Hackathon to help solve real-world problems

  • Published
  • By Derek Hardin
  • Air Force Research Laboratory
The Air Force Research Laboratory is preparing to co-host LabHack, a 26-hour long coding competition which will task coding-savvy individuals, or "hackers," to creatively solve challenges that AFRL researchers face every day.

The Air Force's first 'Hackathon' event --produced by AFRL, the Wright Brothers Institute, and Code for Dayton, part of the Code for America Brigade Program--will take place Oct. 25-26 at the Tec^Edge Innovation and Collaboration Center in Dayton, Ohio.

The LabHack website indicates the objective is to "learn something new, build something awesome, and to have fun." However, with its ties to AFRL, the goal of the event stretches beyond that. Participants will be challenged to assist in solving real challenges related to sensor data, creating solutions that could directly impact the warfighter.

Dr. Scott Galster, AFRL chief of the applied neuroscience branch of AFRL's 711th Human Performance Wing, is a key organizer of the event. Galster will provide much of the research laboratory data to hacker participants to use for their projects, and he will also serve as a judge for the competition.

"We wanted to join forces and challenge people to create innovative ways to solve Air Force problems through analyzing human-centered research," Galster stated. "Using a 'Hackathon' as our platform allowed us to bring the community together in a fun and competitive way, while supporting our Airmen."

October's event will begin with a brief background of the Air Force. Participants will then form self-selected teams, most of which will contain members who will be meeting and working together for the first time. After teams have formed, a number of related software development workshops will take place throughout the event's first day, to be followed by LabHack's main charge -- an all-night hackfest.

The 66 registered hackers hail from a variety of backgrounds and locations across the U.S. and Canada, including universities and organizations such as Stanford University, California, Rutgers University, New Jersey, University of Dayton along with AFRL, the Air Force Institute of Technology and the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Teams will include graphic designers, interface designers, and project managers, working tirelessly together throughout the night to build successful and creative solutions to AFRL challenges.

"Specifically, LabHack will challenge teams to focus on streams of data, and how to visualize them in an integrated way; how to conduct analysis in near real time; and how to make decisions based on the patterns that emerge," Galster explained.

"Each year the Department of Defense invests millions in integrating warfighter technologies that focus on training, decision making, performance, and ultimately linking human functionality to the adaptability of war," Galster continued. "We already know that Dayton and Wright-Patterson AFB are brimming with entrepreneurial and innovative talent pools across the government, academia, and commercial sectors. We should take advantage of that when we can."

The following afternoon, teams will present their completed work to Hackathon organizers and judges, who will review projects based on their creativity, originality, technological complexity, and applicability in solving an Air Force problem. Prizes include cash, books, and software tools and services. All software created during the event will be open-source, permissively licensed, and posted on the LabHack website.

A limited number of tickets remain for members of the public interested in attending the workshops without the commitment of joining a team. Registration for tickets is available via the LabHack website.