ASU's Project Humanities' humanitarian hacking event now linked to the University of Texas at Dallas and will be joined by two other universities in 2019
Discarded pizza boxes. Empty energy-drink cans. Dozens dancing. And hundreds of people cracking, hacking and tapping away on laptops during a 36-hour marathon binge.
Sounds like the internet being broken, but it was a good thing. A very good thing.
It was Hacks for Humanity 2018, which took place Saturday and Sunday at Stauffer Hall on Arizona State University’s Tempe campus. Sponsored by ASU’s Project Humanities, the fifth annual “hackathon” is a 36-hour entrepreneurial marathon in which developers, artists, humanists, futurists, designers and visionaries participate in panels and workshops and are challenged to create technical solutions and initiatives to address local and global issues.
“This hackathon embodies the best that is diversity — bringing together folks from across disciplines, ages, professions and lived experiences,” said Neal A. Lester, professor of English and director of Project Humanities. “Our event — a burst of ‘creative disruption’ — shows that the truest innovation comes when we collaborate with those seemingly unlike us to arrive at together what we could not do alone. To witness this process and the amazing products that emerge from teams after an intense 36 hours is quite something to behold.”
Participants were required to implement three of the seven principles Project Humanities identifies as Humanity 101 into their technology products: kindness, compassion, integrity, respect, empathy, forgiveness and self-reflection. This year, the hackathon added three new tracks to guide participants’ creativity and innovation: parenting, mobility and social justice, according to the event's organizer.
This year's tied-for-first winners focused on mobility. My Siren is a siren-detecton phone app that alerts deaf and hard-of-hearing invididuals to nearby emergency vehicles and operates for both pedestrians and drivers, especially those in urban areas. The other winning entry, Noobs, is an app that improves mobility for the visually impaired by allowing more independence and safety. It does so by allowing individuals to be better integrated into their environments with greater confidence to perform daily tasks.
The hackathon provided participants with the opportunity to collaborate, network and discover the myriad resources they need to succeed as social entrepreneurs and businesspeople. Others involved with the event say it benefits the Valley on another level: presenting Phoenix as a hot technology market.
“These kinds of events show big companies why they should move to Phoenix,” said Christopher Huie, a developer for Galvanize, a learning community for technology workers located in downtown Phoenix. “A lot of it boils down to, ‘Is the tech talent here to support a move and bring their businesses here?’ These larger events show that.”
Huie served as a judge in last year’s hackathon. This year, he expanded his responsibilities by helping to recruit mentors and sponsors for the event and by getting the word out in the technology community. He said the reason he does it is simple.
“I like the idea that the premise of the event is to make the world a better place,” Huie said.
And that message is starting to spread to others in academia.
This year, ASU Project Humanities linked its hackathon with the University of Texas at Dallas, who hosted Project Humanities’ Hacks for Humanity in Dallas simultaneously.
“ASU Project Humanities is the genesis of Hacks for Humanity at UT Dallas,” said Rod Wetterskog, assistant dean of corporate relations for the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science at UT Dallas. “We heard about the legacy being built by Project Humanities at ASU by State Farm. As we spread the word about Project Humanities and Humanity 101 on and off campus, we were thrilled with the excitement and desire to engage.”
Wetterskog said the UT Dallas hackathon team yielded about 215 participants and 50 mentors, coaches, judges and presenters. He said their main goal was to help people of all backgrounds and experiences and meet critical gaps in humanity and “perhaps even launch a new product that will help someone in the future.”
In addition to presentations, the Project Humanities’ Hacks for Humanity again included sponsored workshops. This year's sponsors included State Farm, Amazon, PayPal, Silicon Valley Bank, ASU Entrepreneurship + Innovation and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.