Computer whizzkids descend on Abu Dhabi for programming marathon

Participants from many nations arrived for the third annual International Hackathon, where they were mentored by representatives from companies such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

Team members make last-minute preparations before presenting their projects at the annual International Hackathon organised by New York University Abu Dhabi yesterday. Ravindranath K / The National
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ABU DHABI // Reuniting families torn apart by wars and natural disasters can be much easier … with a little application.

The Orphan Locator was one of 15 applications developed by more than 80 students from across the world who were in Abu Dhabi for the International Hackathon to solve the region’s problems through technology.

Among the participants was Amna Mangoosh, 21, from the Sharjah branch of the Higher Colleges of Technology.

The Emirati was one of seven people to work on the Orphan Locator.

“Our application is targeted for orphanages and refugee camps,” Amna said.

The app serves as a database with pictures and information of children who end up in refugee camps unaccompanied by adults.

Humanitarian workers and police can use the database to reunite families.

Despite working non-stop for 27 hours to finish the project, Amna said she enjoyed the process.

Participants from nations including Argentina, India, Morocco and Palestine arrived for the third annual International Hackathon, where they were mentored by representatives from companies such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.

The programming marathon was organised by New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD).

Some of the students came from top American universities such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford, Columbia, Princeton and Yale.

On Friday, participants brainstormed about 30 ideas across a range of fields such as health, education, film, music, business and science.

Fifteen ideas were selected and teams formed around them. They presented their work to a panel of judges on Sunday.

Lingliang Zhang, a second-year student from NYUAD, helped to develop a device to monitor water wells.

Zhang said the invention was perfect for water charities operating in developing countries as it provided a cheap alternative to models that cost up to US$850 (Dh3,122) each.

“This is out of reach for a charity,” said Mr Zhang, whose team developed a device for $30. “It is working right now.”

The team also designed a system through which devices could be monitored remotely.

Angela Zhang, 20, who travelled from the US for the event, worked on a project to solve a problem she encountered while visiting Dubai and Abu Dhabi before the competition.

“When I go to a foreign country I have no idea how the transport system works and how far major sites are from one another,” Angela said.

So her team created a website to generate itineraries for tourists, based on the places they find interesting.

Users specify the places they would like to visit and the application picks out the best route for them.

It also features local businesses and initiatives that would normally not be found in international tourist guides, Angela said.

Sana Odeh, affiliated professor of computer science at NYUAD and the organiser of the event, said it enabled students from the Arab world to connect with those from outside.

“We are building on their success here to take the students to continue their journey onto more training,” she said.

The winning team, of five students from Khalifa University and one from the University of Science and Technology in Jordan, developed a digital nurse app.

It reminds the elderly to take their medicine and alerts emergency services when health problems occur.