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Two weekends ago Mike and I had the awesome job of judging the local Hack Princeton competition. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this type of event, also known as a Hack-a-thon or HackFest, these competitions bring together some of the brightest minds in the development arena. The typical hackathon is an event where programmers, designers, and software developers come together to collaborate on software or hardware-related projects to create new products or improve existing programs. Though the Hack Princeton event spanned over three days, some hackathons can last up to one week. Most hackathons have a common thread like a specific programming language or an API. However, for this recent Hack Princeton, there were two tracks offered: one for software,and the other for hardware.
If you know how we operate at Local Wisdom, being a part of this event was right up our alley. Not only did we get to judge the competition but we were able to work with the teams to help them develop and improve upon their ideas. Events like this are especially important in our industry because they bring innovation to the table and allow us to look at and solve problems in ways that we might not have initially considered. Additionally, these events give participants the opportunity to explore what’s cool to them. Most of the products have a fun factor associated with them and some were problem solvers. Regardless, this type of prototyping is impressive and will help drive entrepreneurial opportunities in the US.
The event started on Friday where the teams met to talk about their project and their goals. Projects included ideas like Fridge Cop, a device that measures the amount of CO2 in a refrigerator and alerts the user when food in the fridge has expired, and Now Tutor Me that uses websites like Yelp to link students with tutors. On Saturday everyone regrouped to work on the prototypes of the ideas we talked about earlier. The teams worked throughout the day, furiously coding and engineering their projects to work out any kinks or bugs. Mid-day the teams consulted with mentors who arrived to provide expert advice and direction.
The awesome part about Saturday was not only working with these teams, but seeing their sketched designs and concepts come to life. One of the best projects we saw this weekend was Phonar, an augmented reality app to help the user find people in a crowded area. Another great project that really stood out was Join Me, a hardware creation that places an iPhone on a robotic vehicle to simulate your presence at a meeting or function. Essentially, it’s Facetime on wheels.s to look at and solve problems in ways that we might not have initially considered. Additionally, these events give participants the opportunity to explore what’s cool to them. Most of the products have a fun factor associated with them and some were problem solvers. Regardless, this type of prototyping is impressive and will help drive entrepreneurial opportunities in the US.
With little sleep to go on, the teams finalized their projects before the final demos started at 3:00 PM. Judging for this competition was extremely hard because the teams had such unique and innovative projects. Overall, Phonar took home the grand prize because besides being useful and unique, we could see that the app had true potential in the real world. On top of that, the demo worked in an auditorium that had no cell service!
One thing that stayed with us throughout the hackathon was meeting with the students on Saturday. This gave us a brief insight into what they’re working on and the technologies they’re using. We introduced ourselves and Local Wisdom and were able to share tools used on their side and ours. We noticed that there were some underlying trends that came out during the competition such as using free web technologies to build and create apps that are unique. We also noticed that the hardware competition was huge! A lot of teams had hardware projects and we think the robotic teams at the high school level are having an effect in getting kids to continue that in college.
This wasn’t our first hackathon and will definitely not be our last. If you’re interested in learning more about these events or participating in one, come check out the Rutgers Hackfest that we’re judging the weekend of April 21st. Hope to see you there!