Last week was my first time in Swansea and a great experience mixing hackathon and nature.
For me the hackathon was actually as much about the interactions and connections with people and these sunset and sunrise views as it was about the technology.
We have a team of colleagues based in Swansea, busy delivering DVLA projects, so not involved in the Hackathon this time. But it was great to have the opportunity to meet them whilst we were there. As a newbie to Notbinary, meeting the wider team was a reminder of what a great culture is being built here, not just based on tech but also people coming together as a team.
I am always happily surprised when no-techies at a senior level show an interest in these events, so it was lovely that the day was introduced by DVLA CEO, Julie Lennard, who took the time to greet us and wish us luck. Tom Collins, DVLA Principal Software Engineer, hosted the entire event, stayed with us late into the evening and was up with us early in the morning, making sure we had everything we needed.
The DVLA staff involved in making the hackathon happen were incredibly helpful, they even made it possible for us to access their Live VES API to get real DVLA data for our project. If you want to access some of the data you can still tune into the DVLA Search API.
As I was networking with some of the students invited to the event over lunch (don’t neglect talking to everyone at the hackathon even though your only thought is going back to make that code work!) it became clear that they had the same misunderstanding as me when I was a 1st year engineering student at university about what a Hackathon is all about.
For the future hackers out there, a hackathon is not hacking a system at any cost. In common language, hackathon is used to actually build something – generally software or an application in a limited amount of time, about a generally defined theme (could literally be anything, have a look here https://biohackathons.github.io/), and usually using any technologies you want (sometimes restrictions may apply, but we don’t like that 😊)
To complicate terminologies even more the theme for the DVLA hackathon was to create bots. It was therefore called Botathon. With the growing interest and technical capabilities for voice – natural language processing and image recognition, we were right in the heart of using these new technologies. Yey, happy devs!
In order to assure fairness, automatically generated bot names were created by the organisers and randomly assigned to different teams. The order of presentations were done by Bot name in alphabetical order. Little things like this really showed the level of thought that had gone into the event by the organisers.
Our Name Was Keneth
After realising that none of us are really big on cars, I reached out to my racing friends (“just” the Gymkhana 2019 champion and his mates), who suggested that it would be really cool to take a picture of a licence plate, send it to an app and receive the whole history of that car. It would be a cool and reassuring feature for them when they buy their next car, but also for us, the less knowledgeable about cars. So we had an idea, and 50% of the job done! Now the implementation.
For that we used the Google Cloud Vision API for Image Recognition.
I particularly enjoyed playing around with the API to find out if the car we chose had supercar attributes according to Google. My friend’s car certainly does. Also as a general thought if you don’t want to get your hands dirty, but you are geek enough to dig into some of the tech, you can use the REST client Postman to play around with any API.
Because that wasn’t enough (what can I say, our dev has high standards, and for once, tech was pushing business and not the reverse) we decided to integrate voice with Google Dialogflow. We found out that Google doesn’t have a Welsh accent, but we nicely tuned it with some local sayings.
A note on the voice capabilities, it turned out that many teams had opted for Alexa skills and it seems they had quite a lot of trouble with it. I have to say Dialogflow was fairly straightforward with most of the parameters configurable within a user friendly interface. Of course because we all live on our phones, we had to make it into a phone app using Heroku. All plugged nicely via REST APIs.
Our App in Action
For the techies, here is a summary of the tech used at this hackathon:
- REST APIs as they are easy to plug in
- GitHub coding in the open, also best option if you are numerous devs in the team
- Live Public DVLA Search API
- Live VES API to get real DVLA data
- Google Cloud Vision API for Image Recognition
- Google Dialogflow for natural language processing
- Heroku for CI/CD of the app
- Find our code for this hackathon on GitHub.
A big thanks to the entire team that put all of this together and a special thanks to all the people who gladly provided their licence plate pictures for testing purposes for our application.
See you at the next hackathon!
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