“This Goldman Sachs pen is my life,” one student exclaimed.
“Here, let me teach you,” a 15-year-old told his Hackathon teammate.
“We’re in the middle of a crisis,” another hacker yelled.
Empty pizza boxes mingled with crushed energy drinks cans, and the scent of unwashed programmers filled the room.
This was MHacks IV, where students came from California, Canada and Ann Arbor “to build amazing things, transform dreams into realities, and to meet with other people with the same level of passion to build their future,” according to the event’s website.
The 36-hour Hackathon, where roughly 1,000 students neglected sleep and, at points, personal hygiene in the name of creating hard and software, ran this weekend: Sept. 5-7.
Last year’s MHacks event centered on Detroit. Information sophomore Vikram Rajagopalan, the director of MHacks, said prior to the event this Hackathon would have a learning focus.
“We are really focusing on learning — not in watching a course, but learning by doing,” he said. “We’re gonna have Oculus Rifts. We’re gonna have a Tesla. Similar to before, we’re giving people awesome new technology and a chance to play with the technology you haven’t played with before and build something awesome with it.”
With this in mind, it’s not surprising that there were a smattering of high school students in attendance. One of these was Cole Hudson, a ninth grader at Fremont High School. His mother drove him to the Hackathon from their small town in western Michigan.
“I’m here to learn,” Hudson said. “Experience, I guess, is what I’m looking to get out of this experience. I mean, I’ve never been around nearly this many people interested in computer programming. It’s just awesome to be around this much creativity and just to be able to pick up a little bit of that would be cool.”
Sponsor representatives, ranging from Facebook to Chrysler, stand behind booths, offering free merchandise, encouraging engineers to use their programming interfaces and talking to students interested in internships.
Engineering sophomore Daniel Kim won the first place accolade, which included a Dell tablet and $4,000. He led a project called Power Glove, which expanded the capabilities of a preexisting simulation video game called Surgeon Simulator 2013.
As its name might suggest, the game allows users to simulate surgery by controlling the doctor’s hand with keyboard functions. Kim’s twist: there’s no need for an external keyboard.
He used a so-called “invention kit” called MaKey MaKey, a device that allows household objects to be converted into touchpads. Power Glove uses a digital hand to follow his own movements exactly, including even the flexing of individual fingers.
“I never expected this,” Kim said of winning the competition. “During the expo, I was just having a good time. When I got a call to (be in the top 14), I was like, ‘Damn, did I break a rule or something?’”
The other creations in the top three included Android for iPhone, an app to run Android operations on iPhones, and Smash Connect, which detects a user’s movements and translates them into attacks in the classic Nintendo 64 game, Super Smash Bros.
Another finalist included an app called Spudy, “your speedy reading buddy,” which allows users to take pictures of text from books, eliminate extraneous images or figures and quickly convert the passages into word-by-word plaintext for easy, more efficient reading.
There were, of course, hundreds of projects that did not make the top 14.
One, created by a group of sophomores from Carnegie Mellon University, involved the use of floppy disks to make an instrument. The disks emit a noise when activated; the team aimed to control both the timing and the pitch of the disks to form what would be a 21st century piano.
Another project, pioneered by Engineering junior Jennings Jin, was originally called Crapp (the crap app). Users take inventory of items they no longer use, measuring the number of items and their collective weight and cost.
At the time of his interview, Jin said he was “in the farting stage of Crapp,” which he had come up with at 2 a.m. that morning. He decided to rename the project Heapp.
As to how he and friends had generated the idea: “It’s just like an, ‘Eh, why not?’.”
Engineering juniors Connor Grieb and Jake Glass designed an app based on their passion for skiing and called it “Rusty the Local.” The project assumed the role of a local mountain man on the slopes, and allowed users to denote particularly good or bad parts of a given ski trail and broadcast them to fellow skiers, among other functions.
Grieb and Glass each slept around 6 hours during the 36-hour event, remedied in part by the consumption of caffeinated brownies. A lack of rest was common among the weekend’s hackers.
The Hackathon also featured guest speakers ranging from Reddit Co-founder Alexis Ohanian to Grace Choi, founder of Mink, a 3D makeup printing company.
The keynote speaker at the event’s ending in Rackham Auditorium was John Maeda, the former president of the Rhode Island School of Design.
Maeda told students to remember the importance of their work rather than worrying about more trivial matters, namely money.
“Try not to forget that you are part of a grand mission where technologists, designers, people like yourselves are shaping culture in a way that can be hugely positive or hugely negative, depending on the choices you make,” he said.
Senior News Editor Rachel Premack contributed reporting.