12 hours of fighting with hardware.

My thoughts on an Internet of Things hackathon for improving the workplace.

Last Saturday we at Apegroup held our first ever weekend hackathon with the theme Internet of Things. Our challenge for the day was “Improving the workplace”. We had 40 people signed up by Friday but only half of them showed up. We were counting on some dropouts but it seems that the temptation of a weekend sleep-in was too hard to resist for many. On the bright side, those who signed up and showed up, for a hackathon between 10:00 and 22:00, were devoted to the task.

piStol in deep, deep focus. Foto: Wayne Knoesen

As the host for the hackathon I thought a lot about how to start the day. Should we do some design sprints together? Get to know each other in some team building challenge? Nah, let’s get straight into the hacking! Yeah! 
We at Apegroup shared some problems we had experienced in our workplace and allowed the participants to form their own groups with these problems as an inspirational starting point. It worked perfectly.

Seven groups evolved and started to stock up on hardware from our Tech room. We made hardware purchases totalling 8000 SEK for this hackathon, that bought us more than enough to play with. The complete hardware list can be found here. So between 11:00 and 19:45 all I did was provide a constant supply of food and drinks and bombarded the groups with questions about themselves.

FlowTastic was able to turn on a lamp! Wow! Foto: Wayne Knoesen

Why did I ask so many questions? Well I was curious, who these people were, how did they find us and what made them tick? These answers were just as interesting to me as the final group solutions. The most striking information I gathered was that 20% of the participants had been in Sweden less then a month. One of them already spoke Swedish fluently! All of them and half of all hackers present had found our hackathon through meetup.com. Tech is only one part of Meetup. If you also take in to account all other meetups around culture, sport, language cafés etc, I think it is one of our most powerful tools for integrating newcomers to Stockholm.

Powerflic, a fun yet somewhat cumbersome way to solve a simple problem. Foto: Wayne Knoesen

Of course most people present were mobile developers but we also attracted people working with digital marketing and electro engineering. We had a great mix of senior knowledge mixed with the curiosity of KTH master students. Some of the reasons they gave for spending their Saturday hacking with us were:

  • Finding new contacts and creating together.
  • Pushing your boundaries and learning more about hardware.
  • Coding within a timeframe. This forces you to make it simple and deliverable.

The market for IOT is still in beta mode. Few companies have reached a wider audience for their products, though some (including our sponsors for the hackathon) try hard to create user friendly products that doesn’t only attract us nerds.

There is a shit load of hardware out there, but it will have to work better if it’s going to reach the masses. It has to be reliable to take off.
 — Stuart, from the group CompaFlic
Solo Ranger watch out, your boss is coming! Foto: Wayne Knoesen

So, what did the groups actually build? 
FlowTastic: An easy way to program the lights in a meeting room to signal halftime and end of the meeting. Philip Hue lamps, Flic button. read more!
piStol: Connecting all chairs in an office, tracking movement and position of the chair’s back support to see how engaged the workers are at any given moment. Sensor Tags, Raspberry Pie, IBM BlueMix.
PowerFlic: Turning on and off your power switch with another switch. Flic button, Arduino, mini servo. read more!
Serenity: Push a button to display your current status on Slack. “I’m deep in to my code and require serenity for my sanity”. Particle Internet Button.
CompaFlic: Press a button and Siri will tell you which compass direction you are facing. Flic button, iOS.
Solo Ranger: Lamps indicating how close someone is to you, no more sneaking up behind your back! Arduino.

And the winner is…
EggPlant: Their coffeemaker will give you the best cup of coffee, every time. Functions for auto turn off, brew on demand, Coffee quality index and time to coffee countdown. Using Arduino, One-Wire with DS18B20, NodeMCU and more.

EggPlant winning way to small T-shirts. Foto: Wayne Knoesen

The prize package included a Narrative Clip 2 camera, Flic buttons and T-shirts from IBM BlueMix. Big thanks to our sponsors! I had such a good time at the hackathon and I look forward to the next event. I felt a little awkward in the beginning walking up to all the participants asking them questions, but I’m so glad I did. Everyone was s0 friendly and learning more about my fellow coders helped me understand why these events are important. Now I also have some great ideas for new fun concepts around IOT. Hopefully I have more stories to tell about them soon! If you would like to participate in our next hackathon join us on meetup.


Five tips for organizing your own hackathon

  • Use meetup.com
  • Keep a low threshold on the coding level required to participate
  • Don’t press too much into the schedule
  • Prepare some issues for the teams to inspire discussions
  • Keep in mind that there will probably be some dropouts

That’s me :) Photo: Wayne Knoesen

My name is Madeleine Kalin and I work as Head of Production at Apegroup, a design & technology agency in Stockholm, Sweden. We help companies innovate and explore the latest possibilities in mobile technology. Want to know more about how we work? See our website.

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