Two hackathons—one city: creativity reigns in Austin, Texas


Austin, Texas: capital of the Lone Star State, home to the Texas Longhorns, and host of not one but two Kinect for Windows hackathons in the past few weeks. We were blown away—like Texas tumbleweeds, you know—by the ingenuity and talent on display at these Austin events.

NUI Central Kinect for Windows Hackathon

Developers, UI/UX designers, and enthusiasts gathered in Austin for 24 hours of coding ingenuity using Kinect for Windows v2 on February 21. Austin Mayor Steve Adler kicked off the event, reminding everyone of Austin’s role as a technology hub and challenging the hackers to create their best innovations. Sponsored by Microsoft, the event was held at WeWork, a shared office space for startups; the venue offered a comfortable lounge and private offices for the hardworking devs, who coded through the night.

The WeWork offices in Austin’s Historic District provided an inviting space for all-night hacking.
The WeWork offices in Austin’s Historic District provided an inviting space for all-night hacking.

All of that coding resulted in some truly innovative Kinect for Windows applications (and some bleary-eyed hackers). The output ranged from games to medical applications to productivity enhancers. It was tough to choose the winners, but, steeled in our resolve by some Texas-strength black coffee, our panel of judges selected the top three apps. Each winning team received a cash prize and Kinect for Windows v2 sensors.

First place went to AR Sandbox, an onscreen, augmented-reality playground based on the infrared data collected by the Kinect sensor. When users manipulated a hand-held infrared reflective cube, the cube’s onscreen image transformed into a rubber duck or puppy. The app also created virtual rainstorms of rubber ducks and puppies. The user was able to interact with the ducks and puppies as onscreen objects.

Coming in second was the Advanced Coma Patient Monitoring System, which is intended to keep watch on comatose patients, generating alerts and recording events to a video file.

The third-place winner was I'm Hungry, an app that integrates Kinect and Skype, allowing callers to play a mini-game during a Skype call.

Inspired by the resourcefulness on display at the NUI Central Kinect for Windows Hackathon, we were eager to get back to Austin for the SXSW Music Hackathon. Luckily, we had fewer than four weeks to wait.

SXSW Music Hackathon Championship

Wednesday, March 18, found the Kinect for Windows team back in Austin for the start of the 2015 SXSW Music Hackathon Championship, where world-class hackers, designers, and programmers competed to create innovations for musicians, the music industry, and, of course, the fans. With their programming know-how and a collection of music-tech APIs they could use, competing teams had 24 hours to work on their prototypes and compete for the $10,000 Grand Prize. Among the Microsoft APIs available to the hackers were the Kinect for Windows SDK and the recently released Microsoft Band SDK.

Developers got a chance to learn about the APIs and meet the sponsors before the hackers pitched their ideas to recruit team members. Once the teams were formed, everyone quickly set to work creating music innovations.

The Kinect v2 sensor and the Microsoft Band added a unique flair to the hackathon. Teams tested their apps throughout the night by dancing in front of the Kinect sensor—when they weren’t busy doing laps to check their heart rate with the Band. These Microsoft products brought an interactive element that intensified the energy level throughout the night.

The SXSW Music Hackathon Championship was a beehive of coding activity, as developers raced the clock to create music apps.
The SXSW Music Hackathon Championship was a beehive of coding activity, as developers raced
the clock to create music apps.

Adding to the excitement of the late-night hackathon was a surprise performance by Boyfriend69, a talented entertainer who drew the developers to the front of the room, where she mingled and danced with them. Her show gave off a high-voltage vibe that kept the devs working through the night in true hackathon spirit.

Entertainer Boyfriend69’s surprise performance got the hackers up and mingling.
Entertainer Boyfriend69’s surprise performance got the hackers up and mingling.

As dawn broke on March 19, the developers had fewer than eight hours to finish their projects before presenting them to qualify for the finals. While the last minutes of hacking ticked away, the teams feverishly polished their presentations. Here are the apps that emerged from the hackathon’s 24 hours of frenzied creativity:

App name

Description

Dandelion

This one-man team used Rdio and last.fm to create a QR code that aggregates listening data for display on an Apple Watch. When a user scans the code from another watch, Dandelion surfaces the song being listened to, using Rdio to play full songs or using other services to present 30-second previews.

MusicMap

MusicMap.io, an Austin-based team, is similar to Apple’s Meerkat app, but for music. MusicMap allows anyone to broadcast geo-tagged video and plot it on a map. With this service, users can discover new music from all over the world. MusicMap uses Stream.me as a live streaming service.

KYM

KYM (an acronym for Know Your Music), presented by Vince Davis, goes through the existing library on a user’s phone and gathers relevant information about the music by using APIs from various sources. Users can also hook up the app to Apple TV or the Apple Watch, so when they’re listening to music at home, the app shows relevant tweets from the artist.

SetStory

SetStory aims to solve a problem in festival logistics. Currently, no tool exists that quantitatively evaluates the potential of an event's success based on its artists. By using OpenAura to grab information from various social feeds, SetStory calculates a quantifiable score that gives festival promotors and organizers a reliable gauge of an event's financial viability.

Groupie

Groupie helps users find promising new artists in their local city. Users can also look at data from other cities, in case they want to discover the hot new bands from places near and far. Groupie uses the Rdio API to play the music and the Echonest API to look up the band's locale.

Bandarama

Bandarama is a workout tool that provides video and audio feedback on the user’s exercise performance. If you're running, for example, and your heart rate slows down, the tempo of the music will slow down, too, signaling you to pick up the pace. Team members Boris Polania and Guillermo Zambrano ran in circles around the room to demonstrate that once you start running faster again, the tempo of the music speeds back up and an applause sound effect provides extra motivation.

Divebomb

Divebomb uses the Kinect for Xbox One sensor to bring users into the music through virtual reality. As songs play, notes fly across the screen and the user can move his or her avatar to hit the notes as they race across the screen.

Mashr

Mashr takes two different songs and then mashes them together by using the Gracenote API. It also ties into the Musicnote API, which helps determine if two different songs will work well together.

(List and descriptions from William Gruger, social/streaming charts manager for Billboard)

The judges faced a tough job, as only five of these presenters would advance to the finals on Friday. But the intrepid judges were up to the task, selecting Bandarama, Mashr, MusicMap, KYM, and Dandelion to advance.

On Friday, a celebrity panel of judges, consisting of Ty Roberts (Gracenote), Alex White (Next Big Sound), Jonathan Dworkin (Warner Music Group), Bryan Calhoun (Blueprint), Eric Sheinkop (Music Dealers), Jonathan Hull (Facebook), Todd Hansen (SXSW), and Marc Ruxin (Rdio) reviewed the finalists’ projects and selected the winner.

Dandelion took top honors, winning the 2015 SXSW Music Hackathon and its $10,000 grand prize. But the big winners are music lovers, who will undoubtedly enjoy some of the great innovations created by the event’s hackers, sponsors, and artists.

Microsoft unveiled some exciting new APIs at the SXSW Music Hackathon. These included the Neon Hitch API, which enabled artist-in-residence Neon Hitch to close out herstage show with a Kinect v2-enabled creative visual accompaniment to her song “Sparks.” Meanwhile, artist-in-residence Robert DeLong worked with Ableton and Microsoft, two of the hackathon's major sponsors, to turn his body into an instrument, which he then used on stage during his shows, including his set at the YouTube space. Another novel API was DJ Windows 98, an homage to the long-gone Microsoft operating system. It used a vintage CRT monitor controlled by the audience via Kinect for Windows.

As we left Austin for the second time in less than a month, we carried away memories of the creative energy we witnessed at both the NUI Central Kinect Hackathon and the 2015 SXSW Music Hackathon Championship.

The Kinect for Windows Team

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