Coding a Solution to Help Our River

Posted on Thursday, July 30, 2015

Adrian Pawliszko and Brian Perry at Aquahacking

A team of uOttawa students have won first place at the 2015 AquaHacking coding competition. The contest was held on May 30, 2015, the second day of the Ottawa River Summit at the Hilton Lac-Leamy. Participants were challenged to use coding to solve an issue faced by the Ottawa River and Watershed. Projects could take on many forms, such as websites, mobile apps, or robots.

The participants had worked on their projects for three months. The team “My River – Ma Rivière” was made up of two uOttawa students: Adrian Pawliszko, a fourth-year civil engineering and computing technology student, and Brian Perry, a fourth-year civil engineering student specializing in water resources and environmental engineering. The team gave an outstanding presentation and tied with another team for first place.

The summit is meant to bring experts and community members together to come up with ways to protect the future of the Ottawa River; this magnificent river supplies over 2 million people with drinking water and powers electricity for the region. It is also provides recreation and is an important part of the local ecosystem.

The competition was judged by an impressive jury, the president of which was Alexandra Cousteau, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer, filmmaker and water activist. Alexandra is the granddaughter of the world-famous undersea explorer and scientist Jacques Cousteau. The other jury members were prominent figures in business and philanthropy: Mitch Garber, Eric Boyko, and Jean-François Barsoum, as well as Philippe de Gaspé Beaubien III, who is president and CEO of the de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation, which organized this event in partnership with Ottawa Riverkeeping and IBM. The public also got to have their say by voting for the winner of the People’s Choice award.

As the students described, their project is “a web-based application that allows users to submit issues regarding the Ottawa River and the Ottawa Watershed. How it works is very simple: citizens who notice an issue with the river or watershed can go to our website and submit a ticket, which will report the issue to the appropriate responsibles. From there they receive an email with their ticket and they can track its progress online with the number we assign it! For the municipalities and other responsibles, there is an administrative side of things that only they can see, and this allows them to monitor, track and resolve all of the issues they are receiving from citizens. Some examples are wildlife sightings, fish kill, pollution and driftwood.”

The website built by the students is clever, easy to use, and beautifully designed. Users can see a list of reported problems and their description, location on a map, and current status, as well as a timeline of steps taken to resolve it. Submitting a report is quick and easy, as is following its progress.

Each student brought his own skills to the project. In Adrian’s words, he was there to “build things in the world of bits and bytes”. Brian, on the other hand, used his knowledge of water resources: “I was primarily there for conceptual aspects, as in what should we be tracking, what are the issues facing the watershed and river, etc. Adrian made it all a reality with his awesome set of skills. If I thought of a functionality we needed for the site, I'd explain it to him and he would make it happen!”

It was Adrian who had initially learned of the competition, and enlisted his friend Brian. He recounts: “I found out about AquaHacking from an email I received following my last hackathon (McHacks at McGill University). When I read that AquaHacking was about helping the Ottawa River, it obviously hit close to home. I felt that it would be a good opportunity to try and combine skills from engineering, programming, and design into one project that could (hopefully) end up benefiting the river and all those who love it. That said, I would not have joined if it weren’t for Brian wanting to collaborate, and without his hands-on expertise, we would not have been able to build what we did.”

The day of the competition was thrilling for the students, as Brian describes: “Everyone was very excited for us, just in the sense that we had created this tangible product and had the opportunity to present all of our hard work. We drew the first time slot for presenting, which was probably for the best because we were able to set the bar for the caliber of presentation to be expected, and it put a little extra pressure on us to do well. Turns out we did alright and walked away as winners which was an added bonus!”

Brian and Adrian have been approached by several municipalities looking to implement their system. Brian believes that “the main reason they’re interested [is] the simplicity of the system. Currently, there is no easy way for citizens to report some of the issues we are addressing, so this application is great in that sense. For administrators, this is a really easy-to-use database that sorts issues by municipality, so it resolves a lot of the complex issues of ownership right away and just lets the responsibles work on resolving the reported problems.”

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