Central New York, Community, Environment, Government, Syracuse, Weather

Syracuse Finds New Snow Removal Solutions Through a Local Contest

One of the contestants, Michael G. Phillips, created an app which allows users to easily visualize and understand the snowplow GPS tracker data. (c) 2018 Cameron Tirado


Click the play button above to learn how Mayor Ben Walsh originally struggled to use the data.

Audio Transcript: Civic Hackathon Transcript

By Cameron Tirado SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) —  Oswego, New York native Michael G. Phillips is no stranger to the snow, but he was unfamiliar with the type of data he used to win the second place prize in a Central New York contest addressing snow removal issues.

Phillips, a second-year graduate student studying Computational Linguistics at Syracuse University, created a basic web app which would allow users to see when and where snow plows were. He used data dealing with coordinates, compared to the text-based data he’s used to.

“I gave it my best shot, and I can’t actually believe I placed top three,” Phillips said. “Being in the linguistics program, I’m not really dealing with a lot of geospatial data.”

Phillips was one of three cash prizes winners in the data hackathon. The event was a joint effort from the city of Syracuse, Syracuse University and AT&T to find innovative ways of getting rid of the snow. This was the second data-focused competition of its kind in Syracuse.

Participants were challenged to use public data available from the city’s fleet of 37 snowplows to find solutions for challenges that face Syracuse. Thirty-six teams registered for the contest, but only 16 teams made it to the end and submitted results, said Elizabeth D. Liddy, dean of the School of Information Studies (iSchool).

Of the 16 final teams, 11 had at least one Syracuse University student, Liddy added. Participants could form teams or compete as individuals. Anyone was eligible to participate, regardless of if they attend Syracuse University.

One of the first place winners, Dean Olin, also created a visualization tool to show when and where snow plows visited.

“By color coding the roads, according to how long its been since a plow has been there, you can kind of do a time lapse,” Olin said.  “You can see where plows have been and where they haven’t been. It can reveal some insights.”

The third place winners used the data to see how much work each truck did, in terms of plowing and salting.

Cash prizes were given for 1st ($2500), 2nd ($1000) and 3rd ($500) place.