HackNYU Showcases Best in Computer Programming

Darcey Pittman, Staff Writer

Young hackers and computer enthusiasts around the world came together for three days this past weekend for HackNYU. The 48-hour global hackathon took place at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, NYU Shanghai and NYU Abu Dhabi.

Jon Chin, a graduate student at Steinhardt and track chair for Sustainability & Social Impact, has been involved with HackNYU for four years — first, as a participant and, more recently, as an organizer. In an interview with WSN, he explained how hackathons work.

“Hackathons in general just get a whole bunch of people together to use technology in some way for some purpose,” Chin said. “Mostly that is coding. Mostly that is software, but there are some hardware hacks. There are some combinations of hardware and software hacks. Some of our students might be working on virtual reality; some might be working on mobile apps.”

Students from NYU, as well as some from other colleges and high schools, came to the event to build a project based on one of four tracks: Accessibility & Assistive Technology, Sustainability & Social Impact, Healthcare or Education Technology.

Chin said students form teams of one to five people to compete for a prize of $1,000 in merchandise. Winners get to choose from a selection of iPods, iPads, drones and GoPro cameras. This year, three teams will be chosen from each of the four categories to win the competition.

As a Track Chair for the event, Chin is responsible for helping choose the judges. He said the judges are a mix of NYU and non-NYU affiliated professionals who are experts in the fields of the four tracks. While these judges are objective and do not help mentor the students, other professionals throughout the weekend held workshops to help the students learn and improve on their skills.


Stern sophomore Simon Yang worked with three CAS Computer Science students on their project, “Project Not Forgotten,” over the course of the weekend.

“It’s a Twitter bot that when you tweet a certain date [to it] it’ll reply back to you with the number of school shooting incidents on from that date until now,” Yang said.

The group chose the project to illustrate how people have become desensitized to school shootings because of their frequency. They hope to continue the project after HackNYU by working with an organization advocating on behalf of gun control.

NYU Shanghai developers Chongling Zhu, Dingsu Wang, Wenhe Li, Yijie Zou and Yufeng Zhao created a project called Holo Reader, a wearable device that looks up words for people as they read a physical book. The device ultimately transcribes the notes into an online version for users.

While the event was hosted by NYU, there were many students from other schools in attendance as well. Reese Cooper, a first-year student at the University of Wisconsin, heard about the event from a friend who attends NYU. With two of his friends from UW, Cooper worked on a project creating a birdwatching application together, which they called Birdex.

“Birdwatchers have to carry around large expensive books when they go out birdwatching and it’s kind of a hassle so the idea was to make an application that would be able to recognize specific species of birds on a phone,” Cooper said. “You would be able to take a picture of a bird and it would be able to recognize what kind of species it is.”

Cooper said while Birdex’s original focus was birds, the technology can be applied to other animals or even cars and objects.

Projects like Birdex and Project Not Forgotten are just some examples of the many innovations being developed at HackNYU. Chin said he was passionate about leading the event because it is all about using technology to make a positive impact through the projects that are created.

“Even though we are judging them, even though we are giving out prizes, a lot of the culture here is more about just like building awesome stuff and meeting new people,” Chin said.

 A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 26 print edition. Email Darcey Pittman at [email protected]


Correction, March. 27: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the Chair for Sustainability and Social Impact as John Chen. The correct spelling is Jon Chin. The original version also incorrectly said Chin was a graduate student at the Tandon School for Engineering when chin is actually a graduate student at NYU’s Steinhardt Department of Arts and Profession. We regret the errors.