PennApps Spring 2012
PennApps, the best student hackathon in the country, was held the previous weekend at the University of Pennsylvania. The 48 hour hackathon is organized, run, and attented by students. It starts on Friday night with introductions, sponsor API demos, and a team formation session over dinner, and continues through Sunday afternoon.
The hackathon attracts student teams from numerous east coast universities, including UPenn, Drexel, Rutgers, Penn State, Princeton, Carnegie Melon, and others. There are also awesome sponsors, particularly API sponsors whose representatives also served as mentors who offered students API-specific hacking help as well as help with any other topic. This time around representatives from CloudMine, DuckDuckGo, Facebook, Mashery, Tumblr, and Twilio presented their APIs and were available round-the-clock to support them and act as mentors. A special shoutout goes to Keith Fitzgerald from TicketLeap who came and offered his knowledge and help on all things backend.
Each PennApps event has a theme. This time it was Simplicity. The idea was to make things that are usually hard to do or that don’t have good solutions and to make them really, really simple and easy. Hacks aimed to pass the “grandma test” - building something so usable that even a grandma could use it.
Once the hacking begins, there’s a long line of tables in the hallway with plenty of power strips along the way for participants to get their hacks on. In the picture below, we can see some students napping on the second night. Pacing is important because even trivial things get very complicated after working for two straight days. Naps are key.
There is also no shortage of
junk food fuel: food, various caffinated drinks, and snacks to power it all. This is not an uncommon scene by the time it was all said and done:
There were 40+ teams that presented many amazing hacks to an auditorium filled to the brim:
Here’s a list of the top three winners:
These guys wrote a signal analyzer in C to process sounds from a microphone attached to a chalkboard. They they were able to control an audio stream using a virtual turntable drawn on the board. In theory, the tech can be used to turn any surface into an input device.
Concieved and implemented by an awesome team including our own former intern Tess. The web app allows visitors to quickly call polititians in their area (using auto-detected location) to protest SOPA/PIPA. They’ve also added a widget that anyone can embed into their website to allow their visitors to call reps as well. Since launch, the widget has gone viral. Congrats guys!
Have you ever wanted to take a cross country trip and visit all your friends along the way? RoadTripping allows you to do just that! It shows you which cities your Facebook friends are on a map and automatically routes your trip plan through their addresses.
The complete list of winners is here: http://pennapps.tumblr.com/
There are also a few other project that we liked:
A cool geolocation app that allows UPenn students to watch their friends’ locations on a Harry Potter-styled map of the campus. Uses HTML5 geolocation features and works on a mobile device as well. This team hustled really hard throughout the weekend and really amazed me by how fast they were able to pick up new concepts and make use of them in their app. Powered by CloudMine!
A web app that allows users to post goals and for their peers to motivate them by posting encouraging remarks. Powered by CloudMine!
Their app allows a tech support rep to remotely participate in user’s web browsing session. The rep sees the user’s page contents (with sensitive data filtered out) and can highlight areas of the page to direct the user’s attention to. No plugins required, and completely real-time. An awesome hack with real-world implications. They even landed one of the mentors as a customer during the hackathon! Their presentation included a hilarious skit where a GoDaddy rep was helping a user move a domain off of their service.
Tired of having people mis-pronounce your name? Just want them to be able to know before they meet you? Now you can with enunciate.me! The web app lets you phonetically spell your name which is then turned into an audio clip or, alternatively, to record a name in your own voice. Here’s mine, so from now on, no excuses!