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Garbage zombies and open data dominate Windsor's first hackathon

When given the chance to play with Windsor's collection of open data, Adrien Gagnon and Alexander Chernoukhov did what most aspiring software developers would do: they made a game about zombies.

Using GPS data provided by the city, Gagnon and Chernoukhov created Windsor Garbage Zombies, an augmented reality game that lets residents battle the undead while actually moving through the city. The zombie hordes spawn at schools, and players can heal themselves or pick up supplies by visiting local hospitals.

"It's about gamifying the exploration of the city," said Gagnon, a 21-year-old computer science student at the University of Windsor.

The game was one of the many apps developed over the weekend at the HackWE Code Jam, a 27-hour hackathon funded by the Ontario Trillium Foundation and designed to simulate the manic coding sessions popular at Silicon Valley start-ups.

"Some of the guys didn't sleep at all," said Doug Sartori, chair of the new Hackforge collective and one of the event's organizers.

The contest challenged five teams of UWindsor students to create an application using public data sets compiled by the city. The winning entry was an application that lets users visualize things like ward boundaries, bike trails and bus routes on a map. Other entries included an app for finding parking lots in the city, as well as home-buying app that cross-references real estate listings with local amenities.

"The city's data might not be inherently sexy in itself, but by publishing it, they've allowed developers to incorporate it with third-party data. That's where you really unlock the potential," Sartori said.

The code jam also gave the city's fledgling open data initiative the chance to get feedback on how to make their data more friendly to potential developers.

"I was really surprised by the creativity and how quickly the students could put something together," said Marion Drouillard, manager of geomatics for the Windsor. "We'll certainly take into account all the recommendations they made."

WETech Alliance's Irek Kusmierczyk helped organize the hackathon, and says events like it are necessary if the region wants to retain talented developers.

"HackWe is a platform where industry can establish relationships with programmers before they graduate," he said. "It's a way to keep these programmers in Windsor."

And according to Gagnon, the code jam had the desired effect.

"If I could bring this project up to something where Windsor will embrace it, I would definitely stick around," he said.

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