IBM announced today the finalists of its 2019 Call for Code competition, which challenges developers from around the world to create applications via open source technology to mitigate the effects of natural disasters. This year, developers were asked to create applications based on cloud, data, and artificial intelligence (AI) to address the health and well-being of communities affected by natural disasters.

A collaborative project between IBM and the David Clark foundation, the second annual Call for Code challenge awards winners a $200,000 cash prize, open source project support from The Linux Foundation, opportunity for mentorship, investment in their project, and solution implementation through IBM’s Code and Response program.

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“The goal wasn’t just to create a tech-for-good hackathon that people could create applications for. The goal was always to provide core structure to make them sustainable,” said Daniel Krook, CTO for IBM Code and Response and Call for Code. “This is what sets Call for Code apart from other competitions: There is a pipeline that goes from the innovation that’s created.”

Teams of up to five participants are expected to develop original code and leverage one or more IBM Cloud services or IBM systems, to create solutions that can be supported and deployed as a sustainable business model, Krook said.

Judges included “experts from IBM, but also a lot of folks from natural disaster experts from around the world, different organizations, public and private universities think tanks,” Krook noted. “The judges have tech backgrounds as well as expertise in the domain. That includes the eminent judges, the 12 folks that represent new agencies, and former President Bill Clinton.”

Last year’s Call for Code winner, Project Owl, developed an internet of things (IoT) and software solution that connects first responders to natural disaster victims. The team tested deployments of their technology in Puerto Rico and Houston, and plan to return to Puerto Rico in October to launch a third test, Krook said.

How the winners are determined

Participants are judged equally across the following four key areas, as outlined by Krook:

1. Completeness and transferability
With both technical and nontechnical judges, these individuals aren’t just looking for a fancy piece of technology, but an application that could make a real difference in these dangerous situations and that could be used multiple times.

“For example, if you built an application to create hurricane response for Puerto Rico, you also want to be able to see something in that solution that is transferable to other contexts,” Krook said. “Can it help out with cyclones in Mozambique? Can it help with typhoons in the Philippines? [The judges] wanted to be able to see the promise within the application, that it’s something that could grow up.”

2. Effectiveness and efficiency

The second criteria requires the solution to directly address the problem at scale.

“We don’t just want to have technology for technology’s sake,” Krook said. “It should be something that’s going to address a problem that’s been quantified and then have an impact.”

3. Design and usability

When developing any application, the developer must always remember the end user and their situation. If the user is a victim of a natural disaster, the developer must consider the individual’s stress, access to network connectivity, their device’s battery life, and more.

4. Creativity and innovation

This component is where the teams bring in the creative side to the technical.

“This is kind of a bit of a wild card,” Krook said. “This is where you come up with something or you add some insight to a solution that really took a totally different view on the problem and tried to create a solution to it.”

The 2019 finalists

“As natural disasters grow in number and severity around the world, it is more important than ever that we collaborate and create impactful solutions that will offer aid to the communities that need it most.” said Claudia Nemat, Call for Code judge and member of the Deutsche Telekom AG board of management, technology and innovation.

More than 180,000 developers, data scientists, activists, and students entered in this year’s challenge. Here are the five Call for Code 2019 finalists. The winners will be announced on Oct. 12:

1. AsTeR (Europe): The AsTeR technology prioritizes emergency calls in order of emergency level, where callers can leave an explanation. Call centers are also given a visual map to see where people are being most affected by the natural disaster.

2. Healios (North America): Healios gives victims of natural disasters access to quality mental health care via a mobile health application, connecting case workers with survivors.

3. Prometeo (Europe): The cognitive platform Prometeo connects sensors on firefighters’ uniforms to monitor their health in real time, preventing toxic smoke inhalation.

4. Rove (North America): Project Rove is an SMS chatbot that uses Natural Language Understanding to give users health information during a natural disaster. Users are given health priority scores, which are given to first responders, to show them which victims need the most help.

5. Sparrow Platform (Asia Pacific): Sparrow is an open-source, conversational AI platform that helps users address their physical and psychological well-being during and after natural disasters. The platform is accessible through any device, with or without internet connectivity, providing access to medical help and medical records.

“We saw teams that were comprised of people that were firefighters, people that were nurses, people that had personal experience with disaster. Developers, project managers, designers all coming together to collaborate,” Krook said. “That’s been the most rewarding part, watching how the technology is now being infused into all these discussions and relationships with our NGO partners, our public, private partners, universities. They’re sharing information, they’re coming up with ideas, and ideally the fruit of that is better technology that’s going to make a difference.”

For more, check out How to build a successful disaster recovery plan using multicloud technology on our sister site ZDNet.

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