Record-breaking attendance and dazzling innovations at fifth annual RamHacks

Students participating in the 2018 RamHacks competition.
The fifth annual RamHacks, held September 22-23 in VCU Engineering’s East Hall.

By Rebecca E. Jones

The fifth annual RamHacks, held September 22-23 in VCU Engineering’s East Hall, brought together 320 students from universities across the region for an adrenaline-fueled all-nighter of designing and coding.

Twenty-four hours later, 60 high-tech innovations — including a cane that detects obstacles for the visually impaired and a program that reads hand gestures so screens can be manipulated by users wearing gloves — were presented to a panel of industry judges. See the action. 

RamHacks 2018 wasn’t all work and no play, though. Specialists from industry and academia shared the latest programming tips and techniques at Tech Talk sessions. Richmond restaurants were also on hand with meals and midnight snacks and Major League Hacking, the official student hackathon league, organized break activities and even provided caffeinated chocolate for weary programmers.

The event concluded Sunday afternoon with judging by a multidisciplinary panel of experts for first, second and third place awards. Event sponsors also issued special challenges with additional prizes and gifts.

First place went to CaneSee, a cane-like device that assists the visually impaired by guiding the user through daily navigation. It vibrates when the user is nearing an obstacle and has a camera that can identify and describe objects through an app or hardware device. The inventors are George Mason University students Ammar Al-Kahfah, Ryan Hossain and Rahat Kamal.

The second-place winner was Rent and Safety, a web application that takes housing data provided by CoStar and uses machine learning and spatial data analytics to predict rental costs. The application also uses publicly available government data to map flooding and crime to create a heatmap. Rent and Safety was created by VCU Engineering students Syed Khaja Moinuddin, Adel Shahrezaei, Pratip Rana and Gregory Chang.

VCU students Brandon Simon, Tamara Pena, Adam Morrisette and Kevin Yang took third place with Handy Helper. Their program lets the user operate a computer without physically touching it — a must for workers who have to interact with computers while wearing protective gloves out in the field. Handy Helper also received an additional prize from RamHacks gold sponsor Newport News Shipbuilding.