A team led by a University of Alberta student took home three top prizes at a 24-hour hackathon in San Francisco with its roving security robot.
“I still can’t believe it,” Megnath Ramesh said. “It was very surreal, for sure. I’ve attended a couple of hackathons before and this was my first win.
“I was really happy and at that point, I was just grateful for the team, that everything came into place and we had a great idea.”
The electrical engineering student and his team programmed a robot that can patrol places like homes, malls or museums and takes photos. It uses image-recognition software and sends an alert along with a photo to the homeowner or security staff.
The team had just 24 hours to design, program and test the robot.
“You basically get no sleep during a hackathon,” Ramesh said. “I slept for like a total of 10 minutes.
“We had a team of four. We just formed a team there. It’s a nice way to network with people in the tech community. It’s also a great way to learn and build something you’ve never done before.”
A total of 35 teams competed in this event.
Ramesh and his team won in three categories: best overall hack, best usage of IBM Watson, and best hardware hack.
“It’s just a really fantastic event where you have so many people interested in technology coming together. The fact that we won… our idea got validation and the sense that security can be made better by robots.”
“I had a lot of people come to me and say the same and ask about the application… and other implementations of the application,” Ramesh said.
“A lot of people are interested in tech and there is a use for robots in security.”
One of his favourite aspects of the design is the robot’s obstacle-avoidance feature.
“Basically, it just detects if someone’s in front of it and avoids it. One of the judges, who was from DJI, saw the obstacle avoidance and said it ‘wasn’t half bad.’ For 24 hours, I’ll take that,” Ramesh said with a laugh.
The team named the robot Paul-E Blart, a name inspired by the lead characters in the movies Paul Blart: Mall Cop and WALL-E.