From global VR DJing to a Pet Care Bot - 24hrs hackathon at the Techrunch Disrupt New York

Disrupt1.jpgMartin Beecroft, Head of Digital and Innovation at Meerkats, is at TechCrunch Disrupt New York, which is being held on the Cruise Terminal Wharfs in Brooklyn. Here's his diary of Day One.

The five-day conference kicks off with a 48-hour Hackathon, which attracts teams from around the globe to take part in a weekend ideation, design and build event.

According to TechCrunch, 'Teams join forces to build a new product, present it on the Disrupt stage to a panel of expert judges and an audience of tens of thousands and compete for a variety of prizes, including the chance to win free tickets to the Disrupt Conference. Products created at the Disrupt Hackathon have seen great success beyond the event, like GroupMe which was created overnight and ultimately acquired by Skype for $80M.'
Hackathon.jpgHackathon2.jpgDay one of the event kicked off with meeting people from around the world who have descended on the remote docks of Brooklyn. The drawcard for us all was the enticing promise of winning major sponsorship and backing for the winning idea from the global-powerhouses sponsoring the event (think Microsoft, Amazon Alexa, Harmon, Twilio to name but a few) as well as gaining the ultimate kudos for being able to showcase your smarts in front of some of the best digital minds on the planet.

With thousands of dollars of prize money and hardware up for grabs it's serious stuff. Sleeping bags, pillows, pizza boxes, monitors, standing desks - you name it - everything was brought in for a cozy night of hacking.

The first thing that strikes me is the amount of pre-oganised hacking teams such as 'Cripsy Bacon' - a team of five from Italy who have come purely for the weekend Hackathon. For those like me in the 'singles club' it doesn't take long to meet with people and figure out a connection - be it around language, type of career or just interests in music or technology.

The sponsors have all provided platform or API information for each category to encourage hackers to use their technology. Harmon have teams of 'sales' people wandering around pushing their product and handing out discount vouchers and stickers - so many stickers.

Then things kick off with a keynote introduction listing the prizes and outlining where midnight pizza and beer will be available. After that it's open house and we get down to business. Teams sit around tables and debate the world of possibility. As the evening pushes on there's people wandering around in VR gear, teams talking to Alexa, circuit boards being soldered and even the odd person already asleep on the desk. It doesn't take long for the place to descend into headphones and hackers busy spilling cokes and making magic.

After a very long night teams start the last frantic push for the 9.30am submission deadline. All managed via Devpost, teams have to submit their 'elevator pitch' followed by a full breakdown of the project - listing APIs, languages, frameworks and anything else that makes the project look good. There are full product demo videos being submitted, with most teams having created fully named and branded submissions. The competition is hot.

Hackathon4.jpgHackathon5.jpgAt 11am the weary teams selected to pitch then go into a quick-fire one minute - yes just one minute - presentation and pitch on the main stage. In front of hundreds of people the 89 teams pitch their hacks with varied success. The problematic Wi-Fi, the fact that Amazon Alexa doesn't want to speak to anyone and the downright weird and whacky hacks have everyone laughing and buzzing, although I think the copious amount of coffee and Redbull being consumed is helping that significantly.

It's a fun end to the Hack with most teams nailing their one minutes and the crowd of hackers and general public - who've come in to see the pitches  - showing a true appreciation of the effort everyone has put in.

So after all the work - here's some of what this place can cook up in what is actually less than twenty-four hours of coding.

Spotonsos - a live information flow from NYC data, which combined with mapping and GPS, synchs notifications of problems with your journey. This lets users know potential pedestrian issues such as building or road works that might impact your walking journey.

Crate Zero - this was a killer application that looked at better management of stock in warehouses.  Employees wear a coded-wearable that tracks and tags when they 'dip' their hand into a crate or packaging area, tagging both the 'picker' and the item being picked as it's removed.

ELIZA - an application that collects daily data from txts, emails and more to track feelings and moods. This application links to helpful services such as doctors and uses sentiment logic from IBM's Watson. A great app idea to help with identifying symptoms such as stress - but also especially for supporting vulnerable people.

Menu.me - A simple app which uses mobile technology to read and recognise content on a menu and display pictures of the food on their phone, allowing users to see the dish they were ordering. Connected to nutritional facts and ingredients this has value in every restaurant!

VR Party - An epic idea to use visual reality to link DJs to parties, allowing them to hook up and play music as if they were right there In the room. With virtual decks allowing multiple DJs to join, the ability to have one hell of a party with a great DJ on the other side of the world is cool.

Hackathon3.jpgMovie Chain Game - one of the pitches that struggled with Amazons Alexa but it was a fun idea. Basically Alexa quizzes your knowledge of movies to select one for you to watch. Simple and a lot of fun if you're having a movie night in.

Centitech - Basically selects the type of email address and person you're sending the email to and changes the sentiment and content to match ensuring you never send the boss or your mum the wrong email!

Last but by no means least - Pet Care Bot. The robot that keeps your pet company while you're working. With live cameras, feeding ability, tracking ability and ultimately the ability to make you feel ok that you left the dogs at home while you buggered off half way round the world to a tech conference. This has (four) legs!

And if you are still reading and are wondering - our team came up with Scent, an Esri mapping solution to assist rescue teams in times of crisis. Scent pinpoints people in need of assistance as well as the emergency response teams by tracking device pings such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth for example. This then enables the response teams to track and monitor their response and also identify through the client application where to deliver aid such as emergency services, food, water, helicopter support and much more. Looking at recent fire zones with limited visibility as an example, this sort of tech could help save lives and help rescue teams co-ordinate a better and more efficient response. For our efforts Esri, the category sponsor, gave us second place.

Now to catch up on some sleep

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