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Metal Toad & AWS Media Services: What We Hacked

Wednesday, May 6th at 9:00 am: Toads are poised at the starting line. Metal Toad’s AWS Media Services hackathon is about to begin!
 
48 hours later, three teams of tired-yet-triumphant Toads submit their completed projects. Three new video platforms have been created, countless new skills have been learned, and team collaboration (as well as caffeine consumption!) has soared. Another successful hackathon!
 
What happened in those magical 48 hours? Here’s a rundown of the wins, the challenges, and the delightful surprises the Toads discovered. 


The challenge

Our hackathon teams were tasked with creating a fully functional video platform using AWS Media Services—beyond that, it was up to each team to define their goal and tackle the project using whatever technologies and resources they needed. Three teams formed and, working in the spirit of support and collaboration, dove into the challenge. 

Team Babu Frik

The big idea: Uh-oh, Babu Frik has accidentally erased C3PO’s memory. The team needs him to remember who all his friends are. AWS Media Services and Rekognition to the rescue! 
 
The approach: Upload video clips of C3PO’s friends to a secured React. Then use AWS Step Functions to run multiple AI cloud services (including Rekognition, Rekognition for Video, Transcribe, and Comprehend) in parallel to teach Babu Frik and C3PO to recognize the friends in the video clips—using both AWS image libraries and reference images.
 
The obstacles: Converting video formats, maintaining audio, a long wait to orchestrate the multiple steps in the workflow. Plus, convincing the AI that Chewbacca is a character, not a beard, took some finagling.
 
The wins: 

  • Cloud Formation template made it easy to orchestrate 12 services
  • The AWS open source library sped up development for APIs and JS code
  • The final product not only worked, but had a fun, thematic portal that was easy to use

 
Take a deeper dive into insights and reflection from the team members:


Team YouToad

The big idea: A ‘tube for Toads—aka, a web-based social media platform for sharing on-demand video. Users can upload videos, which will automatically be converted into a common streamable, optimized output. 
 
The approach: The central component was setting up a MediaConvert job in the AWS console—and figuring out how to implement it in a Lambda. Once the media is converted, it will automatically flow into an S3 bucket, where it can be shared and viewed. 
 
The obstacles: Getting the MediaConvert job implemented in the Lambda took a lot of trial and error—but finally figuring it out was a win! We also had to overcome some issues with the file format—HLS—but solved it by changing to dash iso. There were also plenty of issues to figure out with Amplify and JavaScript, but close collaboration made it achievable. 
 
The wins:

  • Truly collaborative coding—FocusFollow and Remote Development Server Access made it seamless
  • We built a working web platform with a really cool logo
  • Everyone on the team enjoyed learning to use tools outside their disciplines and stretching their skills

 
Take a deeper dive into insights and reflection from the team members:


Team Murder Hornets

The big idea: Use AWS Media Services to stream real-time drone video live anywhere in the world. Plus, if you lose your drone or the memory card fails, your once-in-a-lifetime footage can be saved.
 
The approach: Send the drone’s video output into AWS Elemental MediaLive. Then run it through AWS Elemental to save the video and AWS Elemental MediaPackage to livestream.
 
The obstacles: The unavoidable facts of physics and gravity provided the biggest obstacles—which are always issues with drones. On top of that, latency was the biggest hurdle. We started with a lag of nearly a minute on the livestream, but we got that down to 35 seconds by reducing segmentations and adjusting the GLP structure. 
 
The wins: 

  • The platform works! We can livestream drone video to the web for anyone to watch
  • It was easy to set up an S3 bucket to backup the video
  • Playing with drones is not just fun, but presents a lot of opportunities to make this even cooler

 
Take a deeper dive into insights and reflection from the team members:


The outcome

Hackathons have been part of Metal Toad’s DNA for a long time, and seeing the teams come together to innovate and collaborate remotely—even in the midst of a lot of ambiguity in the world—was fantastic. 

This hackathon gave us a chance to dig even deeper into the possibilities of AWS Media Services—and wound up with the seeds of solutions with real-world applications.
 
Building three cool projects in just two days is impressive. Seeing how everyone embraced our values of curiosity, help, and delivering great experiences was, ultimately, even more spectacular.

How can you run your own hackathon?

Now that you've seen how much cutting-edge thinking can be squeezed out of a mere 48 hours, you just might be inspired to host a hackathon for your own teams.

Here’s how you can get started:

  • Check out our blog post on how to run a great hackathon
  • Take a look at what our teams have built in previous hackathons
  • Get in touch! We’d love to help you up your innovation game with an exciting event  
Date posted: May 12, 2020

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About the Author

Corinna Gelster-Borgardt, Director of Marketing and Brand

Corinna graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a BFA in Graphic Design. With over a decade of experience working as a leader and designer, she oversees and manages the strategic direction and day-to-day execution of the marketing design department at Metal Toad. As the engineering company’s creative visionary, she leads the design department in their mission to unite audience-focused strategic design with meaningful experiences and business value.

Offering a diverse skillset, she's adept at assessing the real “ask”, strategizing solutions, and motivating teams to deliver exceptional work. Yet Corinna considers her role to be about so much more — it’s about being a driven, empathetic, and positive leader who invests in her team, creates focus and alignment, and gets things DONE.

In all endeavors, she brings a passion for adaptability and learning, keen visual skills, and due diligence from concept through completion.

When not leading or designing, you can find her exploring the Oregon coast and local farmer’s markets, running, doing yoga, curling up with a great book, sculpting, or cooking for an impromptu dinner party.

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