RPI hosts first Hackathon

Over the past weekend, over 500 students had the opportunity to experiment with new technologies and create a wide variety of projects at RPI’s inaugural 24-hour college hackathon, HackRPI. Hackathons, which are a portmanteau of hack and marathon, are highly-popular events where participants have a predefined period of time to create a project from start to finish and present it for the chance to win prizes. RPI joins several universities across the country that host hackathons, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University, Rutgers University, and the University of Michigan.

Spread out across the Darrin Communications Center and the Center for Industrial Innovation, hackers had from 2 pm on Saturday until 2 pm on Sunday to work on their projects. Many hackers worked throughout the night; some taking naps and some staying awake the entire time. Following the conclusion of the hacking period, all submitted projects were scheduled into two half-hour expo sessions, where hackers and judges could explore the projects created and pose questions to the creators.

While the judges determined the winners, the founders, Jacob Martin ’16, Jazmine Olinger ’16, Robert Rouhani ’16, and Sebastian Sarbora ’16, recapped the highlights of the event. Once the winners were determined, they were announced and awarded by the commissioner of the Major League Hacking organization, Mike Swift. Swift and MLH have been guiding and supporting hackathons for several years, and MLH has become widely established as the leading organization overseeing hackathon competitions.

A winner and a runner up was chosen for each of the six categories: Hardware, Web, Data, Mobile, Video Game & Virtual Reality, and Humanitarian. Also, corporate sponsors had the opportunity to award their own prizes, and HackRPI volunteers awarded superlative prizes. For the Hardware category, TweetTyper, which used an Arduino Microprocessor and a Brother SX-4000 typewriter to automatically print Twitter feeds, was crowned the winner, and Anglerfish, an application looking to bring new life to previously one-dimensional presentations, was declared the runner-up. MStream, a website utilizing the Bose SoundType API to allow more collaboration during playlist creation, won the Web category, while What’s Up, which enables students to find upcoming events on their college campuses, won the runner-up position. In the Data category, which encourages hackers to process large sets of information, the winning hack was a new programming language, based in Ruby, called fpl, and the runner-up, which used the TripAdvisor API to determine water quality in areas based on water reviews on TripAdvisor, was Potable. Okiru (Wake up), the winner of the Mobile category, is a mobile application that hopes to combat the struggle of waking up in the morning by using the Venmo API and Microsoft Azure to send scheduled wake up calls and pose questions that, if answered incorrectly, will charge $1 to the user. SoundTap, which allows users to search for songs by beat tempo, was named the runner-up for the category. The winner of the Video Game & Virtual Reality category was LeapTalkForGood, which used Leap Motion and the Azure API to interpret sign language gestures, and the runner-up was Virtual Builder, which uses paper templates to construct an augmented-reality, three-dimensional world through the camera. Finally, MentorMe and NicoQuit were named winner and runner-up for Humanitarian category, respectively. MentorMe allows at-risk LGBTQ and minority individuals a secure place to communicate with mentors, and NicoQuit is a personal training system that guides cigarette smokers on their journeys of ending their nicotine addictions.

In addition to the event organizers, the representatives from MLH, and several corporate sponsors, including TripAdvisor, Bose, Microsoft, International Business Machines, and many more, HackRPI saw over 60 volunteers help staff the event. The volunteers, who were RPI students from many different disciplines, assisted the organizers with setup, takedown, providing mentorship to hackers, and ensuring every aspect of the event ran smoothly.

Everyone present at the event were well fed throughout the entire event. Because food at hackathons has become so popular that an online following specifically on the topic, known as Snackathon Snackers, has been established, HackRPI was sure to exceed expectations with the food provided. In addition to having access to a self-service, constantly-restocked, and always-open snack bar and a never-ending supply of coffee, hackers were also treated to pizza from I Love Pizza of Troy for lunch and Italian food from Bootlegger’s on Broadway for dinner on Saturday. On Sunday, hackers received bagels and cream cheese from Bruegger’s Bagel Company for breakfast and hamburgers and hotdogs from RPI Hospitality Services for lunch.

The event was well received by the Institute leadership. Acting Dean of Science Dr. Curt Breneman, Computer Science Department Head Dr. Chuck Stewart, and Executive Officer Dr. David Goldschmidt, as well as some professors and RPI public relations personnel, were present at the event. Both hackers and sponsors acclaimed the event as well-structured and enjoyable, and the organizers look forward to making the event an RPI tradition for years to come.