An intelligent trash that can sort recyclable from non-recyclable garbage won first prize at this weekend’s 36-hour maker blitz, MHacks — the world’s largest college hackathon.

Organized by the University of Michigan, the contest gathered 1,214 shard minds from roughly 100 schools all across the US. The team that made “GreenCan” came from the University of Maryland, and the three students were among the very few teams who actually designed a real, physical object – as opposed to a web app.

Having seen lots and lots of glass bottles and aluminum cans in the trash, even when a recycling bin was close by, classmates Zachary Lawrence, Joshua Drubin and Andres Toro, came up with a good idea and an innovative design: they rely on sounds to sort the trash. More exactly, they designed a with with a swing top that pivots in a different direction based on the sound an object makes when it hits it; stuff that creates a metallic “bing” sound will end up in one partition of the can, while the plastic objects which go with a “thud” end up in another place.

“I never dreamed of coming here and actually winning,” Drubin said. “It feels unbelievable” — even on six hours sleep total for the past two nights.

Second place was snatched by Save My Glass, a “head-up” driving display for Google Glass devised by Mike Huang and Austin Feight, juniors in computer science at U-M, while third place went to team tabbr from Carnegie Mellon University with their Web tool to search open tabs.

Google was one of the event’s main sponsors, and everybody, winners or not, was thrilled by the event and the quality of the designs that took shape in only 36 hours.

“This was one of the most incredible weekends of my life,” Thomas Erdman, a junior in computer science and engineering who led the event, told the crowd at the awards ceremony. “I hope it was one of the most incredible weekends of yours. Go home and spread the culture at your schools,” Erdman said. “We saw so many problems solved in 36 hours! Imagine what we can do in a month, or a semester.”

Awards list here.

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