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Remote-controlled robot allows virtual hacker to attend HackPSU

by on April 07, 2016 10:00 AM

While more than 500 students compete against each other during the 24-hour HackPSU event at the University Park campus, Chase Kelly will test his problem-solving skills more than 200 miles away at his King George, Virginia, home thanks to the Penn State Center for Online Innovation in Learning (COIL).

Penn State COIL will facilitate the use of a mobile-telepresence robot — an iPad attached to a two-wheeled, self-balancing vehicle — to be used during HackPSU beginning on Saturday, April 9, allowing Kelly to play the role of a virtual hacker. The Penn State World Campus student is eager to interact with on-campus students.

“I’m excited to learn from them and to meet students you normally connect with on campus though a mobile device is as close as it can get,” said Kelly, a naval instructor for Lockheed Martin. “It helps fulfill the college experience and makes you feel like an important part of the University.”

HackPSU brings students together to learn about cutting-edge technology, build alongside industry professionals and compete for prizes. During the event, Kelly will be able to connect with, access and control the robot remotely from home. The Navy veteran will be able to move the device in any direction and communicate and collaborate with team members during the event and challenges without on-site assistance.

At past HackPSU events, students carried laptops around for the virtual hackers, requiring significant manpower and time commitments from volunteers. HackPSU student director Jen Platt says the device, which is provided by Penn State Outreach and Online Education, will let Kelly have a more complete experience.

“It will be a much more interactive experience for the virtual hackers,” said Platt. “They’ll feel more integrated, and I think it will also help them explore HackPSU and see what it’s about and the various ways to get involved.”

HackPSU is organized by Innoblue Entrepreneurship with support from IST Startup Week, Penn State EdTech Network, College of Engineering and College of Information Sciences and Technology.

More than 500 students are expected to take part in the annual 24-hour hackathon, being held in Penn State's Business Building for the first time this year. Students collaborate, compete, and hack their way through small coding and electronic projects. Though it has had negative connotations in popular culture, the term “hack” is used to emphasize the impromptu nature of the building process.

This year’s event will also introduce a “Club Cup.” Any registered Penn State student organization can enter up to two teams for a chance to win $500 and a pizza party.The event is also supported by corporate sponsors offering prizes and mentoring to competing hackers. In addition to these corporate prizes, the event’s overall winners will also receive awards.

Last year’s HackPSU winners were 15- and 16-year-old Mihir Garimella and Stephen Polcyn,who constructed a phone tracking drone called “Presto Findo.”

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