‘Pokemon for spies’ and a loneliness-beating bot triumph at an epic Hack Manchester

2 Nov, 2016

Most hackathons come and go, but Hack Manchester has been going strong for five years. As its home city’s profile and ambition has grown, so has this event, which runs as part of Manchester Science Festival.

This year’s event, held last weekend, saw 260 people take part in the main event, and 100 more in a junior event aimed at those aged 18 and under. Hack Manchester director Gemma Cameron (who we’ve previously profiled in detail) describes the event as “an absolute triumph.”

“We worked really hard this year to get some thought provoking challenges from a mix of truly excellent sponsors and partnerships. The competitors really stepped up to the plate. Our challenges really reflected that whilst the event is about having fun, we also brought some worthwhile causes in this year.”

Gemma Cameron hosts the Hack Manchester awards ceremony.
Gemma Cameron hosts the Hack Manchester awards ceremony.

A challenging weekend

Challenges this year included tackling loneliness; helping to make supporting Cancer Research easier, and developing tools to help find missing people. Companies and organisations like the Co-op, Sky and LadBible got involved to provide challenges and prizes. GCHQ even took part with a challenge to develop a steganography tool for concealing data.

Among the winning projects was ‘Call James,’ a virtual assistant that can talk with the elderly over the telephone. It suggests groups and services that could help improve their quality of life. Powered by IBM Watson tech, it was developed by a team from local coding school Northcoders. They only had 13 weeks of software development experience.

Other winners included iSpy, a face recognition tool to help police locate missing people, and PEPGe, a personalised electronic TV programme guide.

The GCHQ challenge was won by a team who translated text-based communication into Pokemon battles. Even Team Rocket wouldn’t have thought of this…

The junior strand was hailed a success too. Joe Swan, director and head judge, says “These juniors are the epitome of lean. Trying out their ideas quickly and then learning the skills to build it.” Swan and Cameron run Hack Manchester alongside lead organiser Claire Foster.

If you want to see how the event played out over the whole weekend, you can work your way back through its liveblog.

Read next: Uniform’s HQ is like Willy Wonka’s factory for creative tech

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