Earlier this month, the Mashery Developer Evangelist crew set off for Detroit, Michigan for one of the largest collegiate hackathons in the world — MHacks. Running parallel to MHacks was the opening of the North American Auto Show as well as a junior version of the polar vortex, with high temperatures reaching about -9.4° C. One would think that holding a hackathon in sub-zero temperatures in the heart of bankrupt Detroit would put a hamper on things, right? Think again.
1 x 10^3
Over one thousand student hackers invaded Detroit, and they weren’t all Michiganders. Buses full of students from universities all around the midwest and east coast braved the conditions. Some of those universities included: Univeristy of Maryland, Michigan Tech, University of Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Penn State, Kent State, Case Western Reserve, purdue, Rutgers, McGill, University of Toronto, Iowa State, MIT, Boston University, Duke and Virginia Tech (#deepbreath - and yes, there were a lot more.. sorry if I didn’t mention your school).
The main venue was Quicken Loans Qube in the heart of Detroit, which gave hackers an incredibly comfortable, convenient and creative space to work. Hardware hackers were assigned to the secondary venue, the Federal Reserve Building just one block over was also secured, which was a bit more raw (unfinished floors and ceilings), but still included comfy high-end coding thrones and screaming WiFi pipe. An unofficial third venue was Lafayette Coney Island, a short order food joint where students indulged in coney dogs, amazing fries and the perfectly carbonated soda at 3 AM.
Much Learn. So Passion. Pls Hack. Wow. *
The students required little to no instruction to get started. Even those that have never been to a hackathon before immediately settled their belongings into a work space, and got heads down without hesitation. Students that did not have an idea to execute upon spent the first several hours of the event talking to the technology sponsors (like ourselves), searching for ideas, internship leads, and of course, free swag.
Throughout the event, MHacks helped organize business and tech focused talks on the main stage. The opening keynote was given by Poornima Vijayashanker, founding engineer at Mint.com (acquired by Intuit), where she shared stories from the startup trench, and inspirations for success through persistence. Some of the tech talks included a 101-level course on Git by Aidan Feldman, education hacker at GitHub, and a deep-dive on iOS 7 APIs (including iBeacons) by none other than Apple engineers.
2 nights, 1200 students = 249 hacks
MHacks was a bona fide all weekend, all-nighter hackathon, kicking off at 5 PM on Friday and ending almost exactly 48 hours later on Sunday. The students had 36 hours to work on their projects, from start to finish. Some students brought sleeping bags, some blankets, and some decided to just make beds out of Quicken’s office furniture. But really, who wants to sleep at such an exciting event? Clearly, only a few, because 249 hacks were built and ready to demo by Sunday morning.
All of the teams were given table space at the Federal Reserve building to showcase their work. For nearly three hours, students gave live demos of their hacks for roaming judges, just like a science fair. There were a good number of projects that involved hardware hacks, but the majority of them were mobile and web apps. A complete list of them can be found here.
The Notable Hacks
There were scores of swell hacks and developers, but here are a few notable hacks that caught our fancy:
- Giant Nerf Gun (link)- a/k/a “Enough Said” - a/k/a “Drop That Dude” by five students from Virginia Tech’s AMP Lab — logic boards, sensors, semi-automatic Nerf gun, soldering guns, motors. Mashed up by some engineers from Virginia Tech, we ended up with a nerf gun game that tracks your movements and shoots you with nerf darts. But why stop there? They even built a web site that allows visitors to control the gun and shoot people walking by. They were voted into the final 7; however, their on-stage demo failed.
- Sense (link) - by Pavleen Thukral, Harsha Nori and Christopher Wang from Georgia Tech — a Google Glass app that performs real time searches against APIs as you talk. Just say the word weather followed by a city name, and instantly, the current temperature for that city shows up on your Glass. Or simply talk about the movie titled Frozen, and Sense will instantly pull down movie reviews from the Rotten Tomatoes API and display them on your Glass. This students wanted to extend the Google Glass contextual computing capabilities. This app was selected as the Mashery API prize winner, for incorporating Rotten Tomatoes, ESPN and USA TODAY APIs, taking home Nexus 7 tablets for each team member!
- PrescriptAssure (link) by Laura Vaugahn from the University of Waterloo (Ontario)— an app that gives users real-life accounts of what life is like while taking these drugs. “Google exists, but sometimes it can take sifting through dozens of pages to get to useful, real-life experiences [from patients taking the medications].” Laura was inspired by the Appinions API. Laura worked on her app completely solo, focused on consumer healthcare, and also used a Mashery API! She also took home a Nexus 7 tablet.
- Get Stuff Done (link) by Alfred Shaker, Sandeep Vutla and Elizabeth (Raven) Whetstone from Kent State University (Ohio). Alfred explained that as a student, he’s always behind the 8-ball, trying to keep up with things that he has to get done. He wanted to build a platform that would help his peers motivate one another to get their tasks done. However, what he really wanted to accomplish at MHacks was to learn how to build a mobile app. He learned about the Intel XDK mobile app development tool during the technical presentations, and was able to complete a working prototype. Though the team didn’t win tablets, they did earn a 3 AM snack at Lafayette Coney Island from the Mashery team for their relentless effort to finish!
And here are some other apps that used some Mashery Network APIs:
- Weather Kinection (link) by Ben Cohen, Lee Avital and Nate Burgers from RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology) - their augmented reality weather man app allows you to play television meteorologist without the need for a green screen. Here’s a video link to the demo they gave during the judging process. If you look closely at the bottom of the screen, you’ll see news headlines coming in from USA TODAY and ESPN APIs. Video here.
- Social (link)by Zak Nasser from the University of Michigan — an app for discovering events from friends and friends-of-friends Facebook feeds. Zak used the Intel XDK along with AngularJS to build his slick mobile app. Video here.
- Who Dat? (link) by Jared Zoneraich, Paul Vorobyev, Kenny Song and one more fellow that didn’t make it to the judging (he was sleeping) — an app that helps you find anyone’s email address using the power of semantic analysis.. and some useful APIs. For instance, the used the CrunchBase API to perform company relation scoring. Video here.
- NFLPoll (link) by Jake Januzelli, Jake Grygowski, and Zak Nasser — a real-time game based on NFL scores. A user can submit a question to all of the other users online, and answers are voted on. This team used the Sports Data API to obtain real-time and historic sports data. Video here.
- DJ Tweet (link) by Dibyajyoti Mukherjee, Conner Bratten and Matthew Hajduk from Allegheny College — a social jukebox app that allows party goers to queue up their favorite song simply by sending a tweet with a #play hashtag containing the song title. They used the Rdio API to build their music hack. Video here.
This Weekend: Michigan. Next Up..
MHacks was a fantastic event all around — the energy, the organization, the students, the hacks. Big thanks goes out to the University of Michigan’s MPowered Entrepreneurship organization, who put this event together; Major League Hacking (mlh.io), who is organizing the official college hackathon league; the sponsors who brought more than just recruiters, but also technical talent to help the students to learn more as well as execute on their ideas. And of course, the biggest thanks goes to the students, who are responsible for making MHacks such a success.
This was just the start to Mashery’s collegiate hackathon season. Next up in the series was hackTECH Jan 24-26 in Santa Monica, organized by the undergraduate entrepreneurs group out of UCLA where 1200 students built 184 projects. Mashery and Intel will also be hitting BoilerMake at Purdue University and PennApps at the University of Pennsylvania. It’s quite possible we’ll soon be at a campus near you — so be sure to check out Mashery’s event calendar here.