Hillsborough Hack-a-thon Highlights Technology's Growing Role in Solving Transportation Issues

Leaders in Tampa Bay increasingly recognize the need for public and private sector minds to work together to solve local problems.

Efforts in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties have each made small but significant impressions on the growing innovation culture in the Tampa Bay region.

But as the region grows, so do local transportation issues. At a two-day tech-centric event called the Hillsborough Hack-a-thon May 31-June 1, programmers were asked to seek a solution to this public pain point.

The goal? To develop a real-world app that can help Hillsborough County residents and businesses navigate traffic more effectively.

Using transportation information provided by Hillsborough Area Regional Transit (HART) and Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority, participants worked together to build innovative new software applications.

Data from local startup Carvoyant, a "connected car'' system that tracks driver data and allows software developers to connect apps, was also available.

Around 15 programmers stopped in to code during the Hack-a-thon, while others worked remotely, says Hillsborough County Economic Development Manager Stephanie Ashley.

Teams built three applications using the available transportation data: one dealing with real time HART bus information and route scheduling; one focused on government communications; and one dealing with environmental reporting.

"As for the winner, all agreed that it was the HART bus application. It was the most complete and well done,'' says Ashley. The project is capable of running on Windows, Apple, Linux, Android and iPhone.

An environmentally focused project created by a father-daughter team also stood out, Ashley says. The team is invited to attend Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners chairman Mark Sharpe's weekly meetings held at 9 a.m. on Fridays at Buddy Brew Coffee near downtown Tampa.

In a show of solidarity among local technophiles, Ashley says the programmers voted unanimously to split prize money equally between the teams.

The Tampa Hack-a-thon, which debuted in 2013 with about 75 local attendees, combined forces with Intel-backed National Day of Civic Hacking for the first time in 2014 to put on the Hillsborough Hack-a-thon.

In other transportation news, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Tampa/St. Pete) announced on Monday, June 2 that HART received a $4.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transporation toward a high-speed ferry service proposed to run between downtown Tampa, St. Petersburg, Gibsonton, and MacDill Air Force Base. Another $12 million is necessary to complete the project, but the grant is a significant boost for the proposed public-private ferry service.

Justine Benstead is a freelance writer who spends her days walking her dog Chloe in her South Tampa neighborhood, drinking far too much coffee, tweeting @JustineinTampa and taking photos with her trusty Nikon. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

Justine Benstead is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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