Hackathon highlights: Google Glass apps would ease city life
Google Glasses are displayed in San Francisco, May 15, 2013. (AP / Jeff Chiu)
Published Tuesday, April 29, 2014 11:23AM EDT
Filing a complaint with the city, shopping for a new home and finding a downtown parking spot could become much easier if the municipal government funds a series of Toronto-tailored apps designed over the weekend.
Teams of developers, app designers and Google Glass owners got together over the weekend for the second annual "hackathon," a brainstorm session with the goal of creating functional programs to pitch to the city next month.
Representatives of the City of Toronto met with the teams to present city services and open information already available that could be filtered by apps to ease urban living. Six apps emerged as a result of the meeting.
The apps are designed to run on Google Glass, a wearable computer with a head-mounted display shaped like a pair of glasses. The system was developed by Google and made available to U.S. testers for about $1,500 in April 2013.
Google Glass is not yet available to Canadian consumers, but some eager tech enthusiasts have travelled to the States to pick up a test pair.
The product is rare in Canada but the system is expected to become available en masse later this year. It is because the product is so rare that the weekend hackathon was born. Hackathon organizer Macy Kuang was looking for a way to connect the limited number of product owners with app designers.
Last year, when a few sets of Google Glass were brought to Canada, Kuang said she immediately began thinking about applications.
Like smartphones, Glass runs apps designed for work and play. Current apps range from navigation programs to golf tips.
Kuang turned her attention to using the product in the city: What kind of apps would help Toronto residents?
She hosted the weekend hackathon as a way to gather people with ideas, people with know-how and people with products under one roof.
Her plan piqued the interest of the City of Toronto, and representatives attended the meeting to help guide the teams of app designers.
"Toronto is totally ready for all of this technology," Kuang, who founded Miaomiao Games, told CTVNews.ca.
Using a combination of open data from the city and services that already exist, the group of 25 people who signed up for the event came up with six apps to offer the City of Toronto.
One of the apps is meant to streamline the 311 system that is already in place. The phone number lets residents file formal complaints with the city, but Kuang said that often users aren't sure exactly who to contact or how to reach the right department. For example, a Google Glass app user were to spot a pothole:
- He or she could take a photo of the pothole
- The app would then filter the complaint to the right department
- A that point, the user could choose to call or send an email to file the complaint
- Google Glass could also provide the exact location through GPS
Another app drew from city data and the multiple listing service (MLS) used by real estate agents to help residents or would-be residents find a house or apartment.
The app would let the Glass wearer analyze the location of the residence, pointing out landmarks of the nearest fire station, convenience store, hospital and more. Most of this information is already available online through MLS and Google Maps, so the app would put all the information in one place.
A later version of the proposed app would let the user rank their priorities. Need a gym nearby, but don't mind driving to the grocery store? The app would tailor a location's ranking to the user's needs.
Another team designed and built a parking app, which would use city data and Google Glass GPS to identify the nearest parking spaces for drivers.
One of the apps acted as a virtual guidebook, which would provide visitors to the city with maps, historical data and facts about Toronto.
The app created by the team working with the youngest Google Glass owner of the group, a 15-year-old boy, would let users know the water quality at Toronto beaches, and whether it was safe to swim.
The sixth app would act as a remote control for a vehicle, letting users open windows and turn on air conditioning through the device.
All the apps designed over the weekend are functioning, Kuang said, adding that they could be put into action with funding and city approval.
Kuang is working with the city to organize formal presentations of the apps, which she said she hopes will happen by the end of May.
If any of the ideas are approved, they could be in place before the end of the year.