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Great things come from little preparation and no sleep — at least that was the case for students who spent the weekend in a cramped space in Seattle designing software and hardware from scratch.

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UW students (from left) Patrick Chiang, Gantulga Balgan, Angelica Cupat and Kevin Liang celebrate first place at the first-ever DubHacks 24-hour hackathon. The four students built a speed-reading app that allows users to read as much as fives times faster. Photo by Ashley Stewart.

Nearly 400 students from the Pacific Northwest and beyond took over the third floor of the University of Washington’s Husky Union Building for the first-ever DubHacks, a 24-hour collegiate hackathon and the first of its kind in the region for college students.

Programmers built everything from a remotely-controlled robot that feeds video into an Oculus Rift to a dating app based on your purchase history. The people who spent seven months planning the hackathon say it’s about time student innovators had a platform.

Seattle brings together technologists and entrepreneurs nearly every month to compete in hackathons. But the city boasts few options for students who study here.

“I should be able to roll out of bed and say ‘Oh hey, I want to go to a hackathon today’,” said DubHacks co-founder Karan Goel. “It just doesn’t make sense, I’ve been to over a dozen hackathons in the last year, and I’ve always had to travel. We have so much talent right here on campus.”

That’s why Goel and other students came together to create a large-scale collegiate competition in the Northwest. More than 380 students from as far as Maryland gathered at UW on Friday and Saturday to build 78 projects in less than 24 hours.

“It was a lot of fun to see people from all these different backgrounds come together for 24 hours and make really cool stuff,” said Patrick Ellis, Startup UW president and co-founder.

(Watch a video with highlights from the event above.)

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LimeLight highlights part of a word in red, which its programmers say creates a focal point for people to process more words faster. The speed-reading app won first place at DubHacks. Courtesy Patrick Chiang.

Angelica Cupat, Gantulga Balgan, Kevin Liang and Patrick Chiang didn’t know each other before forming a team and taking home the hackathon’s largest prize — cash, software, hardware and an opportunity to compete in Facebook’s upcoming hackathon.

The four UW students created LimeLight, a speed-reading app for news articles that allows the average user to read as much as five times faster, they say.

“Rather than having someone read a group of words or words arranged in a certain way, we have them really all the words, but we read them one word at a time,” 19-year-old Liang told GeekWire. “We flash (words) at a certain focal point, which allows people to remain more focused on individual words so they can process more words faster.”

When they weren’t developing the rapid serial visual presentation app, most of the four and other students were sneaking naps on sofas. Some participants brought sleeping bags. One group pitched a tent inside.

Organizers held games and events to help students stay awake. They put together a gaming area, with bowling, and brought in Dubs, the University of Washington live mascot, for photos.

Students had mentors throughout the night to help troubleshoot before their project reached judges — including Jeff Heer, UW associate professor of computer science and engineering; Kevin Croy, co-founder and partner at 9Mile Labs; Jason LaBaw, founder and CEO of Bonsai Media Group; and Marion Boiteux, student developer marketing lead for Microsoft, who evaluated hacks on usefulness, originality, technical difficulty and design.

Through sponsorships from companies including Microsoft, Qumulo, Google, Center for Commercialization, Cisco, Dropbox and Facebook, students participated — and ate — for free. Organizers brought in more than 600 burritos and 5,000 pounds of Costco delivery to keep students fueled during the crash-course programming event, which they say replicates what programmers can expect on the job after graduation.

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Students gather in the University of Washington’s Husky Union Building before the DubHacks’ opening ceremony. Photo by Ashley Stewart.

“You’re learning the fundamentals of peer-science and building products, allowing students to discover what it’s like to actually prototype something in 24 hours,” DubHacks sponsorship coordinator Grant Timmerman told GeekWire.

“They might have not have any understanding of how to build something in the very beginning, but with all this assistance from like-minded hackers, these students have an ecosystem to build whatever they dream up.”

UW students David Phillips, Troy Griffiths and Zach Verbeck built oscl8r, a Leap Motion app that uses hand gestures to control synthesizers and drum sounds. It was the UW students’ first hackathon and, they say, an opportunity to do something others would see.

“The reward is not like something you get from a personal project where you’re just working in your room, say ‘I did this’ and push it to GitHub,” 21-year-old Verbeck said. “Here, it’s real.”

University of Washington students Theodore Chin, Brian Park and Ben Schiffler plan projects before the start of the first-ever DubHacks. Photo by Ashley Stewart.
University of Washington students Theodore Chin, Brian Park and Ben Schiffler plan projects before the start of the first-ever DubHacks. Photo by Ashley Stewart.
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