Engineering students take 1st and 2nd place at MATHack challenge

[Article by Amber Viviers]

Five undergraduate students from the Faculty of Engineering who took part as two teams in the MATHack Western Cape 2022, presented by Opti-Num Solutions and MathWorks, won the first and second prizes in the challenge.

Team !Prepared took first prize and consisted of Gabrielle Liebenberg (Electrical and Electronic), Rosanne Maritz (Mechanical and Mechatronic) and Bianca Harber (Mechanical and Mechatronic). Nickilese Van der Walt (Mechanical and Mechatronic), Nicane September (Mechanical and Mechatronic) and Ryan Hansen (BSc Chemistry) made up Team ‘404 Not Found’ and received the second prize.

MATHack 2022 is a 24-hour coding challenge for higher education institutions in the Western Cape. The teams, consisting of two to four people, were tasked to find creative solutions to the difficulties that the global Covid-19 pandemic has brought upon small businesses in the Western Cape.

They were required to use MATLAB, a programming and numeric computing platform used by engineers and scientists to analyse data, develop algorithms, and create models. The teams had to submit the code, a three-slide presentation and a 120-second video within 24 hours.

Team !Prepare

The winners designed an application that makes use of sales data and machine learning tools to predict how much stock a business should order to prevent issues of excess or shortage of inventory.

Bianca says it was Rosanne’s idea to enter and brought everyone together. “Gabrielle was a great team member since she had prior hackathon-winning experience. She made sure we were all heading in the right direction and presenting our project at the awards ceremony,” she says.

They entered as an intermediate-level team and believe their engineering degree has given them a head start as they’ve been exposed to MATLAB in several modules.

She says they made valuable connections with people from MathWorks and Opti-Num Solutions involved in the event and increased their MATLAB knowledge and skills. “We also learned how to take an idea and turn it into a minimum viable product in a short amount of time,” she adds.

Team ‘404 Not Found’

The runners-up assessed the viability of starting a small coffee shop business, focusing on the Stellenbosch Central area. Team member Nickilese says it was a fantastic competition. “I learned object-orientated programming for the first time in the MATLAB environment and learned about coding an app in MATLAB, amongst many other things.”

She adds that the speakers were very interesting. “A professor spoke about his research involving measuring the movement of a cheetah and translating this to use in robotics.”

Nicane echoes Nickilese’s experience of the hackathon. “The MATLAB competition was a great experience. I did not expect to use MATLAB past mathematical coding for my modules during the semester. But the competition opened my eyes to the opportunities available in the working industry. It demonstrated the kind of real-world problems that businesses must solve and the problems that employees have to face such as load shedding and other unexpected curveballs,” he says.

“I went from thinking that I couldn’t do much programming and that programming was difficult to learning quite a bit and enjoying the coding process. The highlight for me was finding out the different ideas that the other teams came up with. Each idea was unique and offered a practical way to solve various problems,” he says.

Despite load shedding and other challenges, both teams enjoyed the experience and made great memories.

Photograph: MATHack 2022 contest winners and runner-ups with their prizes.

  • 1st place team members are second from left: Gabrielle, Bianca and Rosanne.
  • 2nd place team members are, from the far right: Nickilese, Ryan and Nicane.