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Netflix Hack Day Fall 2018: Eye-Controlled Navigation, Skip to Goriest ‘Sharknado’ Scenes

Netflix last month concluded the fall 2018 Hack Day, an in-house hackathon where it invites employees to cook up out-of-the-box ideas, apps and tools — sometimes fairly silly and useless ones — over a 24-hour period.

This year, projects included an overlay on the Netflix app that uses Apple’s Face ID and ARKit augmented-reality toolkit to let a user navigate by using their eyes (and tongue). Then there’s “Jump to Shark,” which simply lets you tap a button while watching one of the “Sharknado” movies to advance to the next scene that has the airborne, predatory marine creatures.

It was Netflix’s ninth Hack Day, which it has staged twice a year since 2014. Past projects have included a way to browse titles using brainwaves; an app that used image recognition to identify weapons and nudity in videos for parental controls; and a Netflix homepage design based on the sci-fi world of “Altered Carbon.”

The fall 2018 Hack Day had more than 100 participants, hosted at Netflix’s Los Gatos, Calif., headquarters on Oct. 11-12.

Here are the projects the company highlighted from the latest event:

“Eye Nav”

This one could actually have commercial applications down the road for Netflix’s products. Using Apple’s ARKit, which enables features like Animoji in iPhone X and later models, engineers hacked the Netflix iOS app to let users move around the screen by moving their eyes.

“The same technology that enables Face ID is great for accurately tracking eye position and facial expression,” Ben Hands, John Fox, and Steve Henderson, the trio who came up with Eye Nav, wrote in a blog post.

Eye Nav uses ARKit’s eye-tracking to let the user move the pointer around the screen; to trigger the equivalent of a tap, you focus on the same area for a few seconds. To exit a screen, the user sticks out his or her tongue. “We’re hopeful that this kind of technology will become a part of mainstream Accessibility APIs in the future,” the creators wrote.

“Jump to Shark”

OK, so this one is just for fun. Targeted at fans of Syfy’s ultra-campy “Sharknado” movie franchise, the “Jump to Shark” add-on for the Netflix app lets a viewer skip right to the best (i.e., bloodiest) scenes.

Netflix currently streams all five “Sharknado” movies, which originally aired on NBCUniversal’s Syfy starting with the 2013 original.

“LunchBot”

It doesn’t really have anything to do with Netflix’s service per se, but one of the company’s engineers came up with a new way to meet up with coworkers for lunch.

LunchBot, an app created for Slack, every morning invites a random group of fellow employees to eat lunch together (and checks their calendars to make sure they’re all free at the same time).

Pictured above: Scene from “Sharknado 2: The Second One”

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