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Haptics hackathon: 24 hours to create a haptic hack

On Thursday 18th and Friday 19th May, everyone in Ultrahaptics downed tools and teamed up with people from other parts of the company for a haptics hackathon. Unlike most hackathons this was not just for engineers, everyone in Ultrahaptics took part. 57 project submissions were whittled down to six final ideas. Multi-disciplinary teams were formed and with just 24 hours, teams had to create a product and pitch to be in with a chance of winning an award. The only rule was that each hack must either use our mid-air haptics technology or make our lives better in some way.

Interactive office map

‘Team Map’ made an interactive office map, essentially a Google Maps for Ultrahaptics HQ. The map included pins for meeting rooms, printers and each person in the office. Including staff photos, phone extensions and working hours. The team added a couple of fun additional elements that could be activated from the map. By clicking on certain areas of the interactive map, a horn and confetti cannon could be triggered.

Ultrahaptics hackathon - interactive office map

The map is searchable using the office Wi-Fi and able find people’s phones and laptops. As the team at Ultrahaptics grows, the interactive map is an effective way of getting to know everyone’s names quickly. Allowing all new starters to know the who, where and what of Ultrahaptics HQ’s. Each person had a notes section with some fun facts about them.

Cake detection Slackbot

‘Team Cake’ used image processing and machine learning technologies to create a Slackbot that can alert everyone to the presence of cake in the kitchen.  All the components were implemented and worked (sort of). Although they did misidentify cake as band-aids and colleagues’ hair as dogs.

As three of the prize categories – ‘People’s Choice’, ‘Chaos’ and ‘Best Pitch’ – didn’t strictly rely on the actual product working perfectly (that would follow after an investment of course), the team let their imaginations loose. Creating an outlandish but rounded investment pitch. The team moved their prototype around the office, finding cakes hidden in surprising places along the way. By presenting each element of the pitch at the different locations, then team ended up winning the ‘Chaos’ prize as a result!

“I would have enjoyed the hackathon just as much. Even if we hadn’t of bribed our way to victory with a cake bonanza during our pitch! Simon Deeley – Tools Team Lead (PhD in Cake Cutology)”

Games using haptics

There were two teams creating a game using haptics. The first team created a VR horror experience. The player would have various unpleasant things happen to them. A large wasp landing on their hands, custom modelled by one of our Engineers, Daniel. A scalpel cutting across the users’ palms. And a massive zombie suddenly landing on the table and chewing on their hands. All with haptic sensations added so the gamer could actually feel and sense what was happening.

Haptics hackathon winners of best pitch

The team took VR gaming to the next level of immersion. Making the player forget it wasn’t real, and in the process scaring them! During the pitch, the team had a volunteer take part in a live demo. The team tricked the volunteer into believing they would be playing a game where puppies would lick their hands. Needless to say, their reaction was exactly what they’d hoped for – which won them the ‘Best Pitch’ award.

Heartbeat haptics hack

‘Team Heartbeat’ used a low cost wristband heartbeat detector plugged into an Olimex ECG shield. This processed the signal from the wristband, before passing the analogue signal to an Arduino UNO R3. The Arduino converted the signals into digital format and communicated via a standard SPI interface. Using an Ultrahaptics Touch Development Kit, allowed the user to feel the heartbeat.

When people go for baby scans, they usually get a simple photograph. Whilst these have advanced to 4D scans, imagine what it would feel like if you could feel your baby’s heartbeat? With the haptics heartbeat, this concept hack allows you to bond better with your baby. Rather than listening for the sound of your newborn baby breathing over a baby monitor, imagine being able to check his or her heartbeat? The heartbeat team impressed the judging panel so much, they were awarded ‘Best Product’.

Haptics and gesture game

The second of the gaming teams created ‘Haptic Fruit Attack 2’. A haptics and gesture game where the player uses one or two hands to slice through flying radioactive fruit. It’s like the well-known Fruit Ninja app, but not on your smartphone. Played on a big screen from your laptop, Mac or Windows. This team developed everything from scratch, using the Unity game engine, a Leap Motion controller, and an Ultrahaptics Evaluation kit. They even made the soundtracks and sound effects.

Haptics Fruit Attack hack

The haptic feedback provided by the Ultrahaptics kit gives the player haptic confirmation that fruit has been sliced. The team found that this is a much more immediate feedback format than the audio slicing sound. It also increases the player’s engagement with the game. With more time, the team could add variable haptic intensities, textures for different fruit, difficulty levels and special tasks – like slicing 10 strawberries.

“The hackathon is our chance to have fun working on cool projects that we wouldn’t normally get to do” Craig Jeffrey – Software Developer

Team robotics

‘Team Robot’ made a remotely-controllable robot. Including a live camera feed and text-to-speech capabilities, the team learnt a lot about different disciplines and systems. The robot had two main purposes; to drive around our US office and say hello to people, and for colleagues closer to home. Firing projectiles at people who haven’t turned up to meetings on time!

Haptic hacks - teams preparing at Ultrahaptics HQ

Engaging dashboards

‘Team dashboard’ had the goal of creating a dashboard application’ to keep the many screens in the office, up to date with relevant information.

Their focus was on a marketing related screen, with plans for engineering specific screens in the future. Creating a bright colourful display, the team showed the latest information from our social media channels.  Additional useful information such as train times and an announcements panel were included in the final project submission.

Haptics, hacks and music

‘Team Audio’, made up of music fans, have lots of experience in music technology. They created a mid-air haptic DJ mixer, fully exploiting the haptic feedback provided by Ultrahaptics. Using this they were able to beat match two songs by projecting tactile information from each track onto the palm of the hand. Using gestures, they could also synchronise and crossfade between each to enhance the performance aspect for the DJ.

Becoming a DJ with a haptic hack

For the pitch, the team put together a short, tongue-in-cheek, promo video. Prompted by the question:

“How would world famous action star Tom Cruise of the movie Minority Report, DJ, in the movie Minority Report?” 

In the absence of Tom Cruise, the team had “world” famous DJ Oscar Byrne (and by the world, they mean office) demonstrate the technology. The team won the respect and adoration of the judges, picking up ‘Best Technology’ and the ‘People’s Choice’ awards.

You can watch the haptics hackathon teams in action, over on Ultrahaptics YouTube channel.

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