Open Innovation Solutions for Hajj Safety

Published Sep-30-18

An app for translating signs around Mecca without internet access to help improve the pilgrim experience during the Hajj.

Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones, Saudi Arabia

The Story:

Open Innovation Solutions for Hajj Safety Every year more than two million people travel to Saudi Arabia to complete the Hajj pilgrimage. This journey to Mecca is seen as one of the five pillars of Islam and is central to the faith. Pilgrims spend five days praying in Mecca and the surrounding countryside.

Accommodating the large number of pilgrims is a difficult and complex task. Even though an infrastructure is in place it can still be dangerous. In 2015, more than 2,000 people were killed in a stampede. And crime is always a concern.

Improving the Hajj Experience

To improve the overall experience for pilgrims and to streamline the process, the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones organized a 36-hour hackathon in August 2018. This open innovation contest drew close to 3,000 participants and consequently entered the Guinness World Records for the most simultaneous participants in a software development jam in a hackathon. The record was previously held by a 2012 event in India.

Technology entrepreneurs, innovators, developers and designers from the Middle East and North Africa competed against each other to find and build solutions. Concepts were sought for nine areas including food and beverages, waste management, public health, crowd control and traffic management and housing.

Among the judges at the open innovation event were Mike Butcher from TechCrunch and Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple and they judged concepts based on creativity, design, simplicity and impact.

Winning Innovations

The overall winner was Turjuman, an all-women Saudi-based team. They came up with an app that breaks down the language barrier by letting pilgrims translate Arabic signboards into their own language without having to use the internet. The key part of their idea is to install QR codes on all signs which then shows the translated version in the native language of a user's phone. The hope is that if attendees can read the signs there will be less confusion which will reduce the risk of crushing and stampedes. The team’s prize was one million Saudi Riyals which is a little more than a quarter of a million US dollars for a 15% equity investment.

In second place was the Hajj Wallet team for an idea that turn's pilgrims’ phones into a wallet during the Hajj. Individuals transfer money from a credit card and then spend it on goods and services by placing their phones over QR readers. The problems the innovation addresses are that many people lose cash during the annual pilgrimage and also payment terminals sometimes don’t work. The team picked up half a million Saudi Riyals for a 10% equity investment.

Third place was awarded to a team from Algeria for their idea that automatically maps a person’s location. A user can then choose to take their picture and share it with friends and family to keep them informed of where they are. The team won 350,000 Riyals for a 7% equity investment.

Successful Hackathon

This first Hajj hackathon was deemed an outstanding success not just for the brilliance of the innovations but for achieving the Kingdom’s intention of motivating young talents.

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