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Hack Cambridge's two-day event is full of ideas


By Mike Scialom


Intenso at Hack Cambridge 2019. Picture: Keith Heppell
Intenso at Hack Cambridge 2019. Picture: Keith Heppell

The University of Cambridge’s annual hackathon took place at the Corn Exchange over the weekend (January 19-20).

Hackers, programmers, designers and enthusiasts from universities all over the world congregated to build amazing software from scratch at the event. For 24 hours they developed projects that push at the boundaries of technology in a bid to win the weekend’s prize.

It’s a massive festival of focused brainpower sponsored by companies including Microsoft, Improbable, Amazon, Featurespace, Monzo, TTP, Arm, Blockchain, Deliveroo and JP Morgan.

So how did they get on? First off, the standard was incredibly high: much of the software coded at the event has commercial potential. Here are five teams and their offerings:

Team 1

Hack Cambridge's Souradip and Soham developed Mediary for skin condition sufferers. Picture: Mike Scialom
Hack Cambridge's Souradip and Soham developed Mediary for skin condition sufferers. Picture: Mike Scialom

Souradip and Soham created an app called Mediary which allows people suffering from skin disorders to create a pictorial timeline of their condition so when they go to a GP or hospital they can show the progress of the complaint.

“We had the germ of an idea and made it a reality this weekend,” said Souradip. “The app makes it easier for people to track chronic skin conditions – it’s easier if the pictures are laid out from months ago, it’s for peace of mind and your own self-care. You take the timeline to your doctor.”

Souradip adds: “I have a vested interest as I have a skin condition so I would use this app myself, you couldn’t find anything like this available elsewhere.” Souradip is studying to be a doctor while Soham is studying engineering, specialising in bioengineering and information engineering.

Team 2

Hack Cambridge's Blockbustr team included Max, Simonetta and Chloe. Picture: Mike Scialom
Hack Cambridge's Blockbustr team included Max, Simonetta and Chloe. Picture: Mike Scialom

Bluffbustr is “a poker AI bot that analyses your face as well as your hands”. The team is Max, Simonetta, Chloe and Edwin. They’re all at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, apart from Simonetta who is at Imperial. They’re using software by two of Hack Cambridge’s sponsors to get their programme written – Microsoft’s Cognitive Services and Improbable’s Spatial AI.

Max: “The programme takes an image of your face and figures out how you play the game.”

What’s the success rate?

“It works really well except poker players hide their facial emotions too well.”

Simonetta: “Like the Mona Lisa.”

Max: “You can play online.”

Does it work?

Max: “To some extent. It needs more analysis – more faces over more time.”

Will they continue?

Chloe: “That’s to be decided. It’s been fun over the 24 hours though.”

Team 3

Hack Cambridge's Alexa Monzo team Christine and Ben. Picture: Mike Scialom
Hack Cambridge's Alexa Monzo team Christine and Ben. Picture: Mike Scialom

Alexa Monzo, coded by Ben and Christine, who hadn’t met before the weekend started. They were assigned as a team by the Hack Cambridge crew. Ben is at the Department of Engineering, Christine is studying at a university in Canada and is on an internship in Oslo. It’s her first time in Cambridge. Alexa Monzo links Alexa to your bank account and you can ask Alexa how much you’ve spent this month, your balance, and even such questions as “Can I afford to have a cat?” The answers are very helpful!

Ben: “We had the idea here. Amazon has a stand here and they have Echos and Alexas on offer, it’s a convenient way to get information. There’s also a Monzo stand, they have a really cool API, so we put the two together.”

Team 4

The Reverb team, from left, is Jack, James, Laurelin and Aliyah. Picture: Mike Scialom
The Reverb team, from left, is Jack, James, Laurelin and Aliyah. Picture: Mike Scialom

Reverb was coded by Jack, James, Laurelin and Aliyah, who are all at Queen’s College in the city studying computer science.

Jack: “We came here last year but have been slightly more successful this year – we’ve had more focus, and a plan.”

Aliyah: “Reverb is primarily an app, a chat application which works across platforms, including desktop computers and phones. Using the app you can ask Alexa to send a group message for families who are maybe all using different devices.”

Jack: “So it’s not limited to just your phone like WhatsApp.”

Aliyah: “There is scope for further development – if we had time to work on it, it could be quite popular.”

I think they’re being massively cautious about the potential of this software, and offer to assist their management team if they want to pursue the product. “There’s a few bugs, we might come back to it later,” says Jack nonchalantly.

Team 5

Winning MyPhysio team help set up a pose for their physiotherapy tracker. Standing, right is Luke with, anti-clockwise, Jonti, Phil and Sjoerd. Picture: Mike Scialom
Winning MyPhysio team help set up a pose for their physiotherapy tracker. Standing, right is Luke with, anti-clockwise, Jonti, Phil and Sjoerd. Picture: Mike Scialom

MyPhysio was the worthy winner at this year’s Hack Cambridge. The team – Luke, Jonti, Phil and Sjoerd – identified that people recovering from injury (sports, accident or age-related) often don’t complete the required physiotherapy and their software encourages them to do just that by setting up a sequence of preferred postures and timing how long they spend in each posture day by day. Their recovery is then linked to the amount of time spent exercising. The team all studied at the University of Cambridge and are now fanning out into various related roles at Microsoft Research on Station Road.

Luke: “There’s big differences in the way people come back from injury and that relates to whether they do their physiotherapy so we worked out a way to gamify workouts. MyPhysio involves machine learning in the browser to track your poses, how long you hold your poses, and you can see what you’re doing.”

A demo involved a participant standing in front of a laptop’s camera: four poses are set up and then it’s about timing how long you can hold the pose for. You can track improvements in the times over a week or a month. It seems pretty advanced, and again I ask how close this is to being a for-sale product because, like much of this spontaneously-generated software, it seems incredible that it should be produced in 24 hours and then not go on sale. Luke accepts that this is a serious product.

Simon Osborne, CEO of connectivity specialists novahub
Simon Osborne, CEO of connectivity specialists novahub

“A few years ago this would have required millions of images to be possible,” he says. “The cool thing is the software is only in the browser, it can run on a mobile. We could launch it today. This is a beta version. The aim is definitely to launch it but we need to speak to some physiotherapists first, to test if it increases their patients’ adherence to their exercises.”

Hack Cambridge 2019 involved some amazing teams with supercharged ideas explored and coded in a very tight window. Big thanks to local firm novahub who enhanced the wifi to allow an event linking more than 1,000 devices in a small space to the cloud, with one terrabyte of data downloaded without any reported hiccups. And don’t be surprised if some of these hackers are household names in the next few years!

Hack Cambridge showcases the creativity and speed of coders, designers and software specialists. Picture: Keith Heppell
Hack Cambridge showcases the creativity and speed of coders, designers and software specialists. Picture: Keith Heppell


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