Let me see that 'thon: our very first Hackathon!

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Nick

Co-CTO & Founder

3 Nov  ·  6 min read


What happens when you let four groups of our team members loose around the office for a weekend? Apparently, hacking magic! Take a look at the results from our first ever Hackathon.

Organising a Hackathon had been on our leadership team’s radar for a while – we felt it was a cool way to unleash our team members’ creative genius, let them explore new skills and ideas, and have a ton of productive fun. So last month, we made it happen! We decided to work around home and office automation as a general theme and gathered our volunteers, who, for some extra kick, would all be working on different tasks or activities than they do in their day jobs. Our four participating teams brainstormed some pretty cool ideas… Which we’re proud to present in this post!

Posters

Team Sexy Time hacks Toggl

The problem: tracking your time with Toggl takes too long!

At November Five, we use Toggl to track our time spent on different projects. It helps us with administration, and enables us to make accurate estimations for future projects in terms of time required. But as you can probably expect with a manual timing tool, some people tend to be a bit sloppy with it. That’s why team Sexy Time decided to dive into Toggl and see if they could figure out a faster, more efficient way to track time than Toggl’s own web interface or app.

The hack: a quicker way to time with Toggl… with a little hardware extra.

The team created a first version of their lightning-fast Mac application (they aimed to keep setting the timer under 2 seconds), and a prototype of a hardware button to achieve that same goal.

Toggl app and button

The MacOS application has a simple, clean UI, but the goal is to spend essentially no time looking at it. It lives in your menu bar, and can be controlled entirely with shortcuts. Option+S lets you scroll between your most-used projects, and a simple press of the space bar selects a project and starts the timer. The hardware button simply replaces these keyboard shortcuts: simply turn the button to scroll, and click it to select. Quick and easy!

Masood and his Flaming Jackets give life to Tony

The problem: visitors have to wait idly in our reception area until their host comes to greet them.

Masood and the Flaming Jackets (we’ll call them Team MFJ for brevity’s sake) were also thinking about time – more specifically, time wasted in our reception area! Because we organise frequent demos and sessions with our clients, we get quite a few visitors, but like many companies, we don’t have a full-time receptionist. In other words, a guest will be buzzed in, and told to make themselves comfortable until their PM or host comes to fetch them.

The hack: an intelligent bot sidekick for our reception area.

The team set out to make the waiting time of a visitor more engaging, by providing useful and relevant information with a bit of human flair.

And so, Tony was born! Tony is a butler-like bot, who can use the information we already have on our guests (we recently started using a tablet with Envoy, and our meeting calendars are well-managed) to entertain them while they wait. Using a Kinect to detect and track people as they sit down, we can have Tony address guests through the TV screen in the waiting area.

Tony

With the time constraints of the hackathon, Tony learned a number of basic skills. He’ll welcome guests, point them towards the registration tablet and address them by name; he’ll let the host know (via Slack) that their guest has arrived, and shows the host’s reply to the visitor; shows guests information about their meeting, the location of our coatroom, parking tokens; and makes entertaining smalltalk about the weather, traffic and more.

The possibilities, of course, are enormous, and we’ll be experimenting with Tony in our own reception area very soon.

The Tryouts measure everything

The problem: We don’t have a way to collect and display a number of useful and humorous facts about our office life.

The Tryouts were, in many ways, the least coherent team of the weekend, combining a lot of different profiles without a very clear plan. However, by Friday night they had turned getting out of your professional comfort zone into a group sport, and were hard at work constructing Heartbeat.

The hack: a dashboard driven by APIs and strategically placed sensors to track our office life.

Heartbeat is a fun dashboard (currently shown on one of the TV screens in the office) that tracks and displays all kinds of information. It combines fun facts and valuable company data to create something worth checking out.

With endless options to choose from, the team stuck to a number of great basics in the constraints of our weekend. Heartbeat now displays, for the current day, the amount of Slack messages sent (in channels, not private messages) and the total count of hours tracked in Toggl. It also pulls in our company’s Twitter feed, and aims to make people smile by pulling material from Giphy and The Cat API.

Screen

But the Tryouts did not limit themselves to software integrations: they also started experimenting with a Raspberry Pi and a number of sensors. During the weekend, they hooked up ultrasonic sensors to our coffee machine, and to the doors of our front elevator. With some lightning-fast back- and front-end work, Heartbeat can now also track the amount of times someone uses the elevator, and how many cups of coffees power our work every day.

Team Strip Club has got the power

The problem: On average, 10% of the energy consumption of a small company is slurped up by idle and passive devices.

The hack: a smart power strip and app that will save you from idle power consumption.

The team created a functional prototype of a smart, power-saving power strip and its accompanying app, and their designer duo dove into creating a brand identity for the project. And so, SLMBR was born.

SLMBR

How does it work? The power strip contains a Photon Particle and a current meter to work together with a companion app, which is where the magic happens. The app can detect what kind of device is plugged into the strip (by using past data, voltage fingerprints, or similar devices plugged in by other employees in the same company), and shows this in the app. From there, the user can see the power consumption of each device, and turn the power for each device on and off remotely.

SLMBR

The app will also detect which devices are being left on for long periods of time (like at night), and suggest creating a recipe to save energy. Think: turning off your monitor when you unplug your laptop, or turning off your desk fan and lamp when your phone leaves the office.

The app still needs some more work, but we’re already looking forward to testing a prototype in our own office, and seeing how much we can save!

Posters

We’re thrilled to see what our teams could accomplish in such a short period of time, and we’re already looking forward to our next edition. And of course, we’re carving out some space in everyone’s planning to take these projects to the next level, too.

Onwards to 2017…


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Nick

Co-CTO & Founder

3 Nov  ·  6 min read