Reimagining waste management for a smart city

At the end of May, dozens of students gathered at the University of Hail to take part in the inaugural Hail AI Hackathon Challenge. Organized by the Saudi Authority for Data and Artificial Intelligence (SDAIA) and under the patronage of H.R.H. Prince Abdulaziz bin Saad bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Hail Region, the hackathon tasked participants with creating smart solutions for cities.

The challenge asked small teams of participants to use AI, the Internet of Things (IoT), data analysis, big data, or robotic process automation technologies to create real solutions that will improve the quality of life in smart cities.

The challenge was split into four tracks:

  • Transportation – using AI to decrease traffic and provide smart transport services
  • Energy – using smart technology and AI to improve energy distribution and the efficiency of energy use
  • Security – using machine learning and smart image classification to detect and prevent crimes
  • Environment – designing smart waste management systems, improving air and water quality, and eliminating visual distortion

One of our Saudi Changemakers, who recently joined us permanently as a software engineer, Anas Alqassim led the winning team. He tells us of his experiences at the event.

Why did you decide to take part in the hackathon?

I heard about the competition from my friends, and it seemed like a great opportunity to learn more about the use of AI in creating smart cities. I also already had an idea that I thought would fit in well with the objectives of the hackathon, so really it was a no-brainer to take part.

Tell us about your winning idea

We created a smart waste management system. It was designed to solve several problems:

  1. Inefficient waste collection systems and irregular schedules
  2. The improper disposal of waste, which could lead to pollution and be hazardous to health
  3. Lack of public awareness around what can be recycled

Our system involved the EcoBin – a waste sorting system that uses advanced image classification technology to automatically identify and separate various types of waste, and an app-based reward system which is designed to actively encourage people to use the EcoBin. The app shows users where the nearest EcoBin is located and offers the opportunity to win points for using the system. The users can then redeem the points in participating restaurants and shops.

The EcoBin monitors how full it is in real time, is powered by solar energy and requires minimal maintenance. The data collected through the app is also useful – it can be used to analyze the most efficient waste collection routes, for example.

What was your prize for winning the event?

We received a data science training from IBM at one of their offices and a year’s membership to the Coursera training platform.

What did you learn by taking part in the hackathon?

Time management was probably the biggest learning experience. I also learned a lot about transferring things I’ve learnt elsewhere into something new. Overall, I’m really proud of our teamwork – and the fact that we managed to complete the entire solution in just two days!

What was the biggest challenge?

It was definitely the time scale we had to work within. Aside from the two-day deadline, at the end, we also had to present our idea in just three minutes. That’s not a lot of time to make an impact.

How do you think this experience will help you in your career?

It has already allowed me to explore data science in much more depth than I have before. I can’t wait to take part in similar challenges in the future and push myself further.

Group of Saudi Changemakers working on a project together

Are you ready to transform the region?

As part of our commitment to developing and hiring local talent in Saudi Arabia, we created the Saudi Changemakers Program – a new type of internship program for junior software developers looking to get hands-on experience with Java, React and SQL outside of the Middle East.

Find out more

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