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This article was published on October 18, 2021

It’s ridiculously hard to find EV chargers — hopefully this hackathon will fix it

A mapping hackathon brings industry together to improve EV charging access

It’s ridiculously hard to find EV chargers — hopefully this hackathon will fix it
Cate Lawrence
Story by

Cate Lawrence

Cate Lawrence is an Australian tech journo living in Berlin. She focuses on all things mobility: ebikes, autonomous vehicles, VTOL, smart ci Cate Lawrence is an Australian tech journo living in Berlin. She focuses on all things mobility: ebikes, autonomous vehicles, VTOL, smart cities, and the future of alternative energy sources like electric batteries, solar, and hydrogen.

Ok, there’s a lot of bullshit hackathons that mine people for their IP. There’s also situations where people swap a weekend of sleep deprivation and unpaid labor for little more than swag and some pizza. Then, there’s the issue of hackathons being prohibitive to folks with kids or carer responsibilities…

So when I find one I can get behind, I make an effort to find out more. Give me a hackathon that works on real-world problems and offers great benefits to participants. Even better, if it’s participants are actually industry professionals.

 Ordnance Survey (OS) is the national mapping agency for Great Britain. They recently hosted a two-day OS Map and Hack event in Southampton, UK, to work on ways to enhance EV infrastructure. 

Over 80 participants joined forces to work on challenges such as developing charge points, attracting more non-EV owners, and increasing access to EV infrastructure in remote communities.

Hackathon participants had access to OS data and APIs, UK-wide datasets from EV routing planning and charger app WattsUp, and OS’s team of Geographic Information System (GIS) specialists to help with the challenge.

An EV charging site planner app wins the hackathon

The winning idea was an EV charging site planner app created by Arcadis, which identifies suitable locations for installing EV charging points

The app assesses potential charging point sites, then refines and characterizes any search by pinpointing red, amber, and green dots on a map to show the best locations. It pulls in data from sources such as the OS Maps API and council land registry information.

From this, the app used proximity to existing charge point infrastructure, driving times, land ownership, and priority land without any charging points, and grid supply from substations to determine optimal locations.

Arcadis app design won the hackathon
Arcadis winning hackathon idea

The city of Leeds was tested during the hackathon, with the app revealing 144 of the best potential charge point sites found on city council land, and a further 650 possible locations.  

Other finalists I like

Circuit Finder app from the Department for Transport calculates how long a journey will take for EV owners with different needs. Users put in their start point and destination for journeys, and the app finds the best route for them according to preference like where they prefer to wait. 

Plonkers designed by Ofgem aims to help rural communities transition towards EV mobility. The prototype app focused on Thurso in Scotland and using OS Maps API and OS Places API to provide household addresses, and Open Street Map data for tourists, hotels, and caravan parks.

It investigated households that share the same charging points and distances from the nearest charger. (How can you not love the term Plonkers?!)

an EV charger
The wonderfully named Plonkers app helps rural residents increase access to EV charging

Rate My Charger was a concept creat ed by RAC Agilysis to promote the best chargers in the country. The app scored the quality of EV charging points based on a number of factors including:

  • How safe people felt using them
  • The quality of a mobile phone signal
  • Whether there were any public conveniences nearby
  • How scenic the location was

It pulled in data from OS Open Map Local and added open data sources such as Toilet Map, CodePoint, and crime rate open data. 

Why I like hackathons

Besides the problems I detailed earlier, hackathons have a long history of bringing people together to develop solutions to specific problems and challenges. From a tech perspective, it’s a great way to dig deep into a specific problem with folks in the same or adjacent industries. You gain exposure to a diverse pool of potential solutions and can get your ideas validated.

Further, employers are always recruiting at hackathons, so it’s a great chance to meet your future employers and colleagues.  

 Hackathons are for everyone

Even more critical, hackathons are not just for developers. You need writers to translate tech concepts into plain English. Designers who can create charts and graphics, and amazing GIFs are vital.

Equally important are financial folks who can set a potential budget of costings. This is vital in case you win the funds to finance your idea. 

Incidentially, one of my favorite hackathons was a policy hackathon at Latvia’s 5G Techritory conference. Yep, a policy hackathon. It focused on supporting 5G deployment in the Baltic Sea Region. Thus, an international conference was the perfect place to bring together folks from different industries and regions.

The winning team looked at cross-border travel of autonomous vehicles and gaps in European policy and legislation. They created an extensive list of things that policymakers need to solve before autonomous vehicles can cross borders. These included:

  • Cross-border travel
  • Cyber incidents
  • Mandatory reactions to an incorrect read of a traffic sign
  • Connectivity issues
  • Liability issues

They also created a roadmap of how policymakers should enable the cross-border travel of autonomous vehicles. Very cool. I’d be curious to hear about your experiences with hackathons: maybe you won, found a new job, or formed a great partnership? 

Do EVs excite your electrons? Do ebikes get your wheels spinning? Do self-driving cars get you all charged up? 

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