The Writools Blog
The surprising story of our first hackaton
A few weeks ago, our team participated to HackThe6ix, one of the largest MLH hackaton in Canada with more than 400 participants and nearly 100 teams. In a little less than 36 hours, each team had to conceive, develop and present to the panel of judges an innovative and original concept that combined creativity, technical complexity and design. To our great surprise, our project: HomeSentry, won first place at HackThe6ix! Here is the story of our experience.
To win a hackaton, you first have to find a great idea!
The HomeSentry concept was born during multiple brainstorms. Indeed, our personal goal for this hackaton was to conceive a product (or at least the proof of concept of a product) that would be useful in everyday life and easy to use for the general public. We looked at several facets of our daily lives in search of ideas for improvement or innovation. This exercise allowed us to highlight several problems in day-to-day life that could be addressed by technological or digital solutions. However, unfortunately for us, most of the ideas we came up with (although often very interesting!) were not well suited to the constraints of a hackaton, since they required further analysis, additional research or, sometimes, hardware components that we did not have at our disposal. To meet our goal, we therefore had to find an idea that was simple enough to be developed in less than 36 hours, but also innovative and likely to be useful to everyone.
It was a short time later that we raised an interesting issue that affects a wide range of the population. We all, at least most of us, have old electronic devices that are no longer in use and that lie around in our drawers. Old cell phones with a battery that no longer holds, electronic tablets that are a little slow, and so on. However, most of the time, even if these devices are no longer performing well enough to be our daily work tools, they still operate properly. Why not give them a new life? This is the main motivation for our project. Indeed, HomeSentry allows anyone to turn their old electronic devices into a modular, distributed and private security monitoring system. All it takes is a device with a camera, a web browser and an internet connection to turn it into a connected camera that can, among other things, keep an eye on the rooms of your house while you're away, or watch over a sleeping baby. Our solution is easy to use, free, and open source. In addition, it helps mitigate the environmental impact created by electronic waste.
To learn more about HomeSentry, and all its technical details, we kindly invite you to visit this page.
For sure, this experience has not been a restful one. In fact, it was quite the opposite!
Besides the short sleep periods and repeated doses of coffee, we encountered several technical challenges when implementing our solution. Indeed, several times we had to quickly rethink things in order to solve a specific issue or to find an alternative solution to something that wasn't working.
Without diving into the technical details, we have for instance learned that the transmission of live video streams is a challenge that is much more complex than it seems! We also altered our plans along the way regarding the architecture of the mobile client. What was supposed to be a native mobile application finally evolved into a web application. To be perfectly honest, T-8h before the end of the hackaton, we still weren't sure if we were able to deliver a usable project. Still, we didn't get discouraged. We kept working tirelessly until we had a prototype that we could present a few hours before the projects were submitted.
A few hours later, we learned that we were chosen as finalists in the top 5! We now had to prepare a short presentation for the judges - who came from various well-known companies such as Microsoft or Intact Insurance - and the other contestants. Once the live presentations were completed, the winners were announced: we ended up in 1st place! We were literally speechless, yet very happy to have achieved such a feat in comparison to several other projects which, worth mentioning, also had a lot of potential! I encourage you to have a look at other projects submitted to this hackaton. Some of them are really worth the look
We had big ambitions for HomeSentry, but the time constraints obviously forced us to develop a minimal amount of features for this application. However, several enhancements could be of great value. For instance, video stream analysis to be alerted of different events, video recording in the cloud when motion is detected, or support for local storage are just some of the features that could be considered. We believe that HomeSentry has the potential to be used in many homes and we hope to be able to invest in this concept so that this product can help people secure their homes without having to invest in expensive equipment.
To conclude, I would like to point out that we could never have achieved this project without a committed and motivated team. Indeed, for the event Christopher and I (Olivier) joined forces with Vincent Constantin, software engineering student at ÉTS and Charles Piette, computer engineering student at Polytechnique Montréal. Together, we overcame several technical challenges and built a successful solution in less than 12 hours. This is yet another proof that teamwork and a good collaboration between teammates are the key to success!
You too have an innovative idea?
Contact us, it will be our pleasure to analyze it with you in order to push it to the best of its potential and make it happen!