Tribe 'hackathon' puts area tech talent into the game

If Northeast Ohio is to be a leading Midwest technology hub, it will need top-tier software developers to kickstart the growth process, observers say. Organizers of a baseball-centric programming competition know that finding tech talent is critical to the region's future, but that doesn't mean some creative fun can't be had while the search takes place.

The Tribe Hackathon, representing a partnership among the Cleveland Indians, Progressive Insurance and coding boot camp Tech Elevator, brought together 14 software-savvy teams last weekend to build apps, prototypes and visuals meant to improve the fan experience.

Participants showcased their innovations at Progressive Field's Terrace Club. Winning submissions were chosen based on categories including "most creative" and "best user interface."

A collection of college-aged friends from Stow aimed to add a new twist to the classic sport with FanVision. Harnessing the Google Carboard head mount, the FanVision mobile app would allow fans to place a smartphone into Google's cardboard viewer, creating an immersive heads-up display (HUD) that shows enhanced game data in a virtual reality space.

Cameron Sinko, whose team won in the "most creative" category, says the fully functional app would put viewers directly on the field.

"They would have a connection to their own personal sandbox," Sinko says.

Meanwhile, a group from Medical Mutual took home second place for Shake, a web-based app for a multiplayer version of Progressive Field's Hot Dog Derby race. Users would take control of animated versions of the combating condiments (ketchup, mustard and onion) on the stadium scoreboard, literally shaking their phones to help their character win the race.

"It's something easy for fans to interact with," says app co-creator Matthew Russo. "It's in the spirit of getting the crowd involved."

While the baseball club has no plans to use participant-created apps and virtual reality games, simply hosting the tech initiative highlights the region's skilled brainpower, says Indians' senior vice president and chief information officer Neil Weiss.

"It's inspirational to watch people do something they love, " Weiss says. "They're building networks with each other."

Anthony Hughes, founder and CEO of Tech Elevator, takes a global perspective when considering the hackathon event he helped produce.

"Cleveland has this image as a manufacturing town with its glory days behind it," says Hughes. "This city can be a tech town with its glory days still ahead." 

Douglas J. Guth
Douglas J. Guth

About the Author: Douglas J. Guth

Douglas J. Guth is a Cleveland Heights-based freelance writer and journalist. In addition to being senior contributing editor at FreshWater, his work has been published by Midwest Energy News, Kaleidoscope Magazine and Think, the alumni publication of Case Western Reserve University. A die-hard Cleveland sports fan, he also writes for the cynically named (yet humorously written) blog Cleveland Sports Torture. At FreshWater, he contributes regularly to the news and features departments, as well as works on regular sponsored series features.