BuildaBot Hackathon @ Plug Cambridge
Last Saturday, around fifteen coders gathered at PLUG in East Cambridge to talk about bots!
Last Saturday, around fifteen coders gathered at PLUG in East Cambridge to talk about bots! Bots are applications designed to automate the kinds of tasks you would usually do on your own, such as making a dinner reservation, adding an appointment to your calendar, or fetching information. Bots are exponentially increasing in number and are cleverly hiding behind what appear to be messaging apps. Some of the best bots are indistinguishable from human to human interaction and are an incredibly hot topic right now. And that’s exactly why the main sponsor of the event, inSitu Sales, wanted the hackers to create a chatbot. inSitu is a mobile app that helps businesses communicate with suppliers and keep track of the inventory via features like mobile invoicing, sales orders, and price estimates.
In addition to inSitu, PLUG Cambridge has teamed up with Twilio and HackerEarth to bring the young minds from all over Cambridge and Boston an ultimate hackathon experience. Part 1 of the Hackathon included a preparation event where Pablo Gil, co-funder of inSitu, talked about inSitu in further detail. Then, the attendees brainstormed about potential chatbot ideas to share with the rest of the group and thus, form teams based around the different bot applications. Each individual could assign themselves to whichever idea they thought was the most interesting! Lastly, the prize of $400 cash was revealed.
The preparation event was incredibly helpful as it allowed the teams to get to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, divide up the work, and clarify the direction in which they wanted to take their bot. The following Saturday, we all gathered again (in much smaller numbers, might I add).
The day of the actual hackathon, Carlos answered last minute questions about inSitu, Twilio representative and Sam Agnew, did a demo on the Twilio platform. In addition to Sam, there was one other mentor on site, Carlos Sierra*, who helped guide the teams in the right direction. After the introductions, off teams went to hack!
24-hours later, the presentations began. Pablo and Santiago Castillo** were on the panel of judges for the $400 and Sam was responsible for judging best use of Twilio. Some of the most interesting bots included natural language processing and image recognition. All three teams used the sms platform to build their chatbots, with one team doing both SMS and Slack. After these amazing presentations and live demos, Sam, Pablo and Santiago went to deliberate. It was a close call, judges said, but the prize allocation was the following:
- inSitu Bot –first place, $500 cash prize
- Order Bot – best use of Twilio, Arduino Starter Kit prize
- Prediction Bot – third place, champagne
Overall, the event was a success. All of the participants were committed, passionate and creative! And the best part, in my opinion, was that some long term friendships were definitely formed.
Besides hardcore coding, what else happened in the 24 hours??
- One team dropped out
- One person learned an entire new language, Python!
- We’ve accumulated over 10 bags of trash
- Twilio representative was so engaged, he ended up staying for the entire time
- Two people never left the space and slept at PLUG
Hackathon = Mutually Beneficial Endeavor
At the end of the day, everyone partaking in the Hackathon received a benefit. PLUG, for providing the space and organizing the event, got exposure and online traffic. The participants got material to put on their resume, networking opportunities, and useful contacts in the local hacker community. And most importantly, inSitu Sales, that got a chatbot!
In return for $400 and a time commitment, inSitu Sales got the full code to an absolutely amazing bot framework as well as four potential employees from the winning team. Team inSitu bot used both SMS and Slack to build a very useful platform for vendors and convenience store owners. In the demo, the team showed that you can simply send a message with “list” and have the bot respond with a display of possible options. You then respond with the number to a corresponding option that allows you to do anything from viewing your existing order status to ordering something new. And that’s not it! By “Slacking” to your bot with the request, you can see all of your active shipments for all invoices displayed on a map. Everyone was truly impressed with Team inSituBot’s work as well as its implications for inSitu.
As a closing remark, I would like to point out that the PLUG Team was incredibly happy to have hosted everyone and is definitely looking forward to the next event. You can watch videos of presentations and the photo album on PLUG’s Facebook page.
Carlos is a mobile tech entrepreneur. In 2001 he founded SWireless (a web-to-mobile transcoding service provider), in 2003 Inalambria (Colombia’s largest corporate SMS aggregator) and currently is the founder & CEO of Twnel, a new mobile messenger that connects businesses with their audiences in emerging markets. Carlos is an Electrical Engineer and holds an MBA from MIT Sloan. He is actively involved in different initiatives that promote innovation based entrepreneurship in Latin America.
Santiago is a front-end developer, working in the mobile messaging space as a core member of Twnel, a new mobile messaging solution that connects businesses with their audiences in emerging markets. He is an active speaker in more than one community of software developers in Latin America, and he is a co-organizer of the indie games development community ‘Juegos Indies’.
Written by: Aliya Serikpayeva