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Hackathon winners create road map to track snowplows in Syracuse

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News (file photo)

By next winter, residents of the city of Syracuse could log on to the internet and find a map with brightly colored lines, telling them the last time a snow plow visited their street. It’s one potential application of ideas springing from the city’s latest hackathon.

When he took office in January, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh wanted to see how he could use information from GPS devices installed on every snow plow, to answer questions about whether certain streets had been plowed. It wasn’t so easy.

“First I found out I needed to have Internet Explorer 7 on my computer in order to get in the website. And once I got in the website, the good news was I could see the little dots moving around, so I knew where the plows were, but I couldn’t tell where they had been,” said Walsh.

Waslsh and the city’s I-team are hoping ideas culled from Syracuse’s latest hackathon called ‘Plowing through the Data,’ can help create ways to corral the city’s data, leading to answers to the city’s snowplow questions.

Winners Dean Olin and Alex Sinfarosa were among 36 teams vying for a cash prize. Olin says their idea creates a map of every road in the city of Syracuse.

“It colors each road according to how long it’s been since the plows have been on the road,” said Olin. “So our initial threshold, from zero to 12 hours, the road would be green. If it was 12 to 24 hours it would be orange, and greater than 24 hours it would be red.”

And Olin says it would solve the mayor's problem by keeping an historical analysis of the information.

This is the second such hackathon, a collaboration between the city, Syracuse University's I-school, and AT&T.  Sam Edlestein, Syraucse's Chief Data Officer, hopes these ideas leads to initiatives in the future.

"Hopefully we won't have too many more snows this winter, I hope I'm not jinxing it. But by next year, we have some time, and we won't forget about the fact that it snows here, and we need to find solutions,” said Edelstein.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.