Hackathon[3] Reality is what you make it.

At Olson, we creatively address new realities, and at Olson Hackathon we have two days to make them.

Hackathon[3]: “New Realities” examined what’s real in the shrinking gap between our physical and digital lives. In terms of existing and emerging technology, reality is whatever we are capable of.

We can talk to our TV with Siri, live inside a game with Oculus Rift or travel anywhere through Google Street View. There’s never been a time of more reality-challenging innovation, as our Hackathon[3] teams demonstrated in a quick-turn all-or-nothing competition built on the latest forms of what’s possible.]


“Knack,” the winning project, made sales empathy a reality. Knack is a product that demonstrates how artificial intelligence and organic intelligence empower a sales force to sell to the person and not to the script. Needs are met emotionally and financially to achieve the next level in customer service. Microsoft’s Project Oxford Emotion Recognition API reports the clients emotional reactions in real time so the advisor can monitor their client’s comfort levels and focus their recommendations accordingly.

From computer vision to stereoscopic vision, the remaining entrants worked both on ideas for the enterprise and on immersive experiments for the individual. ExplOrb is on its way of becoming the Merriam-Webster 2016 word of the year. Thanks to this Hackathon project, we now know that there is a form of exploration so stimulating that it requires a title as voluminous and titillating as the experience itself. The team behind ExplOrb used the sub-$300 ThetaCam to film and stitch together an interactive Virtual Reality tour of some of Minneapolis’ musts. They looked at platforms ready to go today to get this 360˚ experience into as many hands as possible. The results of ExplOrb’s grand tour can be accessed from both YouTube’s and Facebook’s new 360 video players or completely wrapped around you as best viewed in an Oculus Rift VR Headset.

After two days, we rated functional demos built on a heap of technology including virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, interactive 360˚ video, webGL, gesture tracking and good old-fashioned animated GIFs. The paradox of the deadline is that there’s no time to fear the unknown — you are immediately challenged to take any hint of an idea and try it out. It also forces you to make decisions, to edit or to focus on what’s essential. It’s a time to play with ideas, and come back with the proof that they are reality. In our largest Hackathon yet, 5 teams threw down and built up a picture of the not-to-distant future in which an even more seamless connection between our physical movements and digital lives gives way to a more personally satisfying and richer experience to life.

Official Results of Hackathon[3]

Prizes were awarded by tallying votes from judges Margaret Murphy (President & COO, Olson), Kevin McKeon (Chief Creative Officer, Olson), Jurene Fremstad (SVP Strategy & Insight, Olson), Fred Faulkner (Director, Marketing, ICF Olson ) and all the other Hackathon competitors.

Knack (1st Place)

New Reality #1: Artificial intelligence gets you.

Team – Jennifer Berg, Jeff Rosenberg, Rebekah Gustin, Lauren Beerling, Bret Otzenberger, Vince Keefe, Tim Drabandt, Tom Lord, Michael Lavine, Anna Zuehlke, Joe Monnens
Technologies – Project Oxford Emotion API, WebRTC, NodeJS, ExpressJS

The largest and most diverse team in Olson Hackathon history took 1 developer, 10 non-developers and a user-centered approach to bring empathy into machine-based communications. Knack is a video chat for financial advisors that puts a face to data, and measures emotion in real time to make sure that all the customer’s needs are tended to. Analyzing facial gestures while talking clients through different financial topics gives the advisor a bit of extrasensory perception in order to better customize their recommendations.

ExplOrb (2nd Place)

New Reality #2: Virtual Reality is a new vocabulary.

Team – Song Vang, James Lindsay, Zach Schaap, Michael Brown
Technologies – ThetaCam 360˚ Camera, Oculus Rift VR, Firefox WebVR API, Leap Motion, ThreeJS

Consumer VR is still in its nascent stages, but we know there’s something inherently cool about it. This team found the great parts and ExplOrbed them a little more. From inside the Oculus Rift, the ExplOrb experience takes you on a guided trip through Minneapolis in stereoscopic 3D. Because it’s video and because it’s interactive, they took the bounds of physical reality a little further. Connect a LeapMotion to choose your own path at the wave of a hand, and look around for some clever video edits that insert clones of Zach Schaap. It’s up to you if hanging out with two Zach Schaaps is dreamy or just a nightmare. Go behind the scenes and see it for yourself on YouTube.

Smile All Day (3rd Place)

New Reality #3: Computer’s frown upside down.

Team – Derek Pletch, Ross Teichner, Brooke Ekelund, Charley Pugmire, Ryan Theisen
Technologies – AngularJS, CLMTracker (Facial/Emotion Recognition), NodeJS, ExpressJS, GifEncoder

In the frozen tundra sometimes we get SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder brings on depression when the sun goes away, so this team decided to turn that frown upside down and Smile All Day with a web app controlled by your face. A smile to start brings on GIF after GIF of irreverent ridiculousness that is increasingly hard not to smile at. It releases endorphins, good vibes, and combines snapshots of your own grins along the way into an animated GIF all your own. It’s infectious. Share your GIF to spread Smile All Day and wipe out SAD.

Connecting Existing Realities

New Reality #4: What’s old is new.

Team – Kelsey Storekamp, Adam Falkner, Lyle Svendson
Technologies – Layar Augmented Reality, AirBnB

Kelsey and team did not develop anything at all. Instead they connected existing reality-bending technologies to prove that we are approaching, if not already existing in, a time when the building blocks of new experience have transcended the code they run. Travelers elect to AirBnB it to experience a destination as the locals do. They desire a deeper connection, and want to recognize a place for its history and richness. AirBnB combined with Layar Augmented Reality puts that type of local expertise in your fingertips when you most want it. Imagine staring at Minneapolis’ new Bob Dylan mural and have it sing tunes to you or check out the real stars at the historic First Avenue music venue.


New Reality #5: There’s no good without evil.

Team – Sean Lynch
Technologies – ????

It’s hard to find words for this project. But it’s best to state that some things in this world cannot exist without their opposite.  Sean Lynch, existential quality assurance specialist extraordinaire, is an expert on a good experience.  But there cannot be good without evil, what would be good then? Good would just be. Period. That said, Sean made perhaps the worst user experience possible, so bad you know it’s trying.  For a great example of what not to do, check out Fux.