What exactly will the future look like? It's a question mankind has asked itself a lot lately, but as rapidly evolving technology becomes more accessible and prevalent in our day-to-day lives, it's a bit easier to envision how the tools of tomorrow will shape our everyday existence. Thankfully, the opportunity to utilize technology in meaningful ways is rapidly evolving as well. No longer are we reliant on giant corporations with big time development budgets to produce products and services that make a significant impact on how we integrate technology into our everyday lives. Nope, getting to that George Jetson vision of the future now only requires a few pieces of consumer hardware, an internet connection and a whole lot of inspiration. As a result, the developers of tomorrow are the dreamers of today and I recently had the chance to see how they're shaping the future of technology's role in our lives at "The Internet of Things" Hackathon in Boulder.
Stepping into the Engineering Center at CU Boulder this past Sunday, I was greeted by the sight of small groups working away at their newly-formed creations. Their task was to collaborate on concepts designed to deliver a world that responds in the way they want it to through technology. Sponsored by AT&T, Intel, Dell and Plantronics amongst others, the event was the third in a series of four regional outings, with Boulder joining Palo Alto, New York City and Los Angeles as the proving grounds that would provide a gateway into the January 2014 finale in Vegas where some big money (and even bigger recognition) will be on the line. Anyone and everyone with an idea and/or proper programming skills was invited down to the CU campus for a 24 hour Hackathon designed to challenge minds, form relationships and ultimately crown a winner. Although $1,000 cash and an all expense trip for two to the National Accelerator Demo at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas was up for grabs, AT&T Mobility Sr. Marketing Manager Alex Donn told me that the event was more about opening opportunities and brining a new perspective to its participants.
So, the task was simple. Each group had 24 hours and the assistance of guiding "Senseis" to craft creative ways that the Dell XPS All In One PC could combine with a mobile app to make a meaningful, useful connection in our everyday lives. The results, as you might suspect, were rather interesting. Team BreathEasy delivered a sigh of relieve after conjuring up an app that details the air quality around us while Team SafetyLookout used its time to develop an app that helps parents and teachers monitor their children (or students) walking and biking routes. Meanwhile, Team SocialNote offered up the concept of letting your social network assist in classifying various notes while Team TripHelper targeted taking the hassle out of travel by introducing an app that helps you plan your trips.
While some of the projects I saw were flat out fun (like Team BeatLight's Arduino app that pulses to the beat of your music), others came from a more creative concept before shifting into the realm of usefulness. One example was Face-O-Saurus, the product of designer Josh Leong and programmer Hunter Trujillo (pictured above), which utilizes facial recognition software to transform users into dinosaurs in an effort to provide an interactive learning tool for curious kids or anyone interested in the extinct.
Other apps, like LaundryPal, sought to solve problems that we might not have known even existed. The app, which was dreamed up and brought to a working prototype stage during the Hackathon by the three man team of Adrian DeBarros, Tim Keellog, and Jay Khendhar, detects vibrations on washing and drying units to ensure the most efficient use of time and energy when completing an everyday task - cleaning our clothes. The app even sends alerts to your mobile device the moment your cycle is through, allowing the likes of college dorms and laundromats to better manage customer's time and money.
Obviously, there were some inspired minds and talented individuals in Boulder this past weekend, but of the 85+ developers and 13 teams who participated, only one team could take home the top prize. That distinction belongs to Spotiparty, a social and collaborative jukebox of sorts that grants guests within a preset radius of the hub (All-In-One PC) with the ability to join the party, add songs, up-vote and down-vote songs, and basically rock out. The app also lets its hosts reorder the playlist, ban users, and enjoy the atmosphere without having to manage the music. One other suggested use of the application would be in bars where patrons can pick the music, but the bartender retains the override rights (they always do…).
All in all, the "Internet of Things" Hackathon this past weekend in Boulder served as a great opportunity for aspiring developers in the technology-rich town to create, collaborate and connect. Fittingly, the fast-paced formula seemed to quickly form bonds between its participants while sparking some pretty interesting ideas that might one day end up going beyond CU's Boulder campus and into offices, homes and wherever else they might apply throughout the world.
If you're interested in tracking the team behind Spotiparty as they compete for the $20,000 cash prize as one of eight finalists in the National Accelerator Demo this January, you can do so by checking out the official Internet of Things Hackathon website right here.