PennHacks, the hardware hackathon, joins PennApps

PennApps' winning app was a hardware/software hack

· February 16, 2014, 9:43 pm   ·  Updated February 17, 2014, 12:51 am

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While PennHacks no longer exists in name , the competition now exists as part of PennApps.

This year, PennApps added a hardware track to the international competition , allowing participants to build projects combining software and hardware. The Architects, the student club which organized the former hardware hackathon PennHacks , worked with PennApps to incorporate the two events .

Participants in the hardware track could choose to operate in the Detkin Lab , which has electrical engineering equipment that the students could use. However, they could also check out portable equipment, such as sensors, and work in any place in the engineering quad.

Combining the software and hardware hacks allows participants to work on projects that require both parts.

“Software hacks don’t provide equipment, and hardware hacks might want to see more hardware-based projects,” said Engineering sophomore Xiuruo Zhang, a member of the Architects. “We combined the events, so that they can do everything.”

Columbia engineering sophomore Derek He, one of the two members of the first-prize team from all of PennApps, supported incorporating a hardware track in PennApps. “People can certainly meet [people] with background[s] in other subjects, and they can collaborate to make new things,” he said.

His team built “The Homework Machine,” a combination of hardware and software that mimics the user’s handwriting and completes their math homework.

Christopher Moody, a mentor from Intel, agreed with the decision to combine the two hackathons. “Most people who do hardware also need to make use of software. I’d like to see it all the same time … to get a variety of things,” he said.

The hardware hackathon makes use of resources from PennApps, such as sponsorship, food and transportation costs, which Zhang said “saved a huge expense for PennHacks, so we can buy our equipment.”

The hardware hack required more resources than the software hack in order to guarantee the safety of students,from Zhang especially for certain activities such as soldering — combining metals at high heats.

“We have people from our club on duty for 24 hours,” Zhang said. “For hardware you have to obey some rules, otherwise you might be damaging something or burning the lab.”

While PennApps has hosted participants from other schools for many years, this was the first year that non-Penn students could participate in the hardware hackathon at Penn. Participants hailing from Yale, Columbia and Villanova universities, University of California at Berkely and the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Applicants for the hardware track apply to PennApps like other competitors, with the organizer of PennApps deciding whether or not to accept teams from other universities.

Zhang said that because students from other universities were participating, the hardware hackathon now had a “liability issue for non-Penn students.”

“We want to give people the best available resources to build some really cool things, but we also don’t want to lose anything,” Zhang said. She explained that the hackathon keeps track of all equipment in order to prevent any tools from going missing.

In the future, Zhang anticipates that the hackware hackathon will continue to be part of PennApps.

“It’s easier for participation, and we anticipate more participants,” Zhang said.

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