Reactor San Francisco hosts hackathon devoted to artificial intelligence and mixed reality

More than 100 tech enthusiasts convened at Microsoft’s San Francisco Reactor for the immersive, 48-hour Women in AI and Mixed Reality Hackathon, December 7-9. With virtual reality-enabled laptops and motion controllers in tow, participants worked to create experiences using cognition technologies to help society solve various challenges.

Jo Ryall, head of marketing for the Academy, a Microsoft team that works to advance the state of artificial intelligence and mixed reality, said many of the experiences drew on themes related to helping people with disabilities and improving various sectors such as education, medical, social work, and corporate workplaces.

“We are proud to host these talented developers, creators with their wonderful ideas,” she said. “There is so much promise for AI and mixed reality and we’re just starting to scratch the surface of what’s possible. This technology can be game- and life-changing for many people and enterprises.”



Highlights from the Women in AI and Mixed Reality Hackathon. Mixed media and photography by Tim Reha, Venture All Stars, LLC.

Hackathon participants were also given a tour of the San Francisco Mixed Reality Capture Studio, one of Microsoft’s state-of-the-art sites used to capture human holograms for a range of devices, and were able to hear from leaders who work in AI and mixed reality.

One of the talks was the keynote address from Alex Kipman, a Microsoft Technical Fellow who invented and led development for Microsoft’s HoloLens.

During his talk and follow-up Q&A, Kipman encouraged the crowd to think about AI and mixed reality in the context of enhancing the way we communicate and collaborate.

He also noted that many AI and mixed reality experiences are coming from women. He pointed out how appreciative he was to participate in this hackathon, where the organizers intentionally chose to highlight women working in AI and mixed reality.

“AI and mixed reality are the future of computing,” he said. “I’m glad that you all are doing this work.”

Man (Alex Kipman) stands with microphone in light blue blazer presenting to group.
Alex Kipman, Microsoft Technical Fellow, speaks to the hackathon participants.

As added support for their projects, hackathon participants were mentored by Microsoft engineers and designers who were on site throughout the event.

Nadia Steere-Mobley, director of device enabling and commercialization at Microsoft, said that she was inspired by the creators who took part in the hackathon and was honored to offer insight into mixed reality. During the event, she met one-on-one with participants during the event’s career office hours session.

“As we learn and do more with mixed reality, we can expect increased interest in the field,” she said. “I am passionate about the work we are doing right now at Microsoft as it will unlock even more innovation by the next generation of developers in this space—and we’ll be ready for them,” she said.

Learn more: Mixed Reality at Microsoft

Hackathon Winners

At the end of the hackathon, judges scored the teams based on demonstrated technical excellence; uniqueness of experience; usefulness of experience to target customer; and use of Microsoft technologies (e.g., Sensing, AI, Speech, Vision and MR). Two of the projects were so outstanding, the judges decided to name both project teams as winners.

Congratulations to Team Pensieve and Team Laser Beam Dream Queens! Highlights of their winning projects are below.

  • Team Pensieve conceptualized a product to help early onset dementia and traumatic brain injury patients to live more fulfilling lives. Using HoloLens, patients could get contextual aid on people’s names, learn, and experience new things. The team’s work focused on building a small proof of concept demonstration that would capture a facial image from a live video, send that image to Azure facial recognition service, and display the person’s name to the patient. Members: Sreelakshmi K., Sudheer V., Cecille Hong, Serena Zhou, and Ariel Fleming
  • Team Laser Beam Dream Queens conceptualized a project called Thought Space. This project focuses on creating a physical space overlaid with aug visualizations to promote deep thinking and empathy. The team believes that if humans understand one another and can communicate freely, then society will improve. “Sometimes we have opinions that we are afraid to share because we aren’t sure how others will react, or how it will impact us/our image,” they note. Our creation is an environment that cultivates conversations from anonymous posts in the physical space in which the opinions were conceived. Members: Emily Van Belleghem, Sally Slade, and Jenna Velez
Six women pose with HP Mixed Reality Headsets as their prize.
Team members from Pensieve and the Laser Beam Dream Queens pose for a photo with their prizes.

The winning teams were provided Windows Mixed Reality devices to continue to support their work.

About Reactor San Francisco

Located near the Moscone Center and San Francisco MoMA, Reactor San Francisco gives developers and others in the tech community an excitingly unique place to interact, create and collaborate. Read more here.

Follow us @MSFTReactor.

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