The Lounge

The 2013 eResearch Australasia Hackathon Challenges

Sponsored by Amazon Web Services


The theme for this year’s conference is ‘eResearch for the masses’. In part it is about making the eResearch infrastructure (hardware, software, data) available to all researchers and other interested users. It is also making it robust, reliable and well-tested, so that users can trust it. Finally it is about allowing everybody to use it, without falling into a heap from the demand.
The challenges this year set out to test the ability of developers to tackle:

  • Scalability
  • Engagement
  • Reusability

Scalability – Cloud bursting to deal with clouds bursting

Using elevation data it is possible to build a simple model of what happens to water hitting the ground anywhere in Australia. When a lot of water hits the ground within a short period of time, it can safely flow away – or not. This challenge is to take the elevation data from Geoscience Australia, make some basics physics assumptions about the speed of water down a slope, to predict what happens to a burst of rain hitting a particular patch of Australia, and then to scale it from a small shower in a small area to a large cyclone crossing the coast. Ideally, by using cloud compute resources, it should be possible to make this efficiently scalable, using as many compute nodes as necessary as briefly as possible.

Your challenge is to develop the tool that allows a researcher (or concerned citizen) to look at their particular piece of Australia, run a rain event of some user-selectable size over it, and show what happens to the water from that event – in a time that keeps the user happy. What that time is is for you to judge, but it should take into account the size of the area being modeled and the duration and intensity of the rain event.


Engagement and Reuse – Part 1. Supporting Citizen Science

Many research projects are based on data sets collected in the field. This can range from ecological and environmental data to cultural and social data. Much of this data is expensive to collect with instruments, and relies instead on the voluntary contributions of interested parties. These include amateur scientists, farmers, fishermen, and the wider general public. With the increasing access to the Internet through mobile devices it becomes easier for anyone to contribute data while they are out and about and can report immediately.

The (The Ultimate Gig Guide) database has records of live performances going back several decades. The first part of this challenge is to use the dataset as a hub for public contributions, where users can add old or new gigs, as well as pictures, evaluations and other comments from a mobile device. This could be linked with social media channels for real-time discussions that are then archived with the gig record. It should allow for gigs to be entered that have occurred many years in the past.

Your challenge is to develop a framework and associated tools that can be used on a mobile device to add entries to, before, during and after a gig, and to capture social media flows around the time of the gig. It will need a review mechanism in the aggregation pipeline, to avoid spam, erroneous contributions, and copyright-infringing data from being published.
Keep in mind the concept of a framework, as the next challenge builds on this.

Engagement and Reuse – Part 2. Supporting All Citizen Science

Many projects already have some channel for citizen science contributions. They are usually developed ad hoc, either from scratch, or co-opting other technologies. The research community would greatly benefit from a simple toolkit that they can bolt on to their existing workflows, and just reconfigure to their needs. It would save them a lot of time and increase the amount of data available to them.
Your challenge is to take your platform from the second challenge and extend it to support other, quite different, public contributions of data. It should also support a return communications channel, for researchers or other interested parties to be able to contact the contributor.

In particular, you should provide a tool on the same framework that allows anybody with a mobile device to:

  • Provide updates and additional information to the Federal Government Public Toilet Map and dataset
  • Record and report unusual sightings in the sky (meteors/meteorites, interesting satellite passes, lunar impacts, bright flashes, etc. to an astronomical database) as well as unusual weather events (storms, tornadoes, hail, strange clouds, strange lights, etc. to a meteorological database).
  • Record and publish adverse reactions to food/drinks at public events, restaurants, from supermarkets, etc. to a secure medical dataset (mocked-up by you for this challenge) to allow for the detection of potential food-poisoning or similar events over potentially large areas.

Each of these are likely to have different types of information and media being recorded, with their own standards. The tools should be both user-friendly and difficult to make incorrect entries with. You can assume that normal smartphone features such as cameras and GPS information is available to your application. The result of this challenge should demonstrate not just how easy it is for users to contribute to the different information channels, but especially how easy it is for researchers to build the information channel in the first place.