A few weeks back, CIIE hosted our first ever hardware hackathon – Makeathon – in partnership with MakerFest and Intel Education. For 48 hours, our pristine conference and seminar rooms were converted into electronics labs, replete with cool-looking gadgets, circuit boards, wires, breadboards, LEDs, and a very geeky crowd of over 70 hackers! Participants included a good mix of students, software engineers and hardware enthusiasts. There were a few pariticipants who were tenants in our coworking space – Ideapad, but most surprising of all, there were a few IIMA students as well!
The organizers had brought together a very impressive collection of hardware from various partners for the hackers to hack. There was a Google Glass, a Microsoft Kinect sensor, a LEAP Motion controller, a NueroSky MindWave headset, a Chromecast dongle, and even a 3D printer (which was kept at the FabLab, CEPT University). In addition to these, there were the usual development boards and kits from Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Intel Galileo and others. IoT-based sensors and sensor kits were also available. From the gleaming looks of the participants, this author finally realized the meaning of ‘true hacking happiness’ – that blissful that hackers derive out of developing cool stuff!
Prior to the hackathon, an “idea funnel” was launched for participants to post and vote on potential ideas that they would like to work on. The hackathon started with a networking dinner on Friday (17 October) evening, where participants were asked to start forming teams by joining together with other participants with complementary skills required to execute their ideas. Each participant had put in a list of their skills/interests on their badges for others to see. Much of the first night went in brainstorming/ideating with teams huddled together in front of their laptops, scratching outlines for prototypes on already-scribbled paper, and mostly just making very animated conversation with their hands! Ofcourse, they also found time to take quick naps in between (probably dreaming about the ground-breaking stuff they were about to create).
By Saturday morning however, many participants had realized that their ideas would not be feasible to create or implement in the short duration of the hackathon, and they had joined other teams. All through Saturday, things moved rather slowly, even for hackathon standards. Even this author, who started off super-excited at the prospect of making an Indian-equivalent of the rockstar smart thermostat – Tado – had all but given up by Saturday evening. It was then that the realization dawned – all “great” ideas look amazing in your head and brilliant on paper, but they’re just super-tough to actually implement. Fortunately, the other participants weren’t as defeatist, and they laboriously tinkered on with their creations into the night, fuelled by regular doses of tea, coffee and snacks.
Throughout Saturday night, and by Sunday morning, things had started heating up. Hands moved brisker, heads crouched closer to laptop screens/development boards and keyboards were subjected to lightning-speed typing. By noon, panic set in, and many teams started considering plans B, C, D, etc. Sunday afternoon and evening went in a blur, as they raced against time, trying to get their creations to work. A few teams had lost hope, and all they wanted to do by then, was to get that tiny LED on their boards to at least light up.
As the deadline of 7 PM approached, there was frenzied activity in the rooms. Although delayed, the presentations/demos started by 7:15 PM. In all, 14 teams presented, with most demos leaving the audience enthralled:
- s2D: IoT-enabled device fitted on shopping carts for automated retail billing
- Bazinga: tactile feedback-based wearable device
- Zydans: “Tweet Pot” – a Twitter-enabled coffee maker (key trivia – this was a team of 11th-grade students from the Zydus School in Ahmedabad – talk about kid geniuses!)
- Speed Frames: a simulator / steering wheel for racing games (this cardboard-built contraption was so smooth and addictive that this author needed to be asked to let other eagerly-waiting persons to try it out!)
- Indie Hearts: a web-based discovery platform for independent musicians and bands
- Illusionists: a sonar-based ‘smart shoe’ for the visually-impaired that would enable them to walk without a stick
- Summero: a review summarization browser plug-in for ecommerce websites
- DA: natural language processing-based software app
- Autobot: voice-controllable smart home automation system
- HKHR: wearable-based wheelchair automation for physically handicapped people
- Revolt Labs: mobile-app-based smart home system
- Originators: Twitter feed radio
- Original Dimensions: Mindwave-based virtual game controller (in the demo, one of the team members played the popular game Subway Surfers – blinking of the eyes led to the character jumping! Now, if that wasn’t cool, what is?)
- Amateur Maker: an IoT-enabled bottle label printer (also developed by a team of high school students from Ahmedabad!)
Almost all the demos left the audience wanting to see more (with some, including this author, left with a feeling of ‘that’s-so-cool;-how-I-wish-I-knew-how-to-make-it!’). Although the Speed Frames team presented last, there was little doubt that this team would walk away with the top prize – needless to say, they did! Illusionists – the team behind the ‘smart shoe’ for visually impared – walked away with a runners-up prize.
As a follow-up to the hackathon, the top 5 teams were invited to attend a special session on “customer identification, development and business modeling using the Business Model Canvas” the next day. Ashwin Joshi, VP – Ecosystem Development led the session with assistance from other team members.
After witnessing these creations, one was left with a unique sense of wonder. It is one thing to see such creative things through Kickstarter or on Facebook, and it is another to see it being created in front of you, all in just 48 hours. This is probably the motto of the maker culture – to learn and use practical skills to build and “make” creative things! If that sounds like something you would like to do, head over to MakerFest 2015 – scheduled for 10-11 Jan 2015 in Ahmedabad.
Written by Mohsin Bin Latheef, Manager – Cleantech Ecosystem Development, CIIE