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Hack Cambridge's recipe for success


By Mike Scialom


So busy at Hack Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell
So busy at Hack Cambridge . Picture: Keith Heppell

The third annual hackathon gestated some great new innovations

Pure brain power at the Cambridge Corn Exchange! Picture: Keith Heppell
Pure brain power at the Cambridge Corn Exchange! Picture: Keith Heppell

There was feverish activity at the Corn Exchange for this year’s Hack Cambridge.

For the third year running, hundreds of designers and programmers from universities around the world focused on some astonishing new projects.

“The competition is for people to enjoy themselves, create something and express themselves,” said Hack Cambridge’s communications manager Peter Scharrer.

“There were 320 hackers and mentors from 22 different sponsoring companies, so around 400 people in total took part.”

Universities around the world send in teams for Hack Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
Universities around the world send in teams for Hack Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

The hack involves building, breaking, innovating and re-testing solutions and software from 9am on the Saturday to 5pm on Sunday. Competitors – who sleep and eat at the Guildhall across the road – may have prior ideas of what they want to build in the run-up to the event, but the winner is judged on the basis of what they achieve in the 24 working hours of the event.

Runners-up this year were PantryLog. PantryLog consists of Silvia, Ami and Elena. Their idea came about, said Elena, when they considered that “the average British family wastes the equivalent of 15 meals per month” just from items “past their expiration date”.

She said: “PantryLog is an Internet of Things (IoT) device, paired with a smartphone app, which allows users to easily record the items they have just purchased by swiping them. The IoT device automatically recognises the nature of the item, and reads the expiration date.”

The data is sent to the PantryLog app which reminds them of items about to expire – but there’s more.

The 2018 Hack Cambridge at Cambridge Corn Exchange. Picture: Keith Heppell
The 2018 Hack Cambridge at Cambridge Corn Exchange. Picture: Keith Heppell

“The app comes up with recipes based on what you have in your pantry,” enthuses Scharrer.

This is a great idea, though not for everyone. It certainly wouldn’t work for me because the combined contents of my larder would take fusion cuisine to new, and frankly thermonuclear, levels. Sorry!

Other PantryLog features include nutrition advice and automatic ordering from online supermarkets.

“The project makes use of the Microsoft Vision API in an innovative way,” concluded Elena. “As a result, we have been approached by Microsoft to participate in its Imagine Cup event, and invited to the Microsoft HQ in Reading for further discussions about the project’s future potential.”

Innovation on the hoof with designers and programmers in the house on an epic scale. Picture: Keith Heppell
Innovation on the hoof with designers and programmers in the house on an epic scale. Picture: Keith Heppell

So huge congratulations to the PantryLog team.

Meanwhile, the winners of the third annual hackathon were four-person Bad Flamingo, who took home sponsors’ prizes for their project differentiating people from artificial intelligence.

“Bad Flamingo is a game that allows you to look at what AI can accomplish,” said Peter. “You log on and get the word ‘umbrella’. You have to draw the umbrella in a way that allows humans to identify it, but artificial intelligence can’t figure it out – it could just be upside down. The idea evolved from some badly-drawn flamingoes.

“Bad Flamingo gathers data. There’s a trivial difference and humans can see it but AI, a lot of the time, can’t recognise things that are different from how they’ve understood them. The data can be used to improve AI. It’s quite a happy game, and fun to play.”

The high-powered sponsors of Hack Cambridge 2018 included Microsoft, Arm, Improbable, Cambridge Consultants, Amazon, Google, Facebook, JP Morgan and Cambridge Medical Robotics.

“It’s nice to take computer science, traditionally seen as an introverted activity, and be able to do it at a much friendlier event, with other people who are loving doing the same thing,” said Peter.



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