Neural network visualization project wins at HackMIT

Hackers given “passports” in order to encourage workshop and tech talk attendance

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Ruchi Sanghvi, the first female engineer to work at Facebook, addresses the hackers at the opening ceremony of HackMIT in Kresge Auditorium.
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A team of hackers present their project to a member of the judging committee at Johnson Ice Rink.
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A team of hackers present a demo of their award-winning Structurall project during the closing ceremony of HackMIT at Kresge Auditorium.
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Nearing 11 a.m. of Sept. 16, hackers in Johnson Ice Rink hurry to debug their programs before the judging begins.
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A hacker catches up on sleep after working through the night and into the following morning at Johnson Ice Rink Saturday.
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Copies of HackMIT's direction booklets, which were provided to every hacker upon check-in.
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The hacking arena minutes after the start of the competition at Johnson Ice Rink.
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A neural network visualization project, Ennui, won first place at HackMIT 2018 this past weekend. About 1,200 students from MIT and around the world coded software projects during the 24-hour hackathon held at Johnson Athletic Center.

The runner-up project was YeetView, a street view for the visually impaired. ViGiCam, an object-tracking video surveillance system, won the third place overall prize.

Ennui was developed by Jesse Michel ’19 and Rikhav Shah ’19. 

The projects were judged Sunday morning and afternoon, which was followed by a Project Expo event during which participants got to see each others’ projects. In total, there were 36 prizes awarded.

This year, in addition to the main competition, there was also a scavenger hunt of sorts. Each hacker was given a small “passport” which they could get stamped at various talks and how-to demos, such as “Rigetti: How to Program a Quantum Computer” and “Quora: Intro to NLP Techniques.” Those who collected eight or more stamps won a small prize.

Overall, hackers seemed to enjoy the hackathon. “[I liked] the large, dedicated chunk of time to explore something new without worrying about all the other stuff on my plate,” Nate Foss ’20 told The Tech in an interview. “My least favorite part is that it’s only 24 hours, which isn’t usually enough time to build something of high quality.”

The YeetView project included aspects that rely on voice-recognition, and because the hackers behind the project are Australian, their accents made it more difficult to test and demo. “Our Australian accent isn’t very good on the web speech API,” Mitch McDermott, one of the hackers who coded YeetView, said in an interview with The Tech.

The keynote speakers for HackMIT 2018 were Massimo Banzi, the co-founder of Arduino, an open-source hardware and software company, and Ruchi Sanghvi, the founder of South Park Commons, a learning community for people in tech based in San Francisco, and the first female engineer at Facebook. Both spoke at the opening ceremony.

MIT students were guaranteed admission, while students from other universities had to apply online. According to a HackMIT organizer, HackMIT received 4,991 applications this year. Hackers received food, swag, and overnight hosting.

Four first-year MIT students living in Baker hosted 11 hackers. One of the hosts, Ryan Wilson ’22, didn’t mind the crowd. “I’m not sure if we could fit 12 hackers in our room, but I am sure that we could fit 24 or even 28,” Wilson jokingly told The Tech in an interview.

Update 9/23/19: The article was updated to include the names of the students of the winning team, by request and in keeping with previous years’ coverage.