PinMo App and CMU Lead the Pack at Travel Hackathon-Silicon Valley Campus - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

PinMo App and CMU Lead the Pack at Travel Hackathon

Screen shot of PinMo's winning demo
Screen shot of PinMo's winning demo

Carnegie Mellon University students continued their year of hackathon dominance with six awards at the Emirates Travel Hackathon Sept 21-22. Emirates Vacations hosted the sold-out event at Microsoft’s Mountain View campus with 23 partners and sponsors, including Carnegie Mellon’s Silicon Valley campus (CMU-SV), Mountain View-based Appcelerator and CMU-SV startup Apportable.

The two-day overnight hackathon brought over 300 hackers out to work on travel-focused web or mobile applications. The guidelines suggested teams think beyond logistics to create “apps that help people experience the excitement of a vacation to the fullest extent.” They could use the languages and platforms of their choice, with any web or mobile API, to get their apps built and ready to demonstrate by Sunday afternoon.

Dr. Stuart Evans, Distinguished Service Professor at CMU-SV, who facilitated the event through his relationship with the Emirates Innovation Board, said “the atmosphere was tremendous” and that the execution was “clockwork” — no small feat for such a major hackathon. He credits CMU-SV alum Yuri de Souza (MS SM '13) and the volunteers for producing an event “for hackers, by hackers.”

"It was a great opportunity for us at CMU to work with Emirates and tap into Silicon Valley's hacker culture. We were able to bring together some of the most talented designers and developers in the Valley to push the envelope on innovation in travel," said de Souza. Volunteer Surbhi Dangi (MS SE '12) added, “CMU’s goals are aligned with Emirates in that we are both forward thinking and like to promote innovation.”

Emirates CIO Patrick Naef and Sanjay Sharma, Head of Innovation Labs at Emirates, were instrumental in organizing the event, Evans said. The judges were Hap Klopp, founder of The North Face; Nolan Wright, co-founder and CTO of Appcelerator; Neetan Chopra, SVP at Emirates; and Fabio Prestijacopo, VP at Emirates. After 24 hours of hard work by nearly 60 teams, 20 finalists were selected to compete for three top awards.

A CMU team took first place with their app PinMo. Students Bin Liu and Jiasi Zeng from the Information Networking Institute’s bicoastal MSIT program, Claud Wang from CMU-SV’s Software Management program and alumna Min Zhao SCS‘13 from CMU’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) built an iOS app for organizing and geo-tagging pictures and helping vacationers discover popular and interesting photo spots.

Although mobile phones have built-in GPS, most other cameras, even popular digital SLR models, do not, Wang explained, so it’s sometimes difficult to recall where certain photos were taken. PinMo (for “pin moments”) can synchronize the clocks in a phone and a camera, then uses an algorithm to match location data from the phone with images from the camera through the PinMo server. Users can then see when and where every shot was snapped, and PinMo can share images with other app users looking for photogenic spots when they’re nearby. There’s also a function to create a map of a trip, shown in the photo above, which Wang said came together only at the very last minute.

The team had formed and brainstormed Friday night before the hackathon — “a dream team,” Wang called it, since each member brought complementary skills in design, iOS experience, front end and back end development. They worked through the night on Saturday, and ventured out into Mountain View early Sunday morning to take photos for their demo around town and at the CMU-SV campus at Moffett Field.

Evans noted that every time he walked through the room, he felt the teams’ energy. But as Day 1 became Day 2, Dangi said, “it got quieter and quieter” as teams focused on their projects. Volunteers arranged snacks and morale events, such as Nerf gun battles, foam sword fights and Dance Central dance-offs to keep the hackers in high spirits throughout the hackathon. 

Because the sold-out event had so many submissions, Evans said, “it was clear there was no way to get through them all.” Thinking quickly, the hackathon production team set up career-fair-style demo booths for each team to make quick pitches to the judges, who could then choose 20 finalists to give longer presentations on stage. Team PinMo learned they were finalists only about “a second before” they were called up to present, Zhao said, but their solid idea and memorable name made a big impression, and not just on the judges. Before taking first prize, PinMo also received the Popular Choice Award, voted by the other hackathon attendees. The team said the award from their fellow hackers “means a lot to us,” especially since they’d been the first of the 20 hacks to present. 

Third prize also went to a team that included Carnegie Mellon alumni Diana Chen (MS HCI '12) and Asim Mittal (MS HCI 12), shown above at left with the PinMo team. Their team created Secret Menu, a Windows Phone app to help people find local food while traveling.

In addition to the four main awards, some sponsors offered additional prizes for hacker teams working on specific projects. Canon offered two PowerShot N cameras to the best photo-centric projects, one going to the first-place PinMo team and the other to a CMU-SV student team of Jeff Hsu (SM), Chih-Shao Lee (SE) and Ching-Lun Lin (SE). Canon USA's GM, Hiro Haraguchi, and vice president of R&D Mr. Uno were on hand to present the prizes.  

Krishna Mohan (MS SE '12), president of the CMU Bay Area Alumni Association and Master of Ceremonies for the event, said the Emirates hackathon was among the best organized events he had witnessed in his experiences in San Francisco and New York City.

It was the first hackathon for Akshay Chandrashekaran, a Ph.D. student at CMU-SV, who had “a small idea” but little experience writing mobile applications. He was sitting at a table with Ishai Hachlili, a local entrepreneur and founder of EShy Media, who was just beginning to work on an idea of his own. Then, Chandrashekaran said, “I pitched my idea to him, and he dropped his project to work on it.” 

That idea became Memory Lane, an app to match and merge new photos with older ones of the same location — like photos from childhood, earlier trips or even famous historic images. Chandrashekaran is particularly interested in comparing photos of places affected by conflict, “the idea of ‘war vs peace.’ You see the contrast, and see what could have been, and in many cases, how fortunate we are to live now,” he said. Memory Lane was selected as by Nokia DevUp as one of the best hacks built on the Windows Phone platform, winning each team member a Nokia Lumia 925. 

Hoooley, a big data company, raffled off 10 prizes to hackers who worked late into the night. CMU-SV alumni Oscar Sandoval (MS SE ‘13) and Sumeet Kumar (MS SE '13) were among these winners.

PinMo and several other winning apps were invited by sponsor CTIA to present at October’s MobileCON in San Jose. All hacks submitted will be invited to join the the Emirates innovation club, InnoSense.

CMU-SV was represented by other teams of hackers and several volunteers who helped organize and staff the event. Special thanks to Wendy Fong (CMU-SV), Krishna Mohan, Boris de Souza, Sophia Ngo, Max Gutman (MS SM ‘14), Rofaida Abdelaal (MS SM ‘14), Surbhi Dangi (MS SE '12), Dan Fortner (MS SE ‘13), Udyan Dutta, Senaka Buthpitiya (PhD ECE), Aveek Purohit (PhD ECE), Risha Chheda (MS INI ‘10), Rui Malheiro, Vytautas Valancius, and Xue Cai.