11th PennApps hackathon sees highest attendance ever

Coding may be a way of life for top collegiate hackers, but even the best of the best are pushed to their limits during PennApps, the nation’s premier student-run hackathon. The bi-annual, 36-hour code-fest held in the School of Engineering and Applied Science’s quad marked its 11th edition recently, bringing together more than 1,300 student hackers from across the world.

“It was the highest attendance ever,” says Pranav Vishnu Ramabhadran, a member of PennApps’ executive board. “It was great to see everything come together so well.”

At PennApps, student coders, with support from industry leaders including Apple and Intel, work in teams of up to four to design, create, and present a web, mobile, or hardware application. At the end of the weekend, teams compete for more than $46,000 worth of prizes awarded by company sponsors.

This year’s grand prize—$3,000 plus a spate of hardware products—went to Spanish hackers Miquel Llobet, Daniel Martí, David da Silva Contin, and Dario Nieuwenhuis for lifesaber, an app that can turn anyone into a cardiac arrest first-responder by locating the nearest defibrillator and coaching the user on basic CPR through a smart-watch interface.

“The doctors we talked with were very excited about this app,” says Llobet. “They thought of all sorts of other uses for it beyond what we were able to build in a weekend.”

Lifesaber integrates two themes that have featured prominently at recent PennApps: hardware and healthcare. Through a partnership with student group The Architechs, PennApps provided students with a record amount of hackable hardware this year. Several winning hacks made use of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, Parrot Drones, and Thalmic Myos.

For the second time, the Perelman School of Medicine joined PennApps to support hacks that solve problems in the healthcare industry. Doctors, nurses, and medical researchers were on hand to provide teams insight into the challenges they face in the workplace.

“The main challenge we faced was making sure our app was medically accurate,” says Llobet. “The mentors were always available and extremely helpful.”

PennApps also doubled down on mentorship this winter, with wide-ranging workshops on mobile and web development to bring new coders up to speed. The workshops, which were run by educators from places like Intel and Maker School in New York, were oriented toward the Penn community and students from surrounding regions of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. PennApps also admitted nearly 100 high-school hackers this year, the highest number ever.

“It was very exciting for us to get to bring in such talented high schoolers, and to focus our attention on the Penn community like this,” says Ramabhadran. “This is a direction we hope to continue pushing forward in the future.”