“ZEISS Goes Digital” at the Hackathon in Munich


The challenge was to come up with an innovative digital product that is technologically interesting, will improve the world and to do all this within 24 hours – sound easy? At the ZEISS Hackathon in Munich last weekend, around 70 developers from eight different European countries proved that this is indeed possible! In keeping with the theme of the event “Optics Go Digital,” they developed innovative ideas up to the first minimum viable products with assistance from ZEISS and its partners. The event was organized by the Digital Innovation Partners. Employees from different areas and with different positions at ZEISS as well as representatives from the partner companies served as mentors and supported the participants.

24 hours, 70 developers, 13 teams, 8 countries and 1 goal – to present the most impressive idea

Matthias Gohl, Head of the Digital Innovation Partners in Munich, greeting the participants

Dynamic, creative, candid, highly motivated while remaining calm and collected – that is the most apt description for just about every participant at the ZEISS Hackathon in Munich. In a relaxed atmosphere, the coding commenced on Friday evening with a chance for participants to get to know each other before they got down to work on Saturday. In the morning, the company ZEISS was introduced as well as the partners and sponsors Bosch, Digital McKinsey, FlixBus, Hackerbay and Microsoft. After the teams were formed, the event got underway 1:00 PM sharp. To ensure that the individual projects advanced as quickly as possible and reached their full potential, ZEISS and its partners made the necessary hardware and software available. They presented these at different sessions on Saturday afternoon. These technologies included ZEISS VR ONE headsets, ExoLens with Optics by ZEISS lenses, ZEISS microscopes, Microsoft HoloLens glasses and IoT hardware from Bosch. On top of this, all participants could access Azure, the Microsoft Cloud. While some people arrived with a brilliant idea in mind, others picked up some tip and tricks from the almost 30 different mentors at these sessions. The challenge: to select an issue related to the digitalization of optics and work on this in teams of no more than five participants for 24 hours, to create a minimum viable product and then give a three-minute presentation to the jury.

A total of 13 international teams turned their attention to developing creative and innovative applications, collected ideas and then began developing and programming – all within the allotted time. After a short dinner break and an ample midnight snack from the food trucks out front, it was time for most of the participants to get down to hacking. “You already saw the first success stories after just a few hours, and just looking at the participants’ faces told you how enthused and motivated they were. Everyone wanted to win – but they still enjoyed the pleasant atmosphere in their teams,” recalls Matthias Gohl, Head of the Digital Innovation Partners. He adds: “It’s impressive and inspiring what innovative ideas and solutions the participants came up with and how they implemented these in such a short amount of time.”

Impressions from the ZEISS Hackathon in Munich

Too many great ideas thanks to top quality hacking

After a final sprint working amongst left overs, half-empty pop and energy drink bottles and steaming cups of coffee – with some participants asleep at their computers or on beanbag chairs – the teams presented their results to a discriminating expert jury. The jury then assessed the presentations based on different criteria, including user interface and user experience, the breadth of technology used, the degree of innovation and feasibility and presentation technology. The members of the jury were: Niels Clausen-Stuck, Head of Design and Insights at the Digital Innovation Partners, Jörg Petschulat, Head of Algorithm Labs at Corporate Research and Technology, and Ilja Karanin, Senior Software Developer at the Microscopy business group.

The “LAssi” (Lab Assistant) team received a lot of attention. The five young men on the team developed a digital workflow and documentation tool to simplify lab assistants’ work. Incoming data are captured consistently, completely and with as much automation possible and then documented centrally in a single tool. This gives the researcher an overview of all ongoing projects. Samples can be clearly identified, incomplete tasks can be performed and measuring and analysis data can be stored along with the captured microscopy images. All important parameters and data can be captured and automatically integrated using external software and IoT hardware so that no important information is lost. Each team member was awarded a ZEISS VR ONE Plus headset, an Amazon Echo, a Philips hue 3rd Gen Starter Kit und Beats X headphones.

The “Party Worm” team won second place with the development of a micro 3D scanner which enables a 3D image reconstruction of 2D microscopy images – and all while being small, portable and economical. It requires a cardboard accessory which the team made that fits under every table microscope. This makes it possible to rotate an object (such as a worm) at a 45 degree angle around its own axis to capture multiple 2D images and then to reconstruct a 3D image using freeware. In honor of their achievement, the group members each won an ExoLens wide-angle lens with an ExoLens Edge bracket as well as a Philips Hue White Starter Kit and a Xiaomi Mi Band 2.

The third prize winners were the “Cancer Net” team. They developed a machine-learning-based solution for the early detection of skin cancer without needing to go to a dermatologist. The software uses an image to identify if a change to the skin presents the risk of melanoma by comparing the captured image with a large pool of current images of cancerous changes to the skin and warns the user if they are at risk. The members of the group all received an Amazon Echo Dot and a Raspberry Pi 3 Ultimate Starter Kit.

Strong partners with great prizes

In addition to ZEISS, Bosch and Microsoft both selected their own winners.

Bosch awarded a prize to the “Cyanchopchop, the Chop Choppers” team for a workflow management system intended to improve R&D workflows. Instead of following the traditional approach of looking through the microscope and taking notes, it will be a cinch for researchers to perform assessments and operate the microscope using the ZEISS VR ONE headset, language recognition technology and other IoT solutions. Bosch presented the team with tickets to the Bosch Connected World 2018 conference.

The first-place winners of the Microsoft prize were the “High 5” team for the development of video glasses which will revolutionize the SnapChat glasses already on the market in the US. Instead of ten-second videos, photos and live streams can be created. But this technology can do more: the glasses identify images and, if desired, describe what is visible on a captured photo via audio output or a push notification on the user’s smartphone. Algorithms that are freely available were used. This solution is intended primarily to give people with a visual impairment a new way to experience life. Each of the winners received an Xbox One S along with a video game.

The second-place Microsoft prize, a Microsoft Azure IoT Starter Kit, went to the members of the “Microllaborators” team for their idea to make learning fun in the form of an interactive classroom where students and the teacher can collaborate using microscopy images. These are combined with the latest augmented reality, web technology and collaboration tools and are all available for free. To take one example: you can scan a code with your Android smartphone. The code is linked with a 3D image and a task, e.g. find the image section containing a material defect. The answer can be given as a marker and transferred to the teacher.

From a VR party to a GPS system – the range of ideas was vast

Along with the winners, the other teams also came up with innovative and creative ideas. “Team Extreme” was the life of the party by developing VR software that enables users to create a virtual party in a virtual space and invite others to join in on the fun. The “Tourly” team developed a virtual tour guide that uses Microsoft HoloLens glasses to provide background information on landmarks all over the globe. The “No Matrik” team developed facial recognition software which saves certain details about people in an app and displays these upon request via Microsoft HoloLens glasses. The “Open Scope” team worked on software which will allow multiple people to work on a CT capture at the same time. Existing ZEISS software was ‘hacked’ and further developed to guarantee interactive collaborations. ZEISS is already in contact with the team to further develop this idea together. The “Bluescreen” team developed a type of GPS system that uses red and green markers in the visual field to indicate if the driver’s route is safe by assessing the image and comparing it with GPS data.

“ZEISS rocks” – the feedback speaks for itself

Without exception, the responses from participants were positive. Not only did the Digital Innovation Partners setup offer the ideal framework for creative and dynamic solutions, but many participants also gave high marks to the event organization, the arrival by FlixBus, the prizes, the food and the on-site support. In order to promote creativity during the programming breaks, there was musical entertainment as well as two Xboxes and two additional HoloLenses participants could play with. Needless to say, these were a big hit. One of the participants summed it all up in two simple words: “ZEISS rocks.”

For ZEISS, the event was also a great success: “It was a high-energy, cool event that fosters the digital transformation at ZEISS and contributes to our company strategy and our brand. Taking an agile approach to developing innovative, market-shaping ideas and the first minimum viable products within 24 hours is a brand new dynamic that we can learn together with these young people. At the same time, it enables us to be an ‘attractive employer for the very best and brightest.’ This was only possible by collaborating as a global team across national and departmental borders and with the support of our strong partners,” says Gohl. “The participants’ motivation, team spirit and their interest in our products really impressed me. These engaging, friendly people make working fun,” says Petschulat.

How do hackathons benefit ZEISS?

Along with startups, established companies are counting on innovative formats to attract top talents these days. Hackathons are quite popular amongst developers. They stand out by offering an innovative atmosphere where participants from different fields in the hardware and software industries can come together. In these cross-functional teams, participants work on future-proof ideas and projects while getting to better know companies and their products in this area while also discussing the latest trends.

“We are holding the hackathon for three primary reasons. First, to strengthen the digital brand in terms of employer branding and to strengthen our digital expertise. This means bringing new people to ZEISS who are enthusiastic about laying the foundation for the digital future of a large company like ours. Second, we are interested in developing cool new ideas. And third, we want to bring the agility of a hackathon to our company,” says Gohl. Through new recruiting formats like hackathons, ZEISS gives potential employees a closer look at the company and shows them how Zeissians cooperate as members of outstanding teams and what technologies are used. “By strengthening the brand, especially when it comes to being digital, we would like to attract skilled and motivated talents who want to shape the digital world of tomorrow with us,” says Florian Mezger, Head of Key Recruiting & Strategic Workforce Planning at Corporate Human Resources. Ultimately, ZEISS can pick up on the ideas or minimum viable products developed at a hackathon in next to no time and further evolve them, enabling the company to ultimately contribute to customer success (you can read more about hackathons here). The next ZEISS Hackathon will take place in Munich and Shanghai and is already in the planning stages.

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