Adam Klein, the chief strategist for the American Underground and a force among entrepreneurs in the Triangle, has tuned in a few “hackathons” over the years where inventors and dreamers team up to create what could be the next dream machine or big idea. But this past weekend at Duke University, Klein readily admits he was blown away by the first “Hack Duke.”

“This event was off the charts,” Klein tells WRALTechWire.

“There were a ton of good ideas.”

Organized just this semester, the weekend event drew more than 500 student inventors from across the southeast, including Duke, UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State. Top prize went to a team that turns sign language into speech through the use of an amazing glove.

Is that cool or what? For people who are hard of hearing like The Skinny (or “selective hearing,” as my wife Lynda insists) and who have found learning sign language to be a bit intimidating, this glove could be a godsend.

Imagine what my wife could tell me to do with a few gestures translated immediately and automatically into voice commands!

Duke senior Dennis Li helped put the event together, and Klein introduced The Skinny to Li via email.

Li’s enthusiasm was evident even in a brief note.

“Fantastic to meet you!” he wrote.

“It was particularly unique/cool because almost all of the projects were hardware based. Notables include first place which went to a group that made a glove which could convert sign language to speech!”

Duke Student Broadcasting put together a very good recap of the event, including the glove in action. You can watch it online.

The Chronicle at Duke also provided in-depth coverage, including photos, which can be read online.

“Hackathon is not really about hacking or trying to find people’s password. It focuses on creation and invention,” Li told The Chronicle. “It is an empowering experience for students because it creates opportunities for them to build stuff in 22 hours.”What do you think?

The prize winners: 

  • Top Prize Winner

The winning “glove” took home $5,000 for first place.

Say the inventors/hackers about the glove: “We built a glove system which a user can wear on their hands which interprets sign language and outputs the correct translation via text to speech. We accomplished this by the use of accelerometers and gyroscopes and classified input using a trained support vector machine.”

Duke Student Broadcasting put together a very good recap of the event, including the glove in action. You can watch it online.

The Chronicle at Duke also provided in-depth coverage, including photos, which can be read online.

Other winners included: 

  • Second Place: $2000

Art Genius

Say the hackers/inventors: “ArtGenius creates an immersive experience for students and people of all ages who want to learn more about art history and the iconic pieces that have been painted over the years. The application enables the community to view the collection of pieces as a whole as well as pick a specific piece they want to annotate. Annotating is the key feature behind ArtGenius — allowing an art enthusiast to give his/her opinion on what a specific portion of the painting means.

“A viewer can highlight a portion of the image, and provide an annotation that is then only visible to another person once he/she hovers over the same section. This feature has a large impact on the learning experience, but also enables the true beauty of the image to shine (because all previously selected areas are hidden until hovering). All images are welcome to the community because they each have their unique story to share. This interface allows any curious user to discover deeper meaning in a piece of art. Our vision is that our site will be used as an inviting tool in art history education in the coming years and provide an alternative learning experience.”

  • Third Place: $1000

Air instruments

(Note: Check out the YouTube video for a nice demo.)

Say the inventors/hackers: “Ever wanted to play air guitar for real? How about air violin, air drums or even air accordian? Well now you can!

“Using a Microsoft Kinect and PyGame, we track your hand movements and play notes corresponding to your assigned instrument.

“Jam solo or bring some friends; supports up to 4 simultaneous musicians.”

  • Novice: $1000

Gravity Bell

Say the inventors/hackers: “A minimalist, black-and white gravity based game in which a player must drop or launch a ball from one side of a field of planets with the goal of striking a bell on the other side”

Other Top Projects

  • All4D
  • Wireless MIDI Floor Instrument Solutions
  • Oculus Dual Web Cam Kinect Servo Nerf Turret
  • Pebble based Gesture Interface for Android
  • VRTS
  • Quandary
  • Sora Cloud Gaming Platform
  • The Swolster

Li told Duke Student Broadcasting that the 22-hour event was an “empowering experience” that demonstrated the incredible creativity these good “hackers” demonstrated.

It seems a safe bet there will be a “Hack Duke 2014.”