Hacking for wildlife: students use technology to save the animals

UIC College of Engineering computer science graduate students (L-R) Filippo Pellolio, Marco Cavallo and Andrea Rottigni at the Chicago Hackathon for Wildlife

UIC College of Engineering computer science graduate students (L-R) Filippo Pellolio, Marco Cavallo and Andrea Rottigni at the Chicago Hackathon for Wildlife challenge. Photo: Internet of Elephants/Solstice Mobile

 

Lions and tigers and … wildlife-friendly business models!

That’s what UIC College of Engineering graduate students Filippo Pellolio, Marco Cavallo and Andrea Rottigni worked on for more than 36 hours at the Chicago Hackathon for Wildlife challenge.

The event, Nov. 14 and 15, brought together students, professionals and wildlife enthusiasts of diverse backgrounds to brainstorm how to support wildlife conservation using technology.

Hackathon for Wildlife was organized by the Internet of Elephants, an organization that supports collaborations between nonprofit organizations and technologists, and held at Solstice Mobile, a Chicago software company.

The challenge was inspired by public backlash over the hunting of Cecil the Lion in July, when hashtags like #justiceforcecil, #savethelions and #bantrophyhunting began viral trends.

“The focus of the hackathon was about using technology to involve people in wildlife conservation,” said Cavallo, a member of Team Italy with Pellolio and Rottigni, all students in computer science.

Sixty participants from around the world formed teams of two to five members.

This year’s challenge: create an innovative business model that could connect 20 million people with wildlife, using technologies such as GPS hardware, data, social media and games.

Experts and peers judged teams in four categories: use of technology, impact on wildlife conservation, quality of design and business model.

Four winning teams were announced for overall best, best use of technology, best impact to conservation and best prototype.

 

3 a.m. coding

Team Italy, which came in second for best prototype, worked 36 hours straight on their entry, “Wildlife Defense” — no sleep, just coding.

“The hard part was coming up with the idea and the harder part was coding after 3 a.m.,” Pellolio said. “It’s definitely not easy.”

The students used principles they learned in class to develop a video game compatible with Android phones and desktop computers.

 

 

The game lets users experience a day in the life of elephants, monkeys, cheetahs and giraffes.

“You see the game from the point of view of the animals and you have to preserve their life. Humans may attack you, build where you live, steal your food or try to kill you, and you can try to find another place to live or fight against humans and make them stop building new villages around you,” Cavallo said.

Each animal has different strengths, needs and survival mode features.

“You feel the oppression of the humans that try to constrain your life and try to put an end to your environment or your species,” he added.

“We hope that by playing this game, people can feel how animals are threatened by humans,” Pellolio said.

“The idea is to give the usual look and feel of a video game, but to change their perspective. They’ll think, ‘Someone else is trying to ruin my animals, and this bad guy is a human.’”

All the hackathon business models are open-source. Team Italy members encourage anyone interested in the prototype to contact them at mcaval4@uic.edu.