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A Weekend of Hacking – Looking Back at the START Hack

18 March 2016
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Reading time: 3 minutes

Let’s go back to last Friday afternoon: More and more people arrive at Startfeld in St. Gallen to attend the START Hackathon. Almost 250 people from different countries join the event to hack out their guts for the next 35 hours. Organised by students of the University of St. Gallen, it’s kind of a pre-event to the START summit which is takes place this weekend. The hacking folks can work on their own projects or join the challenges provided by various companies. On of them is our Zühlke Fast and Furious racing car challenge.

The Challenge

Put in one sentence, the goal is to write a programme driving autonomously a car on a carrera racetrack. While the car is driving, you will receive information about acceleration and data from a gyro mounted on the car. Depending on the received values the algorithms should send power data to drive faster or to slow down the car. While this sounds easy at first, you have to make sure to not drop out of the racetrack and accelerate at the right time to achieve an optimal lap time. In addition, you have no information about your position on the racetrack, so the algorithms have to learn when to increase or decrease the power by themselves. To ease development, the teams got a simulation of the racetrack so they could test their algorithms without having to connect to the physical racetrack all the time. In the end, the team that runs the fastest time on the Sunday finals will win.

Ready

Soon after the racetrack was assembled, we already had some folks getting curious and asking us questions about the challenge. This lead up to the first team subscribing two full hours before the event even started! After the pitches at Friday night, even more people were interested in the challenge and around 40 people (10 teams) decided to join the Zühlke challenge. What a success! After getting everyone started and with midnight closing in, it was finally time for the teams to get their hands on the code and start working.

Set

Saturday started off slowly. The teams seemed to focus on having a stable baseline for their algorithms instead of rushing the racetrack to start playing around. But as time went on, more of the teams came to our booth trying out the results of their hard work. The first tries went well and we saw some interesting algorithm behavior, including some spectacular crashes (nobody was harmed… except the involved cars). Later that day as the teams became more and more familiar with the challenge, they started to try out different things. But at the end of the day we decided to have a break before giving the teams their last training rounds on Sunday morning.

Go

When we go to a Hackathon we’re always surprised about the amount of power people have and the passion they display. We reopened the racetrack at 5 AM Sunday morning and the teams started almost immediately to try out their latest and greatest changes from the night. The competition was fierce and it was really interesting to see the progress, new ideas and improvements in action. Time flew by and it was soon time for the finals. It was great to see the tension on the faces of the people when their car was accelerating. Is it too fast? Will the car drop out of the lane? But it worked out well for all the teams, and we saw an impressive first place by “FlashAndFurious” with 13.747 seconds, followed by “IMN2000” with 14.368 seconds and “ChopChop” with 14.608 seconds. “FlashAndFurious” also beat our Zühlke demo pilot by 1/10 seconds. Congratulations!

Finish Line

We had a blast! We are always impressed about the power and the different and creative ideas that emerge at a Hackathon. A huge thank you for joining our challenge (and for dealing with some of our technical problems). We sure had a great time, and congratulations again to our winner team.

Join our Zühlke booth this weekend at the START Summit Conference in St. Gallen. See you soon.

 

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