Proving yet again that smart code and Red Bull conquer all, 14 teams took to the stage at Hagey Hall Sunday afternoon and unveiled the fruit of 36 mostly sleepless hours at Hack the North 2017, the annual student hackathon event at University of Waterloo.

The 14 were the featured joint “winners” of the event, which had welcomed more than 1,000 participants from around the globe Friday night, and who then organized themselves into 250 teams and set out to build remarkable technology – in a hurry. All 14 teams demonstrated their projects on stage, some to wild applause and exclamations of awe.

“I think this was a really incredible experience for everybody who was able to be here,” said Katherine Lu, the event’s co-director.

“It went quite well. There were a lot of really awesome projects.”

Among them:

  • A smart garbage bin from a group called BitToBin, which was able to automatically sort different kinds of trash into recyclable categories. The user turned it on with a wave of their hand over a sensor.
  • A smart, secure bicycle post, able to electronically sense when a thief was in the process of stealing a bike, generating alerts to owners and police.
  • An electronic study helper called StudyBuddy, that asks a user questions on a given topic and then scores the responses.
  • An X-ray device able to electronically scan walls and barriers, able to “see” through them and identify objects on the other side.
  • Software called Gall-AR-y, which allows a user to preview how paintings and art would look in their home before they buy.
  • And software called DoppelGallery, which scans a user’s face and then matches it with classical painting. It had the audience erupting in peals of appreciative laughter.

In addition to the 14 teams featured on stage, there were a number of API, or application program interface, prizes presented by sponsors to teams whose projects best aligned or made use of the sponsor’s products.

Included was a prize from Microsoft to a team called Galleon, who made a website designed to help would-be immigrants navigate the process of becoming Canadian residents. Team members each received a laptop from Microsoft worth US$1,200.

And ODX, the Open Data Exchange, a Communitech initiative that aims to strengthen technology and accelerate its commercialization through the use of open data, awarded a prize to a team calling itself ARVision.

ARVision uses publicly available data and combines it with augmented reality. Users point a smartphone camera at the ground and then the app is able to identify and display utility lines, improving the “Call before you dig,” protocol.

The Hack the North event, which kicked off Friday night with an appearance from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau,  featured a number of symposiums and workshops, including a Saturday panel of female tech leaders who discussed diversity and inclusion.

And a wide, eclectic range of supporters and participants took part, including a team of soldiers from CANSOFCOM, the Canadian Special Forces Operations Command.

“The hackathon is another one of the tools we can put in the tool bag to work on our problems,” explained Colonel Earl Vandahl, Director of Force Development at the Canadian Special Operation Forces Command, who added that the Forces are looking for bright, smart young men and women interested in bringing their skills to bear on their country’s behalf.

“This is one of the things we discussed last night with the kids: How do they bring their goodness to the [Canadian Forces],” said Vandahl. “Is it putting on a uniform? As a public servant? As a reservist? Can [they] do that as a contractor? And the answer is yes to all of it.

“The message we’re trying to get across is there is a lot of goodness out there and there is a lot of potential we need to harness.”

The spirit of the event might be best encapsulated by a group of four hackers who on Saturday afternoon were working to build a wheeled robot designed to serve as an electronic seeing eye dog. Its makers included a University of Waterloo student, a Western University student, a Waterloo Region high school student and a computer student from Seattle who had flown in for the event. They combined forces on Friday night and then set to work.

“I was walking hopelessly through the dorm,” said Shokoufeh Shadabi, who is doing her Masters degree in computer studies at Seattle University.

“I didn’t know who I should pair up with, and then I met up with these wonderful people.

“This,” she said, waving at her new friends and their half-built device, “is what it’s all about.”

About The Author

Craig Daniels
Senior Journalist

Craig Daniels is a veteran reporter, columnist and editor who has joined Communitech’s editorial team as senior journalist. He worked most recently at Postmedia in Hamilton, where he led the team that produced the National Post, and before that at the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Sun, Financial Post, the Montreal Daily News and the Telegraph-Journal in Saint John, N.B. He has an abiding interest in the transformational power and promise of tech and startup ecosystems, is a commercially licensed pilot, and has a debilitating wrist-watch fetish.