The Next 36 and Google Host Hackathon to Build Software for Wearable Technology

This past weekend the Next 36 put on their first official Hackathon where Canada’s most innovative students were challenged to create new software on wearable computing hardware devices, pulling an all-nighter.

Hosted by Google in both Toronto and Waterloo offices, participants formed their organically made teams of six in less than half an hour and got to work brainstorming ideas.  Each team had to come up with a name and decide which device they would like to “hack” on all night to compete for first place in front of the judges with the possible opportunity to land a spot in the coveted Next 36, Canada’s leading program for young entrepreneurs. Teams were given the choice of which hardware they would code and create on between Kiwi Wearables, Pebble and Thalmic Lab’s MYO.

Participants had to sign non-disclosure agreements since Pebble is the only product that is released into the market, which was a cool opportunity for students to be a part of creating the future possibilities and developments of these products. The crowd’s favourite device to code on was Thalmic Labs MYO hardware, which will be released in 2014.

At the Toronto office, Google Glass Explorer Tom Emrich brought his Glass device and allowed participants to check out all of the capabilities and demo Google’s latest innovation that still has not been released to the public.

Food was served throughout the night to keep the young programmers energized to work through the challenges that arose. Some glitches required pivoting in the late hours for a few teams before the judges started showing up around 9:00am the following morning. There were sleepy faces and a few nappers before official presentations began and enthusiasm returned.

David Park, a Waterloo Systems Design graduate and now intern has been to four or five hackathons. “Usually you are constrained by the company hosting when working on other hackathons,” he said, but “wearable tech is more exciting: we get to see how the software and hardware come together before it is released.”

There were three overall themes from participants. The first was sport enhancing techniques such as taking the perfect free throw or improving your golf swing without the need for a coach or trainer. Other groups focused on the capabilities the devices would allow for DJing music and creating sounds through gestures. A few practical groups focused on file transfer between devices at Google’s Toronto office.

First prize was $500 in cash and MYO devices for the team. Second place was awarded $200 in cash prizes and each team member received a Pebble watch and finally third place received $100 in cash. Judges rated teams based on concept, demo, and the hack.

Judges included representatives from Shopify, Maintenance Assistant, Oikoi, Communitech, Google, Thalmic Labs , Bnotions, and Christian Lassonde, chief venture advisor for the Next 36.

With no shortage of intelligence in the room, the judges choose Team Rocket as the winners by a landslide at the Toronto competition. The winning team used the Kiwi device to help users perfect their punch and free throw. Both pros and amateurs will benefit from their program.

Team Rocket had a nice front end, a good demo and they were able to pivot from one device to another when challenges arose. Kiwi motion data categorizes movements and compares with real data, the real time feedback helps the athlete to view the history of their actions and performance. In their winning speech, a member of the team encouraged the importance of education and the value of open source tools that they were able to take advantage of in this competition.

The cost of the hardware for all devices used in the competition is quite affordable, averaging around the $150 price point. After watching the hack and seeing the innovation that Canada’s best students were able to produce in such a short time frame, the Tech scene for wearable devices in Canada offers a very promising future.