Hackathon teams create mixed realities in one weekend

Samantha Ye

Participants in the second annual Colorado State University Hackathon had one weekend to create a mixed reality reflecting CSU’s land-grant mission.

The 48-hour competition challenged teams of three to five people to create a virtual or augmented reality experience with real-world applications.

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Around 35 participants arrived at Morgan Library Friday evening for the competition, and many of them did not leave until Sunday night, opting instead to sleep on the floor or couches, according to event coordinator Lauren Klamm.

Such dedication materialized in the form of the final products, which were demonstrated before seven judges at the end of the competition.

HACKATHON FINAL RESULTS

First place ($2000)Team Local Host: their VR allows users to practice their sign language skills in an interactive setting

Second place ($1000)The Scientesters: using their VR chemistry lab, users can perform typically dangerous and expensive chemical reactions for free and safely

Third place ($500)The Great Firewall: their AR app let users see the names of buildings and locations when viewed through the camera of a smartphone

Land-Grant Vision Team Award ($100)Team Gamma: their VR nuclear radiation distribution simulator shows the fallout of a nuclear explosion anywhere on Earth

Outstanding Artistry Award ($100)Team Planet X: users can tour the solar system in their VR simulation

Outstanding Technical Award ($100)Team Control the Cloud: through this AR, users can create brainstorming bubbles and leave them around a room in real space

The first place team – Team Local Host, composed of computer science majors Ben Campbell, Chris Cochran, Kellyn Dassler and Matt Henh – won $2,000 for their VR, which allowed users to practice their sign language skills in an interactive setting.

“(The Hackathon) has definitely been the coolest thing I’ve done at CSU,” Campbell said. “It’s just so fun being able to create something over two days. No matter what you make, that’s a good feeling. And being able to use all this technology you normally don’t have access to and is terribly expensive: it’s so fun. I definitely recommend it for anyone else.”

Before the Hackathon began, Dassler, a sophomore, said she had known only the user side of VR but wanted to see the software side as well.

“I just got really interested in virtual reality this summer, because I worked in a tech lab at a hospital where they helped patients do meditation,” Dassler said. “Like quadriplegic patients: they use virtual reality to help on their pain skills and motor skills, and that was really cool.”

Team Local Host hopes to continue working on their VR program, adding improvements like two-handed signs and a database for sign recognition.

Some Hackathon participants had prior experience with VR, while others came in with only basic coding skills, but many wanted the VR experience the Hackthon offered.

“I thought that working with virtual reality and development was kind of going to be the next big step in the technology race,” said Isaiah Smith, a competitor. “It’s just mind-blowing the amount of immersion you get when you’re using the VR headset, so I really just want to be a part of that.”

Smith was on Team Planet X, who won the $100 Outstanding Artistry Award for their educational solar system VR.

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Augusta Irechukwu, a junior computer science major, said she never worked with VR before the event.

“(The VR) turned out a lot better than we thought,” Irechukwu said. “A lot of us haven’t used Unity (the VR program) before…But in the end, we kind of learned some of the basics, and we collabed with each other.”

She and her team, The Scientesters, won second place and $1,000 for their virtual chemistry lab.

“We had a lot of fun and we really wanted our product to be successful, so that was something that drove us to do a lot of the work and stay up really late,” Irechukwu said.

Student with VR headset on
Max Maier of team The Scientesters tests out their program on a VR headset during the Hackathon on Sunday, October 22, 2017. Photo by Josh Schroeder Collegian

Vice President of Research Alan Rudolph started the Hackathon last year as chance to get students exploring the potentials of mixed realities (AR and VR).

At the end of the event, Rudolph called the second annual Hackathon a success.

“I learned a lot from our students,” Rudolph said. “There were more sponsors (than last year), more community involvement. It was great.”

Collegian reporter Samantha Ye can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @samxye.