Life can be much broader when you observe one simple fact that everything that you see around you is made by people no smarter than you and you not only have the power to change it but it’s rational of you to change it, make your own things, play with them and there begins your Life.
~ Steve Jobs
General Electric is turning to crowd sourcing in an effort to help improve the chance your next flight will be on time.
Managing all the airline flights every day around the country and the world is a massively complex system. Super-storm Sandy wreaked havoc in the northeast, but the effects on the airlines were felt from coast to coast and across the oceans. There are thousands of independent decisions being made by several networks scattered across the globe, including the different airports, airlines, pilots and air traffic controllers. Even a catering truck driver can make a choice that will ripple its way through the system.
The complexity leads to problems, the problems lead to delays and delays lead to lost revenue whether it’s an unhappy passenger or a pilot simply pushing the throttle levers forward to try and make up for lost minutes by burning more fuel. Oh, and Mother Nature likes to toss her hat in the ring as well.
To help optimize the system, airlines spend billions trying to figure out how to ensure their flights will be on time, and avoid losing money in the process. General Electric is one of the companies that helps them figure out the best way to do so, and now GE is putting up $500,000 in prize money in the hopes that some eager mathematicians will be able to help.
At first glance it seems like a rather small amount of prize money – first prize is just $100,000 – for a possible solution that will save airlines millions of dollars every month. But nobody is forcing anybody to participate, so if you think you have the algorithm to ease congested airports, GE invites to you enter.
The contest will be judged on two levels, predicting an airplane’s arrival on a runway, and the arrival at the gate. Practice data sets are provided by GE, with the first released at the end of last month and two more coming in early January and February. Entrants will have to refine their models using the data given before submitting a final algorithm on Feb. 14. (“Sorry honey, but $100k trumps Valentine’s Day this year.”)
After contestants submit their vetted model, a final data set will be released to test the systems in early March.
GE is using the Kaggle platform to run the crowd sourced competition (along with another competition for improving hospital experiences). If successful, the solution could prove to be a lot cheaper for GE than hiring a few Stanford grads, and the winner can splurge on a belated Valentine’s vacation.
Now where does Kaggle come around?
Kaggle is a San Francisco-based startup that hosts data science competitions, typically for large companies and nonprofits like the Hewlett Foundation, AllState, and GE. For instance, The Hewlett Foundation offered up $100,000 in prize money to the first person that could create an algorithm for scoring essays the same way a human grader would.Kaggle’s CEO Anthony Goldbloom told me he realized that fast-growing tech startups are storing vast volumes of consumer data but often don’t know what to do with it.
“I got really excited about the idea of data-driven startup just as I was starting Kaggle,” said Goldbloom in an interview. Before launching the program to the public, Goldbloom worked closely with three startups to solve their data challenges:
- Jetpac, the travel app that turns friends’ Facebook photos into a travel album, used Kaggle to very quickly create an excellent algorithm for choosing highest-quality photos.
- The online test-prep startup Grockit used Kaggle to predict which test questions a student would answer correctly, allowing students to focus their test preparations by identifying areas of weakness.
- Health tech startup Practice Fusion invited anyone with an interest in using electronic medical record data to identify patients suffering from Type 2 Diabetes.
For Kaggle’s community of data nerds, it’s an opportunity to tackle some interesting problems. Meanwhile, the startups that are chosen for the program might get an algorithm that will power their business. For founders, it’s also an opportunity to source engineering talent for the purposes of hiring later down the line.