A Day in the Life: Winning Abbey Road's Hackathon

Four MIP-Frontiers fellows won the Abbey Road's Hackathon with the Rapple - virtual rap-battle opponent.

Posted by Alejandro Delgado on November 27, 2018 · 3 mins read

You know you are somewhere near the most iconic music studio in the world when you notice some people doing funny poses on a zebra crossing. Once inside, of course, the solemnity of the security guards reminds you where you really are. After a lovely walk through the corridors of the place, participants of the first Abbey Road Hackathon finally arrive at Studio 1, which is said to have seen from the recording of The Lord Of The Rings’ soundtrack to Pink Floyd’s members playing an improvised football game.

Twenty-four hours of coding awaiting in that church-like space and there we were meeting again. MIP-Frontiers fellows Kilian, Giorgia, Ondřej (Télécom) and Alejandro (Roli) found Tim Kirby (QMUL) and Diego Di Carlo (Univ Rennes) to serve a cool idea: Rapple, an AI-powered opponent to challenge for a rap battle.

By the time the event began, everybody had already started refining initial project ideas with people around us, being them in or out of our own team. No wasting a line of code in useless apps, said a collegue of mine, capturing the spirit of the place. In our case, there was an effortless synergy between us by the time we finished the planning sketch. We were all so determined to create the rudest, wittiest, most destructive rap battle opponent ever; or, at least, to launch an amusing prototype. We got an appropriate chatbot code, speech-to-text and text-to-speech software and a beat alignment algorithm to make Rapple deliver punchlines with flow.

Time passed comfortably for us. We were holding team discussions every hour and getting breaks to drink a coffee and even play music with other hackers. In the end, we came up with a working prototype by 3 am and from then on, in the confusion of the night, everything got experimental. What if we get a vocoder for Rapple?, proposed Tim, who actually went home to get his. Damn, this thing is way ruder than expected… Is there a sweet spot to get the heaviest punchlines? All in all, we spent the rest of the night seasoning the thing and getting people around to test it and have a laugh with it.

Next afternoon, after an engaging round of presentations of all projects (Kilian absolutely killed it rapping some nonsense in ours), the winners were announced and Rapple came first! We got the main prize, handed by Microsoft, for the best use of AI. And so, after a pair of interviews and some farewell pints by St. Pancras station, we all went back to work on our Ph.D. projects, leaving our small but muddy footprint at Abbey Road Studios.