at Illinois.

The Smart Cities initiative is something the City of Champaign is interested in, explained Director of Information Technologies for the City of Champaign Mark Toalson.

"We are interested in smart technologies, but getting there can be a challenge. This gives us an opportunity to put some data out there and see what folks can come up with," he noted.

The challenge that students will be asked to meet is to develop gigabit solutions that address:

  • Improved efficiency of City services with data visualization and analysis. The City of Champaign has provided several years of Public Works data, geospatial data, and service request data collected via the See.Click.Fix app. 
  • Enhanced monitoring of micro climate change in our City. The City of Champaign needs an improved micro climate monitoring application to help improve weather prediction and observation. The application will create the ability for municipal staff, including police and other emergency agencies, to pro-actively position resources in response to weather events moving across the community.

The Hackathon is the launch of a multi-month project to develop gigabit software in these two areas provided by the City. Participants will present either their designs or prototypes on Sunday. The winning designs will be given to project teams to work on throughout the next six months.

Another of the local event's goals is to encourage more researchers and developers to work on smart applications that can solve socio-technical issues, explained Chin.

"There are a number of mentors coming in to assist the students with their work and the Midwest Big Data Hub is coordinating those professionals," she said.

The mentors are from many backgrounds--from corporations and academia--including MBDH colleagues, University of Illinois faculty and professionals from the National Data Service.  

"We are hoping this is the first of many opportunities to engage with community stakeholders to create applications that use our existing smart gigabit technologies for the public good," Chin added.

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