A dispatch from Toby Sims
"Ah, the youth of today... students... etc etc". Right, let's put that one to bed shall we? Despite always getting a hard time in the press, the hundred or so Imperial College students and friends that gathered for ICHackUK couldn't be closer to proof that the future holds some very exciting times indeed.
It seemed only a few weeks ago I'd met Max and Karen (organising) for coffee to discuss ways to be involved. Actually, it was a few weeks ago. The event had expanded from an idea and some enthusiasm to full blown Hackathon in four weeks and two days. As you'll agree after diving in, that was some epic hustling.
So what was everyone here for? A broad brief of 'hacking with cool bits of tech' could sound a little dry until you take into account the sheer number of devices available to develop ideas with. A small overview:
- 14 x Google Glass - The big draw and arguably the largest number of sets under one roof in a hack environment.
- 2 x Oculus Rift Virtual Reality goggles - because one just isn't enough.
- 10 x Tobii Rex eye tracking sensors.
- Microsoft Kinect movement trackers.
- Leap Motion gesture trackers.
- Pebble smart watches
- 2 Makerbot 3D printers (with round the clock support from iMakr)
- A smorgasbord of Raspberry Pi and Intel Galileos.
- Enough caffeinated beverages to power NASA.
- A slightly worrying amount of soldering equipment...
Friday had been an evening of networking and bouncing around ideas, with some great tech introductions (including John Elvesjo for Tobii skyping in from Sweden!). Saturday morning hit the ground running and soon teams had coagulated from the excited crowd. Next step - device collection, which went along the lines of "Google Glass please". There is no substitute for exclusive new tech to get the creative juices flowing and they proved very popular. Most of the gadgets found willing volunteers to home them, even if there was trepidation from for trying to develop with two or three new devices!
Excited chatter had dulled to a low conspiratorial rumble and rumours filtered back of ambitious and amazing ideas. I talked with most of the teams and the positivity and vision was inspiring - no bridge was too far, though the Glass Developer Kit was causing a few long sighs and some head scratching. There was a secret weapon though, in the smiling form of Jonathan Schipper from Johnny505 Studios. A nicer man you could not hope to meet he was still smiling the next morning after getting the princely sum of 2 hours sleep!
Most people worked through the night, sleeping in shifts - best quote from the night shift "I wasn't sure it was the right time to wake you (5:30am) but I have a working prototype!". The indefatigable orange shirted ICHack Crew made sure no-one went hungry or thirsty, even managing to locate a 24hr supermarket to resupply at 2am.
This dedication was typical of the whole event, professionally run to a very high standard and not one piece of mislaid technology (just as well!). We are missing something though and it's the cherry on top - the demos of finished products. Moving to a larger lecture theatre to hold the gathering masses, over 2hrs of pitches raced along. I don't think anyone even noticed the time. The standard was very, very high and personally I was staggered by what they had achieved in 24 hours. 23 teams presented amusing, entertaining and inspired hacks and there are a few that warrant a mention:
- A 3D window manager, using Oculus Rift and Kinect to detect hand movement - just like Minority Report! (Overall winners)
- A Google Glass app that could show you moves to solve your rubik's cube from a photo. (Special 'have a beer on me' prize from Race Yourself)
- An app that displayed phonetics and contextual information for dyslexic readers using a 'key'. (Best Educational app)
- A labyrinth game lit only but a virtual torch directed by eye tracking - scary monster included!
- A 3d navigation app using your hands as 'feet' with a leap motion for movement and eye tracking.
- And many more...
I feel guilty not heaping praise on all of the efforts, but that would be a very long blog post! Needless to say, they should all be very proud of their creations and the effort they put in. All this with finals and exams a couple of weeks away...
I like to say a massive thank you to Max, Karen and the tireless ICHack team, the sponsors and Imperial College for hosting.
Can't wait for next year!