Decoding the future of travel: vibes from a pre-Slush hackathon

November 9, 2015

Read time 4 min

“Is it alright if we tell jokes in our presentation? Is it ok to… swear?”

It’s 2:30 pm on a Sunday at The Future of Travel hackathon, a travel-specific track in Juction Hackathon, Helsinki. The 20 teams partaking in the track are ready to start presenting their ideas to a panel of 9 judges from Finnair, Finavia and Reaktor.

One of the hackers has approached mentor & judge Erica Swallow with a question.

“Yes, of course it’s alright!” she answers, with a warm smile.

Anticipation is tangible in Kattilahalli, Sörnäinen. Typing and chatting sounds fill the huge hall. It’s hard to tell day and night apart. The tall windows of the old building are covered up with blinds. Little desk lamps of different colours, scattered around the dozens of tables in the hall, create a magical, cave-like atmosphere.

The Future of Travel hackathon track has gathered together almost 100 developers, designers and business innovators. They’re all on a 48-hour mission: create a new service that will redefine air travel.

Innovation, big time.

But what is innovation in the context of air travel? This is how Erica Swallow, VP of Product at Noble Impact, an Arkansas-based education technology start-up, sees it:

For me, innovation is the collaboration that this hackathon is all about, really. It’s big companies like Finnair and Finavia teaming up with hackers in order to solve the industry’s problems. This hackathon represents a novel way of working, and that’s very refreshing and surprising.

How about the teams, the hackers themselves? Why are they here?

Developers Mark, Lucien and Ggm, and designers Yi and Zora – team Tii from Taiwan – have just stepped down from the pitching arena. They’re wearing hoodies and beanies, and they seem relaxed.

“Well, basically, we’re here because we wanted to visit Finland. It’s a cool country!” says Mark. “It was a fun but exhausting weekend. I think what we mostly learned is that the less time we have, the faster we can become.”

What about innovation, then? What is it, in your opinion?

“Innovation is breaking the current model. I mean, not just enhancing things but really rethinking how they could be done. Many policies and procedures in air travel are now taken for granted, but it was a great feeling to realize that doesn’t need to be the case,” Mark explains.

“What we came up with is a service that gets Uber to drive your baggage to the airport beforehand, and then, once you’ve reached your destination, take the baggage all the way to your hotel.”

So, someone would just pick up your luggage, and the next time you’d see it, it would be waiting for you at your hotel? Sounds awesome.

Slush Junction Hackathon 2015

Let’s talk to another team of young masterminds, still waiting for their pitching turn.

A young gentleman two desks away introduces himself:
“Our team is called VR So Fly. My name is Spencer, and I come from the US. I’ve slept for – what – two hours since Thursday afternoon,” he sighs, smiling.

“Our innovation is a new kind of virtual reality system for inflight entertainment. I love making games, so that’s where I got the idea.”

Spencer’s teammates Gill, Kush and Marc nod. “This guy’s a genius.”

“So, how it works is that instead of looking at a clanky airplane screen, you put on the Oculus Rift. That gives you a whole range of things to do, and it’s all in 3D. You can get connected to location data or your flight information, or you could watch any video on Youtube, for instance. Connecting Netflix to this thing shouldn’t be too hard, either. We could also connect location data into Wikipedia. It would then be possible to get to know the world’s most interesting places and must-see sights as you fly over them.”

All the content in the world pulled into an Oculus Rift. One can imagine only the sky’s the limit.

“We’ve worked really hard, and I’m sure we’re gonna deliver a great pitch.”

No doubt there.

In the end of the room, vigorous pitching goes on. Every 10 minutes or so, the echo of applauds fills the air.

Sounds like the future of travel is here.

PS. The winning team of hackathon’s AERO track was team CoderCoded, whose idea tackled the fear of flying.

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