A “hackathon” is a concept worth finding out about. This method for intensive innovation has now also been tested at KONGSBERG.

  • Ove Ronny Haraldsen
    Group Communication Manager

The word “hackathon” is a combination of “hack” and “marathon”. In this context, to “hack” means to program, use data and create apps, services and other digital solutions.

“Marathon” refers to the fact that people work non-stop over two entire days to complete a solution or develop an idea. The hackathon ends with a brief presentation of the solution that has been developed.   

“Among other things, we found that students were asking us whether we held hackathons at KONGSBERG. The method is used by a number of large software companies, usually in the form of an open competition with prize money for the winner”, explains Per Gunnar Berg, one of the initiators of the experiment at KONGSBERG.

In the autumn of 2017, a hackathon was arranged in Horten, with a total of ten participants from Kongsberg Maritime, Kongsberg Digital and Kongsberg Norcontrol.

In a hackathon, all focus and energy needs to be directed towards problem-solving. Food, drink and snacks should be easily accessible. The room has to be set up with plenty of screens and computing power. The participants cannot do any other work while the hackathon is in progress. Ideally, a customer should also be there.  

“We started with 8–9 areas we wanted to explore. After a brainstorming session, we ended up with two things we wanted to work on. We split up into two teams and decided for ourselves how long we wanted to work for. We ended up working until 11 pm on Thursday and 8 pm on Friday”, says Jason McFarlane.

One of the ideas explored was the use of historical AIS data to predict where ships are likely to go. AIS is an automatic identification system that maps the movement of all vessels at sea. 

“We chose the area around Brevik, where the autonomous ship Yara Birkeland will operate. A heat map was developed to visualise which areas had the most traffic at different times. The system was set up to look for abnormal behaviour. It would be a great advantage for an autonomous vessel to know where other vessels usually move”, explains Niclas Lindgren, who worked on the idea.

One of the ideas explored was the use of historical AIS data to predict where ships are likely to go. AIS is an automatic identification system that maps the movement of all vessels at sea. 

The other idea explored was a solution converting activity on the VHF frequency into text. VHF radio is used in communication between vessels, with different channels used for different discussions.

The solution that was developed continuously monitors all channels, transcribes speech as text and makes it possible to search for the real-time location of traffic at a particular point in time. The solution was built on Kognifai, which is KONGSBERG’s own digital platform.

“Sound is transmitted and we receive it back as text. The text is then analysed to find keywords and finally, we look for our own configurable key words, such as ‘mayday’ and ‘help’”, Thomas Hestenes Jakobsen explains enthusiastically. 

When the processing and text analysis is finished, it is transmitted and stored in a back-end solution as text and MP3 sound.  


“The end users sit down and monitor text and audio data coming in close to real time. They do this via the K-Voice Kognifai application, which enables them to see both text and identified key words, as well as to listen to the recorded audio files. As soon as a new message is available, it pops up in the application”, explains Jakobsen. 

The time-stamped sound and text/key word data stored in the database can also be processed using an analysis tool with one graphical timeline per channel. It will be possible to expand or reduce this timeline, as well as change the period analysed. 

“With the timeline, we will be able to emphasise key words, and text bubbles will appear when you indicate a point on the line. Also, you will typically be able to put a marker on the line and play back the sound from that point in time”, continues Kristian Pettersen.

Feedback from the participants was good, says Jason McFarlane. What was seen as particularly positive was meeting colleagues from other business areas and utilising each other’s knowledge across subjects and market areas. 

“It was a delight to see how KM, KDA and KDI can work together to explore the opportunities that can be achieved by working together and using Kognifai. If you add a customer, this could be the start of a wonderful new and useful journey for KONGSBERG. “Very well done — do more of this” was the feedback from Matt Duke of Kongsberg Digital.

All participants emphasised that it had been fun and inspiring, that they appreciated the framework of the event and that it was a new way of working and thinking. 

“We learned a lot by arranging this first round, not least what is required to achieve an effective event. In the future, our goal for the next round should be to involve one of our customers and work on a specific customer case. We hope this will now evolve and that from now on, we can give a positive response when students ask if we organise hackathons. For many people, hackathons are a sign of how exciting and innovative it is to work at a company”, concludes Pål André Eriksen.