ASU students compete in local hackathon

Teams scramble to compete and submit their projects before the deadline in Mesa's Heat Sync Labs. (Photo by Kelcie Grega)

Teams scramble to compete and submit their projects before the deadline at #hackPHX in Mesa’s Heat Sync Labs. (Photo by Kelcie Grega)

ASU students participated in a “hackathon” dubbed #hackPHX over the weekend, where more than 50 hackers, programmers and crafters met in a competition to create an interactive wearable device in less than 24 hours.

The event was located in Mesa’s Heat Sync Labs.

Participants began Friday night and finished Saturday night. Some of them worked straight through the night in order to finish their submissions in time.

Computer science senior Doug Sheridan said although this is the third time Heat Sync Labs hosted a hackathon, this was the first time it was referred to as #hackPHX. His teams worked on a head device which he referred to as “The Google Glass Killer.”

“We called it that because it’s going to kill Google Glass,” he said.

The Google Glass Killer, also called “Over 9000,” encompasses reflective technology, external device ports and a distance sensor.

A number of apps were coded to hardware including power level meters, distance sensors and a software friend that gives users words of encouragement. It also uses reflective technology to expand visual distance.

Participants were divided into 10 teams and were instructed to craft Arduino wearables, which are interactive devices that can be worn.

Director of #hackPHX Will Bradley said the competition provided something fast-paced and fun.

“Making it a competition seemed like the best way to do that,” he said.

Competition winners were divided into two categories, popular vote and judges’ vote.

For the judges’ vote, participants had to upload their code and steps they took to create their device to prove their invention could be duplicated.

The judges then evaluated their code and watched each invention’s demo to determine a winner.

Participants had to work around a “secret ingredient,” Xadow, a platform that is sensitive, smart and flexible. It is usually suited for crafts and wearable items.

Those who participated could purchase additional parts but had to keep the costs limited to ensure that everyone was on a level playing field. The lab provided competitors with a 3-D printer and laser cutters for constructing hardware.

The competition showcased a diverse crowd of all ages, ethnicity and genders.

Bradley said it was difficult at first to get a diverse group of people to show up. He said he even reached out to cosplay groups, hoping to get more people to participate.

“Diversity in race and age wasn’t as difficult as gender,” he said. “We were really trying to mix crafters with programmers while fighting the stereotype of hackers just being boring and sh-tty computer nerds,” he said.

Ethan Cruz demonstrates the Flatland 2-D VR Visor at the hack-athon. (Photo by Kelcie Grega)

Ethan Cruz demonstrates the Flatland 2-D VR Visor at the hack-athon. (Photo by Kelcie Grega)

Bradley said some people get what he calls “impostor syndrome” when coming to these sorts of events.

“It’s when you feel like you’re not worthy of being in a crowd of gifted people,” he said. “Getting over that really matters.”

Electrical engineering senior Vivie Truong said she didn’t have a lot of experience with this sort of work but didn’t feel stressed.

“This place is very relaxed, and I’m comfortable with asking people questions,” she said. “I ended up just asking people what I could do to help.”

Truong and her team worked on a device they called a “HeeetSeeeker,“ a battery powered GPS watch that determines the location of the user and outputs the users distance from HeatSync labs.

Truong said it was sort of an alternative to geocaching, a game in which participants use a GPS to find hidden items.

“There is a light that turns green when you are in good areas and red when you are in bad areas,” she said.

Some teams had to be creative in the small amount of time they had available.

Computer science senior Prescott Ogden worked with his team on an invention which they called “The UnWatch” or “F–k Time.”

Ogden said the device is intended to liberate people from the standards of timekeeping.

“If you asked a farmer what time it was, prior to the 16th century he might tell you ‘It’s almost time to milk the cow,’ or ‘It’s time to start harvesting,’” he said. “Instead of telling you numeric time, it tells you when to go to events.”

Ogden said the UnWatch could theoretically connect to any online service clock. The device will notify the user when they have a meeting or when it is time to eat breakfast.

“So, when you look at our UnWatch, you will not think “I have 25 minutes until I go for a walk” but “I’m about 25 percent into the time for this current activity.”

The UnWatch also has a Bluetooth low energy, a wireless networking technology which connects to Skynet.im. Ogden said the Bluetooth device proved to be the most challenging, but his team stayed persistent and they managed to get it working.

Herberger Academy student Joey Hudy and his team created a dog carrier, called DAUG, that also measures dog activity. Hudy said lights go on and off as dog activity increases.

“DAUG stands for Dog Activity Units – Germany,” he said.

The lights on DAUG go from blue to red to green. The DAUG carrier promptly displays feedback through six Neopixel LEDs. Red means there is little-to-no movement, blue means there is some movement, and green means there is extreme movement.

DAUG also comes with an iOS app that displays a meter rating the dog wearing the carrier against other breeds.

After each team completed its device, it had to present a demo in front of other teams. Some demos went smoothly while others crashed and burned.

The
winner of the popular vote for best invention was Sheridan’s team, which created
the Google Glass Killer.

Reach the reporter at kgrega@asu.edu or follow her on twitter @KelcieGrega