This weekend, participants in HackDuke will devote 24 hours to creating hardware and software projects which address social issues.
HackDuke—which is now in its third year—attracted nearly 3,000 applications to participate in this year’s competition, with some applicants coming from as far as China and the United Kingdom. Approximately 800 participants were selected to compete, with nearly 600 of them from Duke, HackDuke organizers said. The competition will give students the chance to collaborate on projects with peers and with engineers from tech companies such as IBM, Google and Facebook. This year will also feature a novice category that welcomes first-time coders to participate.
“HackDuke has been growing really fast and getting a lot of attention because of our success in the past,” said sophomore Tara Davis, the media head of HackDuke.
There are four tracks that participants can compete in—Inequality, Energy and the Environment, Health and Wellness and Education. The winning team of each track will be awarded prize money to donate to a nonprofit of their choice.
HackDuke originated in 2013, when Duke hosted HackBlue—a hackathon involving roughly 150 students from Duke, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, explained senior Jesse Hu, a member of the HackDuke team.
“The next year a couple of Duke students started to form the team and tried to put the hackathon on a national scale,” said senior Yu Zhou Lee, a member of the HackDuke team. “It attracted over 500 people that year, and that was the start of HackDuke.”
HackDuke’s special emphasis on “Code for Good” has inspired participants to make projects that solve real world problems.
The 2013 HackDuke first-place project was a glove system which interprets sign language and outputs the correct translation via text to speech.
“When you wear the glove and do sign languages with your hand, our box will speak out what you are signing in English,” said senior Zachary Bears, one of the project’s designers. “A few months later, we saw a bunch of other people building similar smart gloves, so I guess we inspired them to go forward with the idea.”
In Fall 2014, a team of freshmen participating in HackDuke designed an app called Daily Donor, which allows users to donate to charities by watching video ads. The app won the Poverty and Inequality Track.
“I actually had the idea of using video advisement to generate money for charity back in high school,” said sophomore Rob Martorano, one of the team members and a member of this year’s HackDuke organization team.
Martorano’s team created a website in which the users watch a clip of advertisement and the advertiser will donate money to a charity of the users’ choice.
“The idea was to use coupons to incentivize people to go on the website each day and donate,” Martorano said. “There was actually a company that reached out to us and talked about partnering after the hackathon.”
Although some of the past projects may be daunting to inexperienced coders, HackDuke will host Hack Week, which features tech workshops for students of any experience level throughout this week. Non-coders can also participate in HackDuke by collaborating with the coders and brainstorming project ideas.
Martorano encouraged this year’s participants to take full advantage of the hackathon.
“Staying up all night sounds crazy, but also definitely try to talk to people from other teams and professionals from companies,” he said. “If you are just sitting in front of the computer the entire time, you are not getting the whole experience.”