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PCC student markets cutting-edge technology through hackathons
Photos and Story by Janis Nichols
A “hackathon” is not about cyber security breaches. It’s about computer coding, sleep deprivation, pizza and a race against the clock for very cool prizes. For Rock Creek Campus student Eric Thomas, it’s an opportunity to meet techies from around the country and play with apps and hardware to create new applications built from scratch in a 40-hour, non-stop, insanely competitive marathon. And it all started with engineering boot camp.
Thomas participated in the 2013 Ultimate Engineering Experience sponsored by Intel and hosted by the Rock Creek Campus. The program teaches students about computer application development, robotics and how to act like entrepreneurs. Throughout the six weeks of workshops and coursework, students are mentored by Intel engineers and PCC faculty. PCC faculty also connect with Intel to learn current industry practices. For Thomas it was his membership in a hacking team that drew Intel’s attention. The company invited him to attend a three-day game developer conference in Berkeley, Calif., where participants had to design and program wearable games. That experience led to national hackathons.
At Yale University’s hackathon in October and at the University of California-Berkeley in November, Thomas worked as a mentor, assisting students with hardware and programming.
“The Yale hackathon was massive,” he said. “With around 170 projects submitted, we occupied three stories in a building on Yale’s West Campus. Think air mattresses, computers, and stacks of pizza boxes.”
If you’re a techie, the invite is hard to resist.
Hackathons are typically sponsored by industries and hosted by colleges and universities. Companies provide new software and hardware to students to learn how they interact with the product and to determine marketability. Students also get a chance to build something that could become marketable.
“At Yale I was the third member of the Intel party,” he said. “We handed out Intel’s Gen 2 Galileo Board to see how teams would use them.”
Thomas helped with a wireless armband product that connected electrodes to a computer connected to a board that allowed hand/arm signals to control the lights and sounds in a room. Another team devised a product that attached to the bottom of a skateboard and signaled the rider turn directions.
“I volunteered to set up and run the printer throughout the event,” he said. “Yale voted me as the Best Mentor!”
At the Intel-sponsored Space Hackathon at Berkeley, Calif., hackers could work on one of three projects. CanSat, a satellite the size of a soda can equipped with a recovery system; on ARLISS, (A Rocket Launch for International Student Satellites) which asks students to build a robot to fly in a rocket and eject at peak to find its way to a goal post; or design a biology research platform for microgravity experiments on the International Space Station. The Space hackathons opportunities were created by Magnatude.io with Intel sponsorship.
When Thomas is at the Rock Creek campus, he works as the lead student in the STEAM Lab in Building 7. He helps people with 3D printing, 3D scanning, laser cutting and design software.