Student team gets international experience in Moscow hackathon

By University Communications
October 12, 2017
A UW-Stout team won the Best Presentation award at the VisionHack competition in Moscow, Russia. From left are Mitch Mueller, Margaret Clarke, Aspen Vetter, Scott Thom, faculty adviser Holly Yuan and Nick Richards.

Photo: A UW-Stout team won the Best Presentation award at the
VisionHack competition in Moscow, Russia. From left are
Mitch Mueller, Margaret Clarke, Aspen Vetter, Scott Thom,
faculty adviser Holly Yuan and Nick Richards.


Five University of Wisconsin-Stout students recently returned from Moscow, Russia, with an award for best presentation and some unforgettable experiences after competing in VisionHack — an artificial intelligence and computer vision hackathon.

Three of the five students also presented at the Moscow Maker Faire, a showcase of invention, creativity and resourcefulness. The fair and competition were hosted by the National University of Science and Technology, MISiS, which has been partnering on projects with UW-Stout for four years.

Maria Alm, dean of the College of Arts, Communications, Humanities and Social Sciences, and her colleagues assembled a multidisciplinary team to represent UW-Stout. The students were:

• Margaret Clarke, of Sheboygan, senior, game design and development-art
• Scott Thom, of Muskego, senior, computer science-game design and development
• Aspen Vetter, of Minneapolis, senior, industrial design
• Mitch Mueller, of Green Bay, junior, computer networking and information technology
• Nick Richards, of Eau Claire, senior, manufacturing engineering

The team was led by Associate Professor Holly Yuan, program director for computer networking and information technology.

The competition

The theme of the VisionHack competition focused on developing vision using artificial intelligence for driverless cars. 

Maria Alm“We did not know the theme or the topic of the competition until after we had selected our team, but we knew it would have something to do with computer coding,” Alm said. 

The 48-hour hackathon ran Sept. 11-13 at NUST MISiS. The event was organized by the university in partnership with the Russian software company Cognitive Technologies. 

A total of 27 teams participated in the hackathon. These included teams from top universities in Spain, the United Kingdom, China and Russia, as well as prestigious U.S. schools. Teams included doctoral and master’s students, although UW-Stout’s team consisted only of undergraduates.

UW-Stout’s team was funded and sponsored by NUST MISiS. UW-Stout was one of three American universities to earn a spot in the competition, along with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Arizona State University.

The hackathon provided questions to each team regarding vision for driverless cars. UW-Stout students completed two of five problems, presenting their ideas and results. UW-Stout’s solution and holistic approaches to tackling the problems impressed the judges and industry executives, winning Best Presentation.

Thom and Clarke had the greatest level of coding knowledge on the team. Each team member took part in design, management, public relations and more.

UW-Stout placed 22nd overall, one point shy of MIT and soundly beating the University of Cambridge and Peking University. “To compete at this level, against some of the world’s top universities and to win an award was thrilling for the team,” Yuan said.

The Maker Faire

UW-Stout students Aspen Vetter, left, and Scott Thom, second from right, explain their inventions at the Moscow Maker Faire at NUST MISiS university.
The Maker Faire, held at the NUST MISiS Fab Lab, was an opportunity for students to show off inventions created from scrap, usually with a technological focus. The creations ranged from 3D printers and robots to crafts.

UW-Stout and NUST MISiS have partnered on a variety of digital fabrication projects and are involved with the global fab lab network. The UW-Stout Discovery Center Fab Lab has been the central focus of the institutional exchange.

Thom brought his keyboard, programmed to produce sounds, which could then be layered to create unique tracks. The project was well-received by many. Thom noted that children loved trying it. 

“He made such a good impression on everyone that he was interviewed by Russian National Network News,” Alm said. 

Cultural and academic exchange

Besides participating in the Maker Faire and hackathon, UW-Stout students had time for sightseeing and getting to know students from other universities. NUST MiSIS provided cultural presentations, and volunteers served as guides and translators, taking students around the city to visit Red Square, the Kremlin and many other famous sites.

Looking ahead

Holly YuanNUST MISiS has invited UW-Stout back to the hackathon next year. Alm, Yuan and other colleagues are discussing new preliminary screenings or applications for the selection of students. 

Alm said students had a unique opportunity to form international friendships and networks, to develop new skills, to learn how to work on a team under pressure and to compete internationally. “They are not just coders or programmers; they are culture ambassadors,” Yuan said. “They represent UW-Stout very well. I’m really proud of them.”

A colleague of Alm’s from Moscow said the team “put considerable effort into VisionHack. The students were wonderful ambassadors for UW-Stout in particular and the U.S. in general.”

 

 

###

Photos

Second Photo: Maria Alm

Third Photo: UW-Stout students Aspen Vetter, left, and Scott Thom, second from right, explain their inventions at the Moscow Maker Faire at NUST MISiS university.

Bottom Photo: Holly Yuan