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An overview of the hackathon at the AT&T Dev Summit in Las Vegas.
An overview of the hackathon at the AT&T Developer Summit in Las Vegas.

LAS VEGAS— This city is known for sleepless nights, and hot action on the casino floor.

Ryan Booth, left, and Alan Vezina, right. of team JustDrive.

And that’s exactly what’s been occurring over the past 36-hours in the Palms Casino Resort — just of a slightly different variety than you might think.

Nope, no slot machine clanking or loud shouts from the craps table here.

For the past 36 hours, hundreds of coders and mobile app developers have been cranking away inside a hip converted night club, looking to earn prestige, prize money and perhaps produce the next cool startup idea.

Fueled by Red Bull and cans of Pringles, these developers are exhausted, but they keep going as they near the end of the coding marathon at the AT&T Hackathon.

“If I sit down, I’ll just fall asleep,” said Alan Vezina, a developer from Seattle who was part of a team working on a new automobile technology to help measure the “cognitive load” on drivers.

Vezina and colleague Kyle Schei traveled to Vegas from Seattle for the event, and met their three fellow teammates earlier this weekend (from New York, San Francisco and Vancouver, B.C.) after they all showed an interest in automotive technologies. They started using AT&T’s Drive connected car platform to build their idea, which they’ve dubbed JustDrive.

Hackathon participants in Vegas.
Hackathon participants Guillaume Goussard, left, and Shea Ryan in Vegas.

“It is a heck of a grind, but is kind of a vacation for me,” said Schei, who has attended three AT&T hackathons in the past. “I haven’t slept for 36 hours, but I’ve only had to think about new things that are fun.”

In some ways, the 35-year-old entrepreneur said the hackathon is revitalizing. Even so, he admitted that he won’t be able to keep up the pace into the larger Consumer Electronics Show that kicks off with pre-event festivities tonight. Asked what he planned to do once the coding sessions and presentations end later this evening, he bluntly said: “I’ll pass out.”

JustDrive is a “strong prototype,” and one that Schei said solves a real world problem of helping determine what distracts drivers — everything from weather conditions to traffic to text messages.

“It’s early,” said Schei. “A lot of the tech we are using is still kind of fragile.”

JustDrive was not the only group with Seattle connections working on auto-related technologies in Vegas.

Members of the JustDrive team at the AT&T Hackathon at the Palms Casino Resort.

Russ Whitman, the co-founder and chief strategy officer of mobile dev shop Ratio, brought seven staffers to the event to work on a variety of ideas, settling on a mobile service called PayRyde. The idea is to “gamify” the commuting experience, with those sharing rides earning points together in order to unlock experiences and prizes.

This marked Ratio’s second AT&T hackathon, with the team coming in third place last year with an app called SmartPoster that allowed people to get more information on physical billboard advertising.

“We love hackathons. They are a core part of our culture,” said Whitman, adding that the events reward the “geeks” and are constantly “trying to push the envelope.”

But even he was feeling a bit fried after the long hours, stopping a few times during our interview to say his “brain was dead.”

Not every team that attended the hackathon emerged intact. That’s what happened to Guillaume Goussard and Shea Ryan who traveled to Vegas with three others from Los Angeles to work on a mobile application that helps those who are hearing impaired.

“There were five of us, and three people decided to gamble and drink instead,” said Ryan.

Chalk it up to the risk of hosting a hackathon in Sin City. Only the strong survive.

AT&T is selecting 20 top teams from the Hackathon this evening, with over $100,000 in cash and prizes available. The top three teams get to pitch their ideas live on stage at the AT&T Summit on Monday, which is also taking place at the Palms.

Editor’s note: GeekWire is a media partner of the AT&T Developer Summit & Hackathon.  

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