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Inside the world’s largest student-run hackathon: PennApps Winter 2015

More than 1,300 people showed up, hacking drones and virtual reality headsets. Here's a recap of the inventive things they built.

A PennApps participant uses an Oculus Rift to help compose music. (Photo courtesy of PennApps)

Hackathons have been taking the world by storm. Last weekend was another milestone for the biggest student-run hackathon in the country, PennApps.
PennApps Winter 2015 was the 11th edition, and it was everything one would expect from PennApps and more. More than 1,300 hackers from all over the world got to use the latest technologies like the Oculus Rift, AR.Drones, Myo armbands and even have fun with penguins, go ice skating and binge on Insomnia Cookies. And it didn’t end there.
For Penn engineering freshman Dhruv Agarwal, who experienced his first time organizing a hackathon, “You can never tell how much work goes into an event as a participant,” he said. “Being an organizer, I got to see things from a different perspective, and at the same time meet new people and make awesome new friends.”

PennApps 2015

A view of this year’s PennApps exhibition space. (Photo courtesy of PennApps)

Veteran executive team member Pranav Vishnu said PennApps dreamed big this year.
“We wanted to put together the most fun PennApps ever,” he said. “We wanted to create the best possible environment and also make sure that anyone new to hacking could learn something new as well.”
This year’s PennApps had multiple workshops for beginners to learn more about web development, iOS development, Arduino and more. There were also multiple meetups in attendance, including the High School Hackers meetup (more on that later here).
This edition of PennApps also marked the launch of the “Humans of PennApps” Facebook page, which featured updates on different hackers, organizers, mentors and sponsors at the event.
We saw a lot of different hacks ranging from mobile and web applications to hardware and healthcare hacks. In fact, one whole room during the expo was dedicated to students hacking AR.Drones.


Here’s a quick rundown of the top 11 hacks from this year’s PennApps.
The top 3 teams were as follows:

  1. LifeSaber: This was an Android and Android-wear app that guides anyone through the correct CPR protocol and gives haptic and audible feedback to keep life-saving pushes in sync. It also sends alerts nearby to help notify people who can potentially help out.
  2. Curiosity: This was an iOS app that utilized machine learning and computer vision to detect logos and display basic information about the company. It can also be used to detect soda cans and present the nutritional information for the user to see. The team plans to expand the application to cover other things as well.
  3. Fruit Ninja VR Style: This team turned the famous Fruit Ninja mobile game into a game that uses the Oculus Rift and Myo armband to let you slash fruit in virtual reality.

Here are the rest of the top 11 in no particular order:

  • Multify: This iOS hack supports multiple applications running on the same screen. Yes, you can now swipe through Tinder, while swiping through Fruit Ninja, while Skyping your parents. Weird.
  • Arpegio: This music composition software allows users to do real-time composing through the use of an Oculus Rift connected to his/her instrument.
  • 3DJ: This hack uses the Myo armband and Leap sensors to detect various motions and process them. The output is a remixed version of the track playing in real time, taking the DJ experience to a whole new level.
  • Picks for iPhone: This application uses computer vision to group photos and help you choose which photos to keep.
  • Cold Review: This application used the Nest API to adjust room temperature based on the sentiment of your Git commits. Yes, good code comes from happy coders in good climate.
  • Helios: This hack was a machine-learning system that predicted solar energy production from meteorological data, helping companies find the optimal ratio for energy production.
  • Ukecopter: This was an AR.Drone that would perform and dance as you strung a Ukelele.
  • Bodyguard: This was an AR.Drone that followed you around and let you take over via an intuitive Myo-based control scheme, giving you the power to shoot down your enemies with a mounted rubber band gun.

The winners of this year’s PennApps received cash prizes, Myo armbands, Oculus DK2 headsets, Leap Motion sensors, Android Wear devices, Raspberry Pi computers and more.

PennApps 2015

The winners of the grand prize came all the way from Spain. (Photo courtesy of PennApps)

Companies: University of Pennsylvania

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