HackISU 2018


Jonathan Segal / January 31, 2019

11 min read

HackISU 2018

Iowa State’s 10th annual hackathon. I learned a lot from my first hackathon and this time I made sure that I was more prepared and utilized what I had learned. First off I found some friends for a team ahead of time. I organized a meeting with my two teammates Ben and Nate the Wednesday before the event where we looked through all the prize categories and discussed what we were going to make. We wanted to win… anything so when we were going through the list prize categories we wanted to make a project that hit as many of the categories as possible. We ended up deciding on a machine vision platform that tracked a person and allowed them to interact with elements in the scene. Before the event, I went to Best Buy to get a webcam for our project and one of my teammates let us borrow his TV. Having an idea of what you are doing ahead of time is very helpful so you can get parts that you need.

One of the student leaders giving the opening presentation

The day of the event finally came and after className that Friday I got one of my teammates and went to the event the other had some work to do and was coming later. The hackathon was hosted at the Vermeer Applied Technology Hub located a few miles from campus. When we got there the place was packed. Everyone was bringing boxes full to TV’s, computers, extra cables, and everything you could imagine someone bringing to an event like this. We got there early because we wanted to get a good table, after signing in we found a table by the wall that we liked and started setting up. After getting our stuff situated we made our way around the room to the different tables for the sponsors. Hackathons are a great way to talk to employers from the industry as they attend these events and are looking to talk to students about potential carrier opportunities. These companies also usually have a bunch of free stuff such as t-shirts and stickers!

My teammate Nate with some guy we just met

After making the rounds to the different companies and the opening ceremony we created a GitHub repo and got to work. First, we figured out what we needed to accomplish for the project to work. We needed to have a physics engine, a face tracking system, and a server set up to host our website. We used HTML5BoilerPlate to make a template for our project and decided to make everything in Javascript because that was what we were all most comfortable using. My job was to set up the face tracking system. I searched online and found a few libraries that looked promising tracking.js was what I tried first… more on that later. Ben was working on integrating the physics, he found a lightweight but powerful physics engine matter.js, and Nate was looking into how we could host our site on Google Cloud.

Nate and Ben competing at our game

I started looking at the demos for the tracking framework and tried implementing it into a webpage I made. My problem was that because the engine rendered the webcam image on an HTML canvas the sizing was not responsive. The tracking engine I was using was just not working the way I wanted it to so I went looking to see if there was anything else out there that I could use. I found a different tracking engine called pico.js this worked great. The face detection was very fast and had easy to read code to better integrate with our system. We were still having a problem with the resolution though so I decided to hardcode the resolution to the size of the TV that we were using and that mostly fixed the problem.

Me testing the image recognition

Eventually, towards the end of the first night, I got the facial recognition working and Ben got the physics working now the next step was to integrate the physics with the face tracking. We worked on this for a while but it was getting late and my teammates thought we should go to sleep but I wanted to keep working. I took them back to the dorms and came back to work. It was a long night but I eventually got the physics working with the face tracking. We had a physics object stuck to the circle that the facial tracking drew and the object would follow the player whenever the tracking updated which was up to 200 times a second.

I drank way too much caffeine that night

That night was a success! I got the entire project functioning the way that we intended now we just needed to get the gamification implemented to show off what we did. That morning after my teammates came back we discussed what more we needed to finish. We decided to implement 4 game modes; one with objects continually falling and the player could move them with their head; another where you were timed to get as many off as possible; another where you had to get 10 off as fast as possible; and lastly a version of pong where each player controlled a paddle and moved it using their head.

the working physics and face tracking

At this point, we tried to deploy our project on Google Cloud but were having problems when we tried to re-upload our repository. It was stuck to the first files that we uploaded and didn't update. Nate ended up calling Google and after an hour on the phone, we ended up giving up on google cloud and decided to host our project on GitHub pages. At this point, we also decided to sign up for a domain name for our project to be entered into the best domain name prize. We found a few names that were not taken and we got two of them. notakinect.com and letsuseyourhead.com. Nate then started working on the non-game related elements such as the menu, game over and winning pages as Ben and I continued working on the main mechanics.

Donuts for breakfast!

As things were coming together we started having problems with merging things in GitHub. A few times we needed to entirely delete the project from our computers and try to fix it. We were all working on the master branch and not merging properly so we were running into issues when we were pushing our commits. Eventually, we worked out our issues and finished 3 of the 4 game modes. The last implementation was the hardest because of adding multiple players. We created two physics elements and only tracked each one on their own side of the screen and locked their x-axis so they were only able to move up and down.

The team next to us playing face pong

The project was now fully functional and ready for finishing touches. We thought that publishing the winners score to twitter would be a fun thing to implement plus it was a price category. @NKinect was the account we made and integrated into our project. When you won in the Face Pong mode it would send out a tweet saying that you won.

We got a picture of our team in front of the HackISU banner

At this point, our project was ready for submission we created the DevPost page and added all of the categories we were able to integrate into our project. Machine Vision was the strongest point of our project, it was also very interactive big and fun to play. Below is our DevPost listing.


For our project, we wanted to create an original, plug-and-play game that anyone could use with a laptop and internet access. We created a website that includes colorful navigation and a few different game modes, including our own version of motion tracking pong! To motion track, we used a javascript library that was incredibly quick, refreshing at 200 times per second, and used a machine vision API. The rest of the pages and animations were done in HTML, CSS, and Javascript, with some JQueryimplementation. Our website is stored in the cloud service Google Cloud, both so that it wouldn’t be running on a localhost, meaning we could turn our laptop off and still have a website up, but it also meant we could manage faster interactions between the user and the interface.


I implemented the machine vision API through java script. I also helped create an environment that led to the best use of my teams time and the best ideas. I helped integrate the physics engine with the face tracking API as well.


I worked on the domain in domain.com and cloud integration on Google Cloud for our website, as well as working on the main navigation pages in CSS and HTML.


I worked on implementing the physics engine for each game mode along with the logic of each game mode. This includes deciding the rate at which the objects fall, the logic for collisions between objects, deleting and creating new objects when appropriate, and more.

We did have a lot of fun playing our game

That night they also ordered way too much pizza which was the best! We each got our own pizza for dinner… way too much pizza and caffeine were consumed. That after we submitted our project we went around and looked at what everyone else was making, there were some incredible projects that were made, from a robot that shoots a nerf gun to a procedurally generated co-op horror game using an oculus rift, there were a lot of cool projects. My team decided to get some sleep that night so we could be rested for the judging tomorrow.

Next morning… the alarm goes off… snooze… we wake up late and rush from the dorm over to the event and frenetically set up our table and go over to the students running the event and try to get judges to come over to our table. The judges eventually come over and everything is fine but arriving late was definitely not great. After the judging is over we all go over to the stage for the prizes and find out WE WON!

Nate had to work but Ben and I Proudly got up and accepted our award

We won best domain name, not a technical award but an award nonetheless. Overall this hackathon was great I learned a lot met some new people and even got an interview for a job.

During the judging, the recruiters from Corteva came over and asked about our project we demoed and talked through our process and how we developed it. They gave us application forms and told us to keep in touch with them. I never actually filled out the form but one of the recruiters from the event later contacted me on LinkedIn and we set up an interview and this summer I’ll be in Des Moines, IA working at Corteva!

This hackathon I was much more prepared than the first one and my team did a lot right but there is also a lot of room for improvement. First off don’t be late for judging. We were not the smartest being late but we were lucky and it worked out for us, next time we will wake up much earlier and set more alarms. Another thing that we did was try to implement everything we could instead of working with a limited amount of technologies that we could easily implement into one strong candidate for one prize category. Overall I learned a lot and I can't wait for my next Hackathon!

I started talking to a guy with a camera and next thing you know he was interviewing me

Check out the Repository on GitHub

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