Mudders Host First-Ever Hardware Hackathon: MuddHacks!

Ben, Appi, and Akhil stand by their banner the morning that the hackathon entries were judged.

Ben, Apoorva, and Akhil stand by their banner the morning that the hackathon entries were judged.

Mudders and other 5C students recently got their hack on at MuddHacks, the Claremont Colleges’ first ever hardware hackathon. MuddHacks, organized by Mudders Ben Chasnov (’16), Apoorva Sharma (’16), and Akhil Bagaria (’16), was a 12-hour event, spanning from Friday night of October 25th to Saturday morning of the 26th. Over the span of these 12 hours, participants had the chance to form teams and build pretty much any kind of hardware hack that they had an idea for. The event had over 100 participants, and it was an unquestionable success.

The three organizers had come up with the idea of the hardware hackathon last semester. Ben, Apoorva, and Akhil (now Juniors) were in the same E80 team last semester, and were driving home from a rocket launch in the desert when the idea came to them. Casually, Ben had mentioned just how cool it would be for Mudd to have a hackathon, and both Apoorva and Akhil agreed. From that conversation until about the first couple of weeks of this semester, the idea had been in the back of their minds. But it wasn’t until five weeks before the Hackathon–around early September–that they actually decided to do it.

Hackathon participants gathering around!

From discussing with other Mudders what weekends would be good to them, to observing how other hardware hackathons were structured, to even getting funding from entities like our student government (ASHMC) and corporate sponsors, these three organizers made it happen. They set up the website muddhacks.com, the registration, publicity, and room space. And, additionally, they even bought the parts/ hardware that participants needed so that the participants wouldn’t need to pay out-of-pocket. But, in a span of five weeks, they did it!

The hackathon started on Friday night around 6:30pm with registration in the Shanahan auditorium. And at 7:30pm, once people had settled in, they had a kick-off event talking about rules and safety. Also in this time, they mentioned a mentoring program, that allowed participants to sign up on a Google Spreadsheet to go around to teams, check-out their products, and offer a fresh set of eyes if they’re encountering any problems. It allowed people to help other teams with the projects, and it really exemplifies the culture of “Mudders helping Mudders.”

The participants had access to an extremely large collection of parts, hardware, and tools throughout the night of the hackathon, all thanks to the organizers!

The participants had access to an extremely large collection of parts, hardware, and tools throughout the night of the hackathon, all thanks to the organizers!

At 8pm, the hackathon commenced. On the third floor of the Shanahan, participants sprawled out over all of the classrooms and got to work. For most of the night, the common sights were of participants working on their epic hacks, a steady stream of visitors to the table with snacks, sugar, and caffeine, a flurry of people traveling to and from the machine shops in the Libra Complex, and a heartwarming sense of camaraderie between the teams. At 2am, the organizers brought out Chinese food. And just two hours later, they brought out Indian food.

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Prof. Yang, Prof. Spjut, Prof. Spencer, and Prof. Gokli all stand in a circle as they announce the winners and give closing remarks.

Finally, after a long night of hacking, all teams stopped at 8pm. Four Mudd Engineering profs served as judges for the event: Prof. Qimin Yang, Prof. Josef Spjut, Prof. Spencer, and Prof. Gokli. They walked around through the third floor as participants teams enthusiastically explained their projects to the judges. From the project presentations, it’s clear that the professors were clearly impressed with the projects, and the students proudly explained their accomplishments over the last twelve hours. At 9:15am, the judging ended and the judges went into a deliberation period. And, after a short while, the participants gathered around the judges on the third floor as the judges announced the winners and gave their closing remarks.

All in all, the participants, organizers, mentors, and professors clearly enjoyed the event and would like to see another hackathon like this again. Though for now, the organizers have not set a date for another hackathon. Though the organizers admit that some parts of the event could have gone more smoothly, they are definitely interested in learning from feedback that they received from participants and doing it again.

In talking to the Ben, Apoorva and Akil, they really enjoyed how MuddHacks embodied several aspects commonly exhibited by Mudders: the idea of “Mudders helping Mudders,” professors helping Mudders (even after-hours), staying up late, and feverishly working on something you believe in.

First place winners

First place winners Shaan Gareeb, Cherie Ho, and Erin Paeng (from left to right) pose with their final project. They modified a store-bought helicopter so that it could be flown by a Leap Motion controller.