I joined the European StartupBus competition two weeks ago. For those who have not heard about it, it is a 72 hours hackathon on wheels through Europe that ends at the 2 day Pirate summit in Köln. It has the same format as most hackathons: In the beginning of the event people pitch ideas they want to work on. The best ideas are selected by the participants and teams are formed to work on them. An ideal team has developers, designers and business people.
Our bus traveled from Zürich to Leipzig, then on to Berlin, Hamburg, Amsterdam and to the presentation day in Hasselt in Belgium. In Zürich we started at the Swiss Startup Factory. In Leipzig we were received by folks at the SpinLab. In Berlin we visited Project A, and in Hannover the folks from Mindspace, who let us crash in their sofas when we learned that we had no hotel reserved for the night. In Amsterdam we were hosted by TQ, and the final in Hasselt was hosted by Corda. There are a few differences between a normal hackathon and a hackathon-on-wheels. First of all is internet access. We knew that we had crossed the boundaries of a country when our internet connection stopped working.
Another difference is the emphasis put on pitching and refining ideas. In most hackathons I’ve attended and organized the focus is on the technical solution, and the presentation slides are done in a hurry at the end. Being in a bus gives you enough time to practice your pitch, plus there is nothing else to do on the way.
Like parents looking to keep their kids busy on the road, our conductors kept us busy by having the teams perfect their pitch along the way
I work in the area of Virtual Reality(VR) and wanted to get experience programming for the Hololens, which is an Augmented Reality(AR) device. The main difference between VR and AR is that in VR the user only sees the screens in front of her eyes, while in AR these screens are translucent and the user can interact with her surroundings.
An AR device could in theory detect the faces you are seeing and show a label with their name. Or it could show you projections of virtual objects next to you. These objects, which in Hololens terms are called Holograms, can also interact with you.
The way to interact with the Hololens is by focusing your gaze in an object and then either using voice commands or doing hand gestures. There is a click gesture, a drag gesture and a quit gesture. The gesture is called bloom because it looks as if it was a flower blooming.
Back to the competition, our team Immerse set the goal to project images on to virtual walls that could be defined by the user. In many antique ruins all around the world you can see that people would paint their walls to depict scenes. It was a way for them to transport themselves to another world, or to tell stories. Using an AR device every user could choose to have a different background in their rooms. If your girlfriend prefers to be at the beach but you like it by the lake in the mountains you could both transport yourselves to these virtual settings in your AR devices, while still being aware of the other person in the room.
There are a few things relevant to the Hololens that I learned in these 3 days:
After 3 days of development, short nights, and a roller coaster of desperation and hope we had our prototype working. On the day of the presentation the TV crew followed us while we were preparing for the demonstrator. Our deck of slides were ready, and we had practiced our choreography a dozen times. One guy would wear the hololens while another operated the computer and yet another presented. It went well, and we were happy. One of the technical judges told me he thought the technology we had developed during the event was on the top 3. We still did not make it into the finals. The jury just did not see a business case behind it. And honestly they are right. As Bill Gates said: We tend to overestimate what will happen in 6 months and underestimate what will happen in 5 years.
On we went to the pirate summit in Köln. And there was a new set of learnings regarding the Hololens awaiting for me there:
Hackathons have always been great events to really get to know software developers or designers. The reduced amount of time and the stress of the situation bring in the best of people. You can figure out in a few hours how someone reacts to setbacks. After a hackathon you create a deeper relationship with the people with whom you interacted. The startup bus takes this experience a level further. It is a mix of intensive working, intensive partying Ibiza style, and deep encounters with like minded folks. I know I have gained a set of lifetime friends. I can recommend the Startupbus experience to everyone.
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