The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
_I r C - 3 Fall 2014
The ichgan ail - mchiandalycm Unv ritv C -Fall201
Quidditch and Red Bull:
The hackathon experience
UMHS doctors conduct first
implantation of bionic eye
to patients with
By AMABEL KAROUB
FEB. 4, 2014 -Ever thought
about what it might be like to
have a bionic eye? Surgeons
at the University of Michigan
Health System have.
On Jan.16 and 22, UMHS reti-
na surgeons performed the first-
ever surgeries that implanted
artificial retinas into the eyes of
patients with retinitis pigmen-
tosa, a degenerative eye disease
that eventually causes blindness.
Formally named the Argus II
Retinal Prosthesis System, the
bionic eye device was developed
by California-based Second Sight
Medical Products, Inc. Thiran
Jayasundera and David N. Zacks,
professors of ophthalmology
and visual sciences at the Uni-
versity's Kellogg Eye Center, are "You're wearing a video cam-
the first surgeons to implant the era on your glasses," Jayusun-
device since it gained approval dera said. "That video camera
from the Food and Drug Admin- basically sends the information
istration last year. into a video processing unit that
UMHS has been chosen as one you wear on a belt. The image is
of 12 centers nationally to offer converted into signals that wire-
the retinal prosthesis to patients. lessly transmit it to this device
Jayasundera said UMHS con- that we implant on the retina."
tacted Second Sight and request- After the surgery, patients
ed access to the product. The undergo one to three months of
company then visited UMHS to training to adapt to their new
complete a site inspection. vision. Jayasundera said this
"We wanted to offer this to training helps the brain learn to
our patients because we see a lot sort through the many impulses
of patients with advanced pig- that are stimulated when recipi-
mentosa," Jayasundera said. "We ents turn their head in different
wanted our patients in Michigan directions.
to be able to have access to this Though the retinal prosthesis
technology." does not provide 20/20 vision,
Retinitis pigmentosa is an it creates an abstract, rudimen-
inherited disease that causes tary vision that permits patients
blindness through a gradual to make out figures and light.
loss of light-sensitive retinal Although the bionic eye does not
cells. Jayasundera said the reti- offer a full cure, Jayasundera
nal prosthesis works wirelessly said it is a step in the right direc-
through a camera connected to tion.
electrodes. The electrodes stim- "This is already the Argus II,"
ulate remaining retinal nerve Jayasundera said. "In time there
fibers, causing the perception of will be more development of
light in the brain. these types of devices."
16-year-old Send Grid representative Will Smidlein and Louisiana Tech Alumn Jaren Glover at MHacks at the Qube in
Detroit on January 17, 2014.
hosts third annual
By GIACOMO BOLOGNA
Daily Staff Reporter
JAN. 21, 2014 -Mike Ross, a
Quicken Loans security guard,
stood watch in the elevator
lobby of the seventh floor of the
Qube building in Detroit on Sat-
urday afternoon. Ross had heard
of hackathons before the week-
end, he said, but this was his first
time interacting with one.
Ross stood tall, watching a
constant trickle of hackers and
organizers go from side rooms
to the main hall elevator. He
wasn't a hacker, but he stood in
one of the best places to watch
Saturday afternoon was the
halftime of MHacks - the mid-
point - the make-or-break time,
when more than 1,000 hackers
got an idea of whether they'd
be ready to present at Sunday's
wrap-up celebration or have to
accept that their ambitions were
"I wish I could say energetic,"
Ross said of the atmosphere,
and pointed to the "dozen peo-
ple crashed on the floor," in the
The kids that haven't burnt
out are zeroed in on their com-
"They work, work, work and
crash," Ross said.
He wasn't kidding. Walking
through the main hall occupied
by a few hundred hackers meant
stepping over pillows, suitcases,
sleeping bags and sleeping col-
If you haven't heard of
MHacks, here's what you need to
know: There's 36 hours to write
a program or make an innova-
tion, hundreds of students and
an abundance of caffeine. It's
part competition, part collab-
orative learning and part party.
The main hall of the seventh
floor embodied the hackathon
spirit. It might have been a large
office space for an online retail
mortgage lender, but there was
no beige or gray. Brightly col-
ored columns punctuated the
rows of tables taken over by
hackers and the walls were cov-
ered with white boards where
teams argued over scrawled
ideas or bored hackers sketched
out their school's logo.
And there, creativity did
come, but often at the expense
of sleep, hygiene and fashion -
sweatpants and pajamas make
for more efficient hacking.
But on Saturday afternoon,
when competitors rested their
heads on crossed arms and
drooled on the table, the creativ-
itywas at a lull.
The real start of MHacks
came before the Friday kickoff.
Competitors aren't allowed to
present projects they've previ-
ously worked on and they're
encouraged to come up with
fresh ideas. The real start of
MHacks came in the past couple
weeks when those fresh ideas
began to percolate.
A few days before Friday,
Matt Kula, a computer science
major from DePaul University,
was Facebook chatting with
his team, one DePaul student
and two from the University of
"It was a joke, honestly. But
they took it seriously," Kula said
on Saturday of the idea he had
"That was a great idea," Engi-
neering sophomore James Kot-
zian said, surprised. "I thought
it was a sweet idea."
The team went along with it
and by Saturday afternoon, they
had built a functioning three-
dimensional Quidditch simula-
"You can get motion sickness
pretty easy doing some barrel
rolls," Kula said. "It's crazy."
To play the game, the Quid-
ditch player puts on a pair of 3D
goggles hooked up to the com-
puter and straddles a stick with
a Wii remote taped to its end,
twisting and leaning to fly their
broomstick in a recreation of
the stadium made famous by the
"Harry Potter" book series.
Kula said it was a good thing
his teammates didn't pick up on
his original sarcasm.
"We really expected to take
this much longer," he said. "Any-
thingwe do now is kinda a plus."
The group acknowledged
that there are some pretty com-
petitive hackers at these events,
but most students, including
them, come to learn and try
new things. DePaul doesn't have
the large hacking scene that
the University does, Kula said,
meaning hackathons can be a
time of immersive learning.
Nonetheless, the team knows
they've built something good.
"I still wanna win, but ... "
Kula said, trailing off. There's
more than just winning and
losing, he explained. There's
resum building and there's
interacting with other hackers
from across the country.
His team, for instance, was
formed after Kula met some Uni-
versity student at the MHacks
hackathon in November.
Plus, there were plenty of
ways to blow off steam. A break
room adjacent to the main hall
had a Pacman arcade game,
ICEE machine and foosball table
- among other amenities.
A block away, however, a team
fromthe State Universityof New
York at Stony Brook was power-
ing through programming an
annoying alarm clock for your
phone, although their surround-
ings weren't as ideal: two floors
of an unfinished office building
hastily fitted for the event.
Concrete floors, bare walls
and temporary fluorescentlights
gave off an industrial vibe at
best. And this vibe was amplified
when compared to the Qube's
eighth floor, which had views
of Windsor's skyline across the
river and ice skating at Cam-
pus Martius Park. But at least
both locations were only a quick
walk away from Lafayette Coney
Island, home of the world's most
heavenly Coney dog.
Nonetheless, the Stony Brook
team continued coding the app,
which was designed for people
who have trouble waking up
early in the morning, or, col-
loquially speaking, college stu-
Team member Ted Saint-
vil called it the "dreaded eight
o'clock class," and the three
New York students pointed at
the fourth member of their team
whose head was slumped down
on the desk in sleep.
This team, too, noted that
there were some people who
take the competition very seri-
ously, but those people are the
exception, not the rule.
"You come here to do what
you want to," Kenneth Ramos
said. "I come for the experi-
Besides, Ramos said, the big-
gest competition was for when
new rounds of food were distrib-
uted. "You ever see a Walmart
on Black Friday?" Ramos said.
But regardless if you're a first-
time hacker or a seasoned pro
looking for recognition, nobody
gets much sleep.
"What is that - sleep?"
None of Ramos's team had
more than four hours of sleep,
and even that's considered a
good night's sleep at hackathons.
Kula, despite having the lux-
ury of carpeting in his building,
only laid down for two hours.
"I don't sleep at these things,"
he said. "Too much going on for
me to sleep."
In the end, sleep-deprived or
not, the teams all had memo-
rable experiences. Some came
away with full, functioning
products they had planned for
all along. Others ... not so much.
While Stony Brook didn't place
in the top eight, Kula's team and
their Quidditch simulator placed
second overall. Both teams,
though, left the event as better
programmers. And that's what
it's really all about.
Georgia Tech junior Karan Pahawa works on his team's artificial intelligence simulator while his teammates Andrew Branch
and Sagar Card take a nap at MHacks at the Qube in Detroit on January 17, 2014.
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College of New Jersey Senior Richard Schoonewolff and Rutgers Sophomore Amy Chen work on a social app at MHacks
at the Qube in Detroit on January 17, 2014.