The PayPal / Braintree Battle Hack Hackathon is a bit like the Top Gun for coders. Here, the best of the best compete against one another to produce a killer application. Coding, crunching, arguing, coffee consumption, U-turns, repeat and reorganize as necessary. Each team of coders have twenty four hours to design and code a socially relevant application, tied in with PayPal, then present it to the judges. The prize? $100,000 and a gold-plated axe. And this year, the winning Battle Hack team consist of two Israeli chaps, Shai Mishali and Pavel Kaminsky, who built and presented their application, AirHop.
AirHop is a smartphone application that allows people to send text messages and make calls from their smartphone if it doesn’t have coverage or even a SIM card. Sounds amazing? Sounds incredible? Yes both of these, but also sounds like something the carriers might want a piece of. You see, like most of the better applications out there, AirHop is a product of a rather simple idea. It allows one smartphone to piggyback, or hop, onto another to use their connection for that call or text message. There’s a small fee involved, which is handled by PayPal, then the application negotiates the connection and allows the call. AirHop also allows the sharing of the host device’s WiFi network, too, again for a nominal fee. The idea came from waiting at the airport with no cellular coverage and not wanting to ask a stranger to borrow their cell ‘phone for a quick call.
On the face of it, AirHop solves a first world problem: twenty years ago, we found a pay ‘phone and hoped that the other party was at his or her land line. We have become to universally attached to our personal cellphone that sometimes it seems as though life as we know it is coming to a close should we lose service. There are also massive opportunities in areas of the world that are not blessed with multiple carrier networks, or have low capacity networks – much of the developing world, for example. Here, AirHop could enable subscribers of any and all carriers to piggyback a local, in-service smartphone. It’ll help in the first world, too; in the UK, each network has dead spots and the four carriers can’t agree to share their masts or come up with a viable solution to the problem. AirHop could help solve this issue. The developers said this on the subject, “It doesn’t have to be exclusively for the Third World, though. If you think about this year when you’ve seen riots and panic and the spread of Ebola – in a crisis situation, usually the first thing that breaks down is the lines of communication. AirHop could really help with this. Anywhere that’s crowded, you’ll have a connection problem too – music festivals, conferences – and if you’re backpacking you could be without a signal.”
Shai and Pavel built the AirHop application in only twenty four hours with zero funding. It’s a momentous achievement. I cannot begin to imagine what they may be capable of with more time and funding, meanwhile, AirHop’s simple idea could see the carriers wondering why they didn’t think of it (with their significant resources). Well done!