An estimated 600 students from more than 20 different colleges and universities filled the MSU STEM building Saturday and Sunday to compete for glory and cash at MSU’s annual hackathon, SpartaHack.
The event, now in its ninth iteration, featured student teams racing to create innovative engineering-based solutions to everyday problems under a tight 24-hour time limit. Teams were given the choice to compete in one of six “tracks” which focused on specific technologies and applications including sustainability, financial services and interactive media.
Despite the event appealing primarily to STEM majors, students studying other disciplines also participated in the event. Jazz studies and games and interactive media senior Roger Roets, for example, said that although he doesn’t love coding, other aspects of teamwork gave him a reason to join his roommate’s team.
“While I’m not a big coder, I’ve always really enjoyed the thought process of making things,” Roets said. “So (our team) needed a designer and a logo maker and I was like ‘hey, I’ll do it, sounds like a great time.’”
In the spirit of SpartaHack’s problem-solving ethos, Roets also drew inspiration from his own life to create the vision for his team’s project: a Chrome extension that utilizes voice control and artificial intelligence to browse the web.
“My brother has cerebral palsy so he sometimes has a harder time navigating the web using a traditional mouse and keyboard,” Roets said. “So we created a Chrome extension that will actually take your voice and, using AI, navigate your web browser for you.”
While some teams at the event were comprised of students well-versed in several programming languages and frameworks, SpartaHack also welcomed beginner-level students to try their hand at creating an application.
Computer science sophomore Lauren Turpin said that although her original plan to develop an app for MSU students to message their professors and other classmates fell short, she found the experience rewarding and was already looking for future hackathons to attend.
“It was a really cool environment,” Turpin said. “I did feel a little out of place but I think as I get more experience, get to the senior level, I can see myself doing the whole nine yards with moving here (overnight) and drinking energy drinks all night long.”
For students attempting to win top prizes, such as computer science seniors Sushil Srinatha and Cedric Emmanuel, combining cutting-edge technology with a unique approach is imperative to impress the contest judges. Their design, titled Brainstorm, takes a modded Star Wars Force Trainer 2 toy with an EEG chip to read the wearer’s brain activity to measure when the user focuses their mind.
Srinatha said their team was inspired by other brain-centered technologies such as Elon Musk’s Neuralink which is currently developing implantable brain-computer interfaces.
“We knew we wanted to do something like this,” Srinatha said. “I mean, the brain is the future, so we wanted to do something in that world. So we obtained the headset and we just came in and winged it really.”
When asked what makes hackathons like SpartaHack appealing, Srinatha said the collaborative aspect of the event combined with the supportive atmosphere gives him a reason to come back every year.