First ever interdisciplinary hackathon brings different fields together and creative ideas to life.

In a trending event that’s taken the higher-ed world by storm (e.g. MLH hackathons, Northern Virginia’s recent hackathon, Princeton’s recent hackathon, and many more), a team of Hampshire College students have launched a unique hackathon aimed at engaging more than just tech students, thanks to the incorporation of different disciplines such as art, design, fabrication and more. The goal is to create products that attempt to solve problems resonating in the modern world.

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The event, called Hamp Hack–sponsored by Major League Hacking, Hampshire College and other national and regional sponsors–was held on the weekend of February 26-27, 2016, and gathered students from across five colleges from the Northeast and beyond. The event was built around the idea that every great product or project is a mixture of components from various different fields and areas of interest.

While hosting hackathons on campuses has been a growing trend, this event broke the mold by widening the typical model of tech-minded people coming together to solve tech challenges, thanks to its interdisciplinary scope that welcomes technophiles and technophobes alike.

Nearly 200 students, 53 percent of which were women, formed teams of up to 4 to create working prototypes of potentially viable products tackling problems in environmental sustainability, the brain and development, “life hacks,” artificial intelligence, and more. An idea jam session at the beginning of the weekend allowed students to express ideas and find teammates, and faculty members and student staff served as mentors to the teams in the event that they needed any help or advice.

“This was an experiment to see what we could do by extending Hampshire’s beliefs of interdisciplinary work,” said Chief Organizer and Hampshire Student Nirman Dave. “What would happen if people from different fields came together and tried to solve a problem? With this event, we wanted to give students a platform that gives their unique ideas an escape velocity into reality, and to not just talk, but to get together and make their ideas happen.”

(Next page: Top prize-winning projects from the hackathon)

“I’ve seen tech guys sit for 100 hours and code, but the life of a product goes from creation all the way to packaging and delivery,” said Dave. “At the end of the day, it’s not just about software and tech, but a range of different disciplines.”

A Good Product is More Than Tech

Those other disciplines of design, fabrication and art were chosen based on what the team felt were the most key elements in a good product aside from the technology. Deciding on three main disciplines, as well as technology, also helped the organizers to better decide what resources they would provide.

As a Major League Hacking event, Hamp Hack was able to ensure that resources such as Oculus Rift virtual-reality devices, Pebble Smart Watches, Leap Motion computer controllers, and MindWave NeuroSky brainwave-reading headsets were available for the participants. A host of other materials that extended to the other disciplines were also available. Participants had access to the Center for Design’s machine shop and design lab as well.

Although the student organizers were initially unsure of what people would actually make at Hamp Hack and if it run smoothly, Dave said they were blown away by the turnout and interdisciplinary efforts of the participants, and that the event went without a hitch.

“It was not just an event, but more of an extension of Hampshire’s beliefs in interdisciplinary action, getting ideas out, and diversity,” said Dave.

Taking Ideas to Market

More than 35 extremely unique projects were submitted by the competition’s end, with 15 being awarded prizes. Dave proudly said that about 30-35 percent of the teams achieved the intended escape velocity and expect to take their projects forward into the market.

The Environmental Sustainability prize and top prize in the competition was given to an app that allows users to take a picture of an item, and the app tells you if and how it should be recycled. One of the members on the team knew how to create an app, while the rest of the team worked to create a visually appealing user interface and hone the app’s environmental connections.

Other examples of creations made at Hamp Hack included a thought controlled autonomous car which won the Brain and Development prize; a huge Rube Goldberg machine made entirely from things like paper, cardboard, tape and pins; and an interactive storybook that lights up, makes noise, and encourages touch and drawing at various points.

“We hope some of the student teams will be able to develop their product further using funding from prizes,” says Dave. “It’s a great way for students to push themselves, learn new ideas, and form bonds with people they might not otherwise have met.”

Dave said the team plans to host another Hamp Hack in Spring 2017, with an even greater focus on interdisciplinary creation.

For photos and even more information on this year’s event, take a look at Hamp Hack’s website here.

About the Author:

Ronald Bethke


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