Thoughts from OxfordHack 2018

By Jim Bennett, Cloud Advocate at Microsoft

Last month I was lucky enough to attend OxfordHack, a 24-hour hackathon run at Oxford University, and be a part of the judging panel. The premise is simple - turn up with your laptop, meet new people, select an idea to work on and build it in the space of 24 hours. That’s 24 hours non-stop, so entrants will end up working all night or running on a few hours sleep in a sleeping bag. It’s a chance for people to get together and build fun things, with the opportunity to win prizes.

The event kicked off with welcome talks from the event sponsors, including Microsoft, before the entrants moved onto matchmaking time. This gave them the opportunity to propose their ideas and form teams - some people arrived with ideas of what to build, others just turned up and found a team that interested them.

There were also workshops from technology vendors, showing off some cool tech that the teams could take advantage of such as Azure Cognitive Services, before the entrants were left to hack away. Students were also able to get free access to Azure services through an Azure for Students account with $100 of free credit.

All throughout the hack we had people on hand to help with any Azure questions they might have - combining the knowledge and skills of Cloud Advocates, Microsoft PMs, members of the Microsoft student teams and MVPs. Our hard work paid off, as over half of the projects ended up using Azure!



The entrants were kept well fuelled all day and night, with plenty of good food (including some yummy cupcakes) and caffeinated beverages. Once the hacking time was over, the students were judged.

The judging was split into two categories - sponsor prizes and the main competition. The sponsor prizes were awarded by sponsors such as Microsoft and had specific criteria, such as using Azure for their hack. The main prizes were awarded by the hackathon itself to the best ideas.

The winner of the Microsoft Prize was an app called Finder, an app that helps visually impaired people find items around their home. It used cameras placed around the house and the Azure Custom Vision service to identify in which room a certain object was. Then, once the user was in the appropriate room, it used ARKit on an iPhone to detect the item in 3D space and direct them to it. This was such a great idea and would be a great assistant for many, from people with visual impairments to those with memory impairments. Each member of the team was awarded an Xbox One X, and the team also won entry to the regional semi-finals of the Microsoft Imagine Cup.



The overall OxfordHack winners were:

3rd place: EasyShop - a chat-bot based shopping service that finds products based on an image or photo.
2nd place: StudentReax - an app to collect student feedback about lectures that compiles regular student surveys, as well as watching the students in the lecture to see how engaged they are.

And the overall winner was:

1st place: ParliaMate - provides a live, filterable data stream of parliamentary debates.

Congratulations to all the students involved, and to all the winners. I can’t wait to see what gets built at the next one!

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