A microwave that plays YouTube videos, phone apps that tell you where to go for dinner and a website that turns tweets into poetry — these were just some of the many creations to emerge from Towne Building this weekend during PennApps, Penn’s bi-annual hackathaon.
Starting last Friday night at 6 p.m., nearly 200 students from universities all over the U.S. gathered in Towne for the next 48 hours to design and build phone and internet applications. Participants entered the competition on teams and had until noon on Sunday to finish creating their application and hopefully win the grand prize — $2,500 and the opportunity to present their project to engineers at Google in New York City.
Though the competition lasted almost 48 hours, sleep was the last thing on everyone’s mind. “There are portable hammocks to crash on if you’re a wuss,” said PennApps organizer Alexey Komissarouk — an Engineering senior and Daily Pennsylvanian columnist — on Sunday afternoon as the hackathon was nearing an end. “But most haven’t slept at all. I mean look at them. They look disheveled, even for computer engineers.”
At 2 p.m. on Sunday, each of the 41 participating teams gave a two-minute demonstration of their app. Five judges — ranging from Kartik Hosanagar, professor of Information and Operations Management, to Jason Kincaid, a writer for the techblog TechCrunch.com — sat on the panel.
The winner was µWave, a microwave that “entertains you while your food cooks,” explained Kevin Conley, an Engineering senior and a member of the µWave team. When the cook time for food is entered on the microwave, a highly rated YouTube video of the same length is pulled up and played on an iPad-like screen attached to the front, allowing users to enjoy a new video while they wait for their food. The microwave can also send a text message to and a tweet mentioning the user when the food is done being cooked. “As an engineer, I want a career where I can build stuff that other people think is cool and maybe want to use — and that’s exactly what PennApps embodies,” Conley said.
The second place prize went to Class Grapher, a project designed by Wharton sophomore Alex Rattray and Engineering student Greg Terrono. Class Grapher takes information from Penn Course Review and color coordinates departments at Penn by the quality of the classes offered. PennMeet, an app designed to take “the suck out of club list-servs” according to the team’s presentation, received third prize. It simplifies signing up for groups and clubs by using a scanning device on your phone to automatically upload your information to the group’s listerv.
Another group of four Penn students created an Android and web app called “Dine ‘N’ Dash,” an application for “anyone who has a dining plan at Penn,” Engineering junior Nick McGill explained. The Dine ‘N’ Dash app aggregates the daily menus and hours of operation from all of the dining halls on campus. Students can search the menu of the dining hall where they want to eat or search to see if a particular type of food is being served anywhere on campus.
Despite the fact that everyone was competing for the grand prize, all participants seemed willing to help out the other teams. “We had a six-hour period where we couldn’t get the data from the databases onto the actual profile,” said Michael Rivera, a College and Engineering junior and a member of the Dine ‘N’ Dash team. Eventually they sought help from another team who saw instantly how to fix the problem. “It was amazing,” Rivera said.
PennApps has been growing in size since it first launched in 2009 with only 45 participants. “It’s exciting to see it growing and to see what is created each year,” Komissarouk said.
This article has been updated from its original version to reflect that Komissarouk is a current Engineering senior.