The following is an interview with Yashwanth Venati, whose team won the Best in Class and First Place Top Overall prizes at the Tech to Protect Challenge Regional Codeathon in College Station, Texas, on September 29, 2019.
What is your background and which Tech to Protect contest did you compete in?
I’m a graduate student of the University of Houston, and I currently work for the Public Safety Technology Services (PSTS) Department of Harris County, Texas. My colleagues and I came as a team and we worked on two different contests, #7 and #9, together.
We won Contest #9 – Making the Case: Proactive Image Protection by building a tool that can be used by the courts to verify the image has not been edited, marked, or any data related to the image has changed.
What motivated you to compete in the Tech to Protect Challenge?
Working with PSTS Harris County, we see firsthand what technology challenges emergency response agencies face. By putting these applications to good use, we can solve most of these problems. I think it also can help in all levels of our organization and people’s daily lives. We can help keep them safer.
What was the best part of the codeathon weekend?
We met many experts from different fields, some who have worked for one to two decades in EMS, and got to know more about the problems they face in day-to-day life.
Interacting with emergency responders in the community was very helpful. It gave me a deeper understanding of what we needed to solve for; those conversations expanded the scope of the problem and gave us more context.
How did you decide which contest to develop a solution for and what drew you to its criteria?
My skills include mobile web, data and machine learning, so these applications fall under my known technologies and helped me choose the right contest for me.
I like building solutions knowing that a large number of people will benefit from them, and Contest #9 fit that.
What was your winning solution? Can you briefly describe the problem and how you solved it?
The challenge was to protect an image taken as evidence from a scene by an emergency responder and provide it to a court as evidence. The court has to know that this image has not been altered from the time it was captured.
There isn’t a technology that currently does that, so we built a tool that encrypts the image as soon as it’s taken. We encrypt the token somewhere in the cloud, and when the image is submitted to the court, the judge can upload the image to our tool, and we can check if the hash marks and values match, and that the image is not modified. It’s a simple solution using the technologies which Google and other mobile options provide.
How did you approach the presentation, demo and judging process? Any tips you’d give to other Participants?
In our case, we did our demo right off the application since it was fully working. We had three minutes to present, so we presented in the first minute, explained our architecture in the second minute and in the third minute worked out our future goals and additions to the application for our final submission. Keep it short and concise.
The judging process was very good. They came and asked everyone questions, and If the solution is working, they try out the application. We showed the three judges that it was active technology, and I think it was a fair process.
How will you use the prize money you won from NIST PSCR?
We plan to enjoy a part of it for our hard work. The other part definitely goes to making our solution more stable so that we as a county can actually use it, even if we don’t win the final submission in the online contest.
What are the next steps for your solution?
We plan to keep working on the tool so that we can use it after the contest.
Would you enter another Tech to Protect Challenge?
Definitely! In fact, we are already planning to participate in the upcoming Tech to Protect Challenge events again.
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