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PennApps hackathon Credit: Christina Prudencio , Christina Prudencio

Nearly 200 students programmed away in Towne building this weekend, stopping only for the occasional shot of Red Bull at this semester’s PennApps hackathon.

The hackathon — described as “the best student-run hackathon I’ve ever seen” by a representative from Yahoo!, a sponsor of the event — brought together students from Columbia, Harvard, Rutgers and other East Coast universities, to participate in a 48-hour tech app-creating competition.

PennApps offered demos and training sessions for programmers on Thursday and early Friday. Programming for the competition began Friday afternoon and continued until noon on Sunday.

The goals of PennApps, said organizer and Engineering and Wharton sophomore Pulak Mittal in an email, include “foster[ing] a stronger ‘hacker’ culture” — or applying the computer skills learned in the classroom to develop real-life solutions — and building a more active computer science community at Penn.

To that extent, working in teams and helping competitors are both highly encouraged, an atmosphere that Engineering junior Connie Ho supported. “[It’s] nice [programming] in a community,” she said.

The organizers chose this year’s theme — simplicity — in an “attempt to inspire people to think outside of the box on how they can make common things we do simpler or easier to use,” Mittal explained.

Chris Garvin, dean of College of Media and Communication at the University of the Arts and one of the event’s judges, agreed with Mittal, stating that he looked for programmers who “didn’t try to reinvent the wheel but tried to look at it in a new way.”

There were plenty of apps that successfully did so, ranging from an Android app that provides easy-to-use mixed drink recipes to an internet app modeling Harry Potter’s Marauder’s Map, which allows users to pinpoint friends’ locations on campus.

Judges announced the top three applications after a demo session where each team presented their applications.

The third-place team, winning $1,000, developed rdtripp an internet application that asks users for their final destination and then uses Facebook information to locate friends to visit on the way.

The creators of “GrassRoutes” won $1,500 for their second place project. Grassroutes creates widgets for people to put on their websites, explained team member and Engineering freshman Tess Rinearson. “We’re currently working on promoting Grassroutes as a way for people facilitate the ongoing SOPA protest,” she continued.

The grand prize of $2,500 went to the team that developed “ScratchTable,” a program that turns any surface into a turntable.

The application uses a sensor that detects vibrations from traditional turntable movements and translates that data into corresponding music. The application won both the audience’s votes and the judges’.

“We’re planning on taking our main idea of turning any surface into a touch surface and releasing a more general application called Trollgusta Touch,” explained Engineering junior, Thomas Ly, one of the team members. Students can find Trollgusta Touch in app stores online by the end of this year.


VIDEO: 48-hour hackathon

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