header Johns Hopkins University Whitng School of Engineering

Hacking to Help Baltimore

Johns Hopkins students worked around the clock to come up with applications that would  benefit the city of Baltimore.
CIVIC HACKING: Johns Hopkins students worked around the clock to come up with applications that would 
benefit the city of Baltimore.

Fueled by creativity and copious cups of coffee and cans of Red Bull, about 120 Johns Hopkins undergraduate and graduate students pulled the ultimate “all-nighter” (two all-nighters, in fact) in late September as part of HopHacks, Johns Hopkins University’s first-ever student-led hackathon.

The 36-hour event, which began Friday evening and ended midday on Sunday, brought the student “hackers” to the Whiting School’s Hackerman Hall for a weekend of collaborative computer programming. Working
solo or in teams of up to four, the students competed to create an application worthy of the $1,024 grand prize provided by sponsors including Facebook, Bloomberg L.P., GitHub, EPIC, and the Social Innovation Lab.

Although hackers were free to work on any application that interested them, organizer Daniel Swann, a junior computer science major, encouraged them to do what he called “civic hacking”—create something that could benefit the city of Baltimore. 

Undergraduates and graduate students worked collaboratively on computer programs.

GROUP EFFORT: Undergraduates and graduate
students worked collaboratively on computer

“We thought it would be awesome to do that here because it encourages innovation and entrepreneurship,” says Swann, who organized the event with a team that also included Ben Glickman, a junior computer science major; Nathan Schloss, a senior computer science major; and Tyler Cloutier, a senior majoring in chemical and biomolecular engineering. 

Several of the student teams took that suggestion to heart, creating and presenting civic-minded applications. For example, Bmore Sheltr allows homeless people to use smartphones to locate nearby food banks and shelters, and Bmore Safe assesses an individual’s risk of becoming a crime victim based on location and time of day. 

Other applications ran the gamut from Dorm Sec, which aims to make college dormitories safer through the use of data scanned from drivers’ licenses and J-cards, to SuperScale, which would enable people to use their smartphones to weigh objects, to “DropMe,” the location-aware media application that earned its creators the grand prize. DropMe allows users to virtually “drop” messages, photos, or files at an on-screen location based on the mobile phone’s GPS. 

“We were very impressed by what you all managed to do in a weekend. A big thumbs up to everyone,” said Jason Eisner, a computer science professor who sat on the judges’ panel with fellow professors Peter Froehlich and Scott Smith, as well as Devon O’Dell from the content delivery network Fastly and John Bienko of the U.S. Small Business Administration. 

Swann and his team were extremely pleased with the event’s success—“I could even see some of the projects possibly being spun off into startups,” he says—and they are already busy planning another hackathon for the spring. 


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JHU Engineering | Summer 2013