HackUIowa 2018


Jonathan Segal / January 29, 2019

6 min read

HackUIowa 2018

My first hackathon! At the beginning of the school year, I decided to sign up for as many hackathons as I could. The first one on my list to go to was this one so that Friday night I got in my car and started the 2-hour drive to the University of Iowa. I read about these events but being my first time I really had no idea what to expect. I stayed at my parent’s house that Friday night close to Iowa City and went to the university first thing Saturday morning for the start of the event at 8:45 am.

One of the event organizers announcing the sponsors

After I checked in I went to go look for a team to work with. Surprisingly there were quite a few people from Iowa State at the event. I found a team from Iowa State and after the opening ceremony, we got to work.

Top-down photo of my team at work

My teammates Kyle and Ryan already had an idea of what to make. Our project was to gamify exercise by using the time one was on a bike as currency to redeem as time spent on the internet. To accomplish what we were trying to make my teammates added a revolution sensor to the motor of a bike and hooked it up to a Raspberry Pi and created a program in Python to do computations. I created the UI using JQuery and a few Javascript libraries.

Our project was to gamify exercise by using the time one was on a bike as currency to redeem as time spent on the internet.

We only used 3 of the wires

We created a GitHub repository and all started on our own contributions. I first started trying to create a site using React and found that learning something entirely new in just a few hours is not the best use of time at a Hackathon. I started over using what I was familiar with plain Javascript/Html/CSS with Jquery to make a responsive site. The purpose of this site was to display the information received from the Python server and display this on the screen attached to the bike. I found the library Chart.js and used it as a way to animate and render the responsive graphs for the UI, and Anime.js to animate everything else.

I first started trying to create a site using React and found that learning something entirely new in just a few hours is not the best use of time at a Hackathon.

There was a lot going on at the same time

Towards the end of the first day, we both got out parts mostly working. The website worked with sample data and the bike produced a working output of rotation data. The next step was to get the two parts talking to each other. Our server was running using Flask and we needed to get the Python back-end and the Javascript front-end connected using AJAX. We all left that night and I went back to my parent’s house that night and instead of sleeping, I continued working on the project.

Selfie with my team

Eventually, I figured out our problem. We were doing a few things wrong such as file structure and the naming schemes so what I did was create a new project that was the simplest possible way to have everything working. I created a Repository with the code used for this. Simple Flask jQuery integration

Iowa had plenty of food and coffee

When we got back the next morning we laid out a plan of what we needed to get done before 1 pm when hacking ended. We were almost done with our project we just needed to integrate what I built over the night into our project and put the finishing touches on our project.

Way to go Iowa for the Popcorn

Everything was connected and working except for one part of the project. The computation for the data was not working on the python script. We ended up feeding random data to the front end and displaying a console log of the rotation directly from the python script.

The Rasberry PI all hooked up

We ended up submitting our project on hackerearth without it fully functioning. We called our project Rasberry Pike

Raspberry Pike

The goal of the project was create a correlation between physical work and virtual data flow. With this idea in mind we brainstormed a simple pedal bike connected to a stationary trainer. This trainer would have a IR sensor that would read revolution per second. The sensor connects into a micro controller that has a WiFi adapter to broadcast a WiFi signal that the demo computer would pickup. The micro controller would then throttle bandwidth if the physical work dropped below the set timed threshold

The judges came around and we demoed what we had and explained how our project could be used to incentivize exercise and increase physical activity when using a computer.

The event was packed

This event was an incredible learning experience for me. Building a working product in a limited amount of time is a great way to learn how to rapidly come up with ideas and develop fixes for unforeseen problems.

Checking out other peoples project is a great way to meet others and see new ideas

Going into this I had no idea what to expect but after the event, I know how hackathons work. There are a few different objectives one could have when attending one of these events.

Obviously winning a prise is a great goal for a team. If you are trying to win something though going into the event you should have a solid idea of what you're making. Prizes are sponsored by different companies and each prize has a different objective and to win you need to incorporate the objective into your project.
Another objective is to network and find people that have similar interests as you and to have people that you could potentially work on projects with in the future. Also, companies are great to talk to and find places to potentially have a Job/ Internship and show employers what skills you are good at and to see what you can improve on.
Lastly, you can go just to make something cool with friends, experiment with new technologies and get a whole lot of free stuff.

Obviously, you can do all of these things at a hackathon but knowing what you want to accomplish is a great way to set expectations and to know if you had a successful event. This was a great first experience for me at a hackathon but it defiantly won't be my last!

Check out the Repository on GitHub

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