HKUST takes grand prize at annual Hackathon

Joshua Lee |

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Winners of the HardUST competition show off their prototype. From Left: Lawrence Ng Pak-nin, Joseph Yim Man-chak, Thomas Chan Ngai-nam, Joshua Wong Tsz-nok, Courtney Poon Wing-sze.

Students were up all night programming and building their creations at the annual Hackathon at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), which took place last weekend.

There were more than 400 participants at this year’s competition, attracting talent from universities in Hong Kong and abroad, with some teams coming from as far away as India and North America.

The competition was split into two sections. In HackUST, participants had 24 hours to produce an application related to transportation, cybersecurity, education tech, or Fintech (financial technology), and in the 48-hour HardUST, participants needed to produce hardware related to transportation.

Despite a lack of sleep and a diet of junk food, competitors came up with many innovative ideas to solve many different problems. Top groups from the competition won cash prizes and internships at well-known technology firms.

In the end, the winning team of the HardUST competition was a group of five first-year students from HKUST, who designed a prototype of a detachable aeroplane fuselage to help reduce the length of time planes spend on the ground.

It was the first time the students had taken part in the Hackathon. 

“We are overjoyed,” said 18-year-old Thomas Chan Ngai-nam. “We expected to just have some fun, gain some experience, and put something together, but we never thought we would win the competition.”

“Apart from building the robotics, we also needed to prepare a presentation,” explained Laurence Ng Pak-nin, who is 19 years old. “We continuously discussed how to make our presentation good, and what we should and should not talk about.”

Meanwhile, Cecilia Chan Wing-sze, 21, and Elman Wong Man-fai, 23, from City University developed an app that uses hand gestures to unlock your mobile device, a creation that won them first place in the cyber security category. 

“It provides a second layer of protection,” Cecilia said of their app, which strengthens the security of existing facial recognition software.

Elman said the idea for the app came from his personal experience: “My friends would take my phone and force me to unlock it [using facial recognition], so I wanted to solve this problem.”

Cecilia added that the most challenging part was identifying the problem statement: “At first we had no idea which themes and topic [to choose from], and we spent so much time on that,” she said.

Another team of HKUST students developed an educational tool designed to help students improve their essay writing skills, by analysing their text and providing automated support as they type.

“Last year, secondary school students spent HK$3 million on private tutorial,” said Eric Yu, 23, “therefore, we think there's a real need for this software and that this app can help.”

“I think the most enjoyable part [of the hackathon] is spending almost 20 hours working continuously,” Eric added. 

This was the fifth year of the Hackathon at HKUST, and according to its organisers, last year's event was the largest in the Greater China region.

Edited by Nicole Moraleda