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BoilerMake 2015 draws record number of hackers


A Halloween party station. A candy-shooting machine designed to make Gobstopper and Skittles consumption faster and easier. A pumpkin that takes photos and posts them instantly on Twitter.

The Halloween season was on the mind of many of the 600 hackers that competed in the 2015 BoilerMake event, which ran Oct. 16 to 18 at Purdue University’s Lambert Fieldhouse.  

A pumpkin that takes pictures? It happened at BoilerMake 2015.

Past hackathons concentrated on apps, websites and new software. There was much of that at this event but the hardware was pushed heavily. Interactive hands-on machines were in the mix.

“Since last year, we reflected and thought since everyone does an app, let’s do something more unique, intuitive and creative this year,” said Dominick Lee, an Electrical Engineering Technology sophomore. “We thought the gaming industry is a big, popular hit. People love parties and Halloween is coming up. BoilerMake is in the midst of all of that. Let’s make the piece of the puzzle that fits all of this.”

Starting at 9 p.m. Oct. 16 and ending at 9 a.m. Oct. 18, Lee and his team created a computer racing game controlled with a cordless keyboard and an ultrasonic tracker strapped to the player’s head. The students reversed a sleep mask provided to the hackers by Wal-Mart to attach the tracker, which picks up the player’s head movements while moving the game’s race car as it gobbles up points and power-ups. A balloon then pops at the end of the game thanks to more electronic sensors.

Lee and his team, which included Computer Science sophomore Harun Sentosa, upped the ante with Christmas lights – OK not everything was Halloween – and a 3D-printed, animatronic head that flashed and moved to pulsating electronic dance music of the game. It was a feast for the eyes and ears.

Another seasonal hit was PumpkinPiPics, a prime example of how creative hacking can be. University of Illinois computer science students Alex Cordonnier and Daniel Carballal teamed up with Ball State University CS major Brandon Groff to hollow out a pumpkin, carve the BoilerMake double hammer logo, add a raspberry pie inside the pumpkin and load up the gourd with a digital camera, online broadcast capability and capacitive touch sensor technology to activate the pumpkin camera. The shots were shown on @PumpkinPiPics on Twitter.

“It senses the capacitance in your fingers, just like the touchscreen on your smartphone,” Cordonnier said.

Other highlights included a candy-shooting cannon that utilized facial recognition technology to find its candy-starved targets and a bomb-diffusing game complete with briefcase and frantic LED screen counting down from two minutes.

New, evocative websites were also created at BoilerMake. They ranged from a site dedicated to analyzing crime statistics in Chicago to a Purdue Computer Science freshman’s look at rock ‘n’ roll history.

“My father used to listen to those bands and we have similar tastes. He was my inspiration,” said Palina Rawat while scrolling through her site’s attractive design full of animation, original artwork and loads of information on bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Guns N’ Roses. She used JavaScript and Macromedia Flash to build the site.

The hackers competed for thousands of dollars in cash and prizes, with some of those prizes ranging from Star Wars Legos to, yes, hover boards. Many of the prizes came from sponsors like Apple, Microsoft, Qualcomm and Clarity Partners, which employs BoilerMake co-founder Brittany Vacchiano.

“It’s awesome to come back as a sponsor. It’s a totally different experience,” said Vacchiano, a consultant for the Chicago office of the private equity and venture capital firm. “I really enjoyed seeing what the hackers do. … I’m also really proud of the BoilerMake committee. They’ve done a great job organizing the event.”

Thirteen universities from across the country were represented. The 600 programmers were the biggest turnout for a BoilerMake. Sure, there are larger hackathons in other universities but BoilerMake strives to keep the quality high.

"I definitely think we are one of the top-five hackathons in the U.S. right now in,” said Mason Everett, BoilerMake volunteer coordinator and Computer Science junior. “We really try to keep our UX (user experience) game on top. We're trying to be the best.”

BoilerMake pitch

A group of BoilerMake hackers pitch their work to a judge during the showcasing portion of the event on Sunday, Oct. 18.

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