Ahoy hackers!

When you hit up as many hackathons as we have, you begin to see some pretty clear trends in the kinds of hacks being produced. For some reason or another, hackers tend to rally around a few key ideas and certain executions of those ideas. Here are five major hacking trends that we’ve seen demoed a lot lately:

1. Power Gloves

Hackers are rockin’ like it’s 1989. So,we’ve seen a lot of Power Gloves this season, and no, it’s not because Nintendo released Super Glove Ball 3DS. We believe power gloves are pretty common because they can be made pretty quickly, look impressive when demoed, and can be tweaked in numerous ways. They also look like they hard to make, which makes the entire enterprise of hacking together a power glove all the more attractive. The economics of power gloves come into play as well, as the sensors that go into making these things are getting progressively cheaper.

Here are some awesome examples:

WerkIt at HackRU

PowerGlove 2.0 at MHacks

Silicon Man at Hack the North

2. Hardware Mashups

Image credit: Mashable

We have seen an overall decrease in hardcore electrical engineering projects that are built on Arduinos and other integrated circuits, in exchange for an increase in what we call “hardware mashups” where hackers use off-the-shelf developer devices like Myos, Leap Motions, and Oculus Rifts. Part of this, we suspect, is that the MLH Hardware Lab has been dedicated to loaning out these devices. But part of this also has to do with the fact the companies behind these devices also developed a robust and accessibility body of resources to helps eager hackers understand them better.

Anyway, who doesn’t love mashing together two futuristic technologies into one HAL-like evil robot?

Here are some awesome examples:

Magic Board at Penn Apps

Tesla in the Home at MHacks

Myo Nerf Gun at EngHacks

3. Sign Language Translators

Apparently, a lot of hackers are having trouble with their ASL 101 classes these days, because hackers are creating a LOT of sign language translators. We think this is because Leap Motions are more available than ever and the device is a natural fit for this type of hack, because you can get really acute positional data for all of your fingers and joints. Hacking together a sign language translator is also socially impactful, and that can gives you a warm fuzzy feeling inside. Furthermore, sign language translators demo really well, and they can get the crowd involved too. You can’t really say the same about most other kinds of socially-oriented hacks, because they’re typically along the vein of “if we had a million people using this, it would be super useful.”

Here are some awesome examples:

LeapSign at HackGT

SingLang at Hack the North

DUCK at HackRU

4. Reverse Engineering

What if you want to hack on something that doesn’t have an API? While some may just give up, we often see student hackers fight back and try to find a way around the barrier. In that vein, we’re starting to see a trend where hackers are negotiating around proprietary software by reverse engineering their way into private APIs.

Reverse engineering is not just for evil.  Hackers at UMBC created a Linux driver for Myo by “man in the middling themselves” over Bluetooth and picking out the correct sequences of commands. It’s really common to see hackers going after private APIs for mobile apps like Grindr and Snapchat by “man in the middling” their smart phones. However, we’re also seeing that more and more app developers are starting to use Cert Pinning to prevent reverse engineering, so this trend might not last for very long.

Interested in learning to reverse engineer APIs yourself?  Check out these resources:

Reverse Engineering Native Apps by Intercepting Network Traffic” by Nick Fishman
Reverse Engineering Shopify Private APIs” by Martin Amps

Here are some awesome examples:

What the Yack at YHack

Boxwich at HackNC

5. Synthesizer / Music Hardware Hacks

Man, music hardware. That’s cool, especially when you’re in college. Plus, a hack that creates a sound for you to savor can make for a cool good demo. People like to interact with music, and this is an easy way for them to do it. The tool available for music hacks are also pretty abundant, and they can be really powerful. So, it’s no surprise to see such a major trend in music hardware hacks. Heck, there’s a whole hackathon series around music called the Music Hack Day, which you should totally check out if you have the time.

Here are some awesome examples:

Kinect-a-Moog at GeauxHack

Conduct at MHacks

So, there you have it: five really interesting trends we’ve been seeing around the hackathon circuit. However, we want to close by saying this: while hack trends aren’t necessarily a good or bad thing — in fact, it’s just something that happens — we would also like encourage hackers to think outside the box and create something even crazier. Remember, a hackathon is a place where anything and everything can be made, so push the limits, and be different. Stand out.

Anyway, that’s it for us today. Stay cool, hackers.

Happy hacking!

– Jon and Swift