Twice a year, U-M students organize the very successful MHacks, one of the oldest and largest hackathons in the country. For 36 hours, programmers and coders are in a hacker’s paradise.
After hours of hacking, students found sustenance in the Fountain Ballroom, which also served as the site for hacking and sponsor exhibits.
U-M sophomores Madison Helsel, left, and Megan Greenwood set up camp on the edge of the action in the Fountain Ballroom. About one-third of the students at MHacks were from U-M.
Startup Q&A panelist Monica Wheat, x’05, the founder and executive director of Digerati Girls, speaks about her experience creating the program aimed at engaging girls in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
What do you get when you crowd roughly 1,800 students into Detroit’s Masonic Temple for 36 hours on an October weekend? The eighth MHacks hackathon—and possibly the next great tech product or application.
College and high school students from around the country converged Oct. 7 and, for the next day and a half, worked individually or in small teams to build or code projects of their choosing. “The whole point of the weekend is to make sure that people come in and learn something new,” said U-M senior Pavithra Vetriselvan, MHacks director of user experience. “We’ve had people create iPhone apps, Android apps, Windows apps, websites. But we also have a lot of hardware hacks; we even had people build doors and technology associated with that door. People end up coming up with a lot of different things.”
In the past, MHacks projects have resulted in viable businesses. At one of last year’s hackathons (U-M organizes two each academic year), an engineering student from Case Western Reserve and a high school student from California met and developed the first prototype of Parihug. The electronically connected teddy bears allow users to “hug” from a distance via a sensor that detects the hug from one bear and transmits it to the other. Parihug won the People’s Choice Startup of the Year Award at South by Southwest earlier this year.
Since the first MHacks in winter 2013, the events have been held at U-M’s Palmer Commons, Michigan Stadium, the Detroit building that houses Quicken Loans, and North Campus. To devote as much time as possible to their projects, students rarely leave the building, even eating and sleeping at the hackathon before emerging into the sunlight 36 hours later. The photos here give just a small slice of hackathon life.
MHacks occupied five floors of the shrine building as well as the Fountain Ballroom (left) in Detroit’s massive Masonic Temple. Rooms were dedicated to specific types of activities, such as mobile, web, and virtual reality. “The idea is that you should be able to feel like you’re working on something similar to the people around you,” said Vetriselvan.
Dug Song, ’97, (left) CEO of Duo Security, talks with Alex Mattoni, CTO of Cycle, before the startup Q&A panel that Song led. MHacks included several of these tech talks over the 36-hour timeframe. It also offered workshops and opportunities for mentoring, both in-person and virtually.
Nothing gets in the way of a good hack, not even a sleeping colleague. The augmented reality/virtual reality cortex on the third floor of the Masonic Temple was one of the many areas where students could meet with others working on similar hacks.
Georgia Tech juniors Aditya Vishwanath, left, and Sarthak Srinivas work on adding the tempo for the cyber violin. MHacks chose the Detroit location to draw students from outside Ann Arbor. “Sometimes when you associate a hackathon with a particular university, people don’t feel as welcome,” said Vetriselvan.
Arbor Network, one of approximately 30 sponsors, offered sleep zones, mouth wash, and other help to participants during the event. Other sponsors included presenting sponsor Ford as well as General Motors, Microsoft, GE, and BlackRock.
Taking a break from hacking was easy during the 36 hours. Meditation and yoga sessions were held throughout the day. Instructor Mike Dannheim, co-founder of 1Apeiron, leads a group in restorative yoga.
For those less inclined to yoga and more inclined to the great outdoors, the pictureperfect weather provided a welcome respite outside Masonic Temple.