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Student teams show off tech skills, ideas at Hack Arizona

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File Photo | The Daily Wildcat

The Research Bazaar two-day event will start on March 31 on the UA Mall. The event will cover various ways to explore data.

Cheers erupted from a full Centennial Hall on Friday, Jan. 13, following the opening ceremony for Hack Arizona, the largest hackathon in the Southwest, hosted by UA. Hack Arizona is geared toward college students interested in creating and learning about new technologies.

“It’s not actual hacking,” explained Hack Arizona volunteer Dillon Khawani. “It’s called a hackathon because you’re supposed to be hacking the world.”

More than 800 college students from around the world entered the Science-Engineering Library to commence the 36-hour event around 9 p.m. on Friday.

“The first year we had about 450 participants and the second year we had around 650,” said Beau Graham, logistics organizer for Hack Arizona 2017. “It keeps growing larger each year.”

Former Mexican President, Vicente Fox, even made an appearance at the event, meeting with Hack Arizona founder, Ian Tracey, on Friday.

“He was here talking to students, doing some research and trying to get a feel for the culture,” said Khawani. “Because when you start something like this, you have a bridge to the rest of the world.”

Event support has also grown in size. This year, Hack Arizona was sponsored by more than 10 major software and computing companies from Raytheon, Amazon, Red Bull and IBM, who were only some of the event’s many sponsors.

Hackathon participants were given swag bags, T-shirts and wristbands, which gave them access to the Student Recreation Center for showers as well as for complementary breakfast, lunch and dinners outside the library.

“A lot of the people who come here legitimately live here for 36 hours,” said Khawani. “Some of the teams are more serious and will work for 36 hours straight with no sleep because they want to win.”

Teams were given incentives to create and demonstrate cutting-edge applications meant to promote health and sustainability. The prizes included an Amazon Echo Dot and Raspberry Pi canna kit for each member of the winning team.

Sponsors gave away prize money, drones and Apple Watches to event participants at "Tech Talks" throughout the event.

By Saturday night, students’ sleepless dedication to creating new applications resulted in trashcans overflowing with complementary Red Bull cans and Soylent bottles.

"It’s not my first time coming to this event,” said Yash Yadav, a computer science senior. “There are always sleeping bags on the floor, people arguing over ideas and lots of caffeine consumption.”

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Most of the students participating in Hack Arizona weren’t concerned with winning.

“My goal is to get a basis of what companies expect coding-wise,” explained Alec Foster, a UA electrical engineering junior. “I’m going to stay open-minded, and if I get an idea then I’ll go for it, but I’m hoping to just learn.”

A participating student from ASU, Alex Chambers, agreed.

“I’m here to have fun and learn,” he said. “The people really trying to win are in the minority.”

Students more interested in the learning aspect of Hack Arizona took part in events like drone obstacle courses and scavenger hunts. Those who worked on applications submitted their projects for judgement.

At 9 a.m. on Saturday, the Student Union Grand Ballroom was filled with teams showing off their creations.

“There is peer judging and actual judging is done separately,” Khawani said. “The judges are experts in these fields of technology.”

Students and judges walked around the room to see what the other teams had been working on all weekend.

Mobile apps for recording a user’s carbon footprint, finding medical assistance in emergency situations and seeking out the cheapest routes to fly were among the more common creations.

“We don’t have any coding experience,” said Sierra Kaszubinski and Sanga Shir, UA life science seniors. “We only came up with the design. Our other team members who do know coding were able to help us out with the idea and make it into a working app.”

An app called “Here” won the social media popular vote. It was designed to be a solution for location-aware messaging, according to the team who created it. The team's members included Alex Stoken, Ben Whitely, Andrew Roberts and Evan Ridley.

The app tracks your location, alerting your friends when you're near.

“It allows you to keep your hands on the wheel and to make driving safer," Ridley said. "We realized this was a framework for something in the future."

The creators also posit that the app could be used to help emergency rooms prepare for incoming patients.

"You also never want to be in the bathroom when a pizza delivery guy shows up,” joked a team member.

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At 1 p.m. on Sunday, the event came to a close and organizers thanked volunteers and sponsors.

“We also wanted to thank the hackers, because you guys are doing things that are incredible,” said the closing speaker. “You’re able to create these innovations that are impossible for other people who don’t know how to program or don’t have the time to do so.”

The official winners of Hack Arizona will be announced on Monday afternoon.


Follow Jessica Blackburn on Twitter.



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