The anatomy of a VR hackathon

Or how we decided to learn from our mistakes

Our participation in the MedTech VR Hackathon in London

OK, I haven’t done many hackathons. In fact, I have only done two. But what I started to realise after the first one is that hackathons have a lot in common with many other challenges in life — you challenge yourself once, you might fail, then you only have to have the courage to try again… Who knows, you might eventually win!

We, at Dual Good had already ‘failed’ once. So we knew that we needed to get up and participate in the MedTech VR Hackathon at the Realities Centre London. Here is what we learned from the experience.


Challenge yourself to participate even if you are not an expert

Both Morgan Page and I had never done anything even remotely connected to MedTech, so we had our hesitations whether this was the right experience for us. We are practicing VR creators, but for this particular hackathon we thought that we might need to model tissues, draw blood, create needles and who knows what else.

Fortunately, there was a straightforward topic that was much more to our liking — First Aid training. We knew this was an area we could happily work in, and even have fun in the meantime.

Moral: Sometimes the scenarios in our heads can be a lot scarier than reality — simply try, then judge.


Timing is crucial — narrow down your ideas

We all want to get the most out of a hackathon. We want to achieve results that are equal to 6-months full-time work, including the sleepless nights. But from my experience at the MedTech VR hackathon, it is so much easier when you start small.

You might have a plan on what to do — first, second, third scenarios, but the more you narrow, the bigger the chances of completion of the app by the end of the hackathon will be.

By the way, did I mention that the time we had was only 24 hours?


Complete the app first, even it consists of a single feature

Initially we had a big plan — we wanted to have a few ‘branching’ scenarios — option A, where the casualty suffers from a drug overdose, option 2, where the casualty needs CPR and has further complications, option C where the casualty receives CPR and then vomits…

How many days have we got for this Hackathon, 10?

Thanks to the professional medical advice we received at the beginning of the process, we decided to massively cut the content down. Instead, we set out to have a single idea scenario that we could actually complete, and then develop further if there was time. At the end we did complete the main functionality — CPR training with compressions only, a completely playable result.


Find the time to sleep (for a bit) — don’t oversleep

We did find some time to sleep on this hackathon, personally I slept for about an hour. Last time I was doing a hackathon, I overslept, by a full four hours! So this time, I only allowed myself a short nap. From my experience, it is beneficial to sleep at a hackathon, to have your brains recharged, but perhaps make sure you have a team member to cover you — in our case we took turns and it was easy as we were three people.

Just so you know — there is so much to do on a hackathon — if it is not coding, it would be modelling, if it is not modelling it would be sound, and so on… But don’t worry, it is manageable, even if you are not adrenaline-craving insomnia loving person!


Innovate

Last but not least — don’t forget why you are doing a hackathon — to invent something new, to experiment at least an inch more than you do in your day job!

This is what Morgan Page and I at Dual Good set out to do during the jam. We didn’t set out to create a regular product — we wanted to experiment with the mixture of VR and a real object. A bit like the controllers that HTC just announced (https://goo.gl/RwtR55), our product was designed to use touch controllers for tracking compressions in real life with physical First Aid mannequin ‘Little Anne’.

It did work out at the end — we had limited time to make the motion controller tracking work in the code. The physical solution was to attaching the Vive motion controllers to the side of the arms, rather than being held in the hands. The results were satisfactory — we managed to accurately track when a person is doing a compression of the real mannequin (video below). And most importantly, we had fun in the process (I think the demo testers did, too).

I love crazy ideas, and I am definitely glad we did this one.


In case you wonder, this is our final execution after the end of the 24 hours:

We wouldn’t have had this amazing experience without the organisers of the event — the Realities Centre staff (Thomas GERE, Amandine FLACHS, Luciana Carvalho S), our team mate Kai Zu, and the judges and mentors of the hackathon.