UW students hack housing at Zillow hackathon

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Team Cellophane wins 3rd Place at Zillow Hack Housing Hackathon with Zillow Wheeler.
Pictured, left to right: UW students SriHarsha Garuda, Melanie Penney, Karan Gupta, Sonal Srivastava, and Suryaprakash Vijayaraghavan.


Zil­low and UW’s depart­ment of Com­puter Sci­ence & Engi­neer­ing, with par­tic­i­pa­tion from the federal government, recently hosted the Hack Housing Hackathon at Zillow headquarters in Seattle.

The goal of the weekend-long hackathon was to develop innovative solutions to help home buyers and renters who have particular needs—specifically first-time homebuyers, senior citizens, and low-income renters. Hackathon participants received newly released government data (on top­ics such as fed­eral hous­ing pro­grams, apart­ment build­ings with acces­si­ble apart­ments, and tran­sit infor­ma­tion), and were tasked with making that data easy to access for people who need it as part of their housing search process.

The event drew more than 200 developers, designers, business professionals, and students, including Human Centered Design & Engineering graduate students—and first-time hackathon participants—Karan Gupta and Melanie Penney. Gupta and Penney formed a team with iSchool graduate students Sonal Srivastava, SriHarsha Garuda, and Suryaprakash Vijayaraghavan, and developed what would turn out to be a winning idea: Zillow Wheeler.

Zillow Wheeler is a version of Zillow optimized for the needs of people who use wheelchairs to get around. Currently, a person in a wheelchair has one check box to select when filtering housing results—the general category of “accessible.” By researching housing painpoints and needs people in wheelchairs face, the team developed a persona and determined 19 new filter criteria. With Zillow Wheeler the user can now prioritize their own accessibility needs.

Screenshot of Zillow Wheeler prototype.

On the final day of the hackathon, the team gave a 3-minute pitch to a panel of judges that included Zillow CTO David Beitel, UW Computer Science & Engineering professor Ed Lazowska, and the City of Seattle’s Deputy Mayor of External Affairs, Hyeok Kim. The team was awarded third place and received a $3,000 prize.

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