Upstate hackathon showcases local technology achievements

Projects presented at this fall's biannual event include a device that alerts drivers of traffic light changes and a tool that summarizes long online articles.

Red traffic lights pose a stand off between a driver and traffic: Which will move first once the light turns green? Almost every driver has missed the one-second standard reaction time to accelerate his or her vehicle upon light a change. Whether it’s because they are taking swigs of water, changing the radio station or checking the mustard stain left over from lunch, drivers have missed this window. Honks and aggitated shouts echo through the street until these distracted individuals make haste, but what if the aggression could be avoided?

Photo: Hailey Clark
Tech students and coders from across the region attended the event.

Like a bell ringing for class to end, a device has been invented to alert drivers of traffic light changes. It’s called the Red Light Bell —created by Robert Grazioli and Augustine Cost — and it won first place at Hack Upstate, a local hackathon, on Oct. 9. It was one of many innovations demonstrated at the free, two-day event at the Syracuse Technology Garden that spotlighted advancements in the technology community.

Founders of Hack Upstate, Doug Crescenzi and Mitchell Patterson, who both have backgrounds in the tech world, began this biannual event three and a half years ago to facilitate collaboration between innovators in New York.

“All of these tech talents coming out of universities — like SU, Cornell or SUNY Buffalo —upon graduation, go elsewhere,” Crescenzi said. “We wanted to do what we could to align talent with upstate employees.”

The theme of each hackathon is open-ended, but this event's projects seemed to have similar text-to-speech elements, according to Crescenzi. Text-to-speech is a process where text on a screen is spoken aloud by a computerized voice.

Euphony Inc., a company that specializes in using synthetic voices, sponsored one of the four prizes at this year’s hackathon.

Fuz Eller, president, CEO and founder of Euphony, attended Hack Upstate to judge and award the best text-to-speech project. The winner of the Euphony API prize went to three men from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) for their project, Summary to Speech.

Intended to be a tool for college students, Summary to Speech is a useful device for those who don't want to read long articles. The three undergraduates from RPI, known as team Hack Castle, demonstrated how a 1,000-word Wikipedia article can be shortened to fewer than 200 words using their extension. All users have to do is copy and paste the article into the box and code will then summarize the text based on keywords and important information, according to the team.

Additional prizes were awarded at the hackathon. First runner up, behind Red Light Box, went to Stephen Shaffer for his web app, Scout, a community chat space where locations and pictures of infrastructure concerns can be shared.

The last prize went to Arthur DeAraujo and Declan Hopkins, from State University of New York at Buffalo, for their MyCart phone scanner. Intended for small businesses, MyCart documents inventory and prices. The prize was sponsored by MongoDB, a document-oriented database platform for businesses.

The next hackathon date will be determined soon, but Crescenzi said he is excited to see what comes next.

“We really celebrate applied learning. In this capacity, it's about using applied learning and using it as a mechanism to fuel an educational opportunity.”

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