The AXA.COM team editor

24 hours to save lives in the place with the most dangerous roads in the world

Protecting People
Nov 19, 2015

Driving practices, traffic and road safety are ongoing concerns for most people around the world today. Everyone takes things like road rage and dangerous driving, along with their consequences, very seriously.

In India, this has become a major issue across the country, as it’s responsible for 11% of all traffic injuries worldwide. Traffic accidents in India kill 400 people a day, an emergency that poses a clear, urgent and pressing challenge.

So how can accidents be prevented quickly and effectively? To answer this question, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and AXA organized a dedicated “hackathon” in Southern India.

What is a hackathon?

To put it simply, a hackathon is a marathon for hacking, or hacker, enthusiasts (most often, computer developers and designers). It is a kind of collaborative and uninterrupted session of program-writing (or “coding”), and, yes, lack of sleep is involved, with programmers, or coders, taking a few quick naps at the foot of their laptop.

The goal of a hackathon is to produce, as a team, an application prototype that is then submitted to a jury by a specific deadline. Believe it or not, this race against time in a somewhat festive, crowded, and often nocturnal atmosphere, is a pleasurable activity for the creators invited to participate.

A rush of adrenaline and loads of mutual assistance and exchange with peers, all guided by binding technical jargon and the common goal of achieving peer recognition, and these experts are at the height of their community spirit.

Kerala, a symbolic site

On August 22nd and 23rd, 2015, 170 Indian developers and designers answered the “Kerala Road Safety Hackathon” call. The state of Kerala, located at the southern end of the Indian subcontinent, has 40,000 accidents a year – with most cases including at least one fatality. By choosing this very place to take action for road safety, a strong symbolical choice was made.

This initiative is part of the global partnership between the IFC and AXA (launched in September 2014) to help boost insurance coverage, improve safety and foster economic growth in emerging markets. One of the main areas of cooperation is improving road safety coverage and the security of emerging market populations, all while promoting economic growth.

AXA strongly believes in the benefit of disruptive solutions that leverage the power of digital, and the collective intelligence of communities. This hackathon is part of our continuing effort to encouraging shared action, with the goal of creating fast and tangible solutions.

Hackers work flat out to save lives

Forty-two teams of students and entrepreneurs spent an entire weekend together, creating concepts for software- and hardware-based programs and applications that would attempt to reduce the risk of traffic injuries in India. Practical solutions provided by participants addressed the Four Es of road safety: Engineering, Enforcement, Education and Emergency response (post-crash management). For example, some were geared towards attempting to improve existing infrastructure such as roads and road signage, while others attempted to facilitate emergency interventions with warning signals sent to police or medical and fire services.

Designs were assessed based on simplicity and creativity of the proposals, actual impact on road safety, intuitiveness of the design and general appeal. With a hint of self-deprecating humor, the rules and regulations allowed for teams of up to five humans, plus the addition of “one cyborg, Furby, drone, or Sphero.”

Fun meets safety - the three winning teams

First prize in the hardware category was won by project “Smart Helmet”, a motorcycle/scooter helmet that, in addition to regular localized protection, also features a taillight and embedded radio device that, when paired with the bike, allows ignition only when the rider is actually wearing the helmet. That way, both the rider’s physical safety and the law are taken care of.

The winner of the software category was “Third eye”, a real-time monitoring system for crowd-sourced traffic events that improves both traffic engineering and the emergency alert system.

The innovation category prize went to project “Bon Voyage”, a mobile app that gives drivers credit/points for good driving behavior, that can be redeemed for prizes later on down the road. The program encourages users to learn best driving practices in a playful and engaging way, giving them a model of best behavior, increasing safety for all road users.

Each winning team received 190,000 rupees (approx. €2,600 / $2,820) and all solutions developed within the hackathon were passed on to the public free of charge.

A myriad of proposals…

The remaining projects were each very different. Those selected for the last round included a series of wearable devices transmitting health and GPS data to a smartphone for use in telematics (i.e. for anxiety management while driving), drones providing emergency aid (much faster than by assistance by road), a smart traffic light managing real-time traffic via GPS and cloud computing, and a crash device that signals nearby police stations or ambulances in case of sudden braking due to an accident (also used as a phone). All in all, dozens of prototypes were hatched that weekend featuring tangible solutions that can save lives on roadways.

... and some inspiration

Following the event’s success (and the bright ideas it generated), AXA and the IFC are eager to bring the hackathon to other countries. The projects submitted during this race against time for India confirmed the initiative’s underlying premise: that technology can help solve real-life problems at a global level. In fact, a responsible insurance company should not turn away from an investment that, aside from any purely material gains, allows them to meet and exceed ethical and moral requirements in step with its mission. And if this mission is to protect people and improve their daily lives, then the sharing of values, innovation and collaboration through these initiatives, across a large range of partners, is a foregone conclusion.

Hackathon, anyone?