Open Data Nation success story featured by Microsoft

Microsoft New England featured one of the winning solutions from our Cambridge Street Safety Challenge:

Chris Dutton isn’t a developer or a data scientist — he’s a marketing analytics consultant. But his latest project, Heads Up, still won a design award at Open Data Nation’s Street Safety Challenge at MIT. All he needed were three things: data, Microsoft Excel, and PowerBI. The rest is history. Well, it’s actually the future. Because Dutton plans on turning Heads Up into a mobile app.

Heads up uses PowerBi and open biking/auto data from Cambridge to show commuters where the most accidents happen. Dutton used local road hazard, accident and weather data to make a platform where cyclists can quickly assess the risk levels of any route.

Dutton told MSNE that it’s important to note that he’s not a developer, because one thing Microsoft tools do very well is allow you to build a lot of complex things without back end coding knowledge. He learned everything on his own, and the tools are straight-forward enough for him to use right away.

“One of my missions during the past few years is to sort of push Excel beyond where people think it can go. A lot of people think of Excel as a very rigid box, a spreadsheet with raw data — but you can actually create some dynamic, beautiful things with it. This was a good chance for me to showcase that.”

The Cambridge data the ODD contest entrants receives was geo-spacial, with location coordinates.

“Power BI will recognize that and kind of suggests visualization types that make sense. It’s pretty easy to drop in that raw data and translate it into a really nice map of the city of Cambridge,” Dutton explained.

We asked Dutton if he learned anything surprising about danger zones in Cambridge.

“One ‘aha’ moment that I had was, on the map, all of the hot spots are dynamic, so you can click and see the satellite image. I realized that this adds so much more value than I originally thought, because it’s fascinating to look at different intersections and see what makes this intersection so dangerous. This will tell you things you can’t really quantify with just data; like is it a stop sign, or an intersection where two lanes merge from the left and one lane merges to the right, and then it splits back off? As soon as you look at the visual, you understand.”

“It’s important to understand that what I’m trying to do here is to not fundamentally change peoples’ commuting habits, like avoid taking this road to this connection or whatever. At the very least, what I’m hoping to do and what I’m hoping this app can do is just increase awareness so people driving and biking both start to recognize the danger areas.”

Chris Dutton started his own Excel training program called Excel Maven! Learn more about his classes and offerings here: