I suppose I was expecting to see other Yahoos, about to brave the chill to head to Hack U at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), but glancing out of the hotel window I certainly wasn't expecting to see an enormous semi-trailer with Yahoo! written on the side tuning in to the campus.UIUC Hack U
Unsurprisingly though, it turns out this was far from a coincidence. The truck, driven by a man named Don and accompanied on this occasion by his charming wife Mary, spends its life picking up new servers from Yahoo!s suppliers and delivering them to our datacenters across the country. Don doesn't only transport new servers though, and on this occasion he was dropping off a whole rack of used servers Yahoo! donated through our Y! STAR (Yahoo! Servers to Academic Researchers) program.
My partner in crime for UIUC Hack U™ was none other than Dav Glass, a core developer on Yahoo!s User Interface platform (YUI), so despite the rain and it being 5pm we began the hacking with a room full of hungry students in the Siebel Center at UIUC. Hacking continued uninterrupted for the next 24 hours with food, drinks and snacks appearing whenever the students needed them. Emily from the University Recruiting team commandeered the rooms AV system and played DJ all night to keep the students energy up.
After some truly impressive feats of staying awake by all involved, by 5pm the following day we had a room as full as when we started, and with the hackers and Yahoos looking a somewhat more tired by that point, we began the demos and judging for the 15 teams who had registered to present their hacks.
UIUC Hack UThe winning hack was by the cheekily named Lightgasm team whose fantastic combination of hardware and software wowed the judges with its beauty and the sheer variety of things it could do. Their Arduino powered creation displayed a variety of information on six multi-colored (hand made) glowing orbs, including patterns generated from ambient sound, a clock and best of all, various colors and patterns representing the weather for a given location fetched via YQL.
Second place went to Ada.ai which was a beautiful HTML5 and CSS3 voice-based artificial intelligence engine. Third place was awarded to Blue Security which auto locked your computer when your cell phone was a certain distance away, and for use of Yahoo! APIs, a special award was given to Lotus Search which used YQL to power a search exploration app for the iPad.
So that was Hack U at UIUC for the fall 2011 season. This was my first end to end Hack U and it was nothing but a blast. I met great Yahoos, smart students and witnessed some amazing hacks to boot. A full list of all of the UIUC hacks can be found on the Hack Tracker and many more photos from the event are posted on Flickr.
About the author
Simon Tunbridge is an engineer working on the Yahoo! Media Foundation Team