HackRice draws more than 400 from across US

More than 400 university undergraduate and graduate students competed for $9,000 in prizes Jan. 15-17 at HackRice 2016, the fifth annual round-the-clock “hackathon” competition sponsored by the Rice Computer Science Club.

HackRice 2016 attracted both Rice students and their peers from universities such as Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Georgia Tech, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Texas-Austin and -Dallas, Texas A&M, Texas Christian University and the University of Houston. Students worked in teams and used computers to create more than 80 projects — typically software applications — ranging from stroke recovery trackers to video games.

The winning team included three Rice students from Wiess College — Sean Burton, Sean Doyle and Yoseph Maguire — plus Kaveet Laxmidas from Texas A&M and Melissa Hall from UT-Austin. They earned the top overall score and a Dell Venue Tablet and Oculus Rift Development Kit for each member. Their SKYSync+ app, which was designed to assist those who care for dementia patients, also won the team an Xbox One.

HackRice founder Waseem Ahmad ’14, who now works for Facebook, returned as a judge for HackRice 2016.

“I organized the first HackRice as a way for Rice students to become more competitive (as job applicants) and allow us a way to apply what we learned in our computer science classes,” Ahmed said. “About 40-50 Rice students came.”

(Photos courtesy of Alex Amari/Project 120)

In 2014, the club opened the event to non-Rice students to provide a wider pool of participants the opportunity to work together on interesting projects. That year, 175 students competed for $6,000 in prizes.

Computer Science Club organizers said HackRice has become an important networking venue for employers, which has made it easier to find sponsors and grow the event. Sponsor representatives often serve as judges, which gives them even further insight into the talent on each team. In a new twist for 2016, sponsor Intuitive Machines gave summer internships to Heiu Nguyen of Georgia Tech and Rohit Rawat of the University of Texas-Arlington, the developers of its favorite app, Spacecraft Spotter.

Computer Science alum Aaron Roe ’15 returned to HackRice 2016 as a sponsor representative for Indeed.com. He said HackRice is an especially good place to meet people from schools that recruiters might not have had a chance to visit. “Tonight we’ve met people from Cornell, Berkeley, Yale, even Texas A&M, UT-San Antonio and UT-Dallas. And that is just out of the first 20 or so people we’ve been chatting with.”

Other top finishing projects in the competition included:

  • Second place — Rice Utilities, an app designed by four Rice students from Lovett College, Nathan Bucki, Tiffany Stuart, Ethan Frederic and Karin Diamond, plus Andrew Benson from Carnegie Mellon. This app tracks Rice campus activities, buses, dining options and more. To download the app, visit the Google Play store and look for RiceUtils.
  • Third place — InstaTag, an app by UC-Berkeley students Andrew Shao, Yuxuan Liu, Xinhe Ren, Joseph Lee and Yue Zhang that applies hashtags to images using machine-learning optimization.
  • Best Hardware Hack — Wristwatch, an app created by Rice junior Alexander Lu and Cyrus Roshan from UT-Dallas, monitors wrist motion and serves as a game controller. The team’s demo used the game “Flappy Bird.”
  • The Best New Hack was for SSH over SMS, an app for managing a server with text messages and includes two-factor authentication. It was created by Rice student David Cai, Pranav Harathi of UT-Austin and Ian Johnson of Southern Methodist University.
  • Best Community Hack — This people’s choice award went to Menuer, an app created by Rice students Ziliang Zhu and Wei Zeng that used a Microsoft image search to help restaurant customers overcome perplexing menu options and order with confidence.

For more information, visit http://hack.rice.edu.

—Carlyn Chatfield is publicist and web editor for Rice University’s Department of Computer Science.

About Jade Boyd

Jade Boyd is science editor and associate director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.