VR Sci Hackathon

VR Sci Hackathon

I attended the VR Science Hackathon at Epicenter. As my HCID specialization is in Situated Interaction, I had an interest in seeing what Virtual Reality technology is out there.

I unexpectedly had the opportunity to try the Microsoft Hololens. Such an opportunity is unique as this piece of hardware is quite expensive, and it is not commonly reachable to curious students. A professional showed me how to perform basic gesture interactions with the device. Its responsiveness is better than expected, and I foresee plenty of industrial applications for such technology. I tried a Hololens game, and that’s where I think the device is lacking as the field of vision is limited, and playing a game might become frustrating. Nevertheless, the product is in its first version, and it already surpasses many competing devices. I felt much more comfortable interacting with Hololens than with any VR device available at the event.

The first day of the hackathon was around story telling as it is a central theme in Virtual Reality. VR is known to many as the ultimate empathy machine. I can attest such a thought as I could only truly understand the horrors of the Syrian war after watching a 360 video showing the ruins of Aleppo. Therefore, this hackathon challenged participants to create an experience that would tell a story tackling one of the United Nations goals for the year.

Participating in a VR hackathon made me reflect on the future of my field of study – Human Computer Interaction and Design. VR is nothing new – it has been around for decades – so, why is it finally such a hot field. Maybe it is the ability of using phones as screens that made the technology finally accessible, but maybe it has to do with our increasingly short attention span and how much is needed to capture our attention.

To exemplify what I am thinking about what level of pervasiveness media needs to achieve in order to capture our attention, I could talk about the changes in children’s cartoons. The animated cartoons shown on TV nowadays are extremely irritating for me as they might be too loud, too colorful, and might otherwise some information overload in visual and sound. However, this is what kids like nowadays, and showing children an old cartoon might bore them to tears as my generation’s cartoons might be too static for them.

That’s where I think VR might be the answer to a generation that needs more and more the intromission of technological devices. Their phones might not be giving them enough of a hit, of dopamine, serotonin, or whatever the brain produces as a response to candy crush, Facebook notifications, or what’s app messages. People might soon move into the next digital drug and want to be completely immersed in that alternative reality, a tendency that can also be implied from the broad trend of binge-watching and the success of streaming media.

How to Hack your Weekend

 

You never expect when it is time for you to start hacking. No matter whether you are interested in it or not, or you are a born-to-hack maniac or have zero experience, I am telling you, there is a time where you will see yourself… a Hacker! In this blog, I will share my surprising experience in two events, primarily about innovation, that I have attended in less than a week. The second event, which was a competition (a hackathon), will be the main focus.

Startup Pub – Pre-hackathon event:

Last weekend, my plan was almost like the regular “party, play, then catch up on studies and prepare for the next week”, until I attended the Startup Pub event, which was held up in conjunction with TEDx KTH in KTH’s Open Lab on Thursday. In that event, students and entrepreneurs owning startups get the chance to mingle, share their thoughts, and encourage each other to come up with brilliant ideas, as well as different ways to support innovation. Determined to take an active role in this event, I set-up my goals for the night: getting at least two important connections, and a free cider.

Startup Pub Event Banner by Excitera. Source: Startup Pub Facebook event page

Startup Pub Event Banner by Excitera. Source: Startup Pub Facebook event page

I arrive at the event, fairly on time, so despite the long queue, I got the ticket for the free drink, which means one goal was achieved. Now the bigger part was left, the real goal. The night went more interesting than expected; I was not planning to attend it fully mainly because I wanted to get on my daily swimming dose. However, two factors held me from leaving in the middle of the event:  the proper organization and interestingness, and my active participation. Both made me miss my daily swimming dose, but brought to me something more precious, and there are two reasons for that.

First, in the startup pub I met students, alumni, and professionals, all there for a common cause: innovation. Whether they were professionals with their idea rolling, students still in their journey, or graduates trying to shape their roads, it is always good to learn from and share insights with these brains. A major part of the event was the presentations of startups pitching their ideas and encouraging people to join their teams to make their ideas grow. One startup in particular caught
my attention, and was the second reason why I felt staying at the event was worth it.

The logo of Time Village, one of the presenting startups in Startup Pub. Source: Time Village Facebook page

The logo of Time Village, one of the presenting startups in Startup Pub. Source: Time Village Facebook page

 

The second reason why I was lucky to stay till the end is that I learned of a hackathon from one of the startups that were presenting. The startup, Time Village, has a service through which people share their time to practice something which they enjoy and which others are in need of. By providing a platform to find people offering services, such as cooking tasty Indian food or Italian tiramisu, and others requesting services, Time Village aims to connect these people who help each other and get the chance to socialize. The service was still in early release stages, and they wanted to improve it by creating a mobile application as well as growing the service’s user base. This is why Time Village organized a hackathon and named it Time Hack.

What Time Hacking?


Time Hack aimed to allow us as users to create the mobile app for Time Village, since the belief was that we know what’s best should it be like to appear to other users. This is related to user innovation in the sense that the product is shaped by the users, yet, only the best one becomes the official Time Village app. Through crowdsourcing, Time Village combine a great chance for them to get fresh ideas on how their service should be with the chance for the app creators to eventually intern with them and implement the finished app. However, that was not the only result we get from the hackathon.

 

Time Hack Event Banner. Source: Time Hack Facebook page

Time Hack Event Banner. Source: Time Hack Facebook page

Three days of networking, hacking, and networking

Not only did Time hack provide materialistic incentives, but also more valuable emotional ones. The main goal is to improve our experience as innovators, grow our network of both friends and professionals, and have good food, and all of this starts from the first moments of Day 1.

Day 1

The first day of Time Hack was mainly about forming teams and getting assigned the competition details. Teams were formed, and the goal of the competition that we need to build a mobile app for the Time Village service that is currently a web application. Also, there was a Growth Hacker track in which participants find ideas to make the service reach more people. A lot of breaks and mingling sessions made getting our networks stretched from the first day possible. Nonetheless, our team still managed to find time to brainstorm and plan the work for the upcoming day.

Our competing team during the event.

Our competing team during the event.

 

 

Day 2

Most of the work was done in the second day. With the plans and the ideas almost ready, we were ready to begin implementation. Throughout the day, a lot of mentors were roaming around the teams to guide them and share their experiences. The mentors came from different backgrounds: some were technology professionals that provide guidance for the tech side, while others were business professionals who helped better shape the ideas targeting the growth of the service. Also, some mentors provided feedback and tips on our presentations. Furthermore, the team of Time Village was also available to listen to our ideas, give feedback, and direct us through the thought process. And Guess what? All of these were great connections to have!

Networking in one of the breaks during the second day of Time Hack

Networking in one of the breaks during the second day of Time Hack

Day 3

Finally came the last day where the work was recapped and the presentations were finalized. The pitches were all interesting, without exception. This was fascinating yet not surprising since every participant of the event is a great innovator by heart, or at least has the spirit and mindset of an innovator. Knowing that these are the people I am getting exposed to and be connected with was joyful to me. When the announcement of the winner came and I heard our team was called, I began thankful to the fact that I did not miss this hackathon and made my weekend a regular one. Along with our prizes, Time Village was very happy to work with us, and we were encouraged by other valuable offerings. To name an example, there was a sponsoring startup named LunchBack that offers each of us the chance to connect with a professional over lunch based on our wish, which could be seeds for great opportunities.

Our team given the first prize

Our team given the first prize

Was worth it!

After the weekend, I had to catch up on my studies, but this time without the feel of guilt that I wasted time. This time, I had the feeling of pride and achievement: I have moved a step towards building a well-rounded career, full of connections and great experience. Nevertheless, that is not due to winning the competition, but to the overall experience. The joy of meeting great thinkers, whether participants of the competition or professionals, was the real value. This is because the outcome is always positive: whether it is discovering a great talent to work with on an idea, or learning something new no matter how small it is.

Concluding, I think that there will definitely be more Hackathons and competitions to explore, not to repeat the victory but to have the overall experience of networking and improving connections. I missed my swimming session, and it was worth it! What would you miss if you attend a hackathon?

I would like to hear from you about your experience in a hackathon or any similar competition (what were your expectations, what did you learn, etc.). Also, do you think Time Village is innovative? Will it pick up? I would be happy to hear your thoughts.

 

 

-Sharbel