Share this article

print logo

UB ‘hackers’ demonstrate a knack for creating useful apps in a pinch

The University at Buffalo’s North Campus can be a confusing place, with or without a map.

So a team of UB computer science students decided to develop a smartphone app for that.

It took them just 24 hours to do it.

ARCampus – which spots a campus destination for a smartphone user, indicates the direction and tells how close it is – was one of more than two-dozen computer science projects developed by students this past weekend as part of “UB Hacking 2013.”

More than 100 students tested their computing skills in UB’s second “hackathon,” taking a concept or problem and developing a computer application or program to address it.

They had just 24 hours to make their concepts a reality, and most of the students worked straight through Saturday night and Sunday morning to bring their plans to fruition.

The name of the event might suggest nefarious purposes, but participants said hacking is a term to describe free-form computer programming and coding.

Hackathons have become popular on campuses around the country, including Syracuse University, Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania.

“The software culture is just different. Hack means just throwing something together,” said Nick DiRienzo, a UB sophomore who helped organize the event. “We don’t care if it’s going to be monetized.”

The hackathons are an opportunity to “build cool things” and show them off.

“As a student you don’t really get that opportunity very often in class,” he said.

Some of the results from this weekend’s hack fest were fascinating – a website that shows users on campus whether its faster to walk or wait for the bus to and from various stops and destinations; a program that converts a photographic image into a text file from which information can be exported into an Excel file; a program that can be used to automatically control household items such as lamps, blinds and security cameras.

“A lot of programmers work really well under pressure,” said DiRienzo. “When you push yourself without other distractions around, a lot can happen.”

The winning team – consisting of graduate student Andrew Wantuch, senior Jen Cordaro, senior Andrew Kopanon and sophomore Scott Florentino – developed an idea based around advancing science.

They considered the question of how more of the world’s computing power could be put to work more often on scientific computations.

Since many people play games on computers and smartphones, and since those games use only a fraction of a computer or smartphone’s computational power, the team developed a program aimed at encouraging gamers to allow researchers access to the central processing units of their iPads, smartphones, laptops and desktops for scientific computing.

“We keep things simple for the user. All they have to do is play a game,” said Florentino.

Gamers are rewarded for helping science with in-game bonuses.

To demonstrate how the concept would work, the team used an online pinball game that they modified.

They hope to further refine their concept, which they call GamePute, and show it to research universities that might have an interest in applying it.

ARCampus, developed by graduate students Radha Krishna Dasari, Sree Harsha Konduri and Sai Samrat Karlapudi, took second place by using a publicly available software development kit to speed along their project.

The genesis of their idea stemmed from seeing people on campus asking for directions to various buildings, as well as their own experiences on the sprawling Amherst campus.

They hope to pass the app along to UB Mobile, a network for mobile devices that allows access to online university information and services.

email: jtokasz@buffnews,com