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Hackathon Organised by RTA and Middlesex University Dubai Showcases How Data Science Can Empower Dubai’s Public Transport Sector


A predictive data analysis product that uses AI to recommend how Dubai’s taxi drivers can boost their job performance won the top prize at a Roads and Transport Hackathon organised by Middlesex University (MDX) Dubai’s Insights Lab in partnership with Dubai Taxi Corporation (DTC) and the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA).

The online hackathon, which concluded with a virtual closing ceremony on Wednesday 8th September, saw 236 teams made up of students, professionals and freelancers from 18 countries compete to design a product using analytics, machine learning or visualisations that could enhance RTA and DTC operations and improve Dubai’s public transport efficiency.

Participants used an extensive RTA and DTC dataset to come up with real-world solutions and also had access to exclusive training sessions delivered by the hackathon’s partners throughout the five-month initiative. Beinex, SAS Institute and Accord Business Group joined forces with MDX Dubai, RTA and DTC to sponsor the hackathon.

Mehran Abul and Rupa Kumari of Tata Consultancy Services emerged as the winning team. Using factors such as income, distance, and income per kilometre, their predictive model classified individual drivers into performance categories, suggesting whether each driver was suited to shorter or longer routes and providing a forecast for potential maximum revenues per taxi.

The model also generated a heat map that indicated which geographical areas were performing well and which needed more resources. It then used AI-generated insights from the best-performing routes to recommend how lesser-performing routes could improve.

Abdul Manan, MSc Data Science student at MDX Dubai, and Bilal Thonnam and Chuhan Yang, students at New York University Abu Dhabi, were awarded the joint runner-up positions. Their respective products used predictive modelling to forecast trips across Dubai during different times of the day, with the aim of improving taxi availability across the RTA network. Maria Gonzalez and Christiano Cardarelli from Middlesex University Dubai and Mohan Manivannan of cybersecurity firm Digital 14 received Special Mention Awards.

The winning projects were announced at the closing ceremony last week, just before RTA revealed that Dubai saw the highest number of daily public transport users since the beginning of the pandemic. More than 1.3 million people used taxi, metro, bus, tram and marine services on Thursday 9th September 2021.

The winning teams were awarded a cash prize of AED 3,500 and seven internship positions offered by the hackathon’s partners and sponsors. SAS was the AI partner and provided all participants with free training and software access. Technical sponsor ABG provided free cloud access for hackathon analytics. RTA, DTC, and Beinex provided further training opportunities for participants, as well as data access and cash prizes.

The judging panel included Dr Krishnadas Nanath, Dr Supriya Kaitheri and Dr Fehmida Hussain, MDX Dubai’s Insights Lab faculty team; Ammar Rashid, Director of Assets Management at Dubai Taxi Corporation; Badshah Mukherjee, Principal Customer Advisory Manager at SAS; Ferda Tanguner, Business Solutions Manager at SAS; and DTC’s analytics team.

Hisham Airan, Operation Control and Data Analysis Manager at DTC, spoke at the closing ceremony about the importance of data analytics in solving challenges in the public transport sector. He said: “Data is the fuel, and analytics is the engine to burn this fuel. This hackathon has proved that data can be mined innovatively not only to help Dubai Taxi Corporation but public transportation in general.”

Sreejith Surendran, Chief Delivery Officer at Beinex, announced the winners of the hackathon. He commented: “It’s a massive event to bring so many industry leaders together for the community to solve a real-world problem. Analytics has much more potential than we think about it today, and Beinex is more than happy for the community to realise this potential.”

Dr Cedwyn Fernandes, Pro-Vice Chancellor of MDX and Director of MDX Dubai, said: “I would like to congratulate the winners of this prestigious event on their amazing solutions and ideas. We are proud to have partnered with RTA and DTC on this hackathon, which is the first of its kind in the region and provides the opportunity for tomorrow’s data science leaders to contribute to designing Dubai’s future. This initiative has enabled our MSc Data Science students to collaborate with leading industry professionals and benefit from an unrivalled learning experience that complements their classroom education.”

Dr Krishnadas Nanath, Campus Programme Coordinator of MDX Dubai’s renowned MSc Data Science and Founder of the University’s Insights Lab, said: “It is imperative in the field of data science and AI to be a lifeline student, and the best way to keep learning is to keep solving problems. This hackathon presented an opportunity for the global data science community to work on fantastic public transport data shared by the Dubai Taxi Corporation. It also prepared our students for getting hands-on with big data government analytics.”

Ahmed Kamal, Global Program Manager at SAS, commented: "SAS and Middlesex University Dubai partnered to close the talent gap in the space of the AI and analytics by enabling students and expert communities to feel and taste AI in a different way. We commit to power and inspire people with a trusted and reliable platform to give them the chance to dream, imagine and to innovate. This hackathon was very unique and special for both the participants and sponsors. The ideas that came out of this hackathon were really impressive and it only proves one important thing, which is that innovation is limitless. Thank you Middlesex University Dubai for organising such an impressive event."

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