Category Archives: 1:1 Interviews

1:1 interview with Hackaday Prize finalist MW Motors


Did you know that 80% of the 2015 Hackaday Prize finalists are powered by Atmel? With only days left until we learn which project will walk away with this year’s crown, we recently sat down with each of the potential winners to get to know them better. 


The problem that LUKA EV is attempting to solve is a rather big one. Mindful that internal combustion engine cars pump billions of tons of pollutants into the atmosphere each year, this group of Makers has set out to devise an open source platform that’ll unlock the possibility for cost-competitive, all-electric automobiles to be built and sold locally, on a global scale. The brainchild of MW Motors, the electric vehicle — which should land somewhere in the ballpark of $22,445 when all is said and done — is capable of achieving top speeds of around 80 mph and a range of over 185 miles. Although the concept of an e-car is a far cry from new, using in-wheel hub motors to power it isn’t so ordinary.

What’s more, this project will introduce a revolutionary technology to the production line, reducing weight and eliminating a great deal of unnecessary parts along the way. LUKA EV will feature head, side, indicator and brake lights, door handles, wing mirrors, windshield wipers and everything else you’d find on its more conventional counterparts. As for charging, it can be plugged into any household wall socket and juiced back up in a few hours.

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We had the chance to sit down with MW Motors founder Maurice Ward to get his thoughts on the project, the Hackaday Prize and what the future has in store for the groundbreaking platform.

Atmel: What is LUKA EV?

Maurice Ward: The LUKA EV is an attempt to build the first highway capable electric car driven by in-wheel hub motors.

Atmel: How did you come to the idea for such a vehicle? Moreover, what inspired you to enter the contest with your project?.

MW: We’ve been curious for a while about why no one has made a car using in-wheel hub motors. And the mission of the Hackaday Prize matched perfectly with our philosophy: we want to “build things that matter,” particularly in the so-called green space.

Atmel: Speaking about the Hackaday Prize’s theme, how are you hoping LUKA EV changes the world?

MW: The goal with LUKA EV is to prove that electric cars can compete with Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars with no subsidies. If a group of Makers can build a production car that can compete well with established auto manufactures in terms of price and quality, we will be able to demonstrate that our concept has merit. Aside from that, open sourcing pretty much everything allows anyone to follow along, and if what we do works, anyone can set up a production site in their shed — or build a massive factory — and easily replicate our process. If hub motors work, cars will be fundamentally lighter. This matters. Lightness is critical. Getting EU certification will ensure that our documentation is of such a high standard that Makers, designers and car enthusiasts alike will be able to use the instructions and construct cars on the platform themselves.

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Atmel: What’s different about LUKA EV’s process opposed to those employed by car manufactures? What’s your vision for the next five years? Where do you see the project going or what/who would you hope will pick up the project and use it?

MW: As eluded to above, it’s the world’s first production car that utilizes in-wheel hub motors — that’s pretty different. In the next five years, our vision is to not only reveal that the method works, but to become EU certified and eventually sell some vehicles. Once that’s achieved, we hope many other people will begin building the car or others based on the LUKA platform. The more people that create a car and share it on the platform, the better it will get. We hope big car makers do something similar. Our mission is for electric cars to compete on a level playing field with an ICE car; as a result, the e-car should be as good as and as affordable as today’s common set of wheels.

We do not mind if individuals, small companies or major multinationals copy our ideas. We hope everyone is inspired by our project. We have already proven that a car can be designed, built and made highway legal in under a year for very little money. Everyone said that was impossible. We are not just making cars, we are proving that anything is still possible with a minimal budget yet rich in commitment. Great things can still come out of sheds even if governments do their best to tilt everything toward big organizations.

Atmel: As we know, the Maker Movement has opened the door for everyone from hobbyists to tech enthusiasts to hardcare engineers to tinker around. What’s your personal background?

MW: Personally, I have owned a company for the last 20 years. It does diverse things, primarily warehousing and transportation but some transformational manufacturing as well. My experience has shown me that it’s difficult to do anything in big companies. “The organization” (in general) is great at some things. However, bringing a good idea to life quickly is not something an organization is particularly good at. This is especially true if the idea happens to be something large, such as a car.

There is a team of people involved with the LUKA EV. In addition to myself, there are four guys who work at the IT department in my company, each of whom have donated their time to the project. Various other employees and friends have also contributed their time, ideas and expertise. We have now employed one full-time person and one contractor to work full-time on the project.

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Atmel: What are some of the core pieces of hardware embedded?

MW: Well being that it’s a car, there’s a lot of hardware! The chassis, the body, the battery pack, the in-wheel hub motors, steering, suspension, brakes, the list goes on. Much of our work has been spent designing and creating the control systems for the various bits of hardware. For example, the BSM we designed uses 16 Arduino Pro Minis (ATmega328).

Atmel: What hardware products or projects are you also building at the moment?

MW: In addition to the LUKA EV, we are working on four other projects. A wind turbine, a solar generator, a foldable ocean freight container and a graphene super capacitor. All projects (bar the super caps) are described on Hackaday.io.

Atmel; Why pick Atmel chips?

MW: They were the obvious choice. We have years of positive experience working with Arduino. It is a very good starting point. It is an easy way to get great results quickly.

Atmel: What advice would you offer other Makers when getting into hardware and embarking on a new project?

MW: The number one thing is to have fun. Any other advice really depends on the project you’re involved in. If it’s just for enjoyment, just make sure you have fun. If you;re setting out to make an actual product that may be sold someday, think about the end game before you start. Think about hard things like certification. Think about serial or mass production. You need to design a product for mass production. Designing a functional prototype that has not considered for mass production means you have to start at the very beginning again if you want to actually produce it. Oh, and…. Have a budget and stick to it! Projects can get terribly expensive.

Aside from that, be inclusive and try to build a team. Yet, keep in mind that someone has to have the vision and be the leader or else nothing will ever happen. Teams sometime just mean a talking shop. Remember: building is about doing stuff, not talking about stuff!

Also, jot down a list of objectives before embarking on the project. Stick to them like they are a religion. If yo let one slip, suddenly they all slip… Getting a project finished is more about project management than about your actual building skills. Do not pay too much attention to negative comments online. Most of these come from people who have never made anything before. Just know that whatever it is you are doing, it is likely that someone thinks what you are doing is amazing. Do the project for you and for those who think it is amazing — even if that is just one other person!

Atmel: Any plans to launch a startup and perhaps even take to Kickstarter/Indiegogo?

MW: We definitely won’t be launching a Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding campaign. We are not looking for any investors at this time. However, we have already started a company. Another project goal is to show that things can be done on a shoestring budget. We certainly do not want to spend other peoples money. We have seen too many car projects that burn through hundreds of millions with no results. We will prove that cars can be built and sold without the need for massive equity, and will do so without any debt. Whatever we do will be done with our own money — and hopefully with some Hackady prize money!

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Atmel: We couldn’t have planned that segue if we tried. So, if you do win the grand prize, are heading to space or taking the cash?!

MW: We have to take the cash. Cash will be used to ensure that the platform can be maintained for years to come.

Atmel: Anything else you want to tell us and our followers?

MW: The knowledge of the entire world is available to you via the Internet. Our car build would have been impossible without it. The body of our car came from Gaming. We bought a 3DS file for USD $100. That was the body fully designed in 3D. That probably saved us two years and possibly millions of dollars in design costs. The web allowed us find off-the-shelf suppliers of almost all components implemented in the LUKA EV. Suppliers from all over the globe are now available at the touch of a button. We’re lucky that we have 3D printers, welding, FRP, hardware and software skills. But, even if you do not, all these things can be found in seconds with a simple Google search. If you know nothing about a topic, you can be up to speed in a day even on complex topics just be reading all the scientific data that is freely available. In other words, the web enables normal people in sheds access to information and a supply chain that multinational companies could only have dreamed about 30 years ago. The Internet makes everything possible and it takes away all the excuses.

HaD should be encouraged. I see governments all over the world funding research. Some of the papers I read that are the result of hundreds of millions of dollars in “collaborative research” are a little sad. The research takes five years and the result is that they conducted a bunch of surveys, and possibly did some deeply scientific, non-practical research. I wonder what would happen if the Maker community got support like that? I hope more and more people join Hackaday, as it will help improve basic skills and set the stage for everyday people showcase the things they can make.

Don’t miss our other interviews with fellow HaD Prize finalists Chris LowOpenBionicsEric WilliamEyedrivomaticRadu MotisanReiner van der Lee and Rory Aronson!

1:1 interview with Hackaday Prize finalist Rory Aronson


Did you know that 80% of the 2015 Hackaday Prize finalists are powered by Atmel? With only days left until we learn which project will walk away with this year’s crown, we recently sat down with each of the potential winners to get to know them better. 


A finalist in this year’s Hackaday Prize, FarmBot is a prime example of how the DIY Movement can make a long and ever-lasting impact on our world. The brainchild of mechanical engineer and social entrepreneur Rory Aronson, the project is an open source CNC farming machine that hopes to one day make an open food future more accessible to everyone. Using a web-based application, users can graphically design their farm or garden to their desired specifications by dragging and dropping plants into a map, as if it were a game of FarmVille. Other features include storing and manipulating data maps, a decision support system to facilitate data driven design, access to an open plant data repository, and real-time control and logging.

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We recently had the chance to sit down with Aronson to learn more about the project, his inspiration and what the future holds following the Hackaday Prize.

Atmel: What is FarmBot?

RA: FarmBot is an open source CNC farming machine and software package designed for small-scale precision food production. Similar to 3D printers and CNC milling machines, FarmBot hardware employs linear guides in the X, Y and Z directions. This allows for tooling such as seed injectors, watering nozzles, sensors and weed removal tools to be precisely positioned and used on the plants and soil.

FarmBot is controlled by an Arduino/RAMPS stack and an Internet-connected Raspberry Pi 2. The hardware is designed to be simple, scalable, hackable and easily produced.

Atmel: How did you come to the idea for FarmBot? Moreover, what inspired you to enter the contest with your project?

RA: The idea for FarmBot came to me while I was taking an agriculture class in college. One day, a guest lecturer and farmer spoke to us about his newest tractor — one that used a camera and computer vision system to detect and remove weeds. I thought it was pretty cool, but also viewed the system as a band-aid solution. Rather than building something new from the ground up, the agriculture hardware industry is tacking precision systems into historically imprecise tractors at an immense cost. What’s more, there is virtually no equipment available to empower small-scale food producers. This is where FarmBot comes in as a low-cost, small-scale, precision-first system.

In these early days, FarmBot needs a community to become early adopters and help build the open-source technology core. This is why we are on Hackaday — to rally a community that believes in our vision of an open food future, where the consumer is control of the food production process.

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Atmel: In line with the Hackaday Prize’s theme, how are you hoping FarmBot changes the world? What’s the mission?

RA: The FarmBot Project vision is to create an open and accessible technology aiding everyone to grow food and to grow food for everyone. In order to achieve this vision, our mission is to establish a community that produces free and open source hardware plans, software, data and documentation enabling everyone to build and operate a farming machine.

Atmel: What’s your vision for FarmBot over the next five years? Where do you see it going? Who would you hope will pick up the project and use it?

RA: Over the next five years, I hope for FarmBot to take a similar path as the RepRap project, where there will be an explosion of innovation from thousands of individuals and entrepreneurs who hack FarmBot technology to work for them, engineer better hardware, write more software features and build more companies that cater FarmBot to the masses.

Atmel: As we know, the Maker Movement has opened the door for everyone from hobbyists to tech enthusiasts to hardcare engineers to tinker around. What’s your personal background?

RA: I grew up tinkering and building myself. I definitely identify as a Maker. As far as technical background goes, I studied mechanical engineering at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA.

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Atmel: Why pick Atmel (and Arduino) chips?

RA: We chose to use an Arduino as FarmBot’s microcontroller primarily because of the community support — most Makers are familiar with Arduino from other projects. We chose the Arduino Mega (ATmega2560) specifically because it pairs nicely with the popular RAMPS shield from the 3D printing world, which includes all of the features that we needed in a driver board.

Atmel: What advice would you offer other Makers when getting into hardware and embarking on a new project?

RA: Do a lot of research on the different hardware available. Everything has tradeoffs, especially when it comes to compatibility with other components. Strongly consider how large and active the community is behind the hardware you choose. I often find that a more popular hardware product is a better choice than the ‘better’ hardware product.

Hardware development is often stifled by the time it takes to ship physical goods like screws, raw materials, tools, and electronics. If you have the budget available, go on a shopping spree! Buy more than you think you need, and get a variety of components that you can play with, even if you don’t think you need them. Simply holding the materials in your hands will lead to new ideas that you would not have had staring at a CAD model or product photos.

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Atmel: As you know, we love to help entrepreneurs take their ideas from the MakerSpace to MarketPlace, so we’re wondering… any plans to launch a startup and perhaps even take FarmBot to Kickstarter?

RA: Yes! In addition to creating community resources for the FarmBot Project community, I have started a company, FarmBot.io. We are planning on launching the first ever FarmBot kits on Kickstarter in 2016. FarmBot Genesis is 1.5m wide and 3m in length, perfect for getting started in a small space. Meanwhile, Genesis XL is 3m and 6m in length and capable of growing four times the food of its small sibling.

Atmel: And, we’ve got to ask. If you win, are you heading to space or taking the cash?!

RA: Cash! As fun as space would be, I’m pretty certain I’ll be going in the future when the price comes down. In the meantime, the cash prize will help me bring FarmBot to the masses more quickly.

Don’t miss our other interviews with fellow HaD Prize finalists Chris LowOpenBionicsEric WilliamEyedrivomaticRadu Motisan and Reiner van der Lee!

1:1 interview with Hackaday Prize finalist Reinier van der Lee


Did you know that 80% of the 2015 Hackaday Prize finalists are powered by Atmel? With only days left until we learn which project will walk away with this year’s crown, we recently sat down with each of the potential winners to get to know them better. 


As a result of California’s latest drought situation, farmers are finding themselves cutting back on water consumption. The same goes for growers harvesting crops with relatively low water requirements, such as wine grapes. And while the IoT has yielded a number of H2O-conscious smart irrigation devices into the agricultural market, California vineyard-owner Reinier van der Lee has taken a DIY approach by developing a sensor-driven conservation system. Impressively, he was able to save 25 percent, or 430,000 gallons, of irrigation water resulting in a cost reduction of $1,925 — not too shabby for a platform that only cost roughly $600 to implement.

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Atmel: What is Vinduino?

Reinier van der Lee: The Vinduino project (Vineyard + Arduino) develops low-cost, easy-to-build and rugged tools for optimizing agricultural irrigation, helping to save at least 25% irrigation water. Project deliverables to date include DIY gypsum soil moisture sensors, a handheld reader and a remote sensor platform for continuous monitoring of soil moisture. There is ongoing development and collaboration to optimize and automate irrigation.

Atmel: What inspired you to start the Vinduino project?

RL: The Vinduino project started out of necessity to make the irrigation in our Temecula vineyard more efficient. We had irrigation managed by our vineyard management company. They decided when and how long to irrigate. My concern, apart from the labor cost, was that I had no control over water use in another year of severe drought.

Atmel: Moreover, what inspired you to enter the contest with your project?

RL: Due to the continuing drought in California, measures were implemented to restrict urban water use. For example, you can only wash your car at a carwash, and lawn sprinklers are restricted to three times per week. I realized that agricultural use of available irrigation water is five times more than urban use (8 million acre feet for urban use versus 42 million acre feet for agriculture). Subsequently, saving on agricultural irrigation is much more effective.

Although I was already sharing Vinduino details on my vineyard blog, entering the contest helps my goal to promote to a wider audience and find more opportunities for collaboration.

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Atmel: In line with the Hackaday Prize’s theme, how are you hoping Vinduino changes the world? What’s the mission?

RL: Drought is a global problem. 36 countries are in a permanent state of drought, and global warming is likely to make things worse.
This project provides the tools and lessons-learned to make agricultural irrigation more efficient. The data we collected in our vineyard shows that 25% saving is achievable, while maintaining crop production. Entry level setup is a handheld reader and a couple of gypsum sensors. Assuming high volume production, total cost can be kept to less than $25.

Being able to save this much water at such a low cost has the benefit of making Vinduino applicable regardless of the socio-economic circumstances. In fact, poor farmers in India can benefit just as much from this project as gentleman winegrowers in California.

Atmel: Surely, Vinduino isn’t the first water-conscious conservation system out there… what makes it different? What’s your vision for the next five years? Where do you see Vinduino going or what/who would you hope will pick up the project and use it?

RL: During this project we collected sufficient data points to show that the savings potential was indeed realized. Soil moisture projects for Arduino are abundant. However, Chinese-made moisture sensors do not survive very long in the field. I came up a gypsum sensor that uses stainless steel electrodes. They are simple to build, low cost, and most of all, have proven longevity.

Another Vinduino improvement is measuring soil moisture at different levels, in and below the root zone. This setup allows you to manage irrigation water to stay within the root zone, not drain below the roots where it is off no use to the plants, thus further increasing irrigation efficiency.

I found that my gypsum sensors, and the same is true for commercial Watermark sensors, can produce their own voltage (concentration cell effect), causing a misreading of moisture level on the Arduino. I have not seen this reported before, and have changed the reader interface to cancel this effect out.

With improved irrigation efficiency, there is a risk of salt deposit in the root zone. Increased soil salinity is sometimes called “silent killer”, as it can significantly affect plant health and reduce crop production. The Vinduino handheld meter can also be used as a soil and water salinity meter. Best of all, it only requires header pins for salinity probe electrodes; additional cost for adding salinity measurement is only a few cents.

Understanding irrigation during a plant growing cycle takes time. Collecting more data and collaboration will provide more insight and ideas for further optimization. The next step is to provide a “ready to use” agricultural irrigation management solution that can be implemented fast and easy. Being a finalist in the Hackaday Prize is already a head turner and will hopefully open doors to design and manufacturing opportunities.

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Atmel: As we know, the Maker Movement has enabled everyone from hobbyists to tech enthusiasts to hardcore engineers to tinker around. What’s your personal background?

RL: I am educated in electronics and avionics engineering. However, early in my career I decided to pursue product marketing. Too many interests for one single lifetime; ham radio, computers, winemaking, grape growing, Arduino and I used to play bass guitar.

Atmel: What are some of the core pieces of hardware embedded?

RL: The Arduino Pro Mini (ATmega328) is the core component of my project. The Vinduino handheld reader is basically an Arduino and a display. For connectivity, I use the popular ESP8266 Wi-Fi module, and for long range, I like using the Appcon modules. To keep average power consumption low, I employed a RTC module to wake up the Arduino from deep sleep.

Atmel: What hardware products or projects are you also building at the moment?

RL: The Vinduino project is not done. There is ongoing development and collaboration to optimize and automate irrigation. Currently, I consider using an Arduino Mega (ATmega2560) and Electric Imp as the central node for multiple vineyard measurement and irrigation controller nodes.

Atmel: Why pick Atmel (and Arduino) chips?

RL: Many companies try to make products for the Maker community, but only a few “get it” like Atmel. I am hardware oriented, and only just recently became capable of writing C++ code for the Arduino. I would not have been able to be where I am today with this project, if there had not been a supportive community with forums and solution examples to learn from.

Atmel: What advice would you offer other Makers when getting into hardware and embarking on a new project?

RL: My answer is basically the same as the one to the previous question. It’s important to pick a development platform with a supportive community and open source hardware, so competition keeps costs at a reasonable level. Especially for sensor projects where you do not need measurement updates every second, go for a power efficient solution rather than powerful processors.

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Atmel: Any plans to launch a startup and perhaps even take to Kickstarter/Indiegogo?

RL: If there’s any lesson to be learned from making it to the top 10 of both Hackaday Prize and Hackaday Best Product category, it is that you should aim for the moon to make it into space. So yes, I am not dismissing anything. I am openminded and excited about future opportunities to further develop the Vinduino Project.

Atmel: And… if you win, will you be heading to space or taking the cash?!

RL: Winning a trip to Shenzen sounds already good to me. Anything beyond that, I’ll make that decision when I get there.

Atmel: Anything else you want to tell us and our followers?

RL: Participating in the Hackaday Prize has been an awesome journey. Thanks to the contest, this project transformed from a vague idea to improve irrigation for my own purpose, to a clearly defined project that has the potential for improving many lives. As a result, the goal of achieving water savings became more important than the means (getting the project to work technically), making the project more meaningful.

Don’t miss our other interviews with fellow HaD Prize finalists Chris LowOpenBionicsEric WilliamEyedrivomatic and Radu Motisan!

1:1 interview with Hackaday Prize finalist Radu Motisan


Did you know that 80% of the 2015 Hackaday Prize finalists are powered by Atmel? With only days left until we learn which project will walk away with this year’s crown, we recently sat down with each of the potential winners to get to know them better. 


Radu Motisan is no stranger to the higher ranks of the Hackaday Prize leaderboard, and rightfully so. Not only in the running for this year’s best product category as well as the ultimate grand prize, the Maker was also named a semi-finalist back in 2014 with his uRADMonitor a web-connected, plug-and-play radiation monitor that tracks beta and gamma emissions around the globe. Piggybacking off of his work thus far, Motisan has decided to take the project one step further by going mobile with the Portable Environmental Monitor. It measures alpha, beta, and gamma radiation, dust, air quality, temperature and pressure using a small, handheld device that uploads data to the Internet over Wi-Fi.

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Atmel: What is the Portable Environmental Monitor?

Radu Motisan: The Portable Environmental Monitor with its backend uRADMonitor infrastructure is the next big thing in the IoT: a new pollution tracking platform equipped with top-grade sensors to deliver real-time measurements and notifications to help us protect our health. The readings are mapped to geographical locations, for better understanding of pollution as a phenomenon. As I it see it now, this slowly becomes a new standard for checking environmental quality the very same way we use weather forecasting today.

Atmel: How did you come to the idea for monitor? Moreover, what inspired you to enter the contest with your project?

RM: The idea came from a personal need for uncensored, real environmental data. It was a perfect fit for Hackaday’s call to build something that matters and help the environment at global scale.

Atmel: In line with the Hackaday Prize’s theme, how are you hoping the monitor changes the world? What’s the mission?

RM: The uRADMonitor with the Portable Environmental Monitor unit is an ambitious project, aiming to improve global awareness on pollution, its factors and evolution, and ultimately to increase the quality of life.

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Atmel: What’s makes the device so unique? What’s your vision for the next five years? Where do you see the monitor going or what/who would you hope will pick up the project and use it?

RM: It’s different because its open — transparency is important to guarantee the quality of equipment and of the resulting collected data. There was considerable effort to develop both the hardware and software glueing this together and I’m happy the results so far exceeded the expectations with innovative devices. In five years, the project’s name should be already known worldwide with more people using it. It addresses both end users and companies to monitor living spaces, offices but also cities, plants, production centres. The hardware involved is constantly shaping to new ideas that make this solution even better. Next step is providing larger scale monitoring solutions for cities and running a few field tests.

Atmel: As we know, the Maker Movement has opened the door for everyone from hobbyists to tech enthusiasts to hardcare engineers to tinker around. What’s your personal background?

RM: By training, I’m a software engineer. By hobby, I’m a chemist, physicist and electronics amateur. By heart, I am the man that will use the best of his skills to build technology that matters — that has an impact on other people’s lives. Luckily this background allowed venturing into the corners of hardware design and production, with ease.

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Atmel: What are some of the core pieces of hardware embedded?

RM: The Portable Environmental Monitor uses an ATmega128 MCU as the brain of its operation, having to handle complex operations like driving sensors, WLAN communication, real-time user GUI on a large touchscreen display, Geiger high voltage circuit, and finally, the power management involving the rechargeable battery and a high efficiency inverter. Then, there is also a BME680 sensor from Bosch Sensortec that does wonders at a very low energy cost.

Atmel: Are there any other hardware projects you’re also building at the moment?

RM: There is the new City Air Quality project, which involves a custom Portable Environmental Monitor hardware but with a Bluetooth connection to a smartphone and air quality sensor, all fixed to the outside of a car, to run the first live tests on pollution and build an experimental environmental heat map. The know-how will be used for a miniaturized version that addresses bicyclists in an effort of reducing pollution in cities. All under a new startup company that I’m working to shape at the moment…

Atmel: We’ve gotta ask… why go with Atmel chips?

RM: Because they are great!

Atmel: What advice would you offer other Makers when getting into hardware and embarking on a new project?

RM: When you build something, finish the job! Don’t just leave endless meters of jumping wires in unfinished tests and breadboards. Instead, think big, design a case for your new gadget, build a prototype and try entering production to test your idea on the real market. Playing is nice, but the real world and solving problems of others, are by far more appealing.

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Atmel: You mentioned something about working on launching a startup. What does this entail? Will you perhaps be taking this project to Kickstarter/Indiegogo in the near future?

RM: Yes! The startup is in its early phase, preparing all the documents and local legal requirements. The crowdfunding campaign will happen… in just a few days!

Atmel: And… if you happen to win the grand prize, will you be heading to space or taking the cash?!

RM: My childhood dream was to become an astronaut. As I see it now, this is a one time opportunity, but it also makes it a though question since I am now a more responsible young parent.

Atmel: Anything else you want to tell us and our followers?

RM: Yes. Life is short, and the Hackaday’s “build something that matters” thing is not a cliché, but the very first thing we need to consider every time we wake up in the morning. Make the plan, aim and shoot. There is not time to waste, since there are so many things that can be improved in this world and we are all responsible for that. And those with certain skills have even higher responsibility.

Don’t miss our other interviews with fellow HaD Prize finalists Chris LowOpenBionicsEric William and Eyedrivomatic!

1:1 interview with Hackaday Prize finalist Eyedrivomatic


Did you know that 80% of the 2015 Hackaday Prize finalists are powered by Atmel? With only days left until we learn which project will walk away with this year’s crown, we recently sat down with each of the potential winners to get to know them better. 


Amyotrophic laterals sclerosis, more commonly known as ALS, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Typically, motor neurons reach from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles throughout the body. However, with ALS, the progressive degeneration of the motor neurons leads to their demise. When these motor neurons die, the brain’s ability to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, people eventually become unable to speak, eat, move and breathe.

Cognizant of this, the Maker trio of Patrick Joyce, Steve Evans and David Hopkinson have developed an eye-controlled wheelchair system that will enable those who no longer have use of hands to regain their mobility, not only ALS sufferers. This innovation, dubbed Eyedrivomatic, is a yet another prime example that a Hackaday Prize entry can make a lasting impact on the lives of others. We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with team member Patrick Joyce to get this thoughts on the contest, learn about his inspiration for the project and what the future holds for the truly remarkable machine that will give those with quadriplegia a second lease on life.

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Atmel: What is Eyedrivomatic?

Patrick Joyce: Eyedrivomatic is an eye-controlled wheelchair system that allows quadriplegics to take control of their mobility, by providing a hardware ‘bridge’ between users’ Eyegaze equipment and their wheelchairs.

Atmel: How did you come to the idea for it? Moreover, what inspired you to enter the contest with your project?

PJ: I have ALS, a terminal disease which takes away use of your muscles, your ability to eat and breathe, and sooner or later, inevitably, takes your life as well. Two years ago, as I was steadily losing the use of my hands, I suddenly realized to my horror that when they did go completely, I would no longer be able to move my own wheelchair. Subsequently, I would have to rely on carers to move me. I figured I’d better do something about that.

When I heard about the Hackaday Prize, I thought ‘wow, a trip into space!’ What I didn’t realize was just how motivating entering would be, and how dramatically the deadlines would speed up the rate of progress on the project — it’s been a heck of a ride.

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Atmel: In line with the Hackaday Prize’s theme, how are you hoping your device changes the world? What’s the mission?

PJ: My original goal of helping my future self retain independent mobility soon changed, when I realized the scale of the problem. My mission quickly became helping everyone in this awful position, worldwide. At the moment, Eyedrivomatic is a first-world solution to a first-world problem. It relies on the user having Eyegaze equipment and an electric wheelchair. I can’t do much about quadriplegics without wheelchairs, but I’m actively working on a webcam-based system for those without Eyegaze equipment.

Atmel: What’s different about it? What’s your vision for the next five years? Where do you see the project going or what/who would you hope will pick up the project and use it?

Truth be told, ALS will likely take my life sometime over the next couple of years, so getting the Eyedrivomatic project to the point where others can continue its maintenance and development is paramount. I’m nearly there — just some work left to do on the software. From there, the priority will become getting the system out to the people who need it.

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Atmel: As we know, the Maker Movement has opened the door for everyone from hobbyists to tech enthusiasts to hardcare engineers to tinker around. What’s your personal background?

PJ: These processes are hindered by my inexperience in all the disciplines necessary for a project like this. Before getting ALS, I was an artist… a painter. My work never paid the rent, so I earned a living as a tree surgeon, or even more recently, a plumber. None of which was much use when it came to 3D design and programming. However, Arduino is a perfect platform for someone such as myself. Powerful and versatile, yet simple and easy to use. And, Arduino combined with 3D printing — now that’s marriage made in heaven. I certainly couldn’t have designed Eyedrivomatic without them.

Atmel: What are some of the core pieces of hardware embedded?

PJ: Eyedrivomatic employs an Arduino Uno (ATmega328), which has enough processing power to run the entire system with plenty to spare for add-on features. Aside from that, there’s a four-channel relay shield, a servo/sensor shield, an optional solar phone charger, some servos and a few other components that can be found on its Hackaday page here.]

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Atmel: What advice would you offer other Makers when getting into hardware and embarking on a new project?

PJ: My advice to those wanting to become Makers, but daunted by their lack of skills: Arduino, Arduino, Arduino! It’s perfect for beginners, and provides you with programming instruction as you go along – at your own pace. Then, get hold of a 3D printer and learn Sketchup or Autodesk 123D.

Atmel: Has this process inspired you to launch a startup and perhaps even take to Kickstarter/Indiegogo?

PJ: I’ve no plans to crowdfund an Eyedrivomatic manufacturing project at the present time, though I’m hoping someone else will.

Atmel: And… if you win, will you be heading to space or taking the cash?!

PJ: I would love to go into space! But Eyedrivomatic was a team effort, and sadly we can’t all squeeze in that one seat. So boringly, we would take the cash.

Don’t miss our other interviews with fellow HaD Prize finalists Chris LowOpenBionics and Eric William!

1:1 interview with Hackaday Prize finalist Eric William


Did you know that 80% of the 2015 Hackaday Prize finalists are powered by Atmel? With only days left until we learn which project will walk away with this year’s crown, we recently sat down with each of the potential winners to get to know them better. 


Confined spaces can be a dangerous part of rescue work, especially for miners and firemen. Not only do they have to worry about walls caving in and trapping people, but hazardous gasses. And while there are several expensive robotic devices out there that can take gas sensors deep into these tight areas ahead of rescuers, Eric William has come up with a much cheaper, more efficient alternative to remotely sniff the air before entering. The Maker has developed a $30 gas sensor “grenade” using a basic Arduino and a few other components, which is capable of analyzing the environment and reporting its levels with real voice output.

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Atmel: What is the Gas Sensor for Emergency Workers?

Eric William: It is a simple gas sensor which monitors for smoke, liquefied petroleum gas (propane, butane, etc.) and carbon monoxide. It is made to be thrown into any unknown or potentially dangerous area before human entry and it relays the gas levels back to the user located at a safe distance via radio frequency. The levels are then broadcasted as human voice in English so anyone can understand the conditions/risks in the area.

Atmel: How did you come to the idea for the Gas Sensor? Moreover, what inspired you to enter the contest with your project?

EW: For several years, I was responsible for the safe work and rescue (if needed) of approximately 18 employees working in industrial equipment. We used industry standard air monitors, which like almost all models, are designed to be worn by the user. This made it quite difficult to measure the conditions in an area before a person enters that area. We resorted to suspending them via string, etc. I wanted a unit which could be tossed into the area from a distance or dropped from above into any area — but one simply did not exist.

This year when I created the basic prototype I happened to see the Hackaday contest on social media on the very night I tested the first voice transmission. I thought it would be a great way to get the open source project out to the world as the timing was perfect.

Atmel: In line with the Hackaday Prize’s theme, how are you hoping the sensor changes the world? What’s the mission?

EW: My hope is that anyone, anywhere can take the design, code and instructions to easily reproduce the sensor themselves.  Areas of the world without access to the industrial versions (they are quite costly at $1,000 or more) could utilize these to add at least some layer of protection. Since they can be recreated at a minimum of cost, perhaps a cost-effective mass produced version can be developed, and existing companies can take the concept and fill this gap within their own product line. Regardless of who supplies it, I think having it available to the world will potentially save lives.

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Atmel: What’s different about the Gas Sensor? What’s your vision for this “grenade” in the next five years? What/who would you hope will pick up the project and use it?

EW: I know of no existing air monitor which can be deployed by the user into any area and receive the results from a safe distance whereby removing all exposure to the unknown risks. All existing ones I have used require the user to see an LCD screen and hear the audio alert (beeper) within the device. The price to reproduce this project is so low (under USD $30 is no problem) they could simply be disposable if mass produced.

In the upcoming years, I envision the project could be improved with additional sensors for oxygen and hydrogen sulfide. This would give it more functionality than most commercial ones already in use today.

My hope would be that people in far more industries could then use this simple device. In my mind, I could see it expand from industrial applications to anyone entering an unknown areas. As the cost could be very low, almost any employee could carry one and toss it into any area before entering if there is a chance of an unsafe atmosphere. This could span all industries with confined spaces (almost all industrial installations), mining, utility workers, emergency responders of all types, city workers, HVAC (heating ventilation & air conditioning), inspectors, hydro workers, telephone workers… this list goes on and on.

Atmel: As we know, the Maker Movement has opened the door for everyone from hobbyists to tech enthusiasts to hardcore engineers to tinker around. What’s your personal background?

EW: I have been an electronics hobbyist since a very young age. In my professional career, I came from 10 years in the automotive repair industry where I did all types of repair but specialized in diagnostics. I left the industry for a career in alternative energy. After some time performing repairs and maintenance on industrial wind turbines, I was put in charge of the maintenance of a large industrial wind farm. After several years I left this role for a position in technical support specializing in the software operating systems and diagnostics.

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Atmel: What are some of the core pieces of hardware embedded?

EW: At its core, the ATmega328 (Arduino Nano) does the work. Beyond that, there is only and MQ2 gas sensor, a battery and a small ASK transmitter.

Atmel: What hardware products or projects are you also building at the moment?

EW: I have too many! 🙂 I am doing ongoing work on an Arduino-based satellite project designed to share the basic cubesat concept and enable anyone to recreate a basic satellite facsimile at home. I plan some upcoming improvements and changes to my Arduino/human brain interface which operates a 3D-printed robotic arm.

I am most excited, however, about a project I am building which is an easily portable educational classroom that can be used anywhere in the world. It is completely standalone and requires no conventional utilities such as hydro or communication access. It should allow anyone, anywhere access to basic educational tools as well as more advanced technology based learning and development.

All my projects are shared open source on my YouTube channel, in addition to on my website.

Atmel: Why pick Atmel (and Arduino) chips?

EW: The price and availability makes them truly amazing devices. The community behind them makes it easy for anyone to create just about any project with almost zero experience. The sheer amount of freely available code and information already published makes just about any design or project a possibility for anyone.

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Atmel: What advice would you offer other Makers when getting into hardware and embarking on a new project?

EW: Just dive in. Get a few basic components, like the Arduino boards, and make something you are interested in. Everyone starts with blinking an LED but after that build what you want — don’t just follow a book of projects. Google for the answers to problems you encounter (you will be astounded at how many times your exact question has already been answered). Ask questions in forums and share your projects back with the world so others may benefit.

Atmel: Any plans to launch a startup and perhaps even take to Kickstarter/Indiegogo?

EW: Not for this project- it is free for the world. I have a couple ideas I think I may someday try crowdfunding, but for now I enjoy just releasing them open-source so all can take them forward.

Atmel: And… if you win, are you heading to space or taking the cash?!

EW: Although a trip to space has long been a dream of mine, I just got married a few months ago so I think I may be in hot water if I didn’t take the cash! [Laughs] With the money I may just be able to take this project (perhaps others) to production. That would be nice.

Atmel: Anything else you want to tell us and our followers?

EW: Thank you to Atmel, Hackaday and all those who have supported the 2015 prize entries as well as open source projects in general. You are all amazing!

Don’t miss our other interviews with fellow HaD Prize finalists Chris Low and OpenBionics!

1:1 interview with Hackaday Prize finalist OpenBionics


Did you know that 80% of the 2015 Hackaday Prize finalists are powered by Atmel? With only days left until we learn which project will walk away with this year’s crown, we recently sat down with each of the potential winners to get to know them better. 


While there are surely amazing bionic hands available for amputees today, their price tag can range anywhere from $40,000 to $100,000. This is life-changing technology that has a tremendous impact on people all over the world, however the vast majority can’t afford it. Not to mention, these devices are often times too heavy. As a result, one group of Makers decided to take it upon themselves to create a low-cost, lightweight, custom bionic hand with the help of 3D printing. The total cost? Less than $1,000 — a mere fraction of its commercial counterparts.

We recently had the pleasure of sitting down with OpenBionics team member Minas Liarokapis to gain a better insight into the project, its inception and what’s in store for the future.

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Atmel: What is OpenBionics?

Minas Liarokapis: OpenBionics is an open source initiative for the development of affordable, highly functional, low complexity robotic and prosthetic devices that can be easily fabricated with rapid prototyping techniques and off-the-shelf materials. We have already built a few generations of robotic and prosthetic hands — since 2013 when OpenBionics was founded — and we are continuously working on improving our designs.

Atmel:. How did you come to the idea for OpenBionics? Moreover, what inspired you to enter the contest with your project?

ML: I had the inspiration for the creation of OpenBionics while working on my PhD thesis at the Control Systems Lab (CSL) of the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA), under the supervision of Professor Kostas Kyriakopoulos (lab director). He was motivated by the observation that the state of the art robotic and prosthetic hands are overpriced and lack basic functionalities. So, in 2013 the OpenBionics team was set up, consisting of Agis Zisimatos and Christoforos Mavrogiannis and Prof. Kostas Kyriakopoulos also members of the CSL. In 2014, George Kontoudis joined the team.

Since the early beginnings of the OpenBionics initiative, our main priority was to share open designs with the community of Makers, scientists, hobbyists, robotic enthusiasts and later on with people in need (e.g. amputees). Hackaday appeared to be a welcoming community for projects like ours and upon hearing about the Prize we felt this would be a good motivation for us to accelerate the development of our hands.

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Atmel: In line with the Hackaday Prize’s theme, how are you hoping OpenBionics changes the world? What’s the mission?

ML: A lot of companies and initiatives claim that they will change the world, it’s a catchy phrase, a nice slogan. We dream about changing the world, we really hope that we will be able to play a significant role in this process at some point. Until then, we want to change people’s lives. To make them happier, more productive, to inspire them to be creative. To help amputees regain their lost dexterity. To educate young engineers, who will eventually become better than us. People will change the world, not initiatives or companies. Together we can change the world and we can make it a better place.

Regarding our HaD Prize project, we have proposed a fully functional prosthetic hand that can execute 144 grasps with a single actuator. This hand weighs less than 300g and costs less than $200. Currently, we are working also on giving to the design a product feel and make it more beautiful. Nowadays, commercially available prostheses cost up to $100.000, more than a sports car. This is irrational and has to be changed. We really hope that products like ours will reshape the prosthetics market. Amputees can build their own prostheses. Hackerspaces, Makerspaces and Fab-Labs can facilitate this process. We really hope that we will trigger a change in this field.

Atmel: What’s different about it? What’s your vision for the next five years? Where do you see OpenBionics going or what/who would you hope will pick up the project and use it?

ML: Our prosthetic hand design is based on a novel differential mechanism that allows a single actuator to control multiple fingers using a simple intuitive interface based on buttons. This differential facilitates the desired cost and weight reduction. We feel, that the differential is the cool idea.

OpenBionics just started. We have many ideas and many cool designs in mind for the years to come. We want to be part of the open-source revolution! From the beginning our designs have been completely open for everyone to use them and experiment with them. We hope to achieve a level of design simplicity for our products, that will allow everyone — amputees, Makers, scientists and hobbyists — to replicate our hands using the provided assembly guides. Stay tuned for more!

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Atmel: As we know, the Maker Movement has opened the door for everyone from hobbyists to tech enthusiasts to hardware engineers to tinker around. What’s your personal background?

ML: We are a team of engineers and we are all working professionally (most of us in academic positions) in the area of robotics.

Atmel: What are some of the core pieces of hardware embedded?

ML: Other than the hardware designed by the initiative, we use [Atmel based] Arduino boards, servo motors and NFC tags for the new design of the NFC ready fingers.

Atmel: What hardware products or projects are you also building at the moment?

ML: We have many different ongoing projects. In the next few months, we will release a new version of our prosthetic hand, based on the Hybrid Deposition Manufacturing technique. Then, we will focus on ameliorating our robot hands. Exoskeletons, rehabilitation and other wearable human augmentation devices are also in our future plans.

Atmel: Why pick Atmel (and Arduino) chips?

ML: Arduino boards with Atmel chips are open source, affordable and well documented. These are characteristics of paramount importance for us.

Atmel: What advice would you offer other Makers when getting into hardware and embarking on a new project?

ML: They should not be afraid to fail. We have failed many times, but we never gave up. We feel that when someone has an idea worth spreading she/he has an obligation to share it with the world, no matter how busy she/he is or what other personal constraints she/he has. Dream, design, build, repeat and in the process you will have a lot of fun!

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Atmel: Any plans to launch a startup and perhaps even take to Kickstarter/Indiegogo?

ML: All these ideas have definitely crossed our minds and we are currently in a process of discussing with each other the future of OpenBionics. The only certain thing, is that the initiative will remain completely open source. We are open to new collaborations and we plan to be even more involved in the Makers and open source communities.

AtmelAnd… if you win, will you be heading to space or taking the cash?!

ML: Space is fun, but we are four and we cannot decide who to send up there. Moreover, if we get the cash we will be able to do wonderful things and prepare far more exciting designs

AtmelAnything else you want to tell us and our followers?

ML: Don’t be afraid to dream, design, create, innovate and please keep your minds and your ideas open. Together we are much stronger!

(UPDATE: Liarokapis and the OpenBionics crew took home second place in the 2015 Hackaday Prize.)

Don’t miss our recent interview with fellow HaD Prize finalist Chris Low. You can check that out here!