Shenzhen’s rainstorms didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of students, designers and coders from all over the world participating in the 2017 TechCrunch Shenzhen hackathon, co-hosted by TechNode.

In teams of 4 or 5, the participants took on challenges posed by sponsors Dianrong, Mobike, Meet Magento Association and Segway Robotics. Dianrong is China’s premier peer-to-peer lending platform while Meet Magento is an association that connects businesses all over the world. The tasks ranged from e-commerce to using blockchain in investment schemes for Mobike and developing new uses for Segway’s Loomo robot.

Brainstorming and developing

Zhang Junheng from Basement Hackers testing their Rodog prototype (Image credit: TechNode)
Zhang Junheng from Basement Hackers testing their Rodog prototype (Image credit: TechNode)

The teams got to the tasks right away and many came prepared with ideas. Team 20, Basement Hackers, worked on a smart service platform for blind users incorporating the Segway Loomo. They started testing a prototype early on, with makeshift canes and DIY fixtures.

“There are 1.3 million people with vision disabilities in China,” Zhang Junheng explained the pain point their team was trying to solve. “A guide dog costs around RMB 20,000 to 40,000 and needs one month to train.”

The Shenzhen-based software developer teamed up with his friends Kishor Maharjan and Li Zhenjunrao for this hackathon. They placed 7th overall.

Powering through the night

A participant catching a snooze (Image credit: TechNode)
A participant catching a snooze (Image credit: TechNode)

The teams had around 24 hours to develop and test their products. During the night, some went home to work but some decided to stay behind. Team 6, Do You Dare, was developing a social app that focused on sharing challenges within a community of users. This was the biggest hackathon in which the friends have participated.

“We didn’t stay last night, we went back to the hostel,” Yuki told TechNode. The team’s members all come from Singapore and were in China to participate in an exchange program at Shanghai’s Fudan University. They heard about the hackathon and decided to come down to participate.

“It’s a good experience for our first TechCrunch event,” said team member Felicia. Do You Dare placed 9th overall.

Show and tell

Basement Hackers demonstrating their project, Blind Guide Rodog (Image credit: TechNode)
Basement Hackers demonstrating their project, Blind Guide Rodog (Image credit: TechNode)

On the second day, the teams presented their hard work to the audience and a panel of judges. Given the short amount of time the teams had to develop their project, getting the products to work correctly on stage and presenting a well-rehearsed pitch proved challenging. Several teams could not get their Loomo to work as intended and the real-time demo had difficulties due to a spotty connection.

“We were testing it and 8 times out of 9, it was working,” Kishor Maharjan from Basement Hackers told TechNode. At the presentation, the team’s Blind Guide Rodog had trouble with control and kept zooming ahead too fast. At the last try, the team got Rodog to perform a short guide route where it warned if there was an obstacle approaching or when turning.

Third Place Overall

Team: Mobike Go

Members: Calpa Liu, Hok Yiu; Feihu Tang; Martin, Tsang Chi Ho; Simon, ZiRui Guo; Angus Chow (Chow Tsz Shing)

Mobike Go's smart seat lock. (Image credit: Mobike Go)
Mobike Go’s smart seat lock. (Image credit: Mobike Go)

Anthony Ha from TechCrunch thanked all the participants and sponsors of the event and Dr. Lu Gang from TechNode presented the prizes to the top three overall teams. Third Place Overall went to Mobike Go.

The team invented a smart seat lock that enables a peer-to-peer bike-sharing network. Those with unused bikes can contribute the bike to the scheme by installing the seat lock. The solution adds value to providers by allowing them to monetize their bikes.

“It’s quite different from hackathons in North America,” Simon Guo, a 16 year-old studying in Canada and participating at his first hackathon in China, told TechNode. “People are really friendly, my teammates are awesome. Mobike [and others], these are companies you don’t see in the U.S. So it’s pretty exciting for me.”

The Mobike Go Team on stage (Image credit: Bob Zheng)
The Mobike Go Team on stage (Image credit: Bob Zheng)

Second Place Overall

Team: Fun Tech

Members: Andy Zhao, Michael Xie, Huan Zhang, Aaron Liu, Pak Chen, Guo Yiteng

Runner up went to Fun Tech, a community Mobike investment scheme that utilizes blockchain technology. Their solution allows everyone to become an investor who can invest in individual Mobikes. The return of each Mobike will be dependent on its usage and corresponding revenue will be redistributed back to the investor.

“We wanted to work with blockchain [for the hackathon] right from the beginning,” Michael Xie told TechNode. “Blockchain is a very hot technology right now. This was the first time we’ve worked the technology. So this was a good [opportunity] for us.”

The Fun Tech team receiving their prize. (Image credit: Bob Zheng)
The Fun Tech team receiving their prize. (Image credit: Bob Zheng)

And the winner goes to…

Team: Roadshr

Members: Li Hosan, Liu Jie, Peng Huijian, Li Mengbing, Lv Weixin

The team stood out for its idea and smooth presentation. Roadshr devised a new offline retail model where their LoomoMart robot became a personal shopping assistant that takes care of tasks such as quickly providing pricing, product location in the store, personal recommendations and automatic checkout. Roadshr’s real-time demonstration on stage helped seal the victory for the team.

Roadshr's demo of LoomoMart (Image credit: TechNode)
Roadshr’s demo of LoomoMart (Image credit: TechNode)

“We were really nervous about the demo,” Li Hosan told TechNode. “We installed a lot of software, especially TensorFlow [an open source software library], which had a huge file size. We were scared that it would crash. Also, it was noisy at the venue, which would have affected the voice recognition of [LoomoMart]. So we rehearsed a lot.”

The efforts paid off. On stage, Hosan activated LoomoMart’s follow-me technology by saying “Let’s go shopping.” Then a product barcode was scanned and the robot was able to immediately tell Hosan the price. LoomoMart also led Hosan to the location of a product that he was looking for. The demonstration successfully showed the future of offline retail that Roadshr has envisioned.

Roadshr came out as the overall winner of the hackathon (Image credit: Leon Lv)
Roadshr came out as the overall winner of the hackathon (Image credit: Leon Lv)

Special Mentions

Mobike and Dianrong Challenge Winner: Fun Tech

Meet Magento Association Challenge Winner: Easy Key

Segway Robotics Loomo Challenge Winner: Roadshr

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Linda Lew

Linda Lew is a Beijing-based journalist who covers technology, start-ups and business in China. You can reach her at lindalew at aliyun dot com.

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