SVSU hosts local Hack Day in anticipation of January hacking season

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On Saturday, Dec. 3, SVSU hosted its first-ever Hack Day.

The purpose of the event, which drew about 35 participants, is to build a robot in the virtual program called “Robocode.”

Most of the participants were SVSU students, but some high school students and SVSU alumni attended as well.

The event was sponsored by Dow Chemical, Meijer, Sam’s Club, and Major League Hacking (MLH).

“Robocode” is a virtual reality game where the hacker/programmer creates a robot with artificial intelligence who then battles with other robots and behaves autonomously. Given this problem, the hackers broke up into teams and had 12 hours to code and battle their robots.

Prizes were given out for those teams that won the “Robocode” battle. First place was a gaming headset and Amazon Echo Dot, second place was a drone and third place was a gaming mouse and keyboard.

Typically, Hack Days such as Saturday’s event last for 24 or 36 hours in order to give the hackers ample time to create and code something from the ground up.

“We will definitely do this next year, although I think we will do a 24-hour one, with hopefully 200 to 300 participants,” said graduate student and event coordinator Brad Chippi. “We started this event with tech talks, and we had mini games, a virtual reality game, as well as lunch and dinner.”

Attendees Drake Herman, a sophomore, and Thomas Meier, a junior, both computer science majors, talked about their experiences at the Hack Day.

“We coded virtual robots and fought them against other teams,” Herman said. “You start off with a shell of a robot, basically, and you code them with instructions on how to move around the battlefield, how to shoot and how to not hit each other if they’re on the same team. You get something that semi-functions.”

Meier echoed Herman.

“It’s also things like communicating as a team and being able to communicate with other robots on your team, but you can’t actually control them; they have to do everything by themselves,” he said.

Herman said he had not participated in a Hack Day in the past and that he didn’t really know what to expect going in, but that some friends asked him to attend.

Both Herman and Meier said they would definitely do another Hack Day next year.

“It’s helpful to do something that you already know how to do but don’t practice that often,” Meier said. “So for someone coming in who hasn’t developed software from scratch to fulfill a task according to a set plan of things that need to be done, that would be really valuable for someone like that, because it’s a beginning to end process,” Meier said. “You have to start from nothing within a set of rules, and that’s something that just doing the assignment in class doesn’t always get you to do.”

Schools and hackers all over the country celebrated this non-official Hack Day. Other schools like Michigan State University and the University of Michigan hosted Hack Days as well as a way to celebrate and welcome in the upcoming hacking season that starts in January.