Adobe and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) Bridge Gap between Silicon Valley and Washington, DC with Hackathon

by Lisa Lindgren

posted on 08-11-2016

More than 60 hackers from as far as Finland assembled in Sunnyvale, CA last weekend to take part in a hackathon organized by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) and industry sponsors including Adobe. The event provided a forum for NGA to collaborate with several industry partners like Adobe and top talent from the Bay Area and beyond to bring new ideas to government agencies.

Hackers were given access to Amazon Web Service (AWS) Simple Storage Service (S3) bucket which contained disparate data from several sources including the NGA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Hackers were asked to develop new ways of organizing and exploring geospatial data. From automated systems for detecting changes in vegetation to new ways of updating mapping systems, teams developed applications from the mountains of government data created every day. For 27 hours, 13 teams worked – with only a few breaks for the occasional nerf-gun fight or card game – to bring their ideas to life. Hackers brought sleeping bags, air mattresses, and were provided with cases of Red Bull and other nourishment around the clock to help them get through the long night of coding.

The Grand Prize winners (Maps Actually) developed a new way of identifying missing buildings in the OpenStreetMap by detecting changes on satellite photos, which could have potential applications for GPS providers. For their efforts, the Maps Actually team won a $4,000 prize as well as a trip to Washington, DC to meet with NGA executives and senior tech leaders.

Other prize winners included a team focused on smart irrigation that used sensor data and geospatial imagery to make irrigation systems more precise and efficient, and a team that developed iOS & Android apps to provide actionable data and information to wildland firefighters. The app pulls existing geospatial data and fire incident reports from 16 public data sources, and shares the information for low bandwidth connections like those used on the ground during wildfires.

Additional hackathons are scheduled for later this year in Chicago and New York to address similar questions of how to best use existing agency data for good. A previous hackathon in Huntsville, Alabama earlier this year led to the development of new emergency response apps for first responders along the Gulf of Mexico.

NGA and Adobe hope events like these will help government agencies discover new ways to use existing data. As more and more agencies look to the private sector for solutions, Adobe will work to bridge the gap between Silicon Valley and Washington, DC to bring good ideas to government.

Topics: Government