Hackathon aims to develop responses to coronavirus

On 4-6 April , the EPFL student association LauzHack will hold a fully online hackathon to help tackle the coronavirus. The event – put together in just a few days – is open to EPFL students as well as the general public.

Hundreds of people from a variety of backgrounds have already signed up for this weekend’s hackathon. The goal is to develop concrete solutions to stem the spread of the coronavirus and mitigate the pandemic’s consequences. Possible topics include systems for letting store employees work risk-free, methods for detecting biases in different testing strategies, and technology for making online learning easier. Some of the best ideas that come out of the hackathon will be developed further either by EPFL students as part of their semester projects, or outside of EPFL.

The event will last 72 hours. Mentors will help project teams plan out and organize their work – then participants will work day and night to develop open-source prototypes of their applications. The hackathon will end on Monday so that the mentors and judges have enough time to provide useful feedback. “We hope that our event will lead to some tangible, actionable ideas that can be implemented quickly, like the ventilators that an Italian doctor created out of scuba masks to help treat COVID-19 patients,” says Blagovesta Kostova, the president of LauzHack. A panel of judges will select the best projects. Some EPFL students who participate in the hackathon will be able to use their work as the basis for their semester projects, as agreed with the Vice Presidency for Education. However all participants will retain the rights to the applications they develop, and they can take their work further if they wish.

Hackathons have become highly popular in recent years as a way to discover new ideas and spur innovation while meeting and working with new people. Unlike previous hackathons organized by LauzHack, this one will not take place on the EPFL campus but be conducted entirely online, and is open to not just EPFL students but anyone. The goal is to attract a group of participants as diverse as possible in order to draw from a broad range of skills and leverage synergies.

LauzHack, founded at EPFL in 2016, has put on some of Switzerland’s biggest student hackathons. However, Kostova says that this time they faced unique challenges given how quickly it had to be set up and how many different online communication channels they had to manage between themselves, supporters and participants. LauzHack has received no outside funding for this event beyond that from EPFL. The club’s previous hackathons have led to several applications that are now available to the public, such as an immersive reading system that uses sound and light effects and a system for detecting food left over after an event to help prevent waste.

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