University of Chester’s first hackathon is hailed a success.

Posted on 28th November 2017

The University of Chester’s first hackathon (a 24 hour computer coding marathon) has taken place at Thornton Science Park.

Teams working on their challenges.
Teams working on their challenges.

A group of Computer Science students gathered at the University’s Thornton Campus for a weekend of computer coding-based challenges, free refreshments and prizes.

Event organisers Peter Butcher and Thomas Day, who are both Demonstrators in the Department of Computer Science, Mark Holland, a PhD student, and Andrew Muncey, Deputy Head of Computer Science, deliberately arranged the event to coincide with a Campus Open Day, so that prospective students could gain a varied flavour of student life.

Peter said: “By hosting a student event on an Open Day weekend, we hoped to demonstrate to prospective students what it might be like to work and study here. It was the perfect event to organise at Thornton. It gave the students an informal event to look forward to on site and proved that Thornton is much more than a place for lectures and labs.”

The hackathon was free to enter and students had been signing up since September to take part, with spaces filling up quickly. The attendees were split into four teams and received a brief at the beginning of the event, before starting their challenges.

There were six different challenges for the teams to choose from: Autichem Innovation Challenge, which was based around engineering and programming; Voice UI Challenge, which required participants to build applications for voice input and response for hardware such as Amazon Alexa and Google Home; Virtual Reality Challenge; Social Media Challenge; Game Challenge; and the Open Challenge, where teams could develop their own idea. Staff were amazed by the quality of work produced by the teams, which primarily consisted of first and second year students – some of whom had only been at University for a few weeks.

The event also included workshops on Virtual Reality; Raspberry Pi Basics (the Raspberry Pi is a small single-board computer which can be used to learn programming and teach basic computer science); Twitter API Basics; and Building Amazon Alexa Skills, led by University staff members.

The overall winners were Team Insomniacs, a group of three first year and one final year undergraduate students. They built a social media aggregator that combined all the output from social media accounts related to the University of Chester, which could then be queried to build up, for example, a calendar of events across the entire University. The team built the system that could be queried using an Amazon Echo Dot which could respond to a user’s specific question.

•	Team Insominiac with their certificates. L-R: Ishak Emanet; William Tedstone; Tonje Davidsen and Dylan Elliott.

Thornton Science Park is home to over 40 tenant businesses, including Autichem, a design and manufacturing company, who generously sponsored a challenge and a prize. David Morris, Director at Autichem, was also a judge and available to help students taking part in the Autichem challenge at various times during the Hackathon.

David said: “I enjoyed being involved with the Hackathon and was very impressed by all the teams. The wide range of projects undertaken demonstrates what a comprehensive subject Computer Science is, and based on my experience of the event, I would certainly encourage other companies to participate next time. I am hoping that one of the team will continue the challenge and take up our offer of a five week work placement in May next year.”

Professor Nigel John said: “I was very proud to see our students come together in teams from across the year groups to successfully tackle real world software development problems. They achieved remarkable results in a short period of time. I hope that this will be the first of many Hackathon challenges at the University.”

Andrew Muncey, Deputy Head of Computer Science, added: ““The quality of the software the students produced in the 24-hour period, with little or no sleep, was testament to their hard work, and the projects created by each of the different teams demonstrated real inventiveness and creativity.”

You can find out more about the Hackathon and any more upcoming events on Twitter, Facebook and at http://hack.fse.network/.