Climate Hackathon, took place online 22-26 March 2021. The goal was to raise awareness about the Climate issues and at the same time create a platform for our developer audience to develop innovative solutions with our Azure Services.
What made this Hackathon unique, was the collaboration with non-profit and/or non-governmental organizations that have a key role in solving some of the climate challenges but might not have enough resources or technical competencies to do so on their own. These organizations provided real life challenges for the Hackathon participants to solve. The challenges were categorized into four tracks: carbon, ecosystem, waste, and water.
The outcome of the hackathon was 14 quality solutions and 3 winners:
We interviewed the team behind the winner of the Carbon track, Methane Leaks - Unit8 Climate to get to know them, their motives to join the hackathon, as well as their learnings during the hackathon and how they want to apply these learnings in their upcoming projects.
This team worked on challenges provided by Ember & Subak and consisted of the following individuals:
The Methane Leaks - Unit8 Climate team worked on a solution to use AI to monitor methane leaks. The solution uses satellite data from Sentinel 5P and other sources to automatically detect new potential methane leaks by clustering abnormal emissions and linking them to the fossil infrastructure.
What compelled you to take part in Climate Hackathon? What did you hope to achieve by participating?
Climate change is one of the key threats we face today. It is a really important topic for us at Unit8. Reducing our carbon footprint is an important topic. We also work with NGOs to tackle some of their problems through custom technological solutions we build for them.
Taking part in this Hackathon was a logical step for us. It particularly motivated us to explore new topics and see what other people are doing in the industry. In addition, it was a great opportunity to meet new people with similar interests.
We hoped our proposed solution would be useful for the people involved. Last year, we worked with WWF to apply machine learning techniques to wildfire prediction. We are convinced there are lots of promising areas where Data & AI can help us find new and better solutions.
How did this hackathon support your work to address climate change?
The hackathon helped us understand some of the current challenges faced by organizations and get a sense of the community helping the field progress. There really seems to be a lot of involvement, and that is great to see!
In addition, we could get a sense of the technological solutions needed and the impact they can have. That will help us in our current and future projects. We, at Unit8, are always working hand in hand with domain experts to go from an idea to a concrete and working solution in short timeframes. Seeing what we achieved within a week motivates us to keep going!
What new learnings and partnerships arose from your participation in this Hackathon?
We learned a lot from this hackathon!
We learned to use great tools to work with satellite imagery and, also, that it can be difficult working with geospatial data and handling the many data sources needed. We found it quite challenging to build advanced AI models on top of the satellite data because of the resolution of the data and the background noise that brought us to focus on a simpler solution that we could deliver. Of course, with more time we could have investigated more advanced techniques.
The other learning we had was the role of public data in the different projects. We live in an age where accessing large amounts of public data is easy, and it was fascinating to see the use cases people came up with around these data sources. Of course, there is still a fair amount of work that goes into processing the data and building a user interface that is useful for people, which confirms our belief in the impact we can have.
We also learned about some non-profits and sustainable initiatives at Microsoft that we did not know of. We hope to keep in touch with them and who knows, maybe work alongside them again in the future.
How will you continue to use the learnings from the Climate Hackathon to further your organization's important work?
The hackathon truly revealed the many applications of geo-satellite imagery. We were already working internally on a wildfire forecasting project using similar data but the many challenges relying on that data made us realize its potential. Working with that data is complicated for newcomers and we would like to think of a way to make it easier for us and others.
The learnings and connections will help us stay engaged with the community and NGOs and find new collaborations on projects fighting climate change!
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