HackTrek 2021 second place team – What makes a “smart city”? Brainstorming for answers brings focus on “links within the community”
The nationwide online hackathon “HackTrek 2021” was held at the end of February 2021. An online interview was held with the members of “Team Tamago,” which placed second in the hackathon. In a friendly atmosphere, the interview covered various topics, from what made them decide to participate in the hackathon to the background of their award-winning idea.
■ What is “HackTrek?”
HackTrek is a hackathon event organized by Seiko Epson Corporation (referred to below as Epson). Participants compete to bring their ideas into shape by combining the Epson Connect API with various APIs and services. HackTrek 2021 is the second HackTrek to be held following the first one in 2019 and was the first HackTrek to be held entirely online, with 53 participants from 14 teams joining in from all over Japan. A wide variety of products and services were designed in response to the theme “Accelerate smart cities.”
■ Why is Epson hosting hackathons?
Epson is hosting HackTreks with these three main goals: To strengthen their relationship with developers and engage in co-creation, to utilize Epson’s resources and encourage the free creation of innovative ideas, and to promote the usability and appeal of the Epson Connect API so many people can apply it to various situations. The hackathon champion and runner-up teams have already started to create products for actual services in collaboration with Epson.
Online interview attendees
■ Ms. Etsuko Tejima
Planner, Team Tamago
■ Mr. Takeru Yotsuhashi
Engineer, Team Tamago
■ Mr. Kosei Shichiji
Engineer, Team Tamago
■ Kohei Shiratori
P Strategic Planning Department, Seiko Epson Corporation
*In the text, honorifics are omitted.
The exciting yet challenging theme of “smart cities” × “paper”
── Thank you for joining us today! First, I’d like to ask why you wanted to participate in the hackathon.
Tejima: We were classmates at G’s Academy. About 3 months after graduating, I heard about “HackTrek 2021” and approached everyone. I was particularly intrigued by the theme of “smart cities.” It was exciting to imagine what interesting things could be created by combining this theme and the conventional medium of paper, which was one reason I wanted to participate. Also, Mr. Yotsuhashi and I were just about to start up our current company “eatas,” so I was hoping participating in this hackathon might serve as a good chance to try something new. The other members were also in a transitional stage where they were trying to change jobs, so I thought it might be a good prospect for everyone.
*Please see the article below for more information about Hack Trek 2021.
“Accelerate smart cities” Individual thoughts and social issues overlap and connect
——Online hackathon “HackTrek 2021” report
*eatas, inc. was established on March 29th, 2021. It develops systems for nutritional counseling, provides counseling services on nutrition to corporations and individuals, and offers consulting services related to food and health. (https://eatas-inc.com/)
Yotsuhashi: When Ms. Tejima approached me, I asked her who the other members were before deciding to join. There was a training camp when I was at G’s Academy. The four of us, including Mr. Abe, who unfortunately could not attend this interview, were at that camp together. We were on different teams at the time but we knew each other well, and I enjoyed the camp. I have fond memories of that time, so I was confident that the four of us working as a team in the hackathon would be fun.
Shichiji: In my case, when I was invited to participate, my first honest reaction was that I wasn’t sure I could do it. I had gone to the G’s Academy camp, but it was the first time the four of us were participating in a hackathon. I felt overwhelmed because I was sure so many amazing people would participate from all over the country. If I’d been invited by someone other than our members, I might have turned them down. But in the end, I decided to join because, like Mr. Yotsuhashi, I felt that I would enjoy working with these members.
── So, it was the first time for all of you to participate in a hackathon. Was there something you did to prepare for the event?
Yotsuhashi: The four of us had many discussions beforehand about what kind of product we would create. To tell you the truth, we struggled until finally coming up with our light bulb idea right before the hackathon started.
Shichiji: In particular, during the idea generation stage, we were stumped by the fundamental theme of the hackathon, which was “smart cities” and “paper.” To be honest, we were having a hard time trying to connect smart cities and paper.
Tejima: Ultimately, we came up with our own interpretation of the theme of smart cities and went back to it as often as we could when we had doubts. I think this turned out to be a good thing. It took a long time, but we kept thinking about what a smart city is and what products can contribute to it, and “Minna no Kairanban” (Everyone’s Circulation Board) was born.
A local communication system where no one is left behind
── What kind of service is “Minna no Kairanban,” which placed second in the hackathon? What are the key elements of your idea?
Yotsuhashi: In brief, “Minna no Kairanban” is a “new circulation board created by the community.” For example, residents can post topics and news such as the birth of a child, just like on social media. The information is delivered to the printer in each home and printed out. In addition, emergency information and SOS messages in the event of a disaster can also be delivered. Timely information that should be shared in the community can be delivered promptly.
Tejima: The concept behind our idea is “links within the community.” We thought about what the ideal local communication would be in a smart city, and we felt that the key would be to “leave no one behind.” We focused on the traditional community medium, the “circulation board,” to allow all residents, including the elderly and children, to obtain information.
── What were your respective roles during the actual hackathon?
Tejima: During the hackathon, we had separate roles; Mr. Abe and I worked as the planning team, while Mr. Yotsuhashi and Mr. Shichiji worked as the engineering team. I was responsible for continuing to research smart cities, digging deep into examples in Aizuwakamatsu city, Fukushima and the national government’s initiatives, and thinking of ways to connect them to our project. Mr. Abe would then incorporate the elements he picked up into materials and convey them to the engineering team.
Yotsuhashi: The role of the engineering team was to take the materials and ideas shared by the planning team and develop them into actual products. We knew the general framework of our plan before the hackathon started, so the engineering team focused on developing the product we needed to create within the time frame.
Shichiji: The most challenging part of the development process was using “Epson Connect API” to convert the posted text and image information into PDF format automatically. To begin with, both of us in the engineering team were novices in programming, so we spent the entire hackathon researching and testing and then researching and testing again. I’m very glad that we managed to finalize the presentation.
Hoping to work as a team again in the future to make new products
── What are your honest impressions of the hackathon, and what insights did you gain from participating in it?
Shichiji: My honest impression is that although it’s exhausting, the fun overrides it. It was the first time I participated in team development, so it was great to share the joy with my team members when we solved a programming problem that we had been struggling with for a long time. I felt that this is what the real joy of team development is all about.
Yotsuhashi: It was really fun for me too. As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Shichiji and I were on the engineering team this time. I can’t forget how happy he looked when he said, “This is why I can’t stop!” the moment we got the programming right after struggling for so long. I think that’s a great moment in development, and I think the appeal of hackathons is that you can share that joy with the team.
Tejima: I was so happy that I had participated when I saw the information safely printed and the engineering team was giving high fives. We started out simply wanting to create something together with the four of us, but we ended up winning an award. Now, the two of us from eatas are involved in the creation of another product. The hackathon wasn’t just a one-time event. It enabled us to evolve to the next stage, and I feel that we were given a great opportunity.
── In closing, can you tell us about your future goals?
Shichiji: I think this is true not only for me but also for the 2 members of eatas. We gained a bit more confidence by participating in this hackathon. Although we’re now in different companies, I’d like to gain more experience in my current workplace and someday create something interesting with the four of us again. That is my current goal, or rather, my honest wish.
Yotsuhashi: I’m happy to have met this team, and I’d also like to create something together with the four of us again. My current goal is to finish making the product we’re currently working on with Epson so that it can be delivered to users.
Tejima: Like Mr. Yotsuhashi, I want to finish this current product and deliver it to users. In addition, I think that if eatas can grow as a business, the four of us will be able to create something new together or do something interesting by involving more people. Right now, we’re still at the first step of this.
Co-creating with developers to solve social issues
── This hackathon was held online for the first time. How was this online event compared to past offline events?
Shiratori: HackTrek 2021 was the first hackathon we’ve hosted online, and at first, the operations team had some worries. In particular, we were concerned that the online event wouldn’t have the passion and excitement of the HackTrek we held in 2019. But in the end, the results were outstanding, including the participants’ satisfaction. The enthusiasm from the developers in the online presentations and demonstrations was as great as last time, and I think it’s safe to say that our fears were unfounded. I feel that the online format was a great advantage for us, as people from all over the country of various industries and ages were able to participate.
── What were the evaluation criteria for this hackathon?
Shiratori: There were 4 main criteria for evaluating products at HackTrek 2021. These were: “Will the product contribute to smart cities?”, “Does the product have growth potential?”, “How good is the UI/UX using the Epson Connect API?”, and “Is the productunique?”. Team Tamago presented an idea for a product that provides a solution to the local community and its communication issues. The judges at the hackathon rated the idea highly and were particularly impressed with the level of understanding of smart cities and local issues. One of the judges commented, “While there have been cases where Google and Cisco have withdrawn from smart city initiatives due to lack of understanding from local residents, I think this product will hold appeal to the world in terms of a smart city that does not leave residents behind.”
── What is the future outlook after finishing this hackathon?
Shiratori: In the background of HackTrek is the concept of strengthening “co-creation” as well as our relationships with developers, both of which Epson is still in the process of establishing. In recent years, with the spread of various ideas, lifestyles, and diversity, we are focusing on “co-creation” as open innovation. My current work to create products with Ms. Tejima and Mr. Yotsuhashi, who have joined us today in the interview, is also part of this. Epson has a wealth of assets, including devices and resources, that we can offer to developers. We’ll continue to do our best to collaborate and work side by side with developers across the country to solve social issues.
Interview: June 2021