The UK’s First Official Google Glass Hackathon – Ok Glass, Where is the Space Station?

Last weekend (19th-20th July) was the UK’s first official Google Glass Hackathon, and it was a fantastic event – just a few short weeks after Glass became officially available in the UK.  Places were very limited for those without Glass (to ensure there were enough spare pairs floating around), but since I have Glass I was able to go without going through a very competitive lottery.

So, what was talked about, what happened, and what did we build?  Let’s get started.

The Hackathon was organised by Hoi Lam, the Wearables Developer Advocate for Google UK, and a few Googlers came across from the US, including Timothy Jordan, who is a Developer Advocate for Google, focussing on Glass.

Timothy Jordan introduces everyone to developing for Glass #throughglass

Timothy Jordan introduces everyone to developing for Glass #throughglass

After breakfast, the first event was an introduction to the event by Hoi, with some overview of what Glass was (at a non-trivial level) for the Android developers in attendance who hadn’t experienced it before.

Then we moved onto a Design Sprint – just classic stuff really, here’s a use case, design an app that would help this user, that’s Glass specific – not a cell phone app.  Although it was simple, it was a useful exercise in moving some developers away from this idea of a smart phone app with lots of buttons and tons of information.

Finally, it was the main part of the hackathon – the hacking!  People split into groups of between 2 and 8 to produce whatever app they wanted to, with the occasional guidance of a Glass engineer.  I teamed up with two Android developers who were also working in the city, Alessio Fabiani and Antonio Matarrese, and we started brainstorming.

Alessio, Antonio and I - the three creators of 'Ok Glass, Where is the Space Station'

Alessio, Antonio and I – the three creators of ‘Ok Glass, Where is the Space Station’

One idea that came out was a Google Authenticator app for Glass, so that, for users with two-step authentication enabled for their Google Accounts, instead of having to get their phone out when they needed a code, they could just say “Ok Glass, Give me a 2-step code” and Glass would show/read to you the 6-digit code necessary to login to your account.  However, we’ll either leave this until next time or for someone else to make, as we decided to make an application that is especially well suited to the Glass platform – an app to help you find the International Space Station.

There were lots of opportunities for some fun as well, like with this unfortunately labelled bin.

There were lots of opportunities for some fun as well, like with this unfortunately labelled bin.

All a user would have to do is wake up Glass, and say “Ok Glass, Where is the Space Station” – Glass then tells you how long it will be until the Space Station is next visible to you (i.e. it will be visible in the horizon of your current position), using location data from both NASA and the GPS in your phone, tethered to Glass.  We then showed four arrows, at the top, left, bottom and right sides of the screen, pointing in the direction of the Space Station, with annotations indicating at what angle in each positive direction you would have to move your head to be looking straight at the Space Station (calculated using the positions of both you and the ISS, and the accelerometer/tilt sensor and compass built into Glass).

This is an example of a really great app for the Glass platform, since because the device is worn on your head it can measure the angle you are currently looking at and direct you as to exactly how to adjust your head position, as opposed to a phone app which can tell you the positions relative to magnetic north and ‘flat’, and then you have to align your head using some other method (e.g. a compass and knowledge of what ‘flat’ is).  Check out the video below of the app working.

Although the code is hackathon level (poor, badly documented, little-if-any code style), and we got a bit confused with the maths for calculating elevation angles, it all seems to work well.  Take a look at the code on GitHub here, try putting it on your Glass and let me know your feedback.  We’re hoping to get it on the MyGlass app store eventually.

Although we didn’t win, we did very well – we had about 18 ‘votes’ (stickers) on our card, compared to the winners who had twenty-something.  We were commended on creating a piece of undeniably useful piece of Glassware, which was a great use-case of the Glass platform.

All in all, a great event – a big Thank You to the Glass Team who organised this – bring on the next Glass Hackathon!

The Glass Hackathon Organising Team

The Glass Hackathon Organising Team