2 April 2015 – Two students from the NUS Overseas College New York City programme were the overall winners of the New York 2015 Smart Cities Hackathon that was held early March.

The event, co-hosted by IBM, IoT Centreal and WeWork, was part of Global Urban Datafest, a ‘multi-city hackathon’ that aims to bring together diverse groups of developers, data scientists, open hardware enthusiasts, urban experts, journalists and specialists in all fields to address the challenges and issues caused by the rapid growth of urban areas around the world, using new technologies such as big data, Internet of Things and mobile broadband.


More than 20 hackathons were held around the world over three weeks and entries were judged on their usefulness, innovativeness, usability, technical difficulty, completeness and scalability.

Third year Computer Science student Ng Zhi An partnered with Marilyn Chew, who is currently a third year Project and Facilities Management student from the School of Design and Environment. Together, they built the ‘What Sunblock Should I use?’ application. According to Zhi An, “…it does exactly what it sounds like, and a little bit more. It spun off as Marilyn's problem of not knowing what the SPF levels meant, what level of SPF she should [apply], and led to research and discoveries about UV, its effects, SPF, sunscreen vs. sunblock, skin care, and healthcare. We built a really simple web application that answers the question. It figures out the UV forecast for your area, and tells you what kinds of protective measures you should take up, including SPF level of sunblock required, and if you should wear a cap, sunglasses, long sleeves, umbrella. That was our goal, just [to] answer one simple question [to] which no one we asked knew the answer! We also built a prototype Android app which has a bit more smarts, using location as well as light sensor, it guesses if you are indoors or outdoors, and displays a friendly notification if it figures that you need to beware of UV - e.g. if you have been outdoors for a long time, it's probably good to apply/reapply your sunblock, wear a cap etc.”

On their experience of the event, Zhi An said, “I've always enjoyed hackathons – it's a good chance to work on any crazy idea you want, meet people, talk, etc. The theme of this event is something we have zero experience with, so working within the constraints wasn't easy. We spoke to the IBM and WeWork people about our idea, and they were always very encouraging and gave suggestions on our idea. Specifically Noah from WeWork, who was one of the judges, was one of the first persons we spoke to about our idea – he was super encouraging, very inspiring when he shared his story, and gave us the confidence to work on our idea.”

“Marilyn was the only designer in the field, and she made sure our prototype, project page, and presentation looked much better than the code I wrote. Our presentation was also pretty solid because our idea was simple to explain,” he added. Still, they were very surprised when they learnt that their team was one of the two overall winners selected to proceed to represent the city in the global competition (the details of which are yet to be confirmed).