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Four key trends from 36 hours at Stanford Hackathon

Four key trends from 36 hours at Stanford Hackathon

When a hackathon has judges that include the Director of AI at Tesla and the founder of the largest venture capital firm in Asia, you know it’s real. This year, Stanford’s annual hackathon, TreeHacks, gathered hundreds of students from across the country, representing a multitude of schools, to build projects in energy, security, and healthcare.

StartU’s Stanford team attended TreeHacks, and four key trends stood out to us. 


1. Converse more.

Talking to your phone, smart home device, and computer is moving from a novelty to a critical factor of user interface design. Mobile and web based chatbots were shown off en mass at TreeHacks, including applications to aid users in understanding their health or chat with virtual therapists. Even more important than chatbots, technologies like Amazon’s Alexa enabled teams to build new innovations in voice interactions in many verticals.

Notable projects tackling this trend:

  1. Norma: an “interactive chatbot aimed at helping to detect breast cancer at an early stage through guidance and education.” They claim that utilizing a chatbot user interface makes the process more welcoming and simple for users normally unwilling to track their health. 

  2. Memorium: a voice platform to recall memories and aid mental health, won Best Voice Experience Using Amazon Alexa (Amazon). So while they not only walked away with an Echo Show device, they also showed us that health care and voice technologies are coming together where soon “therapists may utilize Memorium to inspire candor, self-awareness, and personal growth in their patients.” 

2. AI is unstoppable.

AI is thrown around everywhere nowadays, but teams at TreeHacks gave us tangible routes for its future in our daily lives (outside of a sentient robot takeover). It is clear that in the coming years you can expect more tailored artificial intelligence platforms to enhance your healthcare experience, advance clean energy, and strengthen security and ownership of digital content.

Notable projects tackling this trend:

  1. NeuralHash utilized deep neural networks to develop an “almost-foolproof way to detect piracy” in image rights. 

  2. XRay4All can “diagnose thoracic diseases from chest x-rays taken as photos at an expert level at low latency using deep learning.”

  3. Uncover Your Usage utilized the US Energy Information Administration datasets to predict annual energy usage in households. 


3. We still need hardware innovation.

Yes, mechanical, chemical, and all other non software engineers: we still need you. Hackathons are often flooded with software innovations due to their relatively quick development timeline. However, there are many innovations in hardware that will be critical in advancing our daily lives. The winner of the Greatest Impact Hack, The Ultimate Water Heater, reminds us that some of the most common technologies in our life still need innovation.


Notable projects tackling this trend:

  1. The Ultimate Water Heater optimizes the water heating process. Their project is working to be the “safe, cheap, and easily accessed water heater with the goal of efficiency and environmental friendliness”. Their innovative project utilized technologies such as inductive heating (commonly found in stovetops), data prediction models, and Arduino machines to solve a problem many of us aren’t even aware of. 

  2. Bairea tacked air pollution, building a device that “measures respiratory irritants, carbon monoxide (CO), and carbon dioxide (CO2) (all products of combustion)”. While initially built for cars, the team hopes it could be extended to drones to build 3D maps of air quality data. 

4. Get ready to trip out on what reality is.

Augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality: what is reality? Teams this year were extremely bullish on these technologies, building real time augmented reality translating applications and physical therapy treatments incorporating virtual reality. AR will continue to find its most natural innovation space in gaming, but many projects at TreeHack are showing us new applications.


Translate AR mockup

Notable projects tackling this trend:

  1. TranslateAR utilized computer vision and Apple’s ARKit to develop a platform that helps speakers transition to new languages. Their message is simple, “Point your phone’s camera towards an object, and it will identify that object for you,” in augmented reality. 

  2. LimbVR: worked with Oculus VR to develop a platform that allows physical therapy patients to be “immersed into your healthy, ideal body.” Once you put the headset on, you are shown what it is like to be in your perfect body again, movement and all. They claim “LimbVR shows you how to perfect your moves and build trust in yourself once again.” 

For students, TreeHacks was a 36 hour sprint filled with food, fun, work, and little sleep. However, their interests and project outputs have painted a clear picture of what we can expect in the coming years.


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