Muscat: Two Omani teams reached the finals of the Hajj Hackathon in Jeddah, which was won by an all-female Saudi group.
“Two Omani teams were among the 90 teams that reached the finals of the Hajj Hackathon,” said the Information Technology Authority (ITA). “One of the teams was OmanDev and the second was Team Maysoor.”
Team Turjuman, an all-female Saudi team, won the grand prize of 1 million Saudi riyals.
Team OmanDev entered the two-day-development jam with a smartphone app called Faidh, which works to locate and guide pilgrims using a voice-assisted guide. The app also includes e-wallet and currency features meant to facilitate buying and selling during the Hajj.
Team Maysoor, on the other hand, focused on the health and safety aspects of the pilgrimage. Their app, called Sanad, connects wounded or ill pilgrims to the nearest aid-station and to volunteers who may be able to provide assistance. It also allows pilgrims to send an SOS in case of a medical emergency.
Hamed Al Darei, the leader of the third Omani team, CTRL ALT OMAN, said they arrived late but were still welcomed by organisers.
“We arrived half a day late because of flight delays,” said Al Darei. “However, after landing at Jeddah airport, everything was ready for us. The organising staff was very friendly and supportive. They made a huge effort.”
The competition was held in several stages and much of the work was done on-site.
“We started by brainstorming the different areas that we were asked to focus on,” explained Al Darei. “After looking at the open source data provided by the Ministry of Hajj, we decided to tackle the healthcare issues driven by the fact that almost one-third of pilgrims visited a healthcare facility during the Hajj. After deciding on the idea, we started the first 12-hour hacking phase, which was very stressful.”
“The solution we came up with tackles the problem of crowded hospitals and clinics during the Hajj period,” he added.
“Our app, Medico, utilises video calls to enable patients with non-urgent cases to see a doctor and get a prescription without having to visit a hospital. This will reduce the pressure on the healthcare facilities and will allow doctors to focus on more serious cases. Our app also has an emergency option that anyone can use to video-call a first aid specialist, who can then direct them to perform first aid on the patient until an emergency team arrives at the scene. The location coordinates are sent to the emergency team automatically once the call is initiated.”
The competition was not a walk in the park, said Al Darei.
“The event was very stressful, as well as tiring,” he noted. “The fact that we only slept for less than 10 hours over a 48-hour period was mentally draining. However, all that disappeared when everything was finished.”
“We will definitely participate in this hackathon and similar ones in the future,” added Al Darei. “Such events are very important for us to expand our network and to develop the way we think.”
The ITA played an important role in the competition.
“The organisers went out and beyond to deliver everything requested and ensure that all teams were well supported, and for the Omani teams, it was through the efforts and organisation of Alya Al Shanfari, founder of the Google Developers Group-Muscat and a startup founder of a company called Beenova,” said Hamood Dawood Al Hamadan, Director of Sas for the Entrepreneurship Center of the ITA.
Al Shanfari confirmed that although the event was stressful, “that only made it an unforgettable learning experience.”
“The organisers from the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming, and Drones were really collaborative, and the support from Google was extremely great,” said Al Shanfari, who participated in the Hajj Hackathon as a mentor and judge and helped supervise the registration of the participants from Oman.
“They were covering all requests and following everything from the arrival of the Omani teams in Jeddah until their arrival back in Oman.”
“I was the only Omani tech mentor/judge, and we had to go by shifts to mentor between 600 and 800 teams for three days,” she added.
“I tried to help as many people as I could to improve their ideas and implementations, and I got the chance to meet people from different cultures and backgrounds. It was very beneficial and interesting to learn from them and to see things from another perspective.”
“It was a good exposure and experience to be part of a hackathon of such magnitude, and it would add value to the events we organise, especially Sas48H, which is a hackathon that the ITA has organised three times in 2014, 2015, and 2017,” said Al Hamadan .
The ITA intends to hold similar events in the future, with the Hajj Hackathon experience in mind.
“We are looking forward to conducting a similar event in 2018 or 2019,” added Al Hamadan.
“Sas48H is a hackathon aimed at encouraging developers, designers, marketers, and entrepreneurs to experience how it is to develop an idea to a product in 48 hours, gain exposure and experience in tech entrepreneurship, and what it takes to be a tech entrepreneur.”
According to the ITA, over 100 Omanis participated, with each team composed of 3 to 5 members.
There were also Omani teams and individuals who participated with people of other nationalities.