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ISPA Wins MIL-OSS Hackathon

Centreville, VA, December 1, 2015 - Agility, Creativity and Innovation are hallmarks of Special Operations Command, also known as SOCOM. It comes as no surprise that when SOCOM participated in a hackathon that these were on display in the challenges. The event took place over a weekend at the end of October and provided the opportunity for participants to choose from a multitude of challenges.

The hackathon was sponsored by MIL-OSS, a well-known group of military open source technology enthusiasts with a Tampa based Chapter. When asked about their work to sponsor the event the MIL-OSS chapter leader Jeff Young said, "We really wanted to provide an outlet for people throughout the community to come together and tackle challenges that matter with no red tape. Just great people working on real world issues."

For Team Shudder, the overall winner of the hackathon, that type of work sounded exactly like something that Sean Jordan and Nate McEwen were looking for. One of the challenges included the opportunity to make displays for an augmented reality Heads Up Display, or HUD, worn by a Special Operations solider. McEwen, who has always been an avid gamer, knew this was the challenge for him, "I couldn't imagine what kind of environment they are in. If I die in a game, I respawn. They do not have that luxury." His goals and objectives were straightforward, "Solving this problem for them may drastically increase their ability to keep us safe and come back home. So if I could contribute just a bit to that effort, I had to give it a shot."

The challenge itself took place over several days and provided the developers multiple ways to collaborate and work together. Nate and Sean teamed up with Michael Grochol, the ISPA lead in Tampa and Adam Linthicum a user interface developer from technology startup Raxar. Grochol was extremely proud of the team, "Nate and Sean came up with the idea to write the HUD the day before the challenge and really drove the entire process. It was incredibly impressive to watch them take on a challenge of such magnitude and deal with challenges along the way in an area that obviously isn't their primary day job. The never let a problem stop them, they took it all in stride and found a solution."

When asked about the challenges Jordan said, "time was critical, we put pen to paper for the first time Friday night." The time issue forced them to collaborate in many new ways, including using an online development environment called Slack, "The intense collaborative environment overall was great. We were both up late at night working from home hitting each other up over Slack and trying to ensure we had something to demonstrate on Sunday." The other challenge was technical, "we had other technology hurdles because none of our devices were equal with different resolutions, gyro calibrations, and camera specifications we spent a crazy amount of time unraveling's these little device details." In the end, Team Shudder brought it all together to build a HUD that was truly impressive.

Long term both McEwen and Jordan are interested in working on more projects like this. Jordan has already started deepening his understanding of another program language as a result, "I would love to actually work on a real mobile heads-up display for soldiers in the field. With that in mind, I intend to increase my capability with C programming language." McEwen sees this technology making a big impact, both for the warfighter and the average citizen, "This whole project has introduced me to augmented reality and how it can become a life changing technology. There are many different applications of this technology that can improve people's lives. Imagine a device that translates speech to text and displays the result on a tiny screen over the wearer's eye. We are at the beginning of this technology and I'm excited to see where it can take us."

When asked about McEwen and Jordan's efforts on this event ISPA's President Brian Bleeze was thrilled, "At ISPA we recruit based on two traits, strong work ethic and a willingness to learn. I can't think of a better example than two developers who spent a weekend developing a system from scratch, using code languages that aren't their primary tools. That takes guts, and we couldn't be more proud of their efforts." Overall this event was a huge success for SOCOM, Team Shudder and MIL-OSS. The winners received drones and an invitation to sit in on a planning sessions for SOCOM's next generation HUD. MIL-OSS and SOCOM are already in talks about hosting another hackathon in the Spring of 2015.

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