Course Description

Hacking for Defense (H4D) will teach students how to rapidly build products and services using Lean Methods, and will provide students with hands-on experience in working real problems for the Defense (DoD) and Intelligence Community (IC).  Originally developed at Stanford, the course will use on the Lean Launchpad to teaching entrepreneurship. This approach is a highly customer-centered hypothesis-test approach for developing business models, and has been widely adopted by universities and business development programs across the country, including the NSF I-Corps program.

The technical focus of Pitt’s H4D course is Cyber-Physical Systems, also more generally described as Mechatronics and the Internet of Things.  A great deal of DoD, Intelligence, and Homeland Security problems are cyber-physical in nature. In fact, on a broader scale it is projected that worldwide there will be 34 billion internet-connected devices by the year 2020, many of which will be mechanical in nature (e.g. cars and appliances).  Students in Engineering, Information Science, and Computer Science will learn how to work together to address real technology problems, and will better prepared for careers in that field.

At the end of the course, students should be able to

  • Implement real-world aspects of entrepreneurship, a skill that is becoming more requisite for all science and engineering career paths.
  • Use these tools and mindset to accelerate their ability to  perform meaningful research here at Pitt.
  • Be “quick starters” who know how to more effectively formulate problems, to navigate funding agencies, and to conduct research that solves relevant problems with impact on society.

The course will also enable PITT to create ties to specific agencies and national labs that can lead to research projects addressing current needs, and will provide numerous connections to agencies to support the university’s research efforts in the future.  This course is a model for future expansion into other fields such as Energy, sustainability, and Medicine, with partnerships with other agencies like ARPA-E, DoE, NASA, NIST, and NIH. 

To this end, the course has the added goals to

  • Create a new mechanism by which course faculty and mentors will form meaningful long-term connections that provide opportunities for future research.
  • Lay the foundation for future funding of this course and for future versions of this course in the context of other government agencies.


2017 H4D Final Showcase