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UMass Team Finishes in Top Six of Yale Hackathon

On November 8 and 9, Marco Chiang, a senior BSCSE major, and his team from the Computer Science Department finished in the top six out of more than 500 “amazing hackers” and 200 teams that competed in the Yale Hackathon in New Haven, Connecticut. According to Chiang, the Hackathon is an event in which students compete to create the most innovative and complex computer software and hardware hacks to win a variety of cash and prizes. As Chiang explained, “Leaf, the name of our product and vision, is working hard to bring a piece of technology into our lives to revolutionize social and professional interactions.”

The Hackathon is run by the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, which explained that “The theme of our hackathon is making life more efficient. How can you play into the laziness of Yale students? How could you automate your life? We'll have prizes for the best project, the most futuristic idea and interface, the project that saves the most time, and the best underclassmen team.”

As Chiang described Leaf, “We're told that networking is a vital skill, a necessity if you will, for getting jobs and building business relationships. We think so to as Gen Y'ers, but the process for exchanging information needs improvement. Business cards are marginally effective. People lose, run out, and forget these little paper reminders. NFC technology is great but let's be honest, how often do people bump their phones to exchange contact information? That's just awkward and so is asking for contact information in general. That's why we're excited to introduce Leaf, a wearable smart device that detects when two users shake hands and seamlessly exchanges contact information.”

Chiang added that “What’s amazing about Leaf is that it allows you to exchange information without even a second thought. We wanted to make the experience of meeting and connecting with people seamless and effortless. With Leaf, we’ve created a way to go back to the very basics – the handshake, a common gesture shared throughout American culture.”

Chiang and his team presented in front of highly acclaimed judges from the biggest tech companies including Microsoft and Google, as well as over 1,000 students in the beautiful Yale common dining hall. Only the top six teams out of all the teams were given the opportunity to present in front of the entire hall and judges.

“We worked tirelessly from 6pm on Friday night all the way until the end of demoes on Saturday night at 10 p.m.,” Said Chiang. “With no sleep for over 30 hours, we drove home that night with heartfelt pride for bringing home a winning prize of $500 for placing in the top 6 teams.”

According to Chiang, the watch bracelets exchange user IDs which are then stored in your mobile phones and sent to a web server. The Leaf application can be opened at a later time for users to revisit their conversations and share, at their convenience, any or all of their social media networks.

“The purpose of Leaf is to allow people to focus on what's important, the conversation,” said Chiang. “Leaf does the rest so you'll never have to spend minutes, which add up, manually entering contact information into your phone. Never worry about forgetting to bring, exchange, or run out of business cards.”

Chiang said that his target market includes event and convention based communities, i.e. hackathons. The Leaf smart watches will be distributed to all of the attendees, much like a badge would be handed out at the beginning of the event.

“There is incredible potential with what we can do using a mobile app to help guide attendees and event organizers.” explained Chiang. “We hope you share our vision with Leaf, the natural way to connect.” (November 2013)