Coronavirus hackathon offers innovative solutions to harsh restrictions

Remote work, fake news and the education system are just a few key issues participants were asked to face in a hackathon to deal with coronavirus challenges.

A businessperson working at his computer (Illustrative) (photo credit: PIXNIO)
A businessperson working at his computer (Illustrative)
(photo credit: PIXNIO)
A virtual hackathon was held throughout Thursday night and Friday morning titled "HackCorona" intended to find solutions to the many challenges arising from restrictions placed by the government to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The hackathon, organized by Birthright Excel in collaboration with MIT and the 8200 Alumni Association, began Thursday evening at 6 p.m. and ended Friday at noon. Approximately 150 participants, all speaking in English, are working together over the video conferencing platform Zoom to battle the coronavirus issues.
The large sum of people were split up into groups, each of which targeted a new and innovative solution to a different challenge which arose due to the necessary precautions in order to stop the spread and "flatten the curve" of COVID-19.
One challenge that the hackathon intended to battle is that of remote work. Approximately 54,000 people in Israel were put out of work as a result of businesses closing until the coronavirus restrictions blow over. A majority of them are on unpaid leave. Remote work would allow certain lines of work to continue their jobs from home, maintaining an income in harsh times.
One group suggested "Quick Recap" as a solution: an application which records online meetings, creating short and concise videos from the main parts of it with a transcription.
Another challenge the hackathon intended to cope with is how to reach vulnerable communities, such as the elderly or people with preexisting health conditions, and maintain their safety during the crisis.
"Veterunner," as presented by one of the groups, would be a solution. "Veterunner" is a bot that connects between people who are out running errands and those unable to leave home so that those vulnerable communities may access services that are usually barred off from them in times like these.
Another issue the elderly may have is a lack of interaction for which the solution is "Seniorgarten," a virtual space where the elderly can connect to a variety of interactions and services with their loved ones.
Participants were also asked to deal with the educational system shutting down, leading to students and teachers alike being kept in isolation, which requires distance learning as a method of educating when every other option is shut down.
One group offered their idea for "DigiService," an online platform for lessons, training, workshops and more. Any educational service provider may upload their services to the platform while consumers can search through the categories and choose their desired lesson.
An option for younger children needing distance learning is "VRally," a virtual reality interface which would allow them to learn remotely in fun "environments" such as a safari-classroom.
The partakers were also offered to find their own challenge to face in their developments. One group chose to face the issue of critical careers, or fields of work that are allowed to proceed as usual despite the harsh coronavirus restrictions because their profession is considered critical. "CabiBus" would allow employees belonging to these lines of work to reserve seats on public busses, which would allow for more efficient transport use during a period of emergency.
Community is a critical component to be aware of and to stay connected with during this crisis, and so another group offered "Neighborly," an application which would create a virtual community for neighbors.
The hackathon was launched with an opening remark by CEO of Birthright Israel Gidi Mark, who said, "In the 20 years since Birthright Israel's inception and the immense journey that has brought more than 750,000 participants to Israel, things have never been so challenging as now.
"Whilst vulnerable people are suffering, you have responded with practical and viable solutions," he continued. "After 20 years, I can confidently say that I couldn’t be prouder."
"We could not remain indifferent to the situation and thought of how we could help," said a mutual statement by programmers and members of the Birthright Excel community, Gila Hayat, Sapir Lazarovitch, Dana Beiski-Nissan and Daniel Khankin.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the group had developed a chatbot that answers frequently asked questions. "When we were done we realized that there are loads of talented and isolated people who want to help and don't know how, or don't have the framework to do it," they said. "This is how our hackathon came about, a fully remote hackathon which allows everyone to connect and contribute, from their own living rooms, and share their technological and creative talents to solve problems that arise in this current situation."