Hack Upstate X: The Results Are In

Hack Upstate
5 min readOct 12, 2017


Images courtesy of Daniel Viau — djviau@gmail.com

Hack Upstate’s mission is to advance Upstate NY’s technology community.

Sincerest thanks to all involved with Hack Upstate X this past weekend. It was a tremendous thrill to see so many talented Upstate NY technologists come together. The creativity was inspiring and the execution was exceptional.

We started Hack Upstate five years ago to address two problems:

  1. Reduce Upstate NY’s talent churn rate. We educate the best and brightest STEM talent in the country. We’re determined to keep them in Upstate, NY.
  2. Facilitate cross-collaboration between the regional tech communities (e.g., Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and the Capital Region).

Here we are 5 years later and we’re proud to say we’ve created a network comprised of thousands of Upstate NY technologists and facilitated dozens of job placements.

In fact, Hack Upstate X was our largest event to date — over 240 sign ups.

Here’s what they built:

Images courtesy of Daniel Viau — djviau@gmail.com

Grand Prize

Remember the 80's space shooter Asteroids? The winning team, MMA, built a massive multiplayer online (MMO) version of the arcade classic.

To demo their project they 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.

To build the game the team used Phaser.JS, a free open source HTML5 gaming framework and the WebSockets communication protocol.

First Runner-up

The First Runner-up, Earthwise, was comprised of a team of high school students from Buffalo who sought to make recycling easier.

Many today neglect recycling because they have trouble determining what is recyclable and what isn’t. Not to mention, there are different categories of recyclables that require different considerations.

The Earthwise team built an image recognition tool that uses deep learning to determine whether a given object is recyclable or not.

So how does it work?

A user simply takes a picture of an item using the Earthwise iOS application. It then tells them whether or not the item is recyclable as well as what kind of recyclable.

To do this they built and trained their own custom model using NVIDIA Deep Learning GPU’s. They fed their model a wide collection of “meticulously (and often hilariously) sourced data”, compiled it, and used it to recognize random objects. For the data they relied on CalTech’s 101 image dataset.

Images courtesy of Daniel Viau — djviau@gmail.com

Best Hardware Hack

The Best Hardware Hack went to James Bruska for his Grounded Locks application. The problem with smart locks today is that they rely upon cloud infrastructure to handle authentication. James wanted to remove the cloud from the smart locks equation because of the many exploits the cloud leaves them vulnerable to.

“Physical security is really important. We should reduce the attack surface whenever possible.”

To address this, James built a local server-based authentication system for smart locks that can only be accessed through bluetooth. To do this he used one of the NUCLEO-F401RE boards that Arrow Electronics provided.

Best DataCuse Hack

The final prize was awarded to the team that built the best hack using the City of Syracuse’s DataCuse portal. DataCuse is the City of Syracuse’s central location for open data, maps, and visualizations to help the community understand what is happening in the city.

The winning team built a Syracuse Pothole Twitter Bot. Their application takes data from the DataCuse portal and tweets out the location and district of potholes that have been filled over the last 24 hours.

With another Hack Upstate in the books, we’d be remiss if we didn’t take one last opportunity to thank all of our incredibly generous and supportive sponsors. We also must again thank our awesome panel of judges. We’re extremely fortunate to have their backing as we collectively work together and continue to advance Upstate New York’s technology community.

See you in the spring!

Excited for next spring’s event? Join the Hack Upstate mailing list today!

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