Our inspiration for this project was to develop a new approach to how animal shelter networks function, and how the nationwide animal care and shelter systems can be improved to function more efficiently, and cost effectively. In particular, we sought out to develop a program that will help care for animals, find facilities capable of providing the care needed for a particular animal, and eradicate the use of euthanization to quell shelter overpopulation.
What it does
Our program retrieves input data from various shelters, estimates the capacity limit of these shelters, determines which shelters are currently at capacity, or operating above capacity, and optimizes the transfer or animals capable of being moved to new facilities in the cheapest way possible. In particular, the process of optimizing transfers to different facilities based on which facilities are overpopulated was the particular goal of our hack. Our algorithm moves animals from high-population shelters to low-population shelters, while using google maps data to find the optimal routes between any two facilities. Optimization of routes takes into account the cost of traveling to a different facility, and the cost of moving any given number of animals to that facility through cost estimations. Finally, upon determining optimal transfer routes between facilities in our network, our algorithm plots the locations of a map, giving visual representations of how using this optimization scheme will redistribute the animal population over multiple shelters.
How we built it
We built our program using a python infrastructure with json API calls and data manipulation. In particular, we used python to make json API calls to rescue groups and google maps, stored the returned json data, and used python to interpret and analyze this data. Since there are no publicly available datasets containing shelter data, we used rescue groups to generate our own test data sets to run through our program. Our program takes this data, and optimizes how to organize and distribute animals based on this data.
Challenges we ran into
The lack of publicly available data for use was particularly difficult since we needed to generate our own datasets in order to test our system. This problem made us particularly aware of the need to generate a program that can function as a nationwide data acquisition program for shelters to input and share their animal information with neighboring shelters. Since our team didn't have significant experience working on many parts of this project, the entire process was a learning experience.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We're particularly proud of the time we managed to commit to building this program, given the level of experience we had going into this project as our first hackathon. Our algorithm operates efficiently, using as much information as we were able to incorporate from our limited dataset, and constraints on how we were able to access the data we had compiled. Since our algorithm can find the optimal position to send animals that are at risk due to their location in an overpopulated shelter, our program offers a solution to efficiently redistribute animals at the lowest cost, in order to prevent euthanization of animals, which was our primary goal behind this project.
What we learned
Aside from technical skills learned in the process of working on this project, we all learned how to work as a team on a large software project while under a strict time constraint. This was particularly important since we only began working on the project on the afternoon of the second day of the hackathon. In terms of technical skills, we all learned a lot about using APIs, json calls in python, and learning python much farther in depth than any of us previously had experience in. Additionally, this hackathon was the first time one of our team members had ever coded, and by the end of the project she had written the entire front end of the project and data visualization process.
What's next for Everybody Lives
We had a lot of other ideas that we came up with as a result of this project that we wanted to implement, but did not have the time nor resources available to work on. Specifically, there are numerous areas we would like to improve upon and we conceptualized numerous solutions to issues present in today's shelter management and systems. Overall, we envisioned a software program used by shelters across the country in order to streamline the data acquisition process, and share this data between shelters in order to coordinate animal transfers, and resource sharing to better serve animals at any shelter. The data acquisition process could be improved by developing an easy to use mobile or desktop app that allows to easily input information on new shelter arrivals which immediately is added to a nationally available dataset, which can be used to optimize transfers, resource sharing, and population distribution. Another potential contribution to our program would be to develop a type of transportation and ride-share system that would allow people traveling various distances to transport animals from shelter to shelter such that animals more suited to particular climates and regions would be likely to be adopted in these regions. This feature would be similar to an Uber pool system. Lastly, the most prominent method of improving our program would be to develop a more robust algorithm to run the optimization process, that incorporates more information on every animal, and makes more detailed optimization decisions based on larger input data sets. Additionally, a machine learning mechanism could be implemented in the algorithm in order to learn what situations warrant an animal transfer, from the perspective of the shelter, rather than only basing transfers on data alone. This would make the algorithm grow, learn and become more robust over time.