App tracking partygoers boasts first position at HackRU
The top prize at last weekend’s HackRU went to a party animal robot.
Rutgers hosted its fifth HackRU, which is the University’s largest hackathon event. It features tech designers, computer junkies and app developers dedicating 24 hours to creating a wholly new project, such as Party Photobot, which tracks and photographs partygoers.
This semester’s incarnation was a milestone before it even began. It was held in the Louis Brown Athletic Center on Livingston campus — a venue that dwarfed the various student centers where HackRU has been held in in the past.
Nearly 600 tech enthusiasts — including students from universities around the country — attended, said Amy Chen, a HackRU organizer. More than 350 Rutgers students worked or volunteered on various projects.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Cornell University and the University of Maryland were also large contributors, with about 60 students between them in attendance.
In total, teams of one to four people made 82 hacks, said Chen, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. The organization also received assistance from 66 mentors and 42 volunteers.
HackRU had a large team of judges who chose the top-ten projects and gave awards to the top three.
Third place went to Ronnie Kritou and Bryan Moyles for Teltris, which is essentially a Tetris version of Twitch Plays Pokemon, a “social experiment” and channel on the video streaming website Twitch.
Players text an instruction — left, right or rotate — to the game, which then makes those moves. This was done using TelAPI and Twilio, two competing application-programming interfaces that enable programmers to translate text messages or phone calls into actions.
Steve Mostovoy, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, won second place for a project he called Web Symphony, which reads a website and creates a song unique to that page. The app starts with one sound at a time and slowly crawls down the webpage, adding new sounds as it goes.
First place went to an impressive hack called Party Photobot, created by three Rutgers graduate students who describe it as a “walking, talking R2D2 for your party.”
Party Photobot has a DSLR camera mounted on top of a platform containing a laptop that runs the software side of things and acts as a display, and what looks like a Roomba robot vacuum is its main form of locomotion.
Party Photobot follows the user and his or her friends around and asks if they want a photo taken. It listens to voices, takes a photo and then even asks if they want the picture uploaded to Facebook — and only uploads it if they say yes.
A surprisingly large number of high school students attended the hackathon. More than 20 students from local high schools like East Brunswick High School and High Tech High School checked into HackRU.
Chen said high school students frequently attend HackRU. Hackathons are a great resource aspiring developers, and HackRU with its high mentor-to-hacker ratio, does a particularly good job of providing that kind of environment.
“All the mentors remember how hard it was to do this stuff in the beginning. We’re here to help — no question is a dumb question,” Chen said.
Being a computer scientist and being a developer are quickly becoming different things, she said. Hackathons provide a unique way to test your programming abilities in real-world situations unlike any classroom environment.
“We’re seeing that there isn’t as much of a correlation between getting good grades in computer science class and doing well in the professional level,” Chen said.
HackRU represented the growing trend of wearable technology with several groups of hackers that made apps and programs for cutting-edge hardware like Google Glass, the Xbox Kinect camera and the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.
One group of high school students, lead by Richard Chu, used Glass to create an app they called Whatchamacallit. The app can help someone remember a word by having him or her describe what he or she is trying to say to Glass.
It tries to suggest the word they’re thinking of and hooks into popular dictionary application programming interfaces to search a wide range of possible words and synonyms.
Another team of students, Gurpreet Singh, Joshua Resnicow and Jim Notaro from the University of Maryland, used the Oculus Rift and an Xbox Kinect motion-sensing camera to create a game they dubbed May the Force be Rift You.
The game places users in a virtual world where, at first, the only thing visible is a tall wall of multi-colored blocks. But when they wave their hand at the Kinect camera, a floating ball of light suddenly appears.
The camera watches the user’s hand movements and tracks the ball to them. When they push their hand into empty space, the ball follows their movements sending dozens of blocks tumbling down with just a push. It’s an exhilarating feeling and definitely lives up to its name.
Sam Agnew, HackRU director, made sure to point out HackRU included plenty of fun, non-hacking activities.
“We did some cool, random stuff like a late night Super Smash Bros. tournament and having an ice cream truck come give everyone ice cream,” said Agnew, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.