HackPrinceton: An Insiders' Look

Written by
Peter Chen '19
Dec. 4, 2017

In its seventh year running, Princeton successfully hosted the Fall 2017 rendition of HackPrinceton over the weekend of November 10-12. Student organizers from the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club were hard at work putting on this latest event, convening over 600 student developers from across the US and Canada on the Princeton campus for 36 hours of competitive software and hardware development. Best described as “innovation marathons,” hackathons bring together anyone who has an interest in technology to learn, build and share their creations over the course of a weekend. We reached out to some of the winning teams, who built a wide range of projects from virtual reality to cryptocurrencies, to get a firsthand perspective on the hacker experience:

TranslatAR is an augmented reality application that transcribes and translates speech and provides live subtitles through a headset. Per Jon Zhang ’18, a computer science major at Princeton, inspiration for the project came when he noticed “one person in our team didn't speak Chinese, he would get sad when the other two spoke Chinese because he felt left out.” Winning the Audience Choice award with his team, Zhang noted this hackathon experience made him “realize how important presentation skills are in real life.”
Winner, Audience Choice
Winner, Best Hack for Social Good

Microtea.ch teaches students programming with not only quick coding exercises but also fully deployed applications. Nicholas Yang, first-year mathematics and computer science student at NYU and sole developer behind the project, revealed that his motivations came from a realization that current coding education software “don't really help you create anything permanent. Instead, you have a bunch of boring exercises that don't lead to anything. Microtea.ch is meant to solve that by giving kids these little ‘gifts’ in the form of microservices.”  Per Yang, hackathons are valuable in “getting more practical development experience” as well as “learning to pitch and rapidly prototype products.”
Winner, StdLib Prize - Sponsored by StdLib

MySight is a smartphone application that performs a variety of clinical vision tests including color blindness, stereo vision, visual acuity and irregular blindspots in the visual field. Stefan Uddenberg, a graduate student from Yale studying cognitive psychology, wanted to develop a “use case for VR technology that could be prototyped within a weekend.” For Uddenberg, his biggest takeaways were that “hackathons are amazing opportunities to pick up new skills and make new friends…they force me to learn new skills I've been meaning to learn for months,” underscoring in particular “the sense of accomplishment that comes from finishing a product within only 36 hours.”
Winner, Best VR/AR

Comm Skip Call is an internet of things (IoT) hack that sends a personalized message to emergency services when a trigger sequence is activated. Per Rachel Alexander, a senior electrical engineering student at New York City College of Technology, the inspiration came from a desire for people who are in dangerous situations and need to communicate discreetly and non-verbally with emergency services. For Alexander, the most rewarding aspect of hackathons is “learning new technologies and contributing the theory and practical knowledge.”
Winner, Best IoT Hack Using Qualcomm Device

Coinbase Analytics is a cryptocurrency analytics platform that provides depth returns and profit/cost analysis for Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin. Jacob Heifetz-Licht, a senior at Rutgers University majoring in Business Analytics and Information Technology, came up with the idea with his team from his own experience trading cryptocurrencies. “I was copying and pasting price data into the spreadsheet everyday, and wanted to make things more efficient and useful.” Heifetz-Licht further emphasized that “hacking something together from idea to final product is not as crazy as it seems. It is doable, with the right team and strong work ethic. I am inspired to string out more of my best ideas, and am still working on our project to this day.”
Best Financial Hack - Sponsored by Capital One

Single or Nah takes in the name of a friend and uses Instagram data to predict if said friend is in a relationship. From developing the application, Derek Leung, a sophomore from University of Pennsylvania studying computer science and economics, learned that “there is a lot of information on social media that can be used for good or bad.” For Leung, hackathons complement classroom education by providing “a way to gain practical experience in such a short period of time.”
Best Social Media Hack - Sponsored by Facebook

GoWithTheFlow, winner of the Best Overall prize, analyzes the flow of objects via camera, counting the number of objects of interest moving between different exit and entry points within frame. Corbin McElhanney, a first-year software engineering student from University of Waterloo, recalled challenges his team faced during the development process. “Finding a vision for a project is, without question, difficult. However, once you find that vision, dividing a task into manageable chunks that you actually feel capable of achieving is a whole other matter. When I look back at what we did, I don't think there were any pieces of the project that really seemed insurmountable. Instead, it was the challenge of bringing the project from idea to concrete implementation and figuring out all the little steps in between that I think we learned the most from.” For McElhanney, the opportunity to explore and build with new technologies makes hackathons especially valuable. “Tech changes at an incredible pace, and even the most progressive institutions can't hope to prepare students for the next waves of technology. Hackathons give us the opportunity to explore whatever we want to learn, and to receive hands-on mentorship from developers on the bleeding edge of new technologies.”
Best Overall
Best Machine Learning Hack
Best Use of Amazon Web Services

For a full list of winners and projects, please visit hackprinceton-fall17.devpost.com. More photos from HackPrinceton are available from Major League Hacking.

Missed out this time around? Join us in next semester for HackPrinceton Spring 2018 to experience the fun! For more information, please visit hackprinceton.com.

HackPrinceton Fall 2017

HackPrinceton Fall 2017 (Photo by Sarah Pan '19)