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HackPrinceton brings in around 500 student programmers, entrepreneurs

HackPrinceton, the University’s biannual hackathon hosted by the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, drew around 500 student programmers and entrepreneurs from more than 100 universities this past weekend.

Participants faced the challenge of creating functioning software or hardware projects from scratch in 36 hours, with the best teams earning prizes such as printing pens and Bluetooth keyboards at the closing ceremonies on Sunday afternoon.

“HackPrinceton provides students with the unique opportunity to learn new technical skills and take advantage of mentorship and hardware resources, all while being surrounded by hundreds of like-minded students,” Zachary Liu '18, a co-director of HackPrinceton and computer science major at the University, said.

Liu, who organized his fourth HackPrinceton this semester, said that he is motivated to continue improving the already successful hackathon.

"My personal goals for HackPrinceton are trying to focus even more on the attendee experience and providing the best possible outlet for hackers to not only to learn more, but also to simply connect with other people at the hackathon," he said.

Monica Shi '18, another HackPrinceton co-director, did not respond to requests for comment.

After the 36 hour deadline passed, ten teams were selected as finalists and presented their projects in front of a large crowd to a panel of judges from various business and technological backgrounds.

The following projects reached this final stage: Windsong, Cliqur, Lucy, Moralit.ai, Chrono | Emergency, SafeWalk, EIR, StockTalk, EyePhone and Spin to Win. These projects involve the design of a 3-D scanner, a software to augment the emergency response model and other interesting concepts.

Later, a total of 25 accolades were given out to teams, with 21 being sponsor prizes, along with four major awards: Best Overall, Most Technically Challenging, Best Design and Most Creative. While the winners of the sponsor prizes were selected by the business sponsors themselves, the four major awards were chosen by the panel of judges.

University students Rohan Doshi '18, Andrew Ng '18 and Avinash Nayak '18 won the Best Overall prize, as well as the Thiel Foundation’s sponsor prize for the “Best Hack to Continue” by creating a program called Lucy. This software would enable tens of millions of people with physical disabilities to use the Internet with just their voice, without having to rely on a keyboard or mouse.

“In the past, speech recognition has been used for transcribing text and basic operating system commands, but there hasn't been any significant progress into developing a true solution that integrates speech with web navigation,” Doshi, Ng and Nayak explained. “We solved this problem with Lucy.”

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Purdue University students Suyash Gupta, Pranjal Daga, David Liu and Benjamin Wu also reeled in a series of prizes with their invention of a mobile app called EyePhone. This app aims at early detection of cataracts so that quick remedial measures can be taken to avoid unprecedented blindness. The team was awarded the Most Launchable prize sponsored by the Dorm Room Fund, the PrincetonPy/PICSciE Prize for Every Day Data for Tomorrow, the Best Mobile App prize and the Best Use of Data Visualization prize.

University of Texas, Dallas students Cyrus Roshan and Akhilesh Yarabarla was also recognized for their invention of a cheap 3-D scanner called “Spin to Win.” The scanner can take relatively small objects and scan them into a 3-D file. Roshan and Yarabarla received the Best Moonshot prize from Google, as well as the Most Technically Challenging Prize from the judges.

“Using an 10c reflective IR LED pair, Spin to Win scans a 3-D object from the side by continuously rotating it and changing the scan height,” they said. “Then we map out these points to a 3-D map using WolframAlpha and generate a file that you could use to 3-D print an object of your own.”

HackPrinceton also featured a variety of activities, workshops and speakers over the course of the weekend.

The event's keynote speaker was Mike Caprio, an innovation consultant at the American Museum of Natural History and the lead organizer of the Space Apps NYC group, a local chapter of the NASA International Space Apps Challenge. Caprio discussed his own experience in space hacking and encouraged the packed crowd in Friend Center foom 101 to register for the 2016 Space Apps Challenge that would take place between Apr. 22-24.

Caprio estimated that this year’s Space Apps Challenge would have around 20,000 participants, with all involved given a unique opportunity to work with NASA on very relevant issues.

“Essentially, NASA provides these challenges and says, ‘Hey these are things we don’t have the time or resources to work on; will you please help us solve these problems?’” Caprio explained.

HackPrinceton began on Friday and ended on Sunday. The event was co-sponsored by companies D. E. Shaw and Co., Linode, Capital One, Schlumberger, the Thiel Foundation and Wolfram.

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