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Live Labs Blog: A Smarter Suffolk's Hackathon

29 November 2021

A Smarter Suffolk Live Labs recently held a hackathon for students in collaboration with the University of Suffolk and BT. Dr Hannah Steventon, an engineering and environmental technology researcher working on the project at the University of Suffolk, goes through the day.

On 22 October, over sixty people came together for an innovative hackathon to celebrate the data gathered across Suffolk County Council’s Smarter Suffolk Live Labs. A collaboration between University of Suffolk, Suffolk County Council (SCC) and BT, the day provided an exciting opportunity to explore the data and develop new ideas in the science and data behind the decisions that drive the Council’s highways services and road usage.

The event brought together University of Suffolk students and staff with the domain and data specialists from SCC, the research and development team at BT, and technical experts from many of the suppliers involved with ‘A Smarter Suffolk’. This collaboration was a hugely exciting opportunity for the students from the University’s BSc Computing course and the new MSc in Data Science and Artificial Intelligence to work alongside industry experts and develop new ideas with the available data. The event was hosted in the University’s brand new DigiTech centre, a great venue for such partnership events at Adastral Park, and also the site of BT’s research centre.

The Hackathon was designed to work on some of the key challenges faced by SCC and Suffolk Highways, and their ambition to transform local authority services across air quality, road usage, winter gritting, gully cleansing and street lighting. Participants had a day working on data and challenges using data from BT’s project-specific and vendor-neutral data exchange. Focused on generating tangible outputs and practical solutions, participants were challenged to generate insights unlocking new ways of thinking and visions on SCC’s data, contributing to the Council’s innovation strategy.

Facilitated by the high-energy presentation of Adam Oliver from BT’s Hothouse Team, and planned by Ian Thurlow of BT and Dr Hannah Steventon of the University of Suffolk, the day started with introductions from SCC’s Executive Director Mark Ash and Lisa Perkins, BT’s Director of Research and Innovation. Presentations and challenges from the Live Labs team and domain experts, and product experts from suppliers and partners introduced participants to BT’s Data Exchange, the breadth of data available and challenges in the domains.

Having started the day with presentations and challenges, participants were let loose with data access from BT’s cutting edge project specific Smarter Suffolk Data Exchange. The buzz and energy amongst the students, supported by community experts, was a delight. Ideas explored included understanding the needs of cyclists using Vivacity Lab’s image analytic traffic counting, and traffic management to improve air quality at times of high road use. Many students will be further developing the ideas explored within module assignments and degree dissertations.

Domain experts and suppliers were also able to network amongst themselves during the day, and valuable connections were made.

To finish the day, each student team presented their ideas and discoveries to the panel of experts. Feedback was provided, and prizes and certificates awarded. Students are proud to include the event on their CVs, and have a greater understanding of local authority needs in data analysis and use for decision making in environmental, planning, transport and economic fields. The project team would like to thank everyone for their input into making the event such a great success, and to ADEPT and the Live Labs project for making it possible.

You can take a look at BT's Hackathon video here.