Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, September 23, 2013

Recyclables sorter wins top prize at record-setting MHacks event

An intelligent trash can that sorts recyclables from garbage won first prize at this weekend's 36-hour maker blitz, MHacks — the world's largest college hackathon.

Organized by U-M engineering students and conducted at Michigan Stadium, the event drew 1,214 people from roughly 100 schools across the country.


University of Maryland students Andres Toro, Zachary Lawrence and Joshua Drubin demonstrate their winning hack, GreenCan, at the closing ceremony of MHacks 2013. Watch a video demonstration of GreenCan. (Photo by Joseph Xu, College of Engineering)


MHacks website
MHacks submissions and awards
More photos from MHacks 2013

The team that made GreenCan came by bus from the University of Maryland. The three students comprised one of the few teams to make a physical object, rather than an app or a Web tool.

Bothered by glass bottles and aluminum cans in the trash, even when a recycling bin was close by, classmates Zachary Lawrence, Joshua Drubin and Andres Toro, arrived at MHacks with an idea for a single-stream receptacle.

The bin they came up with has a swing top that pivots in a different direction based on the sound an object makes when it hits it. Cans and bottles that create a "ping" end up on one side of a partition, and plastic foam cups that generate a "thud" go on the other, for example.

"I never dreamed of coming here and actually winning," Drubin said. "It feels unbelievable" — even on six hours sleep total for the past two nights.

The GreenCan guys took a catnap approach, slumbering for 30-minute stints every five hours.

"We're definitely going to feel it soon enough," said Toro, as their 10-hour ride home approached.

MHacks was slated to award more than $30,000 in prizes. As of press time, organizers had not released the amounts for each place.

Team tabbr from Carnegie Mellon University took third place with their Web tool to search open tabs. Second place went to Save My Glass, a "head-up" driving display for Google Glass devised by Mike Huang and Austin Feight, juniors in computer science at U-M.

Save My Glass would essentially project a car's dashboard information through the Google Glass so a driver wouldn't have to look down to see it. The tool also could use the Glass's blink sensor to determine if a driver had fallen asleep at the wheel, and if so, vibrate to wake him up. Finally, the tool could use the Glass's motion sensors to detect a crash and, if one occurred, dial 911.

Google was one of the event's many sponsors. Baris Yuksel, a senior software engineer there who came from New York to serve as a mentor, said he was inspired by the hackers' passion and energy.

"When I look here, I see the future," he told the crowd at the awards ceremony. "One of you is going to make the next big thing and the other will make the next, next big thing, and so on. In five years, 10 years you're going to be the tech kings. You're going to be awesome. You are awesome."

Yuksel also thanked MHacks organizers, who chartered buses for schools across the country, and arranged for those beyond driving distance to get airline stipends in order to bring the students together. MHacks organizers hope the participants pay it forward.

"This was one of the most incredible weekends of my life," Thomas Erdman, a junior in computer science and engineering who led the event, told the crowd at the awards ceremony. "I hope it was one of the most incredible weekends of yours."

"Go home and spread the culture at your schools," Erdman said. "We saw so many problems solved in 36 hours! Imagine what we can do in a month, or a semester."