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21 teams vie for prizes in Pittsburgh's 1st Codefest

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By Bill Zlatos
Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Pittsburgh residents tired of parking tickets, potholes and high utility bills might someday thank techies who competed Sunday in the city's first software application development competition.

“This event is to showcase the potential of using public, available data and the human capital of coders and programmers to make it useful to citizens and businesses,” said Chuck Half, city innovation and performance manager.

About 85 people on 21 teams took part in the Steel City Codefest 2013 at Google in East Liberty. Team members had 24 hours to develop the best apps that share information about the city.

“Most of them were up all night working on this,” said Thomas Link, director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship for the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

The three winning teams, whose members will each receive a Nexus 7 tablet, were ParkIt, EnLightened and OpenDataPgh.

ParkIt would help people use their mobile device to find a parking spot, pay for it and extend the time if it expires. The app could be used with the new parking kiosks in the city.

“We want this to actually happen so we can use it,” said ParkIt member Chris Brack, 25, of Shadyside.

Another ParkIt member, Jeffrey Shebetich, 32, of Lawrenceville, said he enjoyed getting data about the city and having city officials pay attention to the team's ideas.

Another winner, enLightened, would encourage residents to swipe the bar code of their utility bill on their mobile device and share information with other residents who live in similar homes. That way, people can learn ways to reduce utility bills and see which energy provider offers the best rates.

“We felt the need for residents to share their information to save money and help Pittsburgh become a greener city,” said Gerry Ehlers, 35, of Evans City.

The app by OpenDataPgh combines data about various neighborhoods so residents can compare information about each. They could see which neighborhoods have the lowest crime rates and the best schools, for example.

Gabriel McMorland, 30, of Bloomfield served on Pittsburgh Park My Ride, a team that tried to help residents and visitors find a place to park their car. His team did not win but was a finalist.

“There's a goal beyond creating these applications and the technology,” McMorland said. “It's a way for the city and other agencies to make their data available and accessible.”

Other proposed apps allow users to find places that offer music or plays that suit their taste, learn how to take public transportation to events and to notify the city of problems such as litter, graffiti or potholes, said Rob Stephany, director of community and economic development for The Heinz Endowments. He served as a judge.

“The real focus is to improve the quality of life in Pittsburgh, and this data and application can come together to do that,” Half said.

The apps aren't available yet for general use. Half said PowerUp Pittsburgh, a collaboration of the city, universities and high-tech agencies, will spearhead an effort to take some of them from Codefest to market.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or

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