Grad student makes mark in hackathons

PennApps

UIC graduate student Sumanth Reddy Pandugula (second from left), with teammates at the PennApps hackathon. He has won awards at two hackathons.

Graduate student Sumanth Reddy Pandugula is changing the world, one hackathon at a time.

As a member of two separate hackathon teams, Pandugula, a master’s student in computer science, received awards at the PennApps XIII and 2015 Facebook Global Hackathon competitions.

Pandugula and his teammates, Ryan Hughes, Anthony Topper and Amol Punjabi — high school and university students from Boston — competed in the University of Pennsylvania’s PennApps XIII hackathon in January, an event in which programmers create innovative projects. Pandugula and his colleagues were awarded the best use of Comcast’s Everyblock API in the competition with their project Blocks of Sugar, a social media platform designed for people living with diabetes.

“Blocks of Sugar connects diabetes patients by location so they can learn from and motivate one another,” their website states.

The social networking platform helps people who have diabetes anonymously connect with others in their area, creating groups for users based on their similar demographics.

“We took a lot of interest in people’s privacy,” Pandugula said. “At the same time, we wanted diabetes patients to get motivated and learn from their peers so they can maintain their blood glucose levels and take care of their health.”

The platform, which was created in a 36-hour time limit, included features such as a chat room where users can communicate with and share exercise regimens and eating habits and a leaderboard that ranks the members based on how well they manage their diabetes. By creating a competition and game-like experience, the team hopes that it will help motivate the users to make better choices.

Pandugula and another set of teammates competed at the 2015 Facebook Global Hackathon at San Francisco. During 24 hours, Pandugula and his teammates Avi Romanoff, Nikhil Choudhary and Tiffany Jiang — students at Carnegie Mellon University who Pandugula met while studying there in 2014 — created Onreel.news, a website that tracks and streams videos taken around the world in real time by eyewitnesses.

Onreel.news displays a world map with dots scattered throughout. Each cluster of dots indicates events that occur at that location. The program geolocates videos posted to Instagram and curates the content through hashtags to give viewers a sense of what is happening.

“When we have these videos [of breaking news], why not get them to people? That would give us instant updates,” he said.

The inspiration for this project came from the 2015 Paris attacks. While some news gets overlooked, suppressed or censored, the team hopes that Onreel.news will gather short, unedited footage from social media to paint an image of what is going on. Pandugula and his teammates hope their program will be able to give immediate updates to people on events and crises, especially families and friends who are waiting to hear news about their loved ones.

Pandugula believes that both Blocks of Sugar and Onreel.news have potential to become applications that could benefit the general public and have an impact on people’s lives.

He also hopes to continue working on programs and applications that will help to better the community.

“I would love to [continue] to take on pressing problems and create viable solutions,” he said.

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