published Friday, June 22nd, 2012

US Ignite seeking new apps

Chattanooga will host its first hackathon in September, as part of the city's contribution to a White House broadband initiative.

Officials from new broadband program US Ignite visited the Scenic City on Thursday to build on what they call "The Chattanooga Way," a spirit of cooperation that spawned the fastest Internet speeds in the Western Hemisphere.

They also asked for help.

Bill Wallace, an official with US Ignite, said the group is looking to communities like Chattanooga to come up with 60 "transformative applications" that take advantage of ultra-high-speed broadband.

"What we would do is work to get them to the beta version, test it out in our cities and try to disseminate it," Wallace said. "If people in Chattanooga have something fantastic in the public safety sector, people in San Francisco may need that, and that's where we come in."

Chattanooga took center stage in a June 14 White House presentation to kick off the US Ignite program, and the city's Sim Center and Gig Tank programs were cited as examples for the rest of the country.

"Chattanooga is very advanced," Wallace said.

The Gig City also drew the attention of the Mozilla Foundation, known for its popular Firefox browser, which will work with US Ignite to offer cash incentives for apps.

Ben Moskowitz, who came to Chattanooga to get developers primed for the September hackathon, offered participants a piece of the group's $500,000 in prizes.

"Ideas become valuable when you start building them," Moskowitz said. "The power is with the people who can build."

Moskowitz introduced community leaders from the Ochs Center, EPB, the city and local STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) organizers to pitch their next-generation needs to the group of developers, designers and entrepreneurs.

Developers nationwide already are working on a number of medical and high-definition video applications, he noted. But he's more interested in what the next 20 years will look like.

"Think the Jetsons," he said. "We want your most far-out ideas."

Officials will return in September to fund and help build the best concepts, many of which will likely go toward organizing and presenting reams of data in a simple, accessible format.

EPB is seeking help presenting its power usage data in a way that helps customers manage electricity usage. City officials need help linking 56 databases and a network of cameras in a publicly available way. The Ochs Center wants an app that allows online users to participate in land-use planning. STEM officials want developers to figure out a fun way for students to learn science.

"I've got data coming out of my ears," said Mark Kiel, Chattanooga's chief information officer. "I'm the poster child for needing apps."

In the fall, developers will condense 1,000 sticky notes into a handful of workable concepts. While Mozilla will offer grants for killer apps, US Ignite organizers are pushing for open-source concepts that will be owned by the community, not by any one person.

Wallace hopes to convince local developers to remember the public benefit of their work.

"That's one of our major challenges," he said. "I think Chattanooga is going to be giving more than getting in the short-term."

about Ellis Smith...

Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...

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