Environmental, Social, and Governance

Making a Difference and Solving Global Challenges: Smart India’s Nationwide Hackathon

By Vivek Gupta

A major focus of the VMware Office of the CTO (OCTO) is giving back to the community and infusing our passion for innovation in the process. One ecosystem that always seems receptive to these efforts is academia. That’s why, for the second year in a row, the OCTO team in India sponsored a challenge for students participating in the Smart India Hackathon 2020. This event is a nationwide initiative to provide students with an opportunity to solve some of the most pressing problems we face in our daily lives — especially in the areas of water, transport, energy, security, and digital transformation.

The Smart India Hackathon is organized by government entities, including the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). Since its inception in 2017, more than 1M students, 7,200+ technical and engineering institutes, and over 250 other organizations have participated.

The sustainability challenge

Driven by our commitment to sustainability, Shalini Singh, our local VMware Senior Manager of Sustainability, helped us frame a problem statement related to electric-vehicle (EV) charging and load balancing on electric grids. EV demand on the electric grid is unknown, so we challenged students to determine just how high it might be, as well as whether the grid was ready to meet this demand. The problem statement also highlighted the fact that EV users have “range anxiety,” meaning that they fear running out of charge on the way to their destinations and were concerned about being able to charge their EVs when they arrived. Students were invited to provide solutions for overcoming this anxiety and to submit ideas for technological innovations that could make the charging infrastructure interoperable.

We received 25 submissions with potential solutions to our proposed problem statement. Out of this group, our VMware volunteers, who served as mentors, reviewers, and judges, played a key role in selecting the top five finalists.

Lakshmi Gayatri Kundem, Software Quality Architect at VMware, explained the importance of both the problem and the students’ solutions. “The VMware proposed problem statement is the need of the hour,” she said. “The goal is to catalyze the use of EVs for commercial and domestic use to significantly reduce carbon emissions.” VMware has an effort underway to explore potential applications for the winning solution.

The winning team

Although every solution had its merits, team “V-Sustainers” from Anurag University in Hyderabad was selected as the winner. The team presented a working prototype that successfully addressed electric-vehicle charging via a mobile app. They identified the following use cases:

  • Normal charging
  • Battery swap
  • Battery delivery
  • Special/emergency charging slots

Our VMware volunteers were impressed with the range of submissions and the students’ ability to quickly respond to suggestions from the volunteers. The hackathon produced a plethora of differentiated solutions from the next generation of engineers,” said Shwetha Lakshman Rao, Senior Member of Technical Staff at VMware. “The students constructively accepted feedback and implemented it within a few hours.”

The unexpected winners: our volunteers

The Smart India Hackathon, while promoting student creativity and problem solving, was also a great learning experience for the VMware team who volunteered many hours preparing and mentoring the students. “I learned a great deal through my interactions with internal stakeholders, core teams, government nodal agencies, external mentors, and the student community,” said Sairam Veeraswamy, Senior Director of Innovation Programs at VMware. “I was very impressed with their passion, energy, enthusiasm, creativity, and enterprising attitude.”

Vivek Gupta, Program Manager, Innovation Programs at VMware, agreed. “It was fascinating to be involved and witness the energy, curiosity, and willingness to learn and address a problem statement of social importance,” he said. “Working with government nodal agencies, such as MHRD, as well as with academic institutions, like the Vellore Institute of Technology, gave us a perspective on the broad spectrum of opportunities these organizations are involved in and potential areas of synergies for VMware.”

The volunteers all felt that mentoring young people is a tremendously rewarding endeavor and hope that other engineers, technologists, and companies will follow suit. “Engaging with talented college students across India, meeting AICTE’s top team, and working closely with professors from Vellore College of Engineering was an unforgettable experience,” Lakshmi said. “Student teams brimmed with ideas and displayed a will-do attitude.”

Vivek joined VMware India with the India site leadership team in 2015. He supports and evangelizes all the Office of the CTO Innovation programs within the VMware India engineering community, including Borathon (hackathon), RADIO and xLabs. He also drives other initiatives, such as Be-the-Boss and Innovation Week India. He believes that an idea that is not implemented is just an idea, so he is passionate about turning those ideas into reality.