What teams learned at Hack@Brown
At Hack@Brown, we believe the most important takeaway from a hackathon is not only what you make, but the process itself.
It’s about each and every student meeting people, pondering ideas, seeking help, building a team, learning something new, struggling for five hours, helping others, having fun, never giving up, and ultimately, making something she/he couldn’t do before the hackathon — that’s how we truly see success.
Hackathons are communities based on learning, teaching, and making.
All the teams who placed this year are great example of the process. Many were all-freshman teams, some were high-school students, and most importantly, everyone sought to learn something new.
Curious, we asked each of these teams a few questions that we believe relay back to our ethos.
What part of your project did you have the most fun building?
What did you learn?
Anyone you want to thank for helping you?
Continue to read to learn a little more about each team below! We’re super proud of the fact that each of these teams are unique and truly pushed themselves in different ways.
Amit Demiwala and David Neary built Simple Health Records, which allows you to fill out an HTML Form and request your health records rather than the cumbersome and outdated method of faxing it to a hospital.
Amit mentioned he had the most fun building the Flask backend to their program as it was something new he had never done before.
With no real prior experience with Python, especially with hosting it as a server, this team still managed to build a full-fledged Python app which allows easy access to hard-to-reach health records.
— Simple Health Records team
They would like to thank Molly Long from Uber and Kidai from Facebook. Amit and David said “Molly and Kidai helped us figure out some last minute difficulties. Without their help we would never have made it to the final round.”
The Simple Health Records team received an honorable mention.
Inspired by vim and frustrated with current keyboard navigation when editing papers, Emily Wu and James Laskey reinvented the keyboard for Android that allows for a new way of navigation. It features two separate keyboards for inserting text and moving around the page. Movekeys is a modal keyboard; it saves states and allows actions to be intelligent and chained.
Emily Wu mentioned “the entire thing was fun to build”. They had never made an Android app before, delving into leaning about the entire Android ecosystem at Hack@Brown.
“The API was easily the most frustrating but it was neat to see things fall into place once it was working.”
— Emily Wu
Emily exclaimed, “I’d thank my partner! I wouldn’t have even known where to start without Jim. Also, thanks to Hack@Brown for organizing the hackathon, it’s always tons of fun.”
The Movekeys team received an honorable mention.
This was the first hackathon for Kamille Johnson, Taylor DeRosa, Kieran Barry, and Abigail Sessions, yet they made SpeakEasy, which recognizes hand signs and gestures with the Leap Motion and translates them to text. The innovation of SpeakEasy is that it is portable because it is chest mounted. The team was inspired by a friend who works at a school for the deaf and teaches sign language. They were committed to creating a device that could translate sign language in real time while in a conversation.
Taylor DeRosa “had the most fun helping build out the back-end and interacting with the LeapMotion. It was really fun to play with all the different types of hardware that Hack@Brown had. We learned a ton.”
The SpeakEasy team mentioned they learned a lot from one of the mentors, Tyler from Teespring.
“Aside from building the project itself, our team loved working in such an exciting environment and getting to collaborate with the mentors and other participants.”
— SpeakEasy Team
The SpeakEasy team won Best Hardware, sponsored by MLH.
Tomas Rodriguez, Sam Johnson, Michael Chang, and Neha Deshmukh built MyoFlex, a personal fitness trainer.
It uses the Myo Armband to keep track of your workouts at the gym. It automatically counts your reps and every set you do, making it worry-free for you to remember on your own. It also has an integrated music player that changes songs at the perfect time during your workout.
The team had the most fun playing with and testing out the features of MyoFlex.
“It felt good to see the progress we were making.”
— Michael Chang
Within the span of 24 hours, they learned about working with the Myo API and Android, with several of the team members never having worked with any of these tools before. Like any developer, the MyoFlex team was especially thankful for the documentation.
The MyoFlex team won Best Wearable, sponsored by MLH.
Amanda Liu, Noah Picard, Everardo Rosales, and Caroline Malin-Mayor built UNeed, a location-based borrowing platform.
The main feature is a map that focuses on your location and displays markers that represent nearby items that you can borrow. The user can also browse for specific items as well as post new items.
“I was by far the least experienced person on my team and I learned so much just being in the environment at Hack@Brown…my whole team was great about explaining to me what they were doing.”
— Caroline Maline-Mayor
The UNeed team commented they learned a ton about the process of making an application as well as web design and code sharing.
The UNeed team won Best Real-World Application, sponsored by Palantir.
Christina Chu, Courtney Tambling, and Janice Leung built Senop, a contextual analysis tool for event planners.
Curious about how participants were enjoying Hack@Brown, the Senop team decided to create a tool that enables event organizers to learn how participants feel about the event, understand why they feel that way, and solve problems before it’s too late.
The team had the most fun building the progress bar component of the front page, yet Courtney mentioned “playing with CSS animations and layout is always a good time”.
“The benefits of working on a team are huge. I tend to hack by myself and working with a team we were able to get a more complete, more well-rounded product.”
— Courtney Tambling
As it should be in any hackathon, they were grateful for their team! They would also like to thank the Facebook designer mentor who helped them figure out d3 at the very end of Hack@Brown.
The Senop team won Best Networking Project, sponsored by Akamai.
Adil Virani and Wendy Lin built Code Up, a mix between Stack Overflow and live pair programming, with an initial use-case at hackathons. Code Up was born out of an idea of building a community that was less intimidating than StackOverflow but provided more 1:1 help than CodeAcademy. In effect, Code Up enables a community of developers who are both teaching and learning from each other.
Wendy had the most fun thinking about how to design for a successful, non-money driven community especially “how to make it so every individual understood…that each of them had the potential to become a student or teacher.”
“This was my first time creating a mobile app at a hackathon. I really didn’t think I had the potential to combine all my knowledge in one night. So, I got help from mentors at Hack@Brown, which led to an awesome outcome.”
— Adil Virani
The Code Up team mentioned the biggest learning curve was understanding the ins and outs of iOS development, especially implementing Parse and other design tools.
Wendy would like to thank Andrew Lu, a design mentor from Facebook, a MongoDB mentor, and Stephanie Castilla, the RISD judge, for helping them shape their product and provide ideas for next steps.
Adil mentioned: “I would like to really thank one of the organizers, Valentin Perez. He helped me throughout the hackathon and even before the hackathon. I got very lucky to meet someone like [Wendy], she really helped with ideating and designing.”
The Code Up team won Best Mobile App, sponsored by TripAdvisor.
Erika Lu and Fernando Trujano built VRtravel, a virtual reality app.
Believing that flat 2-D photo depictions were not enough, the VRtravel team built a platform to let users explore the beauties of the world in a more immersive way. Choose a city on their website and then gain a virtual reality experience through Google Cardboard.
Erika and Fernando had the most fun playing around with chrome extensions since it was a new field for both.
“We would like to thank all of the mentors for offering their advice and expertise, and the entire Hack@Brown team for their enthusiasm and for organizing such a great hackathon with great food. And for coming up with H-Tea-M-L.”
— VRTravel team
They learned a lot about the same origin policy (including 10 ways to try to get around it). “We also learned, given the time constraints, to prioritize our features”, mentioned Fernando.
The VRtravel team won Best Travel Hack, sponsored by KAYAK.
Michele Winter, Hasnain Vohra, Christian Mathiesen, and Raphael Kargon built Pholio, an app that lets you easily browse your photos. Say no more to endless scrolling and simply find photos through key phrases. Rather than organizing photos not in traditional albums, Pholio has them sorted in a graph, which you can query, such as “Concerts from last July”.
Pholio serves your photos based on time, location and content, with the photos directly pulled from Dropbox.
Hasnain and Raphael said the most fun part of the project was building the mobile app, while Michele loved the design aspect because she went to a few of the workshop on design and played with various flat designs.
Michele also had fun figuring out Gimp, since it was her fist time using the program. She learned how she “can contribute to [tech] companies even without a vast knowledge of coding languages.”
Raphael and Hasnain learned about Android programming as well as how to interface mobile and web technologies.
“There were a lot of people who supported us and helped us along the way. The visiting members from DropBox were extremely supportive and very interested in what we were making. We also got encouraging words on building a startup from the CEO of Swipely, Angus Davis. And finally, the representative from MongoDB, Jeff Yemin, helped us through various coding issues we were having, without which it would have been difficult to finish the project.”
— Pholio Team
The Pholio team earned Dropbox’s ‘It Just Works’ award.
Zach Temkin, Derek Schultz, and Trevor Phillipi built Marquee, your intelligent, social film watch list. It gives users the ability to find films that best fit their interests and life. With ease, search for films made since 2000 that have over a 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and are under two hours long.
The team had the most fun building the iOS portion of the product. Trevor is a designer and usually focuses on the product and visuals, but the data problem was so hard that he “had to teach [himself] a lot of iOS development on the fly” to help Derek with creating a reliable database of 1 million movies. Trevor mentioned he was really proud of himself for being able to step up and help the team build the app by expanding his skillset.
“Hack@Brown had a different vibe than most hackathons I’ve been to, and it made me feel less pressure to deliver and able to focus and be comfortable. This was the first hackathon I’d been to with design mentors, which was really helpful since two of our three team members are designers.”
— Trevor Phillipi
They’d like to thank the Hack@Brown organizers collectively, and all the mentors that helped out. They said that “specifically, the product designers from Facebook were awesome (Andrew and Evan), and the engineers from Dropbox were a lot of fun to hang out with! Also there was a med student mentor who was cool and hung out with us as times. ”
The Marquee team won Best User Experience, sponsored by pMD.
Michael Markell, Kenji Endo, and Miranda Chao built -r (Dasher), which is like tinder, but for everything else in life. An all freshman group, team -r was inspired by real-life “herds”. Through a 24-hour period, they learned Python, Flask, and web technologies to build an app that matches you for anything. Let’s say you’re into kayaking or chess or Pokemon — you can match and find your “herds” for all that!
Kenji mentioned he had a lot of fun doing front end development, UI design, connecting, and graphic work.
“I had done some HTML, CSS, and Python before, but have never made a web app before.”
— Kenji Endo
“Molly and Mackenzie (and SO many other mentors) really helped Michael, Miranda, and I dive into both the back end database and front end website portions of the project — they were great at helping us use our existing strengths and skills to try these new challenges.
To work together, the Dasher team became familiar with git collaboration (and fixing many merge errors). They also learned about the concept of a minimum viable product the second day of the hackathon. “Some of our bigger ideas were just not feasible given the time, and we had to focus on just getting the basic site up”, mentioned Kenji.
“Molly and Mackenzie and the other mentors really made the experience for me. They’re all so young, energetic, and impressive, but so friendly and eager to help.
They encouraged us to treat the hackathon as a learning challenge, to pick whichever option would force us to try tackling the most meaningful new skills/concepts.”
— Kenji Endo
The Dasher team won Best Web Service, sponsored by Teespring.
Aaron Gokaslan, Carl Olsson, Karthik Desingh, and Logan Barnes, built HoloScreen, Kinect Avateering in Augmented Reality. By leveraging the Microsoft Kinect’s 2 sensors to estimate and track the 3D skeleton of a human, a user can control any humanoid avatar, and project the avatar as a hologram in the real world. Let’s repeat that: a user can control any humanoid avatar, and project the avatar as a hologram in the real world.
Aaron found the pose estimation to be the most enjoyable part of the entire endeavor. The team thought it was interesting to look at how one can transform a variety of points into pose data. They mentioned that when they had the model actually moving, they felt truly accomplished.
“In addition to learning some of the idiosyncrasies of C#, I also learned how to program in Unity for the first time.”
— Aaron Gokaslan
The Holoscreen team would like to thank Joshua from Microsoft for helping them debug both Kinect and Unity.
HoloScreen won Best Microsoft Project.
Kate Wasynczuk and Tyler Lubeck built Kinnected Graphs, a whole new way to interact with your computer and your data. It allows you to traverse a database of many-to-many relations in a 3D environment. While demoed with Wikipedia, this application can be extended to any graph database: it’s a new way of interacting with data!
“We had a lot of fun tackling the challenges of learning several new technologies.”
The Kinect was completely new to Tyler and Kate, as was Unity, so between the two of those they really got to delve deep into the depths of StackOverflow to sort out problems ranging from database scraping to displaying dynamic text regions in Unity.
They definitely want to thank all of the Microsoft Technical Evangelists for their continued support.
The Kinnected Graphs team won Best Use of Data Visualization, sponsored by Two Sigma.
Philip Mathieu, Edward Williams, Divya Mahadevan, and Roshan Rao built Capital Gain, which can tell the story of the 2008 Recession through music. It reads stock data into a Python script that looks for indicators of positive and negative performance to generate a chord sequence for the song. In their demo, they turned Microsoft’s stock history into a playable song!
Our project was a love affair: every member immersing themselves within a personal challenge. This, above all else, is what we learned to value through our experience… the importance of engaging with a fascinating, dynamic, difficult project in a way which caters to everyone’s strengths and specific skills.
— Roshan Rao
The team mentioned the best part of their project was hearing their algorithm generate sound for the first time.
We’d like to thank the Bearus, Bearus, Bearus, and George, the teddy bears who stood by us when no one else would. We’d like to thank the MatchaBar guy, who gave Divya enough caffeine to agitate a hippo.
— Capital Gain team
The Capital Gain team won Oracle’s Most Original.
William Wu, Kathy Wu, and Meghana Bhat built Motemote, a web browser game that lets you push your friends around with your mobile phone as a controller!
Motemote is a fun multiplayer game targeted at casual gamers who just want to join and play around. You can rack up kills for bumping other players off the arena stage, using either an on-screen joystick or tilt-sensing for movement. It can support (in theory) infinite players for infinite bumping fun. In their live demo, the Motemote team had almost 150 audience members playing the game real-time.
“There wasn’t really a single component that I had the most fun with. Rather, it was seeing all the parts come together that made me smile.”
— William Wu
The Motemote team mentioned the moment they got cross-browser connectivity working was special. William tilted his phone and saw a small image scoot around the screen in response.
“I almost jumped out of my chair in joy.” — William Wu
They learned about using CoffeeScript’s wonderful class system, CoffeeScript to run Node.js servers, and CommonJS to share the same code between server and client. William brought up that “working with CoffeeScript was quite a rejuvenating experience — no caffeine required!”
William specially wanted to thank his sister and Meghana, his team members. The team is also grateful of Tyler from Teespring, who dropped by and helped with the initial code.
The Motemote team won Best Overall.
Ultimately, at Hack@Brown, we believe if you’ve learned or helped someone learn something, you’re a winner. In fact, if you’ve ever gone to a hackathon, you’re a winner. You’ve challenged yourself to explore outside your comfort zone, you’ve sought to apply your skills to real world problems, or to learn a new one, and you’ve heeded the creative spark; the inherent drive within all of us to make something new.
Feed that passion. Keep on building things, and keep on toying with problems. This world is going to need it. We hope to see you at Hack@Brown 2016.
Check out all our other awesome submissions to Hack@Brown through our ChallengePost ☺