Looking for the IT factor

[Unity 3D]    [ARKit (Apple)]    [ARCore (Google)]

How a talent show mindset helps us find the next big thing.

New technology is popping up faster than anyone can manage to keep track of. And there’s only one way of figuring out if it`s a viable tech - you have to try it out.

And this is why the Emerging IT Lab (EIT) has seen the light of day. Petter Hermansen is part of the team and explains their philosophy.

“We see it as a kind of talent show where we look at a bunch of different talents in order to find the one with something special. For us, identifying the technologies that don’t work is just as important as finding the ones that do work.”

Petter Hermansen

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So, they aim to organize workshops in order to put these technologies to the test and see if they are up to it or not. They want to let people try them out for themselves and play around with it, which isn’t just fun for the people involved - it can actually save quite a bit of money as well.

“We don’t need a big team or a large budget to do it, all it takes is a smaller group and a couple of days of intense work to find out if it’s technology we should pursue or not,” Hermansen says.

Wanna know what the AR Hackathon was like? Then watch the aftermovie! (Video: Marte Lien Leangen / Torstein Lund Eik)

What is a Hackathon?

The term was first used in 1999 by developers of OpenBSD and Sun. It's a design sprint-like event where computer programmers (and others!) gather to build cool software or just play around with something new. At the end of the hackathon the teams present their results. The word itself is the love child of the words “hack” and “marathon”, and companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, NASA and CERN all host hackathons.

Learning more

These ideas are all well and good but not much use if they’re not realized are they? Thankfully, Hermansen and the rest of the EIT team aren’t wasting any time, so in April they put together their first activity - the Augmented Reality Hackathon in Trondheim.

“Both Google and Apple have released AR-kits lately and our aim was to see if it was stage-ready for us. Additionally, we wanted to see if we could use our own data and visualize it in a useful way. Basically the goal was to understand the technology more,” Hermansen explains.

Petter explains the positive aspects of taking part in and organizing a hackathon. (Video: Marte Lien Leangen / Torstein Lund Eik)

“Both teams are at the top of their field and it’s really exciting to see what they’ll be able to come up with during these two days,” Petter Hermansen says.

He’s talking about the AR team from Trondheim, who have done great work with the HoloLens tech, and the Mobility team from Stavanger - famous for making mobile app magic come to life. Getting a bunch of great minds together to play around is quite a good idea, Hermansen says.

“It’s normally quite exciting to see what the teams come up with after such a short period of time and intense work,” Hermansen adds.

Check out some of the photos from the Hackathon: it featured laughs, programming, whiteboards and mixed reality. (Photo: Marte Lien Leangen)

Exploring possibilities

So it was natural that Kjell Inge Skjønberg greeted the hackathon attendees with a cheerful message:

“The most important thing is that these days are for trying and failing - and having fun! But we also want you to struggle a bit with the technology and hopefully learn a thing or two,” he said.

Beate Louise Stølen Olsen from the geology department gave them their task and a briefing on the different core samples, what they contained and how they analyzed them. Then, it was up to the guys to figure out what they could actually do using this AR technology. And they came up with quite a few surprises after two intense days.

“We want you to play around with the technology and you’re free to experiment and think outside of the box if you like. Then, we might end up with new functionality that they haven’t thought of.”

Kjell Inge Skjønberg

During the last day geologist Beate was joined by Olivier Lopez, and they were presented with the different demos and projects the teams had created. They only had two days to do it but ended up with impressing the geologists. Among the demos presented was one that had renderings of core samples, which allowed them to look at the depth of the core, gamma ray density and more. This was one of the demos that caught the interest of the geologists.

“When we’re looking at the core samples in this way we’re always looking at one data set or the other. But we’re never looking at both combined, like you’ve done here. This is very useful stuff,” Olivier Lopez said.

Photo of two people standing by a table and looking at something on a tablet

Georgy Ushakov also presented a demo to geologists Beate Louise Stølen Olsen and Olivier Lopez. Photo: Marte Lien Leangen/Equinor
Well bore samples lying on a table and a woman giving a presentation

Beate Louise S. Olsen was quite impressed with the results from the hackathon. She presented core samples worth the same as a Tesla to the team, so they got a feel for the task. Photo: Marte Lien Leangen/Equinor

Georgy Ushakov also presented a demo to geologists Beate Louise Stølen Olsen and Olivier Lopez. Photo: Marte Lien Leangen/Equinor

Beate Louise S. Olsen was quite impressed with the results from the hackathon. She presented core samples worth the same as a Tesla to the team, so they got a feel for the task. Photo: Marte Lien Leangen/Equinor

The aftermath

Time keeps on turning and it’s time to take a walkabout and try to figure out some answers. Beate Louise actually didn’t have very high expectations beforehand.

“Seeing as they were IT people who had very little experience working with subsurface data and they only had two days, I have to admit my expectations were pretty low. But I’m very impressed by the apps they developed,” Olsen says.

Petrophysicist Olivier Lopez, who helped in providing data for the developers to play around with, was also impressed by the results.

“The results were far beyond my expectations. I’ve shown the demos to colleagues and use them to create discussions on what a “dream app” could be for the end user. It really eases the discussion to have such a product and it creates enthusiasm for having more.”

Olivier Lopez

Organizer and head honcho Petter Hermansen is very satisfied with how it all turned out.

“How we put the teams together, involve external or internal resources all come together in shaping the results. We wanted our folks to get an understanding of the tech and I believe we succeeded,” Hermansen says.

“I’m very impressed by the results the teams produced over two hectic days, even though creating an end product wasn’t a main goal. We’re definitely going to have more hackathons in the future and then I hope we can experiment more with the shape of the event,” he adds.

Kjell Erik Reed Anda was one of the participants in the hackathon. He came all the way from Stavanger but thankfully the trip was worth it.

“The Trondheim team did a great job organizing the hackathon and we got down to business almost right away. Since I didn’t have much previous experience with Unity or 3D modeling I learned a lot and I was really impressed with the results from the other teams,” Anda says.

“This kind of prototyping is a great inspiration in terms of coming up with new ideas for AR.” he adds.

Group of people sitting in a couch
The merry band of developers present at the hackathon this April. (Photo: Marte Lien Leangen)

Kjell Inge Skjønberg is also happy with how everything turned out. His goal was to let the teams play around with the tech and to get a feel for it, which he feels they achieved.

“I think as developers it’s important to “break free” from our daily tasks and do something different. With events like these we can take whatever shortcuts we want in order to run conceptual tests and not be tied up by rules,” Skjønberg says.

But a lawless experience and fun is not all they got out from it. All the networking, collaboration and general playing around actually resulted in the creation of something new.

“The results the teams came up with were great and have resulted in a new project, aiming to take it into a complete product. That’s the best possible outcome we could’ve hoped for."

Kjell Inge Skjønberg

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Meet the developers present at the AR Hackathon in April.

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Petter Hermansen

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Kjell Erik Reed Anda

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Eirik Folstad Wahl

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Kjell Inge Skjønberg

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Jørn Hegstad

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Kjartan Steinar Kristjánsson

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Georgy Ushakov

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Torgeir Haaland

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Brynjulf Bent Risbakken