Ohio State’s largest hackathon celebrates 10th anniversary

Posted: November 2, 2022
Hack 10th anniversary winner
From left, HackOHI/O X Co-Leads Adit Anup and Matthew Hu congratulate first place winners Khalan Le, David Novikov and Estevan Ortega [not pictured: Kiran Wijesooriya].

The fourth time was the charm for computer science and engineering major David Novikov, and his teammates, who took top honors at HackOHI/O X with their distracted driving alert device.

Described as an invention marathon, HackOHI/O welcomes students from any major or university to create innovative solutions to real-world problems. More than 800 students participated in the hybrid event on October 8-9, 2022, and 75 teams submitted projects for judging.

“HackOHI/O is about building prototypes and supporting folks who are going above and beyond to bring big ideas to life in a tangible way,” said OHI/O Director Cal King. “Students get the opportunity to ideate, design and then demo their projects, all within a 24-hour sprint.”

Novikov and Khalan Le (information systems), Kiran Wijesooriya (pre-computer and information science) and University of Toledo student Estevan Ortega trained a machine learning model to detect when drivers aren’t paying attention to the road and alert them via a custom-programmed Arduino circuit board mounted to a vehicle’s dash. When a driver is distracted, the alerts progress from a red light to a buzzer to a vibration.

“Distracted driving causes about 68.3% of all crashes,” said Le in the team’s project overview video. “And if we can alert the driver that their behavior is dangerous, we can make a difference in the future.”

Despite Novikov’s previous four years of HackOHI/O experience and his team’s decision to “play to their strengths and get a project out the door,” he was in disbelief after hearing that they won first place and an Apple iPad Air for each team member. The team’s solution also earned second place and $600 in Amazon gift cards in Honda’s Universal Basic Mobility corporate challenge.

“When we got first, I was like, ‘That's probably a typo,’” Novikov said. “It was just a fun way to spend a weekend. That we won was a nice little added bonus, because as a team we worked well together and it was good to see that we were able to produce something that worked.”

During the past 10 years, HackOHI/O has grown from 100 students coding in the basement of Thompson Library in 2013 to Ohio’s largest hackathon. Co-founder Arnab Nandi, associate professor of computer science and engineering, was inspired to launch the event to bring the “hacker culture” of coding and building to Columbus. He teamed with fellow co-founder Meris Longmeier, head of research services for University Libraries, who was looking to extend the libraries’ impact as a facilitator of communities. While he was a student, Chris Wallace ’15 also helped organize the inaugural hackathon.

“Since then, it’s been a snowball effect of like-minded people joining and building on top of the past years’ successes,” Nandi said. “Celebrating the joy of building, hacking, making in tech—I’d like to think that OHI/O has helped further that on campus and in students’ lives.”

Following the popularity of its signature hackathon, the OHI/O program introduced spin-off events, including Ohio State’s first hardware-focused makethon in 2015, as well as a hackathon for high schoolers and a showcase of entrepreneurial ventures by faculty, students and alumni in 2017.

“OHI/O has cultivated a curious and well-connected community of tech-focused students by providing supportive spaces that rewards tech exploration across a variety of industries and education fields,” explained King.

Beyond providing hands-on experience, HackOHI/O has also had lasting impacts on students’ future careers.

A positive experience at High School I/O sparked Adit Anup’s interest in hackathons. The second-year computer science and engineering major helped promote HackOHI/O last year before being elected co-lead in 2022. He’s one of more than 30 student volunteers who made HackOHI/O X possible.

“It's a great opportunity to network with other people,” Anup said. “Even though I was an organizer, I was able to talk with recruiters at HackOHI/O and actually landed an internship at a Fortune 500 company.”

Computer science and engineering major Sarah Keck also found the experience to be a helpful example to share with potential employers. She and teammates Mark Fong (computer science and engineering), Quincy Barrett (computer and information science) and Phillip White (pre-computer science and engineering) earned third place for their software solution that enables devices with two cameras, such as drones or robots, to locate people and determine distance during search-and-rescue events.

“It's been a good talking point for all the hiring things I've been doing for internships,” said Keck. “It's worth it to try [HackOHI/O] if you have a good idea going in or friends who might have good ideas.”

The team plans to continue developing their idea at MakeOHI/O—the university’s hardware-focused makeathon—next spring and create a drone that they can use to deploy their software.

Other winning projects included a mobile navigation app that provides audio cues to help the visually impaired and elderly, a safety app that helps users find the nearest campus emergency blue-light phone locations and a speech-to-code program. More than $10,000 in prizes were awarded.

HackOHI/O X was funded by sponsors Honda, American Electric Power Foundation, Veeva, Root, ENGIE, Amazon Web Services, Battelle, Fuse by Cardinal Health, JobsOhio, Aware, Stevens Capital Management, Rev1 Ventures and Deloitte.

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, clevenger.87@osu.edu