Plowing through the Data: The Winners!

For the second year in a row, the City of Syracuse partnered with Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies and AT&T to run a civic hackathon. Read more on last year’s Syracuse Roads Challenge here.

This year we thought given the amount of snow that lands in Syracuse each year (124 inches and counting so far in 2018), a hackathon about our snow plows would be useful. The city puts Automated Vehicle Location Devices on each of its public works vehicles, which allow us to track where they are and what they are doing. Every day, they do a lot of work, especially in a snowstorm, but it is hard to get a sense from thousands of rows of data what pieces of insight are useful.

  Source: School of Information Studies, Syracuse University

Source: School of Information Studies, Syracuse University

Enter this hackathon. We asked participants to come up with creative ways to use data from our snowplows. More than 30 teams and 90 people signed up to participate, and ultimately 16 teams submitted projects. The winners had creative solutions that were well-conceived and built out enough that we could get an idea of how to implement in the future.

The first place project lets us see where roads have been plowed and the amount of time since they were last plowed. This project was well conceived - it understood a challenge that we face when it snows, it works well right now, and is easily understandable from everyone in DPW up to the Mayor's office.

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The second place project allows users to easily search which streets have been plowed and at what time. They understood that our community members want to see when a plow most recently went down their street. It also would enable our staff to respond to questions about when plows were last in their area.

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The third place project thought a lot about analytics related to plowing - focusing on how much work the trucks are doing at different periods of time and attempting to build out a route optimization algorithm for the trucks. This project understood some of the challenges DPW faces during a snowstorm and would help them to make better decisions and review performance after the fact.

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Of course, the important question is how do we start using these ideas in our operations. Prior to next winter, we will evaluate how we can implement these projects directly, or take pieces from what has been built to push into our operations. Stay tuned as we make those determinations and post more about them here!