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Why Do You Need To Bring Your Teen To A Hackathon?

Hello, fellow makers. My name is Savva Osipov, I am twelve years old and I am studying at a school in Novato, California. Last weekend I had the unique experience in taking part in the Internet Of Things Hackathon in San Francisco, and I wanted to share my experiences and thoughts with you.

I’ve been experimenting with Arduino hardware sets for 2 years. Some might say I am too young for that, but that is simply not true. The kit is easy to set up and the programming language is easy to understand. My interest in hardware has led to my desire to take part in any public competition that will allow me to test my skills.

First of all, I was surprised that I was the only teen at the hackathon, although kids are allowed to participate with parental supervision. So, if there’s any hackathon open for kids in your town, go for it! I found a list of the US hackathons at Devpost.com/hackathons. We looked through them and ended up registering for the AT&T IOT hackathon which was free and allowed kids to participate.

Here’s me and my dad, Ilya Osipov, testing the project that I was pitching on Sunday

So what did I learn from participating in the hackathon?

Study the kit provided for the hackathon prior to the event

There are many solutions from companies for makers out there, that allows you to build something meaningful without a need to break the budget. AT&T provided us with The IoT Starter Kit which connects to the cloud via a sim card installed on the electronic board. It is fully compatible with the Arduino solution I was playing with before. So, I was able to use the sensors I was already comfortable with.

The exact list of hardware I used for my project: PIR motion sensor, Arduino UNO board, At&t IoT Starter KIT, and LED lights.

Testing the system with my dad

Not only a hardware solution, but a market centered solution

When you are experimenting at home, you can work on any ideas you may have. However, most of the hackathons are targeted at specific solutions that can be widely used by the public.

Think about the market when working on your device or idea. Are people going to pay for that? How many people are going to pay for that? Is it a widely spread problem you are solving? These are all things you should think about when building in a hackathon.

Don’t settle for your first obvious idea

The first thought I had was to create a parking system: the hardware will be installed as part of the building, track parking usage and recommend parking spaces to drivers. Everyone in San Francisco knows about the parking problem. I’ve heard my dad swearing multiple times because finding a parking spot can take forever. However, the hackathon organizers advised us against pitching any parking solutions. If you Google “parking app in San Francisco”, you’ll find about 20 million results. It’s an overhyped problem and many teams are working on it. Don’t stand in line, find a work around.

Hackathons attract professionals. Be prepared

Many of the teams taking part in the hackathons are getting ready for the event prior to the event. They already arrived at WeWork (that’s where the event was held) with a viable idea, and they have found the hardware devices that they will use. Teams differed in size, some were as large as 10 people. We had only a team of 3 — my dad, my dad’s friend, and myself.

Next time we participate in a hackathon, we’ll invite more people with different professional backgrounds to make the team stronger and diversified. The hackathon is definitely a team game.

Teams discussing their ideas at WeWork, San Francisco

Prepare to work on your presentation in a short time frame. Have funny pictures at hand

Allow a lot of time to work with your presentation. One thing you can do to help with the time crunch is to prepare the framework for several of your slides prior to the event.

The project

What was the idea we were working on? I proposed a tracking solution for schools. Why tracking for schools? Each day our teachers have to count the kids two times. When kids arrive at school and when they leave. This also needs to happen on a regular basis, in case of an emergency.

School alert system presentation

I used a PIR Motion Sensor in each room within the building. That way, after the school is closed or it’s an emergency situation — the sensors react to movement, or any other conditions that change, and a teacher receives an alert to their mobile device. Of course, we didn’t have time to work on the app during the hackathon weekend, we only presented the hardware solution.

As you can see, there’s no place for perfectionism at a hackathon. You have to present a workable MVP (minimum viable product). It’s a mockup of a room with installed sensors connected to the Arduino board which is connected to the AT&T electronic board. The board itself is linked to the cloud that receives the signal and from there it goes to the app in case of an alert. When I was pitching the project, I used my hands to trigger the system’s reaction inside the sample box to showcase the reaction on the system’s part.

School alert system MVP on the left

Conclusion

In addition to home-cook ideas, a hackathon is an event that inspires inventors to come up with new and innovative solutions, even if you are a thirteen-year-old boy. Moreover, it teaches you to think in tune with the market, to not work based on impulses, but on ideas that can benefit many people.


About me

Savva Osipov is the twelve year old founder of Cubios Inc. He excels in mathematics and holds an orange TKW belt. He’s now working on a Kickstarter campaign for a gaming gadget which he will be presenting at CES in January 2018. You can contact him at www.facebook.com/SavvaOsipov.


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