The future is now at Miami hackathon

Bring 160+ hackers together for a weekend, keep the Red Bull flowing, and what do you get? Mobile applications to solve all kinds of life’s problems.

This weekend, South Florida’s computer programmers, graphic designers and entrepreneurs were building the apps of the future.

For some, the future looked like a smartphone-controlled blinking ball rolling around a room, bumping into walls. One group of app designers said their program would instruct the ball (called a Sphero) to measure the dimensions of a room — or of an entire apartment — and instantly display a corresponding map on your phone. With that map, you could march into a store and order just the right amount of carpet. Another team built an app that would make the ball dance. Yet another app could instruct Sphero to change its personality, follow you around like a pet, even cry.

Those were a few of the dozens of ideas being sketched in notebooks, designed on chart paper and coded on laptops at the University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park over the weekend.

The event, which attracted more than 160 participants for the closing presentations on Sunday, was called the AT&T Mobile App Hackathon. It wasn’t about maliciously hacking into computers, but creating teams and cooking up clever phone apps on the fly — and competing for $5,000 in prizes. There were apps — all built in a weekend — to help you precisely handle your schedule, check in at events, crystallize ideas, get more out of an art exhibit, or even — perhaps — help save your life in an emergency.

The gathering was also an opportunity for Miami tech startups to promote the city’s growing technology scene. Milana Kuznetsova, CEO of ESENEM and one of the organizers of the hackathon, started her company in Miami last year. She helped organize the hackathon because she wants to help grow the local technology industry. “Miami will be the future tech hub of Latin America,” Kuznetsova said. “That’s why our vision is to create a network and create the community.”

To help foster a connection between Miami and Latin America, simultaneous hackathons were held in Argentina, Chile and Colombia, with more than 100 Latin American programmers and designers participating in the joint event. The Latin American hackathons were simulcast over the Web, and participants in all the contests could connect via Twitter and webcam.

“Latin America is a talent pool we want to tap into whether virtually or through recruiting to work here in Miami,” said Wifredo Fernandez, the organizer of the Latin American hackathons and co-founder of The LAB Miami, a co-working space in Wynwood.


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