A couple of times a year, Netflix hosts an internal hackathon for its employees, where they can take time off of their regular duties and try their hand at playing with new ideas. At this spring’s Hack Day, Netflix employees devised a haptic feedback system for mobile devices, and a novel way to get their colleagues out of a meeting room when their time runs over.
In past years, Netflix employees have used the Hack Day event on zany ideas like playing House of Cards on an original NES, turning their catalog into a VR rental store, creating a search system that uses Morse code, and adding a “jump to shark” button to Sharknado, among other things. The ideas don’t generally have practical purposes — the purpose of the day is the creative process. This year’s ideas fit that perfectly.
The first idea is somewhat practical — and it’s a trick that video game systems regularly use. “Project Rumble Pack” overlays haptic effects with a video on Netflix. During a scene, those effects are synced up with the dialogue and action. If you’re watching Netflix on your mobile device, it vibrates during explosive scenes, giving you an extra bit of sensory input. Movie theaters have tried this out with rumbling seats in high-end theaters, but it hasn’t really caught on with the general public.
Other ideas include a “voice of Netflix,” which has an algorithm scan Netflix shows and isolate individual words, so users can type sentences into a search field and get back an assembled clip of those words taken from Netflix content. You can try that one out for yourself. It currently has a limited vocabulary, but it seems to be actively growing, compared to what it was when the Hack Day videos were shot.
Another idea is called TerraVision, an app that lets producers drop in pictures of the kind of locations they’re looking for. The system will show similar buildings or locations, and identify where they are. This one doesn’t seem to be useful for general Netflix viewers, but could be developed into something conceptually useful for location scouts or screenwriters.
Finally, another team had a clever idea that will resonate with office workers who have to compete for meeting space. This team devised a system that allows users to automatically join a conference call in a meeting that’s run over its allotted time, and play the music that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences uses to walk people off the stage if their Oscar speeches run long. Please roll this one out widely, Netflix.
Netflix has posted a full rundown of its Hack Day projects on Medium.