It was a day like any other. The birds were chirping, the wind was blowing. Everything was as it should be. Enter two kindred spirits headed to Kandy, well the University of Peradeniya. If you recall, last month we were at a Coding Competition organized by ACES, namely ACES Coders. Now it was for the ACES Hackathon. The hackathon, held annually for the last 4 years brings together students from both the Faculties of Engineering and Science for 3 days of collaboration, coffee and code.
Organized by the Association of Computer Engineering Students (ACES), the hackathon brings together large numbers of undergraduates and engages them into the development of creative and innovative IT solutions.
Straight off the bat, this is not ye average hackathon. Well, it is a hackathon, albeit slightly different in the way they conduct it.
Day One – It’s all about the base
The event kicked off in a true Sri Lankan tradition with the lighting of the oil lamp. A welcome speech by the President of ACES, Waruna Chandimal was followed by a speech by Dr. C.D.Senanayake, Faculty of Engineering representing the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, another speech by Dr. Dhammika Elkaduwe, Head of the Department of Computer Engineering, a company presentation by three representatives of DirectFn | Mubasher and finally a speech representing ACES Alumni by Lali Devamanthri. As you can see, quite a number of speeches.
Once all the ceremonies were done it was time to lay down the base, in this case the base for the ideas. We armed our laptops with our trusty dongles courtesy of Hutch and took our places in the hall.
Unlike a regular hackathon where each group has a set idea, each individual participant had to present his/her idea in front of a panel of mentors and judges and other participants. Here’s where things got interesting. If your idea was selected, you were then given the ability to gather for yourself a group of members to form a team and carry forward the idea.
- Dhammika Elkaduwe (Head of the Department)
- Dr. Roshan Ragel (Senior Lecturer)
- Dr. S.D. Dewasurendra (Senior Lecturer)
- Mr. Sampath Deegalla (Senior Lecturer)
- Dr. Suneth Namal (Senior Lecturer)
- Dr. Kamalanath Samarakoon (Senior Lecturer)
- Mr. Ziyan Marikkar (Senior Lecturer)
- Mr. Roshan Alles – Manager Infrastructure – DirectFn | Mubasher
Day Two – And the beat goes on
Now it’s time for things to really get going. This is where the teams for the hackathon will actually form. Each team has a mixture of boys and girls with 4-5 members per team. Armed with their laptops, power adapters and some music, the hackathon began. The ideas were categorized either into Network Systems (Hardware) and Embedded System (Software).
Apart from one team who had preplanned their ideas and team members, the rest of the participants followed this trial by fire. To help the teams, a group of mentors were also among the crowd including:
- Satheeq Hassan Senior Software Engineer – DirectFN | Mubasher
- Krishantha Manjula Rathnayake – Senior Software Engineer – IFS R&D International (pvt) Ltd
- Medhavi Lokuhetti – Software Engineer – IFS RnD (pvt) Ltd.
- Nalaka Jayasekara – Senior Software Engineer – IFS R&D International (pvt) Ltd 
- Kasun Karunathilake – Technical Lead – Vocanic
- Lali Devamanthri – Engineer/Entrepreneur – Mobisec
- Asanka Nissanka – DevOps Engineer – Square Mobile
- Chamith Weerasinghe – Software Engineer – Exilesoft (pvt) Ltd
- Dhammika Sriyananda – Technical Lead – Leapset Engineering
- Sanath Nandasiri – Senior Software Engineer – Exilesoft (PVT)
- Nirasha Wijepala – Engineer – Evolve Technologies (Pvt) Limited
- Chanaranga Ratnasinghe – Senior Support Consultant – Totalamber (pvt) Ltd
- Suresh Sumanasooriya – Senior Software Engineer – IronOne Technologies PLC
- Chathuranga Dassanayake – Associate Tech Lead – DirectFN | Mubasher
- Naditha Warnasuriya – Consulting Engineer – N-Able (Pvt) Ltd
- Yaalini Balathasan – System Configuration Engineer – Sri Lanka Telecom PLC
- Dhanushka Munasinghe – Assistant Manager – Itheon Bluechip Technical Services
- Rasika Kumara – Technical Lead – Ironone Technologies
- Rasika Bandara – System Engineer – Metatechno
- Ashen Gomez – Co-owner at Carbonware Mobisec
- Chethiya Palliyaguru – Engineer – ISA
- Isuru karunathilaka – Software Engineer – Atrenta
- Chandima Wijekoon – Software Engineer – MIT
- Dhananjaya Wicramasingha – Software Engineer – IFS R&D International (pvt) Ltd
- Mouly Gunaratna – Senior Software Engineer – Proavos
- Bimsara Bandara – Software Engineer – ISA
Apart from being individuals who are experts at what they do (hence being referred to as Industry experts), they were also past alumni of the University of Peradeniya and as such shared their expertise with the participants on whether their ideas are feasible or not.
The timing was a tad on the confusing side as the hackathon was actually conducted in sessions. Each of the 20 teams has around 12 hours per day to develop their projects. Day Two for example began at 8am and continued on till 8pm.
Throughout Day Two, the hall is a flurry with organizers walking up and down and team members huddled around tables discussing codes and other stuff. Upbeat background music plays to keep the teams entertained and focused on the task at hand whilst there is a projector hooked up to a screen that shows video clips from the main sponsors of the event, namely Mubasher|DirectFN, ISA and of course ReadMe (but you already knew that).
2 PM signaled the lunch break for Day Two and the teams rushed off to satisfy their hunger and get back to coding. After lunch the teams look refreshed and push forward with their development. Towards evening, refreshments in the form of an interesting two-tone cake was served along with a rather yellow fruity beverage with bits of another fruit floating in it (AKA Passion fruit juice with chopped pieces of apple).
It was time to call it a day. Around 8 – 8.30 PM, participants were advised to pack up and head back to their hostels. Even though they packed up, chances were that they would continue working in the hostels too. The ReadMe team too packed up and headed along to the usual mysterious bungalow which is firmly situated at a peak in Upper Hanthana. It was indeed a climb in the middle of a jungle. After a much needed hot shower and a filling dinner, it was only a good night’s sleep we needed.
Day 03 – The Final Countdown
The day began with a chilly morning with fog around our vicinity. The friendly caretaker served us a hot cup of tea while we got up to do our work and pack to get ready for the big day.
After packing we joined a group of senior members to begin the ride back down. We stopped a bit for breakfast and made our way to campus grounds. The participants had already partaken of breakfast and were back at their tables putting the finishing touches on their projects. All around us, the teams looked refreshed and energized; presumably the good night’s sleep in action. The refreshments boosted their energy levels furthermore.
Each presentation would be allocated 5 minutes and 3 minutes for Q&A including a demo. Students were encouraged to stick to the time frame. The judge panel included lectures and senior members of the faculty. The judging will be carried out on a variety of criteria; including Effort, User Experience, Usefulness and Overall Presentation. Interestingly there wasn’t a column to give marks for the Business model or the idea, but we assume the judges considered that too.
Then began the presentations.
Group API-P with their project “Online Judge Platform”. A platform to organize, conduct and coordinate coding competitions. Its open source, allows dynamic and flexible setting up and is easy to use. Think of it as HackerRank, only slightly easier.
Next up was Team DriveMate with their project “DriveMate”, a system aimed at those who travel late at night and risk falling asleep. With 300,000 accidents annually, 6000 of them are fatal. Quite a large number. The system senses the interaction of the driver either via his/her blink rate or the maximum speed that the vehicle is travelling and would generate an alarm if there is no interaction from the user. The app uses facial recognition and will generate an alarm by analyzing the user’s blinking speed. It also generates an alarm if the user drives above the preset maximum speed.
The next team was Ez Cloud who had developed a local responsive cloud storage and service platform; a solution to one of life’s daily struggeles when faced with slow internet. The system allows users to upload, download and store files. The storage is dynamic where the space would be allocated based on the size of the upload.
“Algo Runner”, a Data mining Algorithm runner, which create patterns based on data portions. Focused towards Weather prediction and Forex data. Since there is no proper weather prediction algorithm the team had aimed to forecast weather by utilizing the large data sets from various weather data centers. The judges questioned whether the representation would be practically useful, to which he replied using practical demonstrations.
Next up Team Alpha with their location based reminder, “OTS”; an android app which allows you to add to do lists or reminders with location tagging. The app will trigger a notification or an alarm when you are close proximity to a location that you have set a reminder for. Their future developments reach into location based advertising.
Team Compile Error with their product “Cardio Lab” wants to keep your heart in good condition. Uses Arduino and ECG sensors which sends serial data via Bluetooth onto an Android app. The app generates an ECG waveforms which also allows you to save the records. Future enhancements includes increased accuracy and an alert system to the user.
“Pin Potha” an android app to record the good deeds one has done in the form of text, video and images. Think of it as your personal diary where you write about your happy thoughts for you to recollect at the end of the day or when you are having a bad day.
Auto Message Silent Remover – An app that allows you to locate your phone even if it’s on silent. The app will disable the silent mode of your phone, ring your phone and also send you the GPS location of it.
Automated attendance marking system – The system will scan and analyze the attendance sheets. The system requires a certain amount of manual labor, as the lecturer has to fill out the attendance form. From that point onwards, the filled out form is scanned by a device using a modified optical character recognition system to check if the attendance boxes are marked or not.
Team Promoted presented their project “Omi Maniac”, an app that allows you to play a fully working version of Omi on Android with multiplayer support. The app uses odd and even numbers to pair players and to play the game. Interesting, but not really innovative, especially as there are apps available for this.
Next up was Sky Coders with their project “Fly Healthy”. The project aims to list out the shortest flight to any destination and also combines it with the risk level of contagious diseases in countries along the path in order to avoid those countries. They use statistics from the World Health Organization to map out the countries that have high levels of infectious diseases. A novel concept but with diseases such as Ebola and H1N1 on the rise, it may impair your travel plans if the country or destination you wish to visit is in the red zone of infection. It also may incur additional costs if a flight plan is to be modified.
Team Elvinlabs was next with their project “Smart Reload”. An attempt to make the art of reloading credit onto your phone a much simpler task. The app basically snaps an image of the 14 digit code and uploads it to an API that scans the image and processes the 14 digits using OCR and reloads the phone connection. In addition, you can also share your credit with any user regardless of network connection. The app detects the service provider and will transform the incoming message into a USSD code compatible with the recipient’s network provider.
“SiRa” – Simple Reply Automation. The app basically sends intelligent replies to commonly received messages utilizing a natural typing language. The app also has access to the user’s smartphone calendar and also the GPS. In the demonstration carried out, the team asked the audience to send a number of text messages ranging from “Good Morning” to “I Love you” to everything in between. The app recognized each message individually and replied back with relevant responses. The app also scans your calendar and automatically mutes your phone, replying to any calls or messages with a corresponding “I’m busy right now, I’m at <insert event here>” text. This was by far one of the coolest projects we saw and was also a lot of fun; it was indeed a “sira” demonstration.
Next presentation was “Fly with flies”; a WiFi file transfer mechanism. Unfortunately the team lacked the knowledge of android development and they were unable to come up with an actual product. But they have come up with the work flow of their planned app in their presentation. The team stated how important the hackathon became to them as they were able to explore totally new areas of technology which enriched their knowledge within a very short period of time.
“Hardwhere.lk” by G-Moralz; a web based portal to connect buyers and sellers, construction material and service providers to customers. They seem to have done a market research which has given them an insight on currently available similar services and competitors which has allowed them to come up with their business model. They had also incorporated the Dialog IdeaMart platform to create the SMS app.
With that, the presentations grew to close and the judges were busy with tallying the final scores. The panel was made up of several high ranking officials of Mubasher|DirectFN, senior lecturers of the Engineering faculty and even members of ACES.
Dr. Sampath Deegalla from faculty of engineering walked us through the memories from previous years. This is the first time they had mentors involved in the hackathon. He also thanked the sponsored and participants.
Mr. Arjuna Nanayakkara, General Manager, DirectFN | Mubasher expressed his views about the event and the history of the company. He also explained how to take your idea and exploit it to a viable product.
“Keep believing yourself”
Mr. S. Paranitharan, Head of Technology, Information System Associates (Pvt) Ltd. – shared his own experiences from the life at the very same faculty. He also spoke about ISA.
Asanka Nissanka, DevOps Engineer at Square Mobile also spoke about the hackathon, especially the level of innovation seen from the participants and their level of commitment. He encouraged them to take part in more hackathons and workshops in order to expand their field of knowledge. He also tells those participants who have developed apps to go ahead and publish them on the relevant app stores.
All that was left was the Award Ceremony. Certificates of Participation were given to all participants. In addition to the main awards for Network Systems and Embedded Systems, awards were also given out for “Most Popular Project” and the project that has the “Best Idea”. With regard to the Most Popular Project, the teams were requested to design a poster encompassing the characteristics of their project and post it on the event’s Facebook page. The poster that has the most number of likes and is most socially interactive would be awarded the prize.
The awards were distributed as follows:
- Most Popular Idea – SiRA
- Best Idea – DriveMate
- Software Category – SiRA
- Network Category – AlgoRunner
Dusk was falling to Peradeniya as we grew close to the end of the ACES Hackathon 2015, the Secretary of ACES, Ninada Perera was on stage next to deliver the vote of thanks. A weekend spent well on coding at one of most scenic and rather prestigious Universities of Sri Lanka sited in an enchanting and a World Heritage City. Au revoir Peradeniya.