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Hackathon report: TAMUHack 2015


Two weeks ago, I went to HackTX and won a Leap Motion. While thinking about what things we could build with skeletal tracking and gesture recognition, I thought it would be cool to build a language learning tool (like Rosetta Stone) for American Sign Language. My friend Matt also thought it sounded cool, so we decided to build something like that at TAMUHack.


TAMUHack was fun. The venue was called "The Zone", which is a big room in A&M's stadium. All 300 of us were in this massive room, along eight big tables. Being in the same room as everyone else was really cool; you felt like you were all a part of something. I've been to other hackathons where I've not been able to find a seat in the main areas; being separated from the rest of the teams is not fun. The organizers of TAMUHack found a great solution to that problem--put everyone together!

Project evolution

We started to build something that would simply transcribe signs of the ASL alphabet as a user signed them above the Leap Motion. By around 3:00am, we had that more or less working. Playing around with it, we knew it definitely wasn't perfect, but it showed promise.

The Leap Motion is not particularly well-suited to sign language recognition. In our research during the hackathon, we found a research paper that said the Leap Motion in its current state isn't a good choice for recognizing Australian Sign Language.

As an initial run at solving this, we decided to implement some simple Markov chain analysis. The idea was that if certain letters commonly precede others, we should be able to figure out that a person signing "q" will probably sign "u" next. That idea didn't end up helping us out all that much; we tore it out later. After we input some more training data, the recognition was good enough that we could work with it.

At that point, we had some time left and felt like we could keep going to make something cooler than what we had. We decided to make the language learning tool we'd originally planned on making. By 8:00am, we had a basic version working. The app would show you a picture of a sign and ask you to replicate it. Once you had, it would give you 100 points and pick another sign for you to make. After 30 seconds, you could enter your score on our leaderboard. We decided to make our project into a game because it seemed like a fun way to demo the tech we had built.

We ended up finishing about an hour before projects were due. We were so happy to have built something so cool and fun to make in such a short amount of time.


We set up our area with our laptops and the two external monitors we brought. We each ran a copy of our app on an external monitor and had the Leap Motion visualizer on our laptop screens. This ended up being super useful; we could show people what the Leap Motion was seeing in real time.

Getting to show off our project to judges and other hackers was super fun. People thought it was super cool and were excited to play around with it.

We got into the top six and were asked to present at closing cermonies. Awesome! It was a little rushed because things were running late, but I still enjoyed getting to talk about our hack in front of everyone.

Apparently the judges also thought it was cool, because Matt and I won second place overall!


TAMUHack was super fun. Huge thanks to the organizers, volunteers, and judges.