Interconnected devices hackathon: going beyond software, or exploring the world via electric eyes and arduino-connected sensors

Mon, 08/20/2012 - 15:56 -- gleb
We've just attended a hackathon organized by the Londroid group: Interconnected devices hackathon. Below is a write up with some thoughts and future plans.

Given: 70 participants, including iOS, Android, web developers NFC sensors and NFC tags

Arduino hardware:
5-10 Arduino boards
a few GSM Arduino shields
touchscreen module for Arduino
lots of servos

five Google TVs
Apple AirPort express

raspberry PI
40" toy tank chassis
toy car chassis x 3
led panels
lots of android phones, iPads, iPhones, Macbooks


Organized by the Londroid group, the hackathon was a 24-hour event for people interested in open source hardware, would-be and actual arduino hackers, people with ideas for real projects and anyone interested in asking questions, touching real devices and putting together five sensors, a servo, an android phone for remote control to make a toy car or a game joystick or a custom led display or an itneractive geolocation game. As hackathons go, this event was more of an exploration space, than a focused competition.

What came out of it?

Interesting prototypes:

- a tank controlled from an android app running on a phone - see the photo. Pretty awesome :)
- a group project to build an interactive game environment with various controllers (the TF team took part in this hacking-heavy exercise :). The proejct involved:
- a Pacman-like game running on the laptop controlled from an android or an iOS app as a joystick (using accelerometer/tilt to move Pacman forward/back/top/down - built by David and Viktar
- an ultrasonic sensor detecting when the player leaves the space in front of the game computer and puts the game on pause :)
- a led arraw of 8 lights which, when moved in the air in a line displayed a word - a greeting etc. Pretty cool!
- a quest game for pub crawls. Players check in at a pub by tapping their phones against an NFC sticker (or by taking a pic of the QRcode with a link), and get their quest definition. By solving the quest they get a hint about the next location. Simple and fun!

During the show and tell, the players shared what they've learned and how much they managed / didn't manage to finish during the hackathon.

In addition to the hacking, the hackathon was a really fertile ground for sharing ideas, sounding out and pitching potential projects in the opensource hardware area, finding out about what specific hardware does, and demoing existing or in-progress projects.

The event also demonstrated huge potentials for convergence and mutual enrichment between as disparate areas as healthcare (remote patient monitoring via cheap and accessible heartbeat/temperature sensors tied to an small processing unit), gaming, home power utility monitoring. More than anything else it was this realization that quantifying and using readily available data, and processing it in a way that makes sense, and having the means to perform automated actions using servos tied to e.g. an arduino board was really within reach of a hobby hacker - this was extremely rewarding and mind-opening. Among others, it was great meeting with Paul Tanner, author of a home monitoring web service that monitors daily power consumption/generation with PV panels/feed-in revenue using inexpensive commercially available power monitors. The market for this kind of online services is clearly going to expand tremendously in the near future, as the sensors cost just GBP 35 and they both save money and provide tons of actionable info for home owners.

Paul has also kindly shown his own Arduino-based OBD2 reader - which allows to get error and fuel consumption data from almost any car equipped with a standard OBD2 port. The OBD2 chip costs around $50 if my memory's correct but other than that the arduino-based fuel consumption and OBD2 reader device is not too complicated to build and is a great example of a hardware solution to a real pressing problem (getting the data out of the "black box" that is the modern car). I can also imagine all kinds of creative uses for this kind of technology - really exciting! Paul is planning a talk at OSHcamp on 15-16 September - don't miss it!

Another great example is the ability of home hackers to build accessible devices that help people with disabilities - from interfaces for people with sight impairments to control devices that can be operated by voice recognition running on e.g. an android phone and utilizing Arduino+motor shield+servos to perform actions.

Upcoming events:

OSHcamp (open source hardware camp) in Hebden Bridge on 15-16 September