Hack the North 2016

Yuhan Lin - 1A ECE
Posted on: September 24, 2016

Over the weekend of September 16-18, over 1000 students around the world gathered into a single building on the University of Waterloo campus to take part in Canada’s biggest hackathon. They would spend the next 36 hours huddled together in their 4-man teams on the cold floor of E5’s room 2007 trying to build the best project possible. There would be VR sets, Raspberry Pis, and empty cans of Red Bull lying around them as they spend two sleepless nights tapping fingers against keyboards. To put it simply, the objective of the contestants at Hack the North, like any other hackathon, is to do no less than create from scratch a brand-new piece of technology, software or hardware, in the time given.

Now, despite knowing a thing or two about the event known as Hack the North in which nothing was actually hacked, I wasn’t actually there. As such, everything I will relate here will be based on the eye-witness accounts of my friends that did go. One of those was UW’s very own Kevin Pei, a Comp Sci first-year and a hardened veteran of hackathon events. Along with three other eager coders, Kevin would spend the next three days working on a smartphone app by the name of EmergiCare. As the name suggests, the app intends to provide a solution for the mediocre response rate to 911 calls–more specifically, the inaccuracy of reported locations in those calls, which leads to the inability of responders to find those in need. The idea was to use Google’s location tracking services to automatically send the caller’s GPS location data to emergency operators via text whenever 911 gets called. This would ensure that the app works even when there’s no Internet around, since you can text pretty much anywhere, and that the app can also be used with ease, since it functions just like a regular 911 call. And to top it off, the app also calculates and sends an optimized route between the nearest responders and the location of the caller so that emergency vehicles can arrive as quickly as possible.

In the end, Kevin’s team’s life-saving creation became 1 of the 22 winning projects of the hackathon. The finished products were judged by a panel of entrepreneurs and tech leaders according to the criteria of creativity, technical difficulty, and usefulness, with the winning teams sharing in a whopping prize pool of $45,605 distributed in the form of game consoles and Netflix subscriptions. You’d think that rewards as lucrative as that would have the winners screaming their heads off in celebration but, to be honest, no one really cared. In fact, I didn’t even know Kevin was a winner until I checked out the website for his project, since the only important thing he told me was that he only slept three hours over the entire weekend. This would explain the abundance of mentors and hardware lying around the venue, free to be of service to any willing contestant. It would also explain the fact that the teams all laid their work out in the open and were willing to lend a helping hand to anyone who needed it, even if that person was part of another team. And all this can be explained by the fact that innovation and problem-solving, the two things most pivotal to society, flourish underneath cooperation and openness, and that, despite the name, the most important aspect of any hackathon is to learn by doing.