Hackathons, a popular ‘sport’ for innovators, are a fun way of coming up with new ideas
A hackathon is “innovation compressed”, according MacCraith.
“A hackathon is a great manifestation of innovation and a focus of creative energy over a short period,” he says. “You start with problem statements or with opportunity statements and then you work through multidisciplinary approaches to come up with solutions; in some cases they are concepts but in many cases they are prototypes.”
DCU’s Innovation Campus in Glasnevin has an entire floor dedicated to hackathons. Over the last year the building has hosted several events, including general hardware hackathons with PCH, a hackathon with ABP and Intel on how the “internet of things” can affect meat-processing, a hackathon for students, a “smart cities” hackathon withIntel and an augmented reality development hackathon with augmented reality/4D company DAQRI.
The events draw in mentors and speakers to advise the teams as they brainstorm, build and prepare to pitch their work to a panel of judges for prizes. There also tends to be a commercial focus.
“While forming start-ups is not necessarily the sole aim of the hackathons, it is sometimes a natural offshoot,” says Furlong, who estimates that about six start-ups have their genesis in this series of events; two of those are now based in DCU’s Innovation Campus.
DAQRI ran a hackathon at the DCU site in June, coinciding with the launch of its European HQ and development centre in Dublin. With the theme being the future of work, developers who took part built apps for the DAQRI Smart Helmet and the Melon brain activity (EEG) monitor.
The smart helmet is controlled through gaze-tracking and voice recognition and it integrates cameras, sensors and software to let the wearer “see” augmented information about their environment.
“It allows you to look at the world around you, understand it contextually and insert digital information that is useful to the end user,” says Gaia Dempsey, co-founder and managing director of DAQRI International.
In practice, that could also enable an expert to remotely see what the wearer is seeing and advise accordingly. The helmet is being piloted in various industries, including energy, building and aerospace.
So why a hackathon in Dublin? “It gives you a whole bunch of information about potential hires, potential customers, potential partners, and it also gives you the feedback about what people want to build with our tools,” says Dempsey. “One of the main reasons was to spread the word to the developer community about the jobs we are hiring for and also to activate the community around the ability to build apps for our platform.”
The hackathon itself served as an “augmented interview”, she says.
“When you sit down with a candidate or a potential customer, visitor, partners, everyone has to play 20 questions, everyone has to understand what is the underlying technology, what is the underlying development environment, what is the culture like of the company, what is the vision for how these products are going to evolve, where are we going. All of that and more gets conveyed in a compressed two-day event.”