CMU-SV students disrupt airline industry at Emirates-sponsored hackathon

Adam Dove

Apr 10, 2017

There are many ways to have fun on the weekends—going out with friends, maybe, or attending a concert. But sometimes, Carnegie Mellon University Silicon Valley (CMU-SV) students want to spend their free time doing something more meaningful than just relaxing with a movie at home.
Emirates Hackathon Winners

Source: CMU Silicon Valley

Stuart Evans (right), Distinguished Service Professor, stands with the winners of the Emirates-sponsored hackathon

To that end, the CMU-SV Product Management (PM) club teamed up with the Emirates Innovation Lab to create a weekend hackathon event, held at the end of January, which challenged students to disrupt the airline industry and develop innovative solutions to ensure that airlines can maintain maximum occupancy on their flights.

The organizers broke this problem into three primary themes: budget travel, social networking, and check works. From these, the participants formed themselves into teams of three or four people and chose which of these themes they wanted to address. With over 60 people playing and 17 teams altogether, the problems they chose to solve—and the ways they chose to solve them—demonstrated a deep diversity of ideas and approaches.

We gave the teams the problem statements on Saturday morning, and by 11 a.m. they were ideating on their chosen problem.

Rahul Udipi, Integrated Innovation Institute master’s student , Carnegie Mellon University

“We gave the teams the problem statements on Saturday morning, and by 11 a.m. they were ideating on their chosen problem,” says PM club member and Integrated Innovation Institute master’s student Rahul Udipi. “They were allowed to code for the next 24 hours, until noon on Sunday, to develop a working prototype. Then, we had the pitch presentations, where teams had three minutes to present their idea to the judges. From there, the top five teams got to make a longer pitch for the top prize.”

Winning team from CMU

Source: CMU Silicon Valley

The first-place team consisted of Integrated Innovation master’s students Clark Jeria Frias, Shrey Malhotra, Lavanya Gopalakrishnan, and Jiancheng Xing.

Of the teams that presented, there were many potentially industry-changing ideas. But the first-place team consisted of Integrated Innovation master’s students Clark Jeria Frias, Shrey Malhotra, Lavanya Gopalakrishnan, and Jiancheng Xing. Their innovation, a customer service chatbot that employs artificial intelligence and leverages existing data, creates a service that is both automated and user-friendly.

“Adding voice recognition and text-to- voice technologies will help to provide broader access to the solution in addition to the typical text-chat solution,” explains Jeria. “In addition, we built a holographic experience using optical techniques to impersonate the bot. This last feature was critical in our value proposition, leading customers to engage in meaningful conversations with the bot, which helps the deep sensor we used to track emotions using facial gesture recognition.”

As the winners, the team received a technology gift bag from Emirates and an Amazon Alexa, along with a number of other prizes. This was the first year for the hackathon, but the PM Club hopes to make it an annual event. And with over a quarter of the students at CMU-SV having attended the event this year, they are well on their way to making that hope a reality.

In addition to Emirates, the event was sponsored by alumni-founded food delivery start-up Eatoji, as well as Capio, a startup founded by Electrical and Computer Engineering Associate Research Professor Ian Lane, among others.

“The fact that representatives from Emirates traveled to campus to be a part of the jury was amazing,” says Jeria. “It kept us motivated knowing that we were creating a real application that could impact millions of people.”