Beer. Doritos. Coders working away on a Friday night, when others have left the building to start their weekends. Must be another Intelliware Hackathon.
This was our third hackathon; the first was a mobile hackathon in 2013, followed by another in 2014. Our theme for this event was “The Internet of Things” and each team was required to figure out a way to include an Internet-connected device in their final solution.
Turns out the Intelliware hackathon has become something of a competitive event. As soon as our four teams arrived in their project rooms, they became fantastically tight-lipped about what they were working on. The atmosphere was heavy with fear of inter-team espionage. As I wandered from room to room trying to get a sense of how things were going, the teams offered up monosyllabic responses and carefully eyed the hallway for evidence of other teams trying to listen in.
The best I could do was to watch the Twitter feed for the occasional snippet of information:
But when it came time to pull back the curtain and present the final projects, we got a peek at just how awesome it all was.
The first team to present was the Hornby Toads (so named because they were working in the Hornby project room).
Anton, David, Peter, Dylan and Fabricio connected a camera and a Raspberry Pi, and built a room activity monitor. Here’s the idea: suppose you’re feeling especially social and you’re trying to figure out where in the building everyone was hanging. The camera would take periodic images of the room, and by diffing the pictures, you could tell if a room was especially active or especially quiet. The demo ran smoothly, and the audience watching the presentation got to move around and trigger the diff function. That was fun. But the representation of this data was fairly bland: each room was reduced to a number between 0 and 6, and the data sometimes didn’t give you quite the info you were hoping to get. For example, the presentation area was full of people who, for the most part, just happened to not be moving very much, so the room’s “busy-ness” rating was quite low. Still, it was an inventive idea.
The next team didn’t really fully embrace the idea of team names. At one point, they called themselves “The Winners” and later jokingly suggested that they should call themselves SkyNet. Team members included Craig, Diane, Cindy, Rory, and Nelson.
Ultimately, their presentation revealed that their end-product was the weirdest marriage of old and new tech ever conceived when they announced the IntelliBell, a new, alert mechanism for quietly and gently notifying developers of broken builds. The build failure notification first hits Twitter, and then that Tweet turns on the power for a small fan that starts blowing a set of wind chimes. The principle is much like those wind chimes clocks and other gentle notification systems that woo-woo people have been hawking all around. Sadly, their presentation was weakened, somewhat, by technical problems during their demo. But it made for a very amusing entry.
The third team, The Elevators, also approached a the problem with the idea of connecting the old with the new. Team members Graham, Louis, Silviu, Matthew and Gary recognized that one of the annoyances of our building is that we have a very very very old elevator that has a history of breaking down fairly frequently. Their idea, then, was to make the elevator into an Internet-connected device using a Raspberry Pi, and used the Pi’s internal elevation sensors to track which floor the elevator was on and (hypothetically at least) perhaps try to use some of the elevator data to predict elevator outages. Louis’s theory was that the elevator would break down if the stopping elevation was outside of a standard margin, and he speculated that by gathering enough elevator data, we could test this theory.
The idea was pretty interesting, and this project definitely had the immediate appeal of addressing a problem that we’re all too familiar with. Sadly, their presentation lacked Real-time-ness. Getting the Raspberry Pis to maintain a connection to our Wifi as it moved between floors proved to be an insurmountable opportunity.
The last team didn’t have a team name. Whenever I tried to check in on them, they’d shut their door. Maybe this says something about me; I don’t know. Team Unnamed consistent of Jean, Jen, Anson, John, and Vinay.
Theirs was project that had the broadest scope: the overall solution involved a laptop, and NFC tag, a smartphone and a smart watch. It tried to tackle both security and physical exercise. The demo began with a developer approaching their laptop with a locked screen. To unlock the screen, the developer needed to set their smartphone on the NFC tag. Once that was done, a message was sent to the laptop, unlocking it. If the developer leaves the vicinity, taking the smartphone, another message instructs the laptop to lock up again.
But, more interestingly, the screen lock was also triggered periodically when the overall solution decided that the developer needed a bit more physical exercise. If the developer has been coding too long, the screen locks up and instructs the developer to get up an walk around. A minimum number of steps was required before the screen could be unlocked. Once the developer had done enough exercise, they’d be notified (on their Smart Watch) that the lock could be turned off. It was an interesting idea, and the team’s demo went smoothly. They also had a designer on their team, so the screens of the end product looked attractive.
The only downside was that I’m deeply suspicious of technology that’s trying to tell me how to live my life.
Ultimately, this project, the Stand App, became the first-place winner, with the elevator project claiming second place.