Region's first hackathon begins Friday

New London — The region's first hackathon is scheduled Nov. 11-13 at Spark Makerspace, allowing programmers and other tinkerers and thinkers to dream up solutions to local and national problems.

The theme of the Thames River Hackathon is transit, and local experts are expected to brief participants at 6 p.m. Friday on a variety of challenges in Groton and New London that might require out-of-the-box thinking. But organizers said hacks — efforts to come up with solutions to problems — are not limited to transit.

In fact, hackers can work on anything they want, so long as at least some of the work is created during the event. Prizes will be awarded at 2 p.m. Sunday at CURE Innovation Commons in Groton after the usual overnight madness Saturday in which small teams of no more than four or five work on their ideas.

"You get to meet like-minded people," said Kristin Harkness, who is starting up a new city business called Bits & Pixels. "It's camaraderie and competition."

Winners have something to put on their resumes, "street cred" in the world of geeks and nerds, organizers said. And people get to see what other hackers are dreaming up and how well they are able to present their ideas to the judges.

The idea is to come out of the hackathon with some kind of prototype that potentially could be used to attract investors in the technology, they added. The Thames River Hackathon is part of a series of such events called the Northeast Hackathon, and entries at anywhere from $5 to $25 are still being sought.

The best thing about having the hackathon at the Makerspace at 86 Golden St., said organizer Hannah Gant, is the availability of a wide range of machines and materials, from motors to LED switches to a 3D printer. Participants are asked to bring their own laptops, however.

"It's about bringing people together," said Gant, who led efforts to create the local Makerspace.

Some possible hacks, said organizers, could include ways to better connect people to various modes of public transportation, including ferries and trains, or to track the progress of local buses. There are also parking problems near Electric Boat, they said.

"It's all about getting from Point A to Point B and how to get there," said John Scimone, an electrical engineer at EB.

"It's probably not going to be a spectator sport," smiled Mike Molinari, an EB designer.

The hackathon includes three tracks: apps and API, virtual and augmented reality and various other types of making. The hackathon winner will get a $500 prize sponsored by IBM, Atlantic Broadband and JAN Electronics.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner is included, and participants will be forced to take regular breaks from their projects when food and snacks are brought out.

Harkness, a former software developer for Kayak.com, said she hopes the hackathon is the start of building a community of geeks and nerds in southeastern Connecticut.

"You can feel the heartbeat starting with Spark," Gant said.

"Now we have a hub that attracts people that are interested in that," Harkness said. "It might start out small, but it starts."

l.howard@theday.com

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