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Friday 15 February 2019

Five Solent students recently took part in Hack the South, a 36-hour hackathon open to all students, but with a particular focus on those living and studying in the south of England. This hackathon was held in Southampton and involved teams of students hacking interesting and creative ideas into software or hardware products.

Solent's team consisted of first year BSc (Hons) Cyber Security Management student, James Whale; final year BSc (Hons) Computing student, Kristoff Holthaus; second year BSc (Hons) Computing student, Josh Arrowsmith; and second year BSc (Hons) Web Design and Development students Patrick West and Steph (Skip) Barden.

The students were all encouraged to take part by computing course leader, Prins Butt, who sees the hackathon as "a great way to encourage creativity, problem solving and the sharing of ideas. Hackathons provide students with an opportunity to showcase their talent and build their confidence in an environment conducive to collaboration."

For the team's project, Skip came up with the concept of a tool to help people with blindness, which led to the project being called LightVision. The LightVision app is driven by machine learning, which helps blind people 'see' what's in front of them. The app does this by detecting objects in front of the person and reading out the result when the person taps on the screen of their device.

Students working on their project during the Hack the South event

Kristoph, who created the machine learning models used by the app, described the main challenge as "being able to develop and train the app so that it would recognise a range of objects." The challenge was overcome by creating two separate models - one using Tensor Flow, the other using Keras - each providing separate benefits. Kristoph was taking part in his first hackathon and described the event as "fun, productive, and a good experience."

Given the challenge ahead of them, and the risk of potentially not completing the web-based data model, Patrick developed a Raspberry Pi alternative for capturing and presenting data. This proved to be an interesting alternative and demonstrated the creative and technical talent of the team.

Josh supported the technical development of the website and James researched into the cloud platforms and algorithms to be used in the app. Both Josh and James attributed the success of the team to the motivation, support and co-ordination of the members.

The team impressed the judges with their ideas and the prototype - achieving third place overall and leaving the event feeling proud and with some great prizes, including a set of speakers and a Google Home kit each!

Solent's team members with their medals and their prize at the Hack the South event

Solent's Hack the South team with their medals