We were inspired by the idea that the average person is unable to instantaneously obtain pollution data on their locality/area like they can with weather data. Most of the data that is available regarding pollution is unreadable to the common man as they are mainly published as raw data files. In addition, there is no platform that collectively displays air, water, and soil pollution levels of a certain area together. And, worst of all, pollution data is often times limited to large cities and landmarks, and pollution data on rural areas or developing countries is very limited or nonexistent.

We wanted to fix these issues by creating a user-friendly platform that allows anyone to easily view different types of pollution data in their local area, similar to how we can check a weather app before going outside to start our day. Our goal was to create a map that holds pollution data on every region of the world - essentially an environmental census - that anyone can access data from through a simple phone app. Thus, Hey, Gaia! was born.

What it does

Hey, Gaia! is a phone app that analyzes data sets containing pollution data for various air, water, and soil contaminants in a city or local area. The resulting data that is displayed is done so through dials (like a speedometer) so a user can easily visualize the quality of the air, water, or soil in their surrounding area. Data is collected using crowd-sourcing, which allows researchers and organizations to submit pollution data on their local area to contribute to the world pollution map in Hey, Gaia!

Challenges we ran into

There were multiple challenges we ran into over the course of the hackathon. The main one was that our group was attempting to design, program, and pitch an app - without actually building the app due to our lack of programming abilities. As an interdisciplinary group with differing majors and as freshmen, we had limited knowledge and abilities compared to other groups. We chose to remedy this problem by focusing on detailing the proposal of how our concept and app would work. A major hurdle we faced was attempting to collect pollution data and producing graphs to model this data, due to the lack of widespread and uniform research on our chosen categories. As a result, we added the ability for researchers, the government, or other organizations to submit pollution data local to them into the app’s database. Another obstacle we faced was trying to standardize the way we displayed our pollution data, as the methods for collecting pollution data is not internationally standardized. For example, various units such as parts per million, parts per billion, or ug/l was used to quantify pollution based on what country or study collected the data. We overcame this issue by standardizing the data we presented.

Moreover, looking for a way to make Hey, Gaia! more user-friendly was difficult due to our limited knowledge in app-building. Only after a few hours of hacking did we realize that using and programming Alexa towards our app would be the most effective way to present Hey, Gaia! and the data we gathered. However, hacking with Alexa was a challenge itself due to having to quickly learn how to code and model Alexa with geotags, CVS, and JSORR files. Finally, our last significant difficulty was trying to stay focused and not fall asleep early in the hacking process. Ultimately, after getting a few hours of sleep as well as sandwiches, snacks, and coffee in our bodies, we were able to push through to the finish line.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

For most of us, it was our first hackathon, and being able to create something we did not think was possible exceeded all of our expectations. Also, we produced a product anyone can use with access to a smartphone and/or to Amazon Alexa. Moreover, the four of us never worked with each other before at a hackathon and all of us had different majors, so it was a cool experience to work collaboratively and figure out how to overcome the problems we faced as a group. And, because of our different disciplines, we made the product using a wider perspective that integrates more than just engineering and coding principles. Moreover, the classes all of learned in our first year in the Honors College here at VCU gave us inspiration for the implementation of the local aspect of our solution, as Richmond is our home for the next four years.

What we learned

We learned that there is not enough widespread data on pollution. It is very difficult to find data for local areas that are rural or not near major bodies of water, and the data is highly concentrated only in such areas. In addition, we realized entrepreneurship is not only for a specific major or field, but rather it requires many different areas of expertise to create a holistic solution that benefits everyone.

What's next for Hey, Gaia!

We would like to add more locations in Hey, Gaia! so anyone can look at the quality indexes and scores by their region or zip code, making it more personal to the average user. We would hope this app would be able to encourage individuals and communities to take the issue of pollution into their own hands by following the health advisories within the app to protect their own health, and be inspired to petition local officials for more eco-friendly laws and regulations as a way to improve everyone’s quality of life. The overall goal of Hey, Gaia! is to change everyone’s perception about pollution, and to make a positive impact on the environment, no matter how big or small.

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