Hacking The Henry Ford

“We’re going to let people try and hack the museum?!”

When I first heard this a few months back, my jaw dropped. Hack the museum?! What?! Are you serious? What museum would even think of doing such a thing? Well, The Henry Ford would. We were indeed opening ourselves up to hacking, but not like you would first think.

hackathonlogoAs part of Maker Faire Detroit 2013, our partners at Compuware came up with the great idea to host our first-ever hackathon inside Henry Ford Museum with the challenge of “creating an application which combines The Henry Ford’s digital collection with the imagination and power that are an essential part of the mobile culture today.” We were opening ourselves up to hacking, but by way of APIs used with our digital collections.

Nestled above the “Heroes of the Sky” exhibit toward the back of the museum, six teams worked all day Saturday trying to create the most unique app for us possible. Nineteen participants, some local, some from out of town, consumed a lot of caffeinated beverages and wrote a lot of code as the faire happened around them.

Mike Butman, our Chief Information Officer at The Henry Ford, worked with the teams on how best to access the collections’ APIs throughout the day. For Mike, the hackathon was not only a way to see new ideas, but a source of inspiration and personal challenge.

“It was extremely invigorating,” Mike told me. “Not just to see the technical components, but to see the outside perspective and how these individuals could develop something for our guests to interact with.”

With their work done at the end of the day on Saturday, all that was left was a presentation to our team of judges. The six teams presented their ideas and made their cases in front of our judges. The judges that had the tough job of selecting just one winner included:

  • Matthew David, Chief Digital Strategist at Compuware
  • Eric Weinhoffer, Product Development Engineer at MAKE
  • Bruce Elenbogen, Associate Professor of Computer Information Systems at UofM Dearborn
  • Lauren Ann Davies, Deadline Detroit
  • Marilyn Zoidis, Director of Historical Resources at The Henry Ford

In the end, we had one winner and two runners-up (I said it was a tough choice). Team 42 and Chi-Ackers took second place with Sam Harrell of Team Sam taking home top honors. What was the app that wowed our judges so much?

Hackathon App

The app used image recognition with computer vision, kind of like augmented reality.

Hackathon App

Guests take the app and move it across a sign. The app recognizes points on the sign and pulls related information from the digital collections of The Henry Ford.

Spanish

The app can then also translate the information into dozens of languages. It’s easy to use. Instead of looking for information on multiple web pages within your mobile browser, all related items are pulled together all in one place.

Sam had been thinking of an app like this for a while. The hackathon, with the access to our APIs, was just what he needed to pull it all together.

“I loved the thrill of starting something from scratch and building it out,” he said.

Will you see the app anytime soon? There’s consideration here at the institution of being able to make something out of the results from the hackathons, like the one at Maker Faire Detroit, in the future.

For Compuware’s Matthew David, suggesting a hackathon as part of their Maker Faire Detroit sponsorship was a natural idea. Hackathons all across the globe continue to gain popularity. For small groups of people, a hackathon often gives them the opportunity to not only be developers but also entrepreneurs. Did you know that the Facebook “Like” button was the result of a Facebook hackathon?!

“When you work on emerging technology, you’re so very passionate about it,” Matthew said. “Being up to your eyeballs in code, racing against the clock for a fun prize… people are doing it for the honor of winning. They light up Silicon Valley passions outside of Silicon Valley. Folks really can do something. These solutions emerging and then happening? That’s pretty fantastic.”

Digital Collections Initiative Manager Ellice Engdahl proudly watched the presentations the next day on Sunday. To the leader of the team creating and publishing our digital collections, the idea of allowing outside developers access to our raw data meant a lot.

“The true purpose of digitizing our collections, both on the floor and in storage, is to make them available. If our digital assets aren’t used, there’s no point in creating them,” Ellice said. “It was fabulous to see creative programmers find new ways to share our materials.”

Ellice also really appreciated the thoughtful way each team approached the challenge and brought their own perspective to it.

“Team 42 was interested in engaging diverse audiences, Team Chi-Ackers wanted to encourage learning through collections-related gaming, Team CIA encouraged easy sharing from the museum to visitors and from visitors to visitors, Team Handsome Quartet encouraged users to gain social badges through viewing collections objects, Team Sam thought about how the existing labels on the Museum floor could be improved and enhanced, and Team Wambatech incorporated outside videos and images alongside our own assets,” she said. “It was great to see such a variety of results coming out of the teams’ original goals and perspectives, and exciting to think of the diverse audiences that would appreciate all the teams’ efforts.”

While the hackathon has come and gone for 2013, the enthusiasm is here to stay. You can keep up to date with Maker Faire Detroit updates on our website and through our enthusiast channel, OnMaking.

If you had a chance to create an app for The Henry Ford, what would you make?

Maker Faire Detroit 2013 Hack the Museum Participants

Team Sam

  • Sam Harrell – Chief Hacker

Team 42

  • David Wilhelm – Developer; HTML/CSS, Javascript & PHP
  • John Leftwich – HTML/CSS/design – Education Consultant
  • Katherine Scott – Interaction Engineer/IMAGINEER
  • Jennifer A. Scroggins – Front-end design and dev; HTML/CSS; all-around idea person museum junkie

Chi-Ackers

  • Jeff Molsen – Development
  • Cody Greene – Robotics and Development
  • Dennis J. Schleicher, Jr. – User Experience

The Handsome Quartet

  • Jon Radon – Moral Support
  • Robert Muhic – Core Operations Development Engineer, Manager of Nightly key Enterprise Yodeling
  • Eric Panek – Senior IT Director of Enterprise Code Monkey Operations Architect and Human Resources II
  • Peter Richards – Developer & Senior Caffeine Acquisition Officer

Creative Innovators Achievers (CIA)

  • Mukesh Gupta – Lead
  • Krishna Mudiraj – Developer/Designer
  • Reda Bouaichi – Developer/Designer
  • Vijay Vardhan – Architect

Wambatech

  • Jason Rodriguez – Designer
  • Shane O’Dell – Developer
  • Jeff Goergen – Developer
  • Nathaniel Plane – Developer/Team Lead

Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.

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