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Posted on Tue, Feb 5, 2013 : 5:58 a.m.

Students at Michigan hackathon develop wide range of websites and apps

By Ben Freed

From a website that tells you where to eat to a “living” robot, students at the MHacks “hackathon” came up with 126 projects, the most ever at a student-run event.

More than 550 students came from across North America to spend 48 straight hours hacking in Palmer Commons on the University of Michigan’s campus. The teams developed projects that ranged from comical to practical with everything in between.

One team of U-M Students created “Snooze N Shame,” an app that would send automatic Facebook updates from your account every time you hit the snooze button, alerting your friends to your lack of morning motivation.

On the more practical side, a team of students from the University of Pennsylvania developed “Lawlipop,” a 3-D visualization of the connection between cases that could eventually allow legal experts to examine the relationship and cross-referencing of decisions in an entirely new light.

Note on links in this story

Please remember the projects shown here were developed in the 48-hour period, so links to websites the students came up with may work slowly or display some glitches. Some students will continue to work on their projects to give them more polish, while others will simply take the learning experience and move on to their next hack.

Trends from the event show what types of programs these students think need to be developed further. A number of projects used social media to bring groups of people together to hang out, donate to charity, or listen to music. There were also few apps and websites designed to help the user with decision making.

One team with students from U-M and Purdue came up with “Sup?” for the indecisive among us. The website takes the decision making entirely out of your hands and uses your location to simply tell you where to eat.

Amongst all of the innovation, two hacks stood out as particularly impressive:


What if you didn’t need to use a mouse?

What if you could actually control computer screens with simple movements like Robert Downey Jr. does as Tony Stark in Spider man?

The technology for this type of automation has been available to the public in its early stages with the Xbox Kinect, which retails for about $110. College undergraduates Zain Shah and Ishaan Gulrajani developed code in 48 hours that allows you to control your computer screen through a simple webcam.

“You could do a lot with this by setting up two cameras, even just using your iPhone as a second camera,” Shah said.

“There are possibilities from 3-D drawing for sculptures or engineers, to using your hand as a remote control, really anything is possible.” Shah and Gulrajani have worked together at hackathons before, even though Shah is a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh and Gulrajani is just a freshman at MIT.

The application they developed uses data from your computer’s webcam to track motion. The “wand” controlling your screen can be anything from your finger to a marker, can move the mouse around the screen, and clicks by staying in one place for long enough.

Chaos Pad:

Strumming away on an electric guitar with his iPhone velcro’d next to the strings was University of Michigan sophomore Joe Constantakis. As he played, Constantakis would tap or drag his fingers across the phone, causing a burst of color and distorting the sound coming out of the amplifier.

Constantakis, with fellow U-M computer science sophomores Billy Irwin and Chris O’Neil, decided on developing the “Chaos pad” the night before the hackathon.

“It just sounded like something that would be really freaking cool to work on,” Irwin said.

“So we decided to go for it, and it took all of the 48 hours… I’m working on about three hours of sleep on the weekend.”

The team said they plan on working some kinks out of the app over the next few weeks and then putting it in the Apple store.

“We’ll probably price it between $2.99 and $4.99,” Irwin said.

“We think that people who are really into the guitar culture will be willing to spend a few dollars to play around with this or use it. Other similar products require hardware and can cost hundreds of dollars.”

The app changes the sound emitted by the guitar and can even develop two and three part harmonies as a soloist plays. It communicates wirelessly between the phone and a computer, although the team said they hope to take the computer out of the equation before offering the app to the public.

Check out a demo of the Chaos Pad:

Ben Freed covers business for You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2


Ben Freed

Wed, Feb 6, 2013 : 10:31 p.m.

For more coverage, check out this write up in Forbes: