BoilerMake Hackathon Blazes through Frozen Midwest

400 student developers met up at Purdue’s France A. Cordova Recreational Sports Center from all across the Midwest and beyond to create a wide variety of awesome apps.  Armed with expertise and ideas, these intrepid engineers created apps and hardware hacks from scratch over the course of this 36-hour event.  While not the largest of the Major League Hackathons, it was arguably one of the best (supporting the sentiments of MLH commissioner that we should focus on quality of event over quantity of participants).  Highly motivated students created amazing apps and functional hardware hacks including a quadcopter delivering stickers from on high, and an app empowering a simple text to a “smart microwave” to bake you a potato.

Participants remained safe and warm from the sub-zero temperatures of West Lafayette, Indiana, enjoying breaks from development to participate in dodge ball, rock climbing, and even a pool party.  Meals from restaurants in the area kept hackers full, and a slushy machine with energy drinks kept spirits high.

While many students were committed to their native-language code hacks, a considerable amount used HTML5 and JavaScript via the Intel XDK.  Despite the schedule setting us opposite another desirable opportunity, the Mashery’s ever-invaluable Cheston Contaoi and I gave our joint tech talk to a group of around 18 students, all of whom used at least one if not both of our technologies. 

Intel® XDK at Work

Overall, 11 teams (23 students) used the Intel XDK at BoilerMake.  A significant step up in quantity AND quality, these participants showed their skill with many quality apps during this short-but-sweet event. 

Our group winning the award for best use of the Intel XDK (especially with considerations for completeness, usefulness, team size, etc.) was a team that actually managed to create 2 separate apps; the winner was a crash diagramming tool that maintained the simplicity of the preexisting “sketchy” style while using the XDK to bring the Chicago Police (issuers of the challenge) into the 21st century by digitizing their traffic accident reports.  While this was not the only group addressing this challenge, we felt it would have been the best received due to its style being the closest to what the officers are accustomed to using in their reports.  As a bonus, this app taps into the TomTom API offered by Mashery to provide traffic camera snapshots of the locations involved.

Figure 1 - Winners Arundhati and Alex explain their app(s) to participants (and yes, that’s an XKCD shirt) 

Austin Hampton of UIUC had a similar app for the challenge, with my favorite feature being the way the drag-and-drop car identifiers had an automatic directional selector (rather than having to later rotate car images placed on the map).  Austin's along with another implementation dubbed “Mahogany” used the Google Maps API to bring realism to the backdrop of the crash diagram tools. 

Some of the strongest contenders in terms of innovative and clever apps made use of both the Intel XDK and Twilio’s text-message-based API.  One such app, known by its random name “ewaks,” provides users a quick and easy way to settle knowledge-based disputes: by texting a single word or phrase to the service number, a user will shortly receive a call back wherein the introduction of that item’s Wikipedia entry will be read to them via text-to-speech.  Whether it’s used to settle bar bets, prove your friends wrong, or simply gain information, this service is a handy tool you didn’t even know you were missing.

Figure 2 - Brad Hill with the ewaks team from Ohio State University

The other primary contender using Twilio’s API brought the jukebox into the modern era: whatever is currently playing at the bar/restaurant/etc. will be shadowed by a few options for the next song; by simply texting to the number given (or using the XDK-based mobile app to submit your vote), you can not only decide the next ballad to which your ears will be treated, you also provide metrics for the hosting establishment to glean musical demographic information about its participants, leading to a more enjoyable selection for the type of patrons that may frequently return.

Figure 3 - Intel's Brad Hill and Mashery's Cheston Contaoi (wearing his "beardo" face warmer) with the vTxt.us (virtual jukebox) team

Among the remaining XDK-based apps were cooking recipe tools, local info and weather mapping, and a delightful movie script generator (based on the RottenTomatoes API via Mashery, the desired level of quality provides a random selection of movies, from which a synopsis is grafted together using parts of the given movie storylines).

Figure 4- Cheston and Brad with Polina, creator of the "Get Your Pitch" movie story randomizer

The honorable mention for “Most Enthusiastic User of the Intel XDK” goes to Feliks Albright, half of the team (with Davis Pratt) behind “MADbus,” an app that gathers statistical information about bus times via the Metro API, comparing it against scheduled times to find violations of their claim that no bus will be more than 4 minutes ahead or behind schedule.  Using these data patterns, the metro system could find the causes of delays and optimize their services.

Figure 5 - Feliks assists a blurry Cheston with his Mashery demo during the tech talk

The Wrap Up

All things considered, this was a highly successful hackathon.  The many students involved were able to create a considerable number of quality prototypes, from a domino-laying robot to a music generator run by dancing.  The participants earned their share of the delicious catering provided by food sponsors.  Guided by the ever-entrepreneurial Mike Swift and Kirby Kohlmorgen, Purdue student responsible for organizing this event, these students had a great time while making great things.

Figure 6 - Kirby the hackmaster (seated) getting things done in a playful manner with the “Snackie Express”

Figure 7 - Cheston and Brad with Swift, post-event

More information on the Major League Hackathon series is available at http://mlh.io, and http://www.boilermake.org is the event-specific website.  Cheston Contaoi also has a great post about the event at http://masherydev.tumblr.com/post/76658659031/boilermake-purdues-super-bowl-of-hackathons

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