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Northwestern Staff Member Wins Big at Chicago Tech Week

Pothole detection project took first prize in the Hackathon competition

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July 23, 2014 | by Caitlin Tucker

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Most laugh at the joke, “there are two seasons in Chicago: winter and roadwork,” but navigating the maze of never-ending potholes is a daily nuisance for city drivers.

Hao Luo, a web applications/software developer with Northwestern’s division of student affairs, addressed the pothole problem as part of the winning team at Chicago Techweek’s Hackathon event. The 24-hour web/mobile app competition invited innovators to create sustainable technological solutions that would help a Chicago nonprofit better serve its community.

Luo joined forces with four strangers to work on their project from conception to working prototype. The result was Road Raven, a mobile app that uses a phone’s accelerometer to automatically detect potholes while driving and then record the location of potholes in a public database.

“This means that anyone can see the potholes and take proper precaution when planning out driving routes,” said Luo. “It also allows government agencies to strategically plan out road restoration and prioritize road repairs based on the severity of its condition.”

Judges at the competition were looking for new projects with the potential to improve lives. Competitors were required to present a live demo of the product for at least 30 seconds. Projects were judged on originality, technological difficulty, viability and usefulness.

As grand prizewinners, Luo and his team have been admitted to a 12-week accelerator program called HACKcelerator to help turn their project into a market ready product. They also receive free hosting and software discounts. At the end of the program his team will pitch Road Raven to investors in San Francisco.

Hackathons are hosted around the world by AngelHack, a provider of developer tools and developer outreach programs for aspiring developers, entrepreneurs, start-ups and businesses. The Chicago Hackathon was part of the city’s 2014 Techweek, which took place June 23 to 28 at Merchandise Mart Plaza.