A fantastic Hack the Universe (recap, show & tell)

I was pretty much sold when I found out it was a 24-hour hackathon (yay shorter hacks! 2-days is a lot) where I’d get to sleep in the Museum of Natural History, with all food provided, sleeping space (! yes!), and some walking around time for the museum. How was it? I’ll lead with the show and tell.

What we built

8-bit delorean

My team (Team Delorean, obviously) built “SpaceTime,” an app that shows the “constellation deformation” or seeing the stars move over the passage of time, calculated by moving their points over time according their velocity. One of our team members (Jana) is an astrophysicist (and she’s amazing, she was part of a really cool Intergalactic Travel Agency Kickstarter). Our idea guy and iOS developer, Robby, did the whole iOS on his own, while Nate and I worked on an HTML5 version. Here’s his demo:

Meanwhile, Nate and I were wrangling with three.js and got pretty far on an HTML5 version (n.b, best viewed on Chrome, hackathon app, YMMV, use at your own risk, etc.). No lines between stars like Robby, but we still learned a ton, and I had to write some C to get the material (like wrapping paper for 3D stuff) to work according to each star’s color and luminosity, which we represented as opacity (so we took some license). Our fifth member, Queenie, helped us think through some design problems and was an awesome team member (it was her first hackathon, and she said she was super stoked she ended up with us. E-HUGS, QUEENIE).

I love that this hack was more about doing cool stuff than so much the competition – there were no prizes, just 3D printed busts of Teddy Roosevelt for the category winners (no Overall category). We were awarded runner-up in the visualization category, awarded high-fives from the awesome judges. External validation was nice, and there were tons of fantastic projects, so I know I appreciate it! I’m bummed a bit that I can’t meet up with my group in NYC easily, as they suggested meeting up for a planetarium visit later this month, but hopefully I’ll catch them at a hack in the future, or they’ll visit Philly eventually maybe.

Other fantastic projects

There were SO MANY. Among my favorites:

  • Exocats – making science interesting for the internet by overlaying cats on exoplanets.
  • Dr. Carl – a virtual therapist powered by Carl Sagan. Try “Who am I?” when he asks you what’s wrong
  • UniVRse – a communal space exploration experience, where a driver can point the other viewers around space, Oculus Rift-friendly (like GoToMeeting, but for exploring space viz)
  • StarFace – built by non-devs, using facial recognition and star mapping to draw your face in the stars
  • PlanIt – build a solar system in VR by throwing things around (video)
  • Cosmo(sis? I think they had Cosmosis as their final demo name) – the awesome viz that won the viz category

And you can see all of the hacks, because even though it was AMNH’s first-ever hackathon, they were smart enough to have everything set-up on github, and all of the teams have their projects there.

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