Introduction to IBM’s Bluemix and Watson

When IBM first announced the Watson Developer Cloud in October of 2014, they unleashed the potential for developers around the world to tap into the cognitive power that Watson provides. Since this initial release, the number of apps utilizing Watson within Bluemix has exploded. We have seen apps leveraging Watson’s personality extraction capabilities for enhancing social engagement to apps combining speech detection to deliver interactive experiences.

Staff at the World of Watson hackathon pose for a group photo.

Staff at the World of Watson hackathon pose for a group photo.

Out of all these applications, some of the most unique and innovative use cases have come out of hackathons, where the creative juices are always flowing. I want to highlight some of the great MVPs that have come out of only a few days of hacking with Bluemix and Watson.


The World of Watson event in Brooklyn, NY brought people interested in the future of cognitive computing together under one roof. Proceeding the event, the first ever Watson-focused, two-day hackathon was held, challenging participants to create an app that solved real user pains using Watson and AlchemyAPI services. Likemind recognized that even though conferences brought people in similar fields together, they did little to connect the attendees on a personal level. To solve this issue they built an iOS app that leveraged an API from both Watson and AlchemyAPI, matching users in the vicinity of each other based on personality and interests. By retrieving users’ Twitter profiles and tweets, Likemind used Personality Insights to analyze a user’s personality profile and AlchemyAPI’s Keyword Extraction API to detect their interests. The team built a streamlined UI that easily connects likeminded users with this data and allows them to connect!

Likemind matches you to people tweeting around you based on your personality and interests.

Likemind matches you to people tweeting around you based on your personality and interests.


Another entry into the fray of the Watson hackathon at WoW was Sacagawea, an app focused on connecting you to the places you’re traveling. “Inspired by the convenience and glance-ability of Android wear apps” the team set out to build an app to assist travelers without taking them out of the experience at hand. By combining Watson’s speech and translation APIs with the power of Wolfram Alpha, they were able to deliver a seamless mobile experience, powered by Bluemix on the back end. As they scope out further cevelopment of the app, they plan on migrating to the Watson Question and Answer API to more accurately address travelers’ inquiries. Check out their code on GitHub here.

Sacagawea assists travelers   while they navigate new places

Sacagawea assists travelers while they navigate new places

Orphans in the Desert

At GigHacks, Dave Callaghan took the opportunity to assess using the Watson APIs and Bluemix as a replacement for his application’s analytics code written in R. The app, called Orphans in the Desert, acts as a way to bring together people affected by orphan diseases (conditions affecting less than 200,00 people) so that the road to a cure is expedited for these often ignored ailments. Orphans in the Desert serves as a medical tool by allowing doctors to collect diagnostic info on their patient which is then fed to an app hosted in the cloud. Dave hopes that by doing this he can cluster sufferers of these rare diseases into large groups with a sufficiently well-defined set of symptoms so that pharmaceutical companies are incentivized to develop drugs for these otherwise underfunded diseases. He also hopes to leverage the app as a support resource for people struggling with one of these diseases in order to give them a guide to possible diagnosis of their ailment and relief of their symptoms. After a successful weekend of hacking, Dave is optimistic about the possibility of completely moving from his R code to the Watson APIs.

By gathering symptoms in a central location, Orphans in the Desert crowdsources the diagnosis of rare diseases.

By gathering symptoms in a central location, Orphans in the Desert crowdsources the diagnosis of rare diseases.

The above apps were all created in a matter of days at hackathons, showcasing the speed at which Bluemix enables developers to leverage DevOps practices and greatly reduce the average product lifecycle. Lest we forget the other hackers around the world, let’s recognize other fantastic Bluemix-Watson apps produced outside of IBM sponsored hackathons.

Watson Meets Twilio

One of the strongest promises of Watson technologies is the ability to bring a more personal experience to human-computer interaction (HCI). A great way of extending the Watson APIs to do just that is to integrate them with the Twilio APIs, enabling applications to send and receive text messages, among other things. Ricky Robinett (@rickyrobinett) combined the Watson Question and Answer API with Twilio to create an application that lets users ask and receive answers to various health questions straight from their phone. You can read about how Ricky built the app here and view his source code here.


Non-IBMers aren’t the only ones who get to spend a few days fueled by energy drinks and pizza while creating cognitive apps that are bound to change the world. Last September, a team from IBM Messaging participated in the Connected Vehicle Hackathon hosted by Ford Motor Company in Las Vegas, NV. The goal of the hackathon was to build apps designed to raise driver awareness and enhance the community around their SYNC AppLink APIs. In an effort to show how Bluemix, IoT Foundation, and Watson could be used in Connected Vehicle applications, the team created an app to gamify social and safe driving. Users of the application can report drivers by saying what happened in the event of a quick change of speed/direction, which is then parsed into text by the Watson Speech-to-Text API. The app then uses the Watson Concept Expansion API to determine the sentiment of the drivers description of the event, in turn punishing or rewarding the driver being reported. The team further expanded the app by tying it into their Connected Vehicle Maps hackathon kit. For a more detailed breakdown of their hack, check out their blog post.

PureFocus uses gamification, Watson, and IoT to encourage safe driving

PureFocus uses gamification, Watson, and IoT to encourage safe driving

Just from this small sample set, it’s clear that Bluemix and Watson are continuously being used to create novel and inventive apps. Will you be responsible for creating the next one?

Originally written by:
Jake Peyser
Bluemix Developer Advocate


Gene Crawford

With over a decade of experience in the industry he has overseen the design and architecture of hundreds of web sites and applications. An active member in the design community, he's the editor & producer of, the ConvergeSE, ConvergeFL, ConvergeRVA and the Breaking Development conference series.