Hundreds of Sun Devils spend weekend in 36-hour hackathon

SouthWest Hacks hosted its first Major Legaue Hacking event March 10-12, attracting students to finish their spring break playing with the technology

Students plugged in their laptops, strapped on an Oculus Rift and tried to get Amazon’s Alexa to talk to them during a 36-hour hackathon in ASU Tempe campus on the last  weekend of spring break.

SouthWest Hacks is the first Major League Hacking event organized by Software Developers Association, or SoDA, a software development club for university students. 

SWHacks began on Friday and concluded on Sunday, with students showcasing their projects at the Sunday, 9 a.m. demo to the judges and the general public.

“We are creating a game like Iron Man,” said Nayan Seth, a graduate student in computer science. "User will do the Iron Man gesture to shoot the asteroids in space. User can look anywhere in 360 degree ... (user) can shoot to get the score."

Seth worked with Anusha Rajan, a computer science graduate student, to create the virtual reality experience. The game was intended to be immersive and instead of using hand held controllers, users can use hand gestures to play the game.

“We are using the Oculus Rift for the virtual reality experience,” Rajan said. “We are using leap motion to gesture recognition so you can shoot the asteroids using your hands.”

Oculus Rift is a virtual reality headset, developed by a division of Facebook Inc. Users wear the headset and headphones to experience the device, using a USB peripheral device as well  in order to recognize the gestures.

Both Rajan and Seth have attended hackathons in the past and said they enjoyed the experience and environment.

“There are not many mentors to help (participants) out,” Seth said. “Even though you get online tutorials, it is a different experience if someone teaches you.”

Organizers recognized this shortcoming and attributed it to their first time hosting. They said the mentoring issue will be looked into during the upcoming events.

“This is new for industry people as well,” said Nathan Fegard, president of SoDA. “We have a software solution where you can go and say what you have trouble with.”

However, students who have been in other hackathons were stepping in and helping out new participants, Fegard said.

There were 14 prize-categories from sponsors, the SWHacks team and MLH. Teams can choose the categories they are competing in.

“There is a $2,000 cash prize for the best artificial intelligence software solution by Recruiting.ai,” Fegard said. “There are a couple of categories in voice command/Alexa, internet of things. So many people will be trying to talk to their computers.”

There were several other activities, including silent disco and lip-sync battles that were planned for participants to relax and rejuvenate.

“Participants may have too much caffeine at hackathon,"  Michelle Capriles-Escobedo, director of communications for SoDA, said. "They need some exercise. When (participants) are numb by coding all night, I want them to literally shake it off.”

SoDA's first time hosting a MLH hackathon was a success, said Capriles-Escobedo, who added she was hopeful about the future of the event.

“I think it is a good start (for annual SWHacks),” Capriles-Escobedo said. “Next time, we can have more marketing … once the word spreads about this year’s event, we will get more momentum.”

SWHacks stood out from other hackathons on campus because of its association with MLH, an organization which supports collegiate hackathons. MLH representatives were present throughout the hackathon to assist participants with the hardware lab.

“We are more interested in hackers than (the) hackathon,” Shy Ruparel, a deputy commissioner at Major League Hacking, said. “Every year we are growing and 2017 will be the biggest year for us and the hackathon community.”


Reach the reporter at aravind.sreenivasa@asu.edu.

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