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Innovation unleashed: Behind the scenes at the inaugural VNC Automotive Hackathon

by | Sep 4, 2023 | Blog

VNC Automotive

4th September 2023

VNC Automotive have long been advocates for enriching the in-vehicle experience through connectivity, creating safer, more ergonomic cabins for vehicle occupants.

To further the process of innovation and encourage interaction with some of the latest technologies available today, the team decided to harness their collective ingenuity by coordinating and participating in VNC Automotive’s inaugural Hackathon event. We caught up with Embedded Software Engineer, Manuel Bottini from the VNC Automotive Product Engineering team, who helped to coordinate the event.

What is a Hackathon?

A hackathon is a fun and interactive way to innovate, collaborate, learn new things and apply new technologies to challenges set in the brief. You might even find some new product or feature ideas along the way.

What was the brief?

The brief for this Hackathon revolved around finding solutions to help solve the issue of driver distraction.

There were a variety of new technologies that the team could utilise to help solve this issue, for example, driver monitoring technologies, using computer vision, real time video processing and the latest AI and Machine Learning models.

The final solutions for the brief could also be based on a wide variety of issues within the topic of driver distraction, including the identification of potential hazards in the environment outside the vehicle, or monitoring distractions to the driver such as looking away from the road for an extended period.

Where and when did the Hackathon take place?

The event took place on the 21st to the 24th July 2023 at the VNC Automotive Cambridge office. Regular work was suspended on the Friday for everyone taking part, and while attendance wasn’t mandatory on the Saturday, plenty of people came along to join in the hacking with their colleagues and enjoy some complimentary pizza too! Finally, on Monday 24th July, the Hackathon ended with each team presenting their solutions to the entire company.

What ideas did the teams present?

There were 3 teams in total, made up of colleagues across different areas of the company. They were named: Team Cobalt Focus, Team Onions and Team Driven to Distraction.

All the solutions ended up being based on Machine Learning techniques and Deep Learning Models. However, the use cases that the teams identified for these technologies and their ideas on how to tackle the problem were all very different.

Team Cobalt Focus utilised all the available resources to run numerous AI models, facilitated by a decision maker situated in the vehicle through a Cobalt Cube. Edge AI devices can be seamlessly integrated into the vehicle systems, and they can run their own models, only needing to transmit the outcomes to the Cobalt Cube. This approach allowed team Cobalt Focus to experiment with multiple models in order to identify the most effective ones for the use case.

Team Onions decided instead to concentrate on finding a model that looked for distractions both inside and outside of the vehicle, which could then alert the driver to potentially hazardous situations. One example of where this technology would prove beneficial is if there were no other cars present in front of vehicle and the driver swerves out in the road, this scenario could occur because the driver has fallen asleep and if this combination of factors were detected, an alarm would sound in the vehicle to wake the driver up.

Finally, Team Driven to Distraction developed a facial mapping solution whereby extracting a face mask of the driver, the system would send out an alarm in cases of distraction, such as looking away from the road or closing their eyes.

“The thing that really astonished me was that working together, the teams were able to devise these solutions in a matter of days.” – Manuel Bottini, Embedded Software Engineer, VNC Automotive

How was this received and what’s next?

Everyone really enjoyed switching up their daily routine to spend some time trying out new technologies and coming up with some truly innovative solutions. We were all surprised by how easy is nowadays to implement Machine Learning models and create some impressive results. The thing that really astonished me was that working together, the teams were able to devise these solutions in a matter of days.

Everyone who took part thought it was a brilliant experience and there were plenty of positive comments about the event when it was over. Some of my colleagues told me that “it was a great opportunity to work with other people on the team” and “having the chance to work with new technologies such as AI and facial recognition was really fun”. Some even said it felt like a “mini holiday”!

I really enjoyed helping to organise the Hackathon and I’m looking forward to many more events like this in the future. All the directors were really impressed by how much the teams were able to achieve in just one weekend and I think it would be really interesting to see these ideas developed over an extended period of time. As a result of this event, I think there will be a lot more “outside the box” thinking going on in our teams about how we might one day implement more technologies and solutions like these into VNC Automotive’s products.


Are you reading this and imagining yourself taking part in the next VNC Automotive Hackathon? Check out our careers page below and see where your next career step could take you.

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VNC Automotive

4th September 2023