500 Students, 24 Hours, 102 New Projects at HackDuke

University holds first sponsored hackathon


An interface that can translate sign language to speech on a computer won first place in Duke's first university-sponsored hackathon Saturday.

More than 500 hackers from schools across the Mid-Atlantic, including Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, the University of Maryland, the University of North Carolina, and North Carolina Central University, spent an intensive 24 hours designing and making 102 projects, making HackDuke the largest such event in the Southeast this fall.

Entries ranged from mobile games to healthcare technology. "It just goes to show that you can materialize incredibly outrageous ambitions and ideas in just 24 hours," said Duke senior Dennis Li, a co-organizer of the event.

A team of four Duke students designed the winning submission. While wearing a pair of sensor-laden gloves, a user could communicate using a variety of hand signs, and the system would translate those signals into speech. The platform could also learn new signs to expand its vocabulary.

Other winning projects included Art Genius, an online database for annotating pieces of art; Air Instruments, a game that taps into the Xbox Kinect to allow users to play air guitar, drums and violin; and Gravity Bell, a physics-based game which won the novice prize.

During the 24-hour rush to build innovative products, participants took time to take courses in topics ranging from microcontrollers to web development. Representatives from several tech giants, including Google, Microsoft and Epic Games, shared their personal experience in the industry.  Douglas Crockford, author of Javascript: The Good Parts and founder of JSON, delivered the event keynote.

The event also showcased Duke's growing hacker community. Junior Ashley Qian, another HackDuke co-organizer, said the event "boosts Duke’s computer science and electrical engineering community" by giving students a chance to bond with and compete against their college peers. "To be able to prove that to yourself is invaluable," Qian added.

Below, students work feverishly on their new apps during the 24-hour hackathon.  Photos by Megan Morr and Jonathan Lee