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Hackathon '18: Solving Problems, All in a Night's Work

Students coding with notes on a blackboard behind them

Driving back to campus from Los Angeles late at night after fall break, Eberto Andre Ruiz ’19 felt himself drifting off at the wheel.

Worried, he grasped for a solution.

“I’m like, ‘Man, this is not safe,’ so I told Siri to set a timer for every five minutes,” Ruiz says. 

“That’s not a very safe or efficient method,” he acknowledges. 

“I woke up the next morning and thought, ‘I’ve got to make an app for this.’”

Enter the annual 5C Hackathon. In a one-night coding competition among student teams in early November, Peter Nyberg ’19, Thomas Kelleher ’19, Brook Solomon ’19 and Ruiz joined forces and built a prototype called Olert, with the O reminiscent of a steering wheel.

“Basically we were interested in doing something that was ‘Tech for Good,’ an idea in some way applicable to the real world,” Nyberg says, citing research that says drowsy driving contributes to 800 deaths and 72,000 accidents a year. “This is something that takes lives.”

Using a camera and eye-tracking software, they built a system that would alert the driver by vibrating the steering wheel if the program detected signs of drowsiness in their eyes. 

One after another, checking out some of the 20 projects submitted after the Hackathon, students from the 5Cs  sat down and gripped the makeshift steering wheel the team fashioned with the leather cover from the steering wheel of Ruiz’s Nissan Altima. Sure enough, they felt it vibrate when their eyes closed.

Olert won the prize for best “Tech for Good” project at the Hackathon, organized this year by a group of seven students led by Wentao Guo ’19 with Alice Tan ’19, Cleo Forman '20, Harini Salgado '19, McKenna Barlow '20, Moe Sunami HMC '21, and William Baird-Smith '20. 

The overall prize for advanced projects went to an app called Jabber built by Ishaan Gandhi HMC ’21 and Matthew Krager HMC ’21. Jabber translates error codes into different languages, allowing programmers who don't speak the same language to work together.

The intermediate prize went to Netflix+, a Chrome extension for Netflix that shows whether a specific title is expiring soon, and when. Huey Sun ’20 worked on that project with Lemuel Lan ’20, who was nowhere to be seen: Exhausted, he had fallen asleep at the end of the night before the demonstrations at 8 a.m. Saturday.

The Hackathon isn’t only for experts and computer science majors, and it's no longer only for students who want to stay up all night. A new six-hour division allowed some students to wrap up their projects by 1:30 a.m. To welcome beginners and the curious, organizers also present educational Hack Week sessions before the event each year.

For the four weeknights leading up to the Friday night Hackathon, students could attend any of the free sessions taught by 5C students on their campuses to introduce would-be coders to the basics of such projects as game development, data science, making an iOS or Android app or building a simple website.

First-timers could dip into one of those classes and actually produce something at the Hackathon the same week: The winning project for beginners was What’s the Move, built by Amirah Adem ’21, Claire De La Garza ’22, Mackenzie Rutherford SCR ’21 and Monet Massac SCR ’21. The app helps 5C dance students locate each other across the different campuses or drop a pin to mark the location of an event.

It was all in a night’s work – and for many, it called for a day’s rest.