Catching Up With Hack Upstate Winners

Hack Upstate XIV is right around the corner and as we gear up for the main event, we wanted to catch up with previous prize winners for some project updates and insight into their experiences at our biannual hackathon. Without further ado…

Teammate: Kevin Topper
Project: American Py Language, a tool that combines the teammates knowledge of American Sign Language with their engineering skills. It uses Leap Motion and machine learning to interpret hand shapes and translate them into written English.

“Hack Upstate was an incredible experience! It never ceases to amaze me what awesome and crazy hacks people come up with and get working in such a short period of time. I saw some very impressive hacks from people across all experience levels — first time hackathon-goers to seasoned veterans with years of industry experience.”

Teammate: Robert Grazioli
Project: Red Light Bell, a simple device that fits in the form factor of a hotel bell. When a driver approaches a stoplight, their device — placed on the dashboard — begins watching the light. Their algorithm then determines when the light turns green, upon which the bell dings.

“I have worked a bit more on the Red Light Bell, but mostly along the lines of doing research on how it could be easily sourced and manufactured at scale. I really need to step back and just improve the one prototype since it’s a great hobby project, and I love when it actually works in my own car.

The project gave me a good basis for classical computer vision and where it has limitations compared to newer neural-network and deep-learning style computer vision. I don’t work with those techniques myself, but some of my colleagues do, so the experience has helped me understand and communicate a wider range of subjects!”


  • IX: goVio, an app that pairs GPS and video search, correlating distances traveled from different locations with the corresponding videos associated with them. A user can hone in on a particular set of coordinates in Google Maps (Location A → Location B), then cut to the corresponding video displays that are directly mapped between the two coordinates.
  • XI: VoCat, a phone fraud protection application that triggers alerts mid-call and notifies potential phone fraud victims of suspicious behavior. Once prompted with a notification, the potential phone fraud victim has the option to exit the call and report the suspicious behavior or remain on the call.
  • VIII: A Facebook Messenger app, Scout, inspired by the Syracuse Roads Data Challenge, which makes it incredibly easy for CNY residents to report the locations of potholes via Facebook Messenger.

“I love going to Hack Upstate because it allows me an opportunity to explore some of my ideas that I don’t normally have the time to work on. It’s the place where I allow myself the opportunity to ‘play’ and try some things that are a bit off the wall.

Since Hack Upstate is consistently in the spring and fall, I can mull over different ideas throughout the year knowing that I have a place to test them out, and while none of my past projects have taken off, I’ve continued to use what I’ve learned from others and myself during those events. Hack Upstate is a fantastic community where I’ve met friends, learned a ton of new tech, and just had a great time.”

Teammates: Kai, Michael, Tim, Melissa, Andrew
Project: MMA (Massively Multiplayer Asteroids), an online multiplayer asteroid game where your mobile device transforms into your controller. To demo their project, Kristine’s team encouraged audience members to take out their phones, access the game’s public URL, and select what ships they’d like to play with. Players could then use their phones to steer their ships by tilting them left and right. At the demo’s climax, dozens upon dozens from the audience were playing the game simultaneously and competing with one another.

“The creation of the software and the weekend as a whole was a great experience. In school, we only ever worked with one or two languages, so it was interesting to be thrown into a new language and build software in that language at the same time.

While coding can always be fun, it was really my teammates that made the experience memorable. Kai, Tim, and Andrew were by far the most experienced and were immensely helpful in starting the project and fixing the majority of the bugs, but also keeping the rest of us involved. Michael didn’t have as much coding experience, but he had tons of ideas and really acted as the team lead. Melissa and I acted mostly as the creative ones; while Kai, Tim, and Andrew were busy with the back-end of the project, Melissa and I were busy creating an easy and user-friendly front-end for each player. The whole project really epitomized the idea that everyone has a strength to contribute.

After that weekend, I had a deeper understanding of what could be achieved with code in a short period of time with people of different skills (but overall a similar mindset) towards one goal.”

Ready for #HackUpstateXIV? Sign up for the weekend hackathon here. It’s happening October 5th and 6th at The Tech Garden and Syracuse, and we can’t wait to see the projects you come up with!

If the gears are already turning and you’re brainstorming some ideas, make sure to take a look at the judges’ criteria on the Hack Upstate XIV website. Good luck!

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