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Inside Jaguar Land Rover's three-day developer hackathon (pictures)

The competition was to create an app for the company's in-car system, with the winner earning its makers £3,000 and being showcased at CES, before being rolled out to cars.

Andrew Lanxon headshot
Andrew Lanxon headshot
Andrew Lanxon
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1 of 9 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Rather than turn to its own team of software developers, high-end car manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) staged a three-day developer hackathon in central London with the goal of creating the next great app to feature on its in-car system.

Fuelled by pizza and a dangerous amount of Red Bull, five teams of developers, designers and other creative minds battled it out over the weekend. A top prize of £3,000 was on offer, with the winning app being put into development, in partnership with JLR, and being launched at CES in January next year.

I went inside the inaugural competition to see just what's involved.

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2 of 9 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The teams had three days to come up with a functioning concept for an app. It had to be innovative and useful.

Once the clock started on Friday evening, the teams spent most of their time in private rooms like this, using a flurry of Post-It notes to flesh out their ideas. On Sunday afternoon, time was up and each team had to present their ideas to a panel of judges, including me.

Both Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles are packed with sensors taking data from all areas of the car. As well as obvious things like speed and distance travelled, the cars also track interior temperature, brake use and the angle of the car itself -- particularly useful on tough off-road tracks. The developers were able to take advantage of any of that data in their app.

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3 of 9 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Team Playth1ng, shown here doing their best superhero poses, took the top prize with their app, One Life Live It.

"Only 15 percent of 4x4s sold actually go off road," the team explained in their pitch. The team's app aims to enable 4x4 users to take their cars off road by showing nearby off-road routes.

By using data generated by other Land Rovers' suspension sensors, the app is able to see how difficult a route is and can tell drivers how challenging it will be for their car to tackle. If you've just forked out for a brand new, top-end Land Rover, you may prefer to stick to green routes, for example, whereas those with older, more battered vehicles may be happy to risk them on more demanding red routes.

"It's been quite full-on for the last 48 hours -- the lads I work with are dying on their feet," Paul Cackett from Playth1ng told me. "I got some sleep, around two hours maybe."

Would he do another marathon challenge like this? "Definitely. I thought it was amazing, there was so much energy from everyone. When you have such a tight deadline, you can do some really good work."

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4 of 9 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

To allow the teams to test their apps, these working interiors of Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles were installed.

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5 of 9 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Unsurprisingly, a vast amount of Red Bull was on hand, supplied by this Red Bull car.

Although all teams had been booked into a nearby hotel, some decided that sleep was for the weak and ploughed right on through.

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6 of 9 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

London's entire supply of Post-It notes were used up by Sunday.

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7 of 9 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Food was plentiful. As was beer, coffee and yawning.

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8 of 9 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The teams gather round a demo of one of the apps on the demo station.

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9 of 9 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Two second-place prizes of £1,500 were also awarded. Team AAARGB's app Orator took one of the second-place spots. It functions almost as a digital handbook for the car, providing advice on driving styles or functions of the car that it senses have not yet been used.

I recently drove a tech-filled car from London to Le Mans with absolutely no idea what any of the buttons do, or how to switch it from petrol-guzzling "sport" into "eco" mode. Orator sounded extremely useful to me.

Crucially, the apps will remain property of the teams that created them. They'll be developed in partnership with JLR and profits from them will be shared.

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