Is your computer personal enough? How much is too much? A group of talented young people got together to work out how to make Microsoft’s technology more personal for you and solve real problems

It started with some case studies, challenges, problems present in society around health, wellbeing and aged care. Some of the challenges presented included mental and physical health of young workers, data collection, touch free surgery and engaging an ageing population. Whilst some teams chose to address these issues, others settled on looser ideas around health care and medical technology. Either way, the inclusion of Vic Health as a sponsor and the decision to stick with a theme around health really got participants thinking.

Having Microsoft as the main focus point bought forth an array of technology for hackers to try out. Surface Pro 3’s were scattered around the building, Kinect sensors were seen on almost every computer, users received access to Cortana and Azure API and… this is the exciting one people… the Microsoft Band was seen for the first time in Australia. Yes you can get them on the grey market, but they were here to try out, play with and code and everyone loved them, myself included.

Microsoft Band

After all the hackers had a go at coding the bands I got my hands on one and synched it with my phone. Instant wonders awaited me. It is such a holistic amazing experience. I loved how the band automatically flashed my text messages, Twitter feed and Facebook notifications on my wrist. The weather app was wonderful and asking Cortana to find a Thai restaurant for me was pure convenience. You can even SMS just with the band. The best thing about it is it’s fully programmable and I saw first hand some of the new apps built over the weekend and how they could be implemented into the band. The one big thing I didn’t like about it was the flat shape – this however is easily fixed with the Band 2, coming to Australia in a couple of weeks.

The Band 2 boasts a beautiful curved screen but there are still a couple things I’d love to see with it; waterproofing (for showers, swimming and snowboarding – I mean they even used snowboarding in their advertisement even though it’s not waterproof!), wireless charging (who wants to take their band off to charge when you could charge it while working away at your desk) and a longer lasting battery life (if you’re into hiking, chances are this band won’t last long enough for you).

All in all, it’s a fantastic product and I’ll be getting my hands (or wrist) on one as soon as they come to Australia.

Celebrating Games Week

Why is a hackathon held mere weeks before university examinations? Because it lines up with Melbourne International Games Week that’s why! Not only was the Microsoft Hackathon a part of this, where games were screened in the main room 24/7, but the Swinburne Advanced Manufacturing and Design Centre was also home to the Lame Games Marathon. This marathon sees a bunch of gamers playing bad video games for a good cause. Screened over Twitch, viewers can stream live gameplay and engaging in conversation via chat for exactly 24 hours. The aim of the game is to raise as much money for UNICEF as possible. With some hilarious games and heart-pounding entertainment, the Lame Game guys managed to raise over $4000 for charity.

Opaque Multimedia (organisers of the Microsoft Hackathon) were in on it to. Viewers sent in their own ideas for a Lame Game, Opaque chose one, built it on the spot and watched with joy as gamers played an absurdly amusing Kinect game. I even got in on it too, playing the Kinect in front of the green screen whilst the boys bantered in the background.

Behind the scenes with the Lame Games Marathon
Behind the scenes with the Lame Games Marathon

More commemorations for games week came around pitching time with three teams showing off games they’d built in under 48 hours.

Button Factory - game to get people thinking about young people and jobs
Button Factory – game to get people thinking about young people and jobs

Back to hacking

Getting back to the crux of the weekend and where it was held. The location was stunning – Swinburne’s newly built Advanced Manufacturing and Design Centre was truly a site to behold. We had pretty much the entire building for the weekend. This made it difficult, fun and interesting as a mentor. Participants were spread out over 5 levels with the main communal area in the middle on floor 3. Whilst it was hard to keep track of where everyone was and if someone was hiding in a crevice, it was a great way to ensure everyone got a good workout. I even managed to do 17,480 steps on Saturday and 19,320 on Sunday. It wasn’t uncommon to stroll around at 3am and see other teams walking up and down flights of stairs just to clear their heads.

The weekend held a wealth of talent not just from the participants but from the mentors too. Rocky and Lawrence from Microsoft were on hand for most of the weekend, helping hackers with code, troubleshooting API problems and nutting out the hardware. Chris and James from Opaque Multimedia ensured everyone got their Kinects working and supplied the bulk of the computers for the weekend. A few representatives from Vic Health were around to ask questions specific to the industry and offer consumer insight.

With all this great help, it was almost impossible to come up with a bad idea. That’s why, when pitching came, teams just blew us all out of the water. There were a number of applications for the Microsoft Band including Surgical Band for data tracking during surgery, Hackstreet boys with a platform to predict the onset of depression, Lift Alert to teach workers EH&S, Smoko for tracking data of smokers, Ani a robot for in home help and support, Dr Band to monitor patients, Ciggio to quit smoking, Platform to get the elderly out and about, Para to offer smarter body metrics and of course the three games. The judges were absolutely amazed by the quality of the ideas presented and the dedication shown by the teams. Lawrence even commented “I would have been happy just to have one team work on Cortana, but we got FIVE *fist bump* ah yeah!!!”

The judges were happy, the hackers were happy, all we needed now was to announce the winners. There were a number of categories to be won including Vic Health sponsored prizes for the best health applications. The overall winning team however was OnePoint for their Ani application. The judges were amazed at what this team accomplished over the weekend and the potential for the product.

Great number of participantss
Great number of participants

It was an absolute pleasure to be on the judging panel for this hackathon, especially next to some fantastic people. We had Ben the Co-founder of Future Assembly, Lawrence and Rocky, Irene from Vic Health, Norman from Opaque Multimedia and myself. It was a blast of a weekend. It was one of my most favourite hackathons; mainly due to all the other awesome stuff going on around it and the fun I had whilst there.

Diversity of judges at this hackathon was impressive
Diversity of judges at this hackathon was impressive

Unfortunately this hackathon clashed with HealthHack in the city breaking up the community a little but great things came out of both hackathons and both focused on a pressing issue in society – healthcare and medical technology.

Can’t wait for the next one and look out as some of these teams run with their ideas and build them into marketable products.

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