story Li Ting Chan

Oculus Drift Team

The team working to create Oculus Drift. (Sean Saito)

If turning ideas into reality sounds like something you would want to do, then participating in a hack-a-thon might just be for you. Over Jan. 25-26, four Yale-NUS College students participated in NUS Hack&Roll 2015 and clinched third place with their final product—‘Oculus Drift’.

At Hack&Roll, teams were given 24 hours to develop a concept, build a prototype of it, and then present it. Put simply, the idea behind Hack&Roll was to “make something cool,” Parag Bhatnagar ’17 said. Within a day, Aaron Ong ’18, Hrishi Olickel ’18, Sean Saito ’17, and Bhatnagar integrated a small toy car and virtual reality technology to create a product that allows users to simulate the experience of driving in a race car.

Team members also had the opportunity to interact with sponsors of Hack&Roll over the course of the competition. Since the conclusion of the hack-a-thon, Palantir, one of the sponsors, has offered internship placements to members of the team from Yale-NUS.

Placing third at Hack&Roll marks a milestone in the history of YNC_Hacks—a student organization co-founded by, amongst others, Bhatnagar and Olickel. The role of YNC_Hacks, according to Olickel, is to “foster an environment that encourages innovation.”

Bhatnagar hopes that the club will be able to encourage and support the growth of information technology literacy amongst students at Yale-NUS. This was the first time a team from Yale-NUS took part in Hack&Roll, Bhatnagar said, and participating in similar competitions in future would allow more proficient programmers to hone their skills.

Since its inception, YNC_Hacks has also organized workshops for Yale-NUS students, according to Dean’s Fellow Nishant Jalgaonkar. One such example is the R programming workshop held on Jan. 18. This came at a good time for freshmen taking the Quantitative Reasoning course which uses the programming language R, Mr. Jalgaonkar said.

Learning how to hack—exploiting system weaknesses and developing interesting combinations of existing technology—is important for everyone, Mr. Jalgaonkar said.

“We have classes in literature, and beyond your classroom you can engage with those skills through the Writer’s Centre, but you don’t have that type of equivalent for your classes in programming. YNC_Hacks can be that for the Yale-NUS community,” he said.

YNC_Hacks is currently working on several projects, such as “spoofing the access cards for your room onto your phone, so you can use your phone to unlock your door,” according to Olickel. Students interviewed agreed that the most exciting part of the club is working on innovative projects for their own enjoyment.

“We’re kids with Legos, that’s what we are,” Olickel said.

Scott Currie |Ying Tong Lai contributed reporting.

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