Hajj is expected to draw more than two million pilgrims to Makkah this year according to Independent UK. In previous years, hundreds fell victim to accidents and mishaps that could have been avoided using innovative ideas and initiatives to ensure pilgrims’ safety.
Last week programmers in Jeddah, Saudi competed in a contest that explored high-tech solutions to prevent past accidents in the annual Hajj pilgrimage.
Four young Saudi women seized the first prize of $266,000 by winning the Hajj Hackathon 2018, according to the Saudi Gazette.
Thousands of software professionals competed in the kingdom’s first-ever hackathon ahead of the world’s largest pilgrimage later this month.
Last year, the Hajj season experienced no casualties, according to local reports.
But on 24 September 2015, an event described as a “crush and stampede” caused deaths estimated at well over 2,000 pilgrims according to the Associated Press. Victims suffocated or were crushed.
To address lethal accidents that occasionally happen during Hajj, participants from across the globe battled sleep deprivation for 36 hours to find answers to a key question that has long displeased Hajj organizers: How to avert future deadly disasters.
The winning group came from Saudi Arabia.
Four women designed an app to help non-Arabic speakers translate instructions into multiple languages without an internet connection, according to local reports. However, others had different but worthy ideas.
A group of five Saudi, Yemeni and Eritrean women, all in their 20s took to their laptops to design an app for paramedics to speedily reach people in need of medical attention using geo-tracking technology. If multiple emergencies arise at once, the women hoped their app would help prioritize the most pressing cases.
Four Saudi men designed sensors for garbage bins that would alert cleaners when they are full to avert any hygiene scare.
The competition was tough, and winning didn’t come easy.
With nearly 3,000 programmers – who ate and slept at the venue – organizers told South China Morning Post that Saudi Arabia had broken the Guinness World Record for the largest number of participants at a hackathon.
While their solutions are still untested, the event did offer cash prizes of around $533,000, on Friday, the competition’s last day.
Although the Hajj Hackathon was a great success, Saudi has been working hard to prevent more crucial accidents for the past few years.
Actual solutions on the ground
Along with their journey, pilgrims cross Jamaraat Bridge multiple times to complete the ritual “Stoning of the Devil,” which is a key component of the pilgrimage.
To ensure that crowds can move across the bridge safely, the Makkah Development Authority (MDA), which maintains the religious site, engaged Otis, the world’s leading manufacturer of people-moving products, and together they redesigned the bridge with elevators and escalators to accommodate crowd safety at the structure, in 2017.
The scheme for the post-oil era in Saudi aims to draw 6 million Hajj pilgrims annually, according to Independent UK.