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HackPSU Winner Creates Flying Robots That Can Find Your Cell Phone

by on March 29, 2015 4:15 PM

One would think that it takes an extensive amount of time to build a mobile application or a robot that searches for your electronic devices.

From hardware to software, students from Penn State and elsewhere gathered on campus this weekend for HackPSU, a 24-hour hacking marathon.

Hundreds participated in the marathon, developing ideas and using computer coding in order to create a finished product in just one short day. In the end, one team stood out above all the others, and it may have come as a surprise.

Mihir Garimella and Stephen Polcyn, 15 and 16 years old respectively, took the top prize with the Presto Findo, a flying robot that can hunt down your lost electronic devices.

The concept for the drone came from research on mapping fruit fly movements. Garimella and Polcyn have experience programming and working with robots. They felt like their talents could be used to create a natural solution for a problem that just about everyone faces.

"I've been working with flying robots for a long time. Obviously losing things is a big problem, so we had a concept where we would make a flying robot that could locate things," Garimella says. "We thought about how we can use this innovative technology and leverage it into a real world application."

Garimella and Polcyn are a sophomore and junior, respectively, at Fox Chapel High School in Pittsburgh. They had never attended a hack-a-thon before and will head home with a perfect record, taking the top prize for their innovative creation.

Garimella says that the project could have some more serious applications as well, including use for search-and-rescue.

"We could, for example, use it after an earthquake or fire when somebody is trapped in a building," he says. "It can locate their cell phones and track them down and apply this concept to search-and-rescue, so that's where I see this going next."

For Polcyn, the hack-a-thon was an enjoyable event because of his interest in computer sciences. He has been programming seriously for just a few years, and loves how accessible that type of work is for anyone with a computer.

"You can do anything you want. You can make a tangible product that you can look at and use," he says. "If there's something you want to be done, you can make that happen. You don't need a million dollars, a machine shop, and an engineer team. You just need your computer in your hands and you can do anything you want."

The second place prize went to a project called BeatCoin, which allows users to pay for music without actually spending any money. They would give up some computer resources to mine bitcoins, which are a form of alternative currency. The bitcoins would go to the artist in return for their music.

Third place went to Autobahn, a team of Drexel students that was able to develop an application that streams video to other people's web browsers live. This would allow users to share videos with friends without having to send them a massive file or upload the video to a site like YouTube. 


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Zach Berger is the managing editor of He graduated from Penn State University in 2014 with a degree in print journalism. Zach enjoys writing about a variety of topics ranging from football to government, music, and everything in between.
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