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UNLV team captures Smart Cities Hackathon contest

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They came for the swag and the fun. But they left with a $10,000 grand prize and the chance to make Las Vegas a smarter city. Five current and former UNLV students needed only 10 of the allotted 24 hours during the Smart Cities Hackathon competition at the Consumer Electronics Show last month to provide the city with a more efficient way of identifying faulty streetlights. “In school, you apply what you’re learning in homework, but you’re pretty much guided in everything,” said Maria Ramos Gonzalez, a member of the winning team. “It’s nice to work on real life applications.” The team used the city’s open data provided at the competition to create an automated system that will notify officials if a streetlight is out. To identify outages, the city currently relies on resident reports or dispatches technicians to patrol 52,000 streetlights.

Las Vegas city officials hope to have a working model for the automated system within the next 90 days. “Ultimately, through the analytics the students were able to demonstrate through the Hackathon, we can take this existing data, and we can be a little more proactive in our customer service,” said Niel T. Rohleder, assistant traffic manager for the city. The project makes use of statistical analysis to identify which streetlights are not consuming energy at night. Through those statistics, the team identified nine broken streetlights. To stand out among other competitors, the team creatively incorporated Amazon Tap — commonly known as Alexa, a portable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled speaker — to communicate their findings.

“This whole voice recognition technology is the future,” said Don Jacobson, information technology business partner for the city. “Instead of running reports, you’re posing a question — and you’re seeing what the results are to your question.” Derek Jewell said the team was up against strong competition, citing one group that analyzed the health of city trees and used digital graphics to display the information. The Hackathon attracted 28 other teams from around the world, but the smartest solution came from just down the street at UNLV.

“We’ve very excited to work with University of Nevada, Las Vegas students,” Jacobson said. “This was our first opportunity to take something that they have come up with and apply it to a particular problem we had in the city.” According to IT Director Michael Sherwood, the city is now planning its own hackathon competition. “Is there a way that this particular solution could be adjusted in some way to address all of the different, large, big data analysis problems we need solved?” Jacobson said. Contact Natalie Bruzda at nbruzda@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3897. Follow @NatalieBruzda on Twitter.

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