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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Low, OpenBionics, Eric William and Eyedrivomatic!