Tag Archives: Hackathon

What time is it? The TimeDock Sleepeasy will tell you

This interactive docking station allows your Pebble Time smartwatch to talk to you with a wave of your hand.

Picture this. You’re in bed, wondering how much time has gone by since you haven’t been able to fall asleep. What if there was a device that could tell you the time so you didn’t need to put your glasses on to find out? At the Pebble Rocks Boulder Hackathon, one team devised a gadget to solve that specific problem.


The TimeDock Sleepeasy is an interactive docking station for your Pebble Time smart watch. The gramophone-like unit allows you to find out what time it is, without having to turn on a light, press buttons or touch the Pebble while it’s on the dock charging. Even better, the device will read the time and talk to you, so you don’t need to do anything except wave your hand.

Inspired by the old-fashioned gramophone, the team created a 3D-printed mount embedded with an Arduino Uno (ATmega328) inside. The 3D design enabled the sound to be amplified mechanically, resulting in a gramophone look-a-like. The Arduino then communicates with the Pebble and leverages a sensor to respond and tell you the time.


The group figured out how to get the Arduino talking to the Pebble, and they used an ultrasound sensor so that users can wave their hand at the TimeDock and learn the time. To open communication between the Arduino and the Pebble, the team configured the ATmega328 board to send a request to the Pebble for the time, then programmed the Pebble to reply with the time and a request to say it. Its creators loaded .WAV files on the Arduino for a range of other notifications programmed on the Pebble — when the Arduino gathers information on the notification, it plays the corresponding .WAV file.

“TimeDock was developed as a charging station for the Pebble Time and Time Steel, and was a successful Kickstarter campaign. For this hackathon, we wanted to see if we could make TimeDock do more than charging. The TimeDocks that you see in use in this article have been modified to allow connection to the smart strap serial data port on the Pebble Time,” the team explains.

Mission accomplished! You can read all about the 48-hour build process on its Hackster.io page here.

Which hardware, languages and APIs are used the most at hackathons?

Devpost ranked the APIs, languages and technologies that student hackers used during the 2014-2015 academic year.

Thanks to the burgeoning Maker Movement, the number of hackathons has surely risen in recent years. The next generation of programmers, engineers and designers all come together for a few sleepless days, fueled by pizza, Red Bull and coffee, to devise new and exciting gadgetry either of their choosing or based on parts provided by one of the sponsors. These weekend-long events organized by and for students are surging in size, scale and frequency, popping up in some of today’s booming tech centers ranging from Silicon Valley to New York. At hackathons, time is a valuable thing. This, of course, means that participants must strive to generate code and piece hardware together as quickly as possible.


Which programming languages are the most popular? What has become the go-to hardware? Which APIs and platforms do people utilize most frequently? This is what Devpost —  formerly known as ChallengePost — sought to find out. In order to accomplish this, the online community and competition platform collected data and ranked the technologies and programming languages that student hackers have turned to the most throughout the 2014-2015 academic year.

Devpost examined project tags from a sample of over 13,000 student hackers who participated in 160 hackathons and submitted 9,898 projects, either in hackathons or on their Devpost portfolios. The technologies tagged in projects include languages, various APIs, frameworks, databases, IDEs, libraries and hardware, among several others. For each category, the company reported the top five tags.

While you can check out the entire report here, we’ve highlighted some of the more interesting findings below.

When it came to mobile platform, the crowd favorite was Android with 38.2% followed by iOS at 22.7% and Windows Phone at a distant 4.9%. As for programming languages and frameworks, HTML and CSS topped the list with JavaScript, Python, Java and C/C++ not far behind. Outside of the top five included PHP, Objective-C, C#, Swift, JSON, Ruby, XML, Ajax, Shell and Processing.


In terms of hardware, the easy-to-use Arduino unsurprisingly found itself atop the leaderboard ahead of Myo, Pebble, Leap Motion and Oculus Rift. Other notables included Raspberry PI (#6), Intel Edison (#7), Particle (#9) and Tessel (#18).


The use of standard libraries and preexisting tools is paramount in getting a project up and running quickly. And so, many developers rely upon popular APIs and SDKs. According to DevPost, the most popular programs used by students included Twilio for messaging, Facebook for social, Venmo for payments, Google Maps for geo, Spotify for music and Unity for gaming. The rankings reveal that Node.js was extremely popular during the academic year, more so than app frameworks like Flask, AngularJS, Ruby on Rails and Django.


Interested in more? You can explore Devpost’s complete findings here.

Domino Bot conquers BoilerMake Hackathon

Jack Schneider, Kevin Rockwell and Eric Rice, all juniors at Purdue’s College of Engineering, recently clinched first place in the BoilerMake Hackathon with the Arduino-powered Domino Bot.

According to Quentin Bullock of The Exponent, the trio has been competing in various hackathons since their sophomore year, with entries such as a mad lib type robot that processes vocal inputs and returns a complete sentence.

“The ideas just come out of nowhere, and you just sort of roll with one that seems doable,” Schneider told the publication.

This year, the initial idea behind the Domino Bot was to import an image, process it into basic lines and arrange dominoes in the same pattern.

“As we started working on the design, we quickly realized that the 36-hour time limit was not going to work with this idea,” Rice explained.

Instead, the team focused on basic command movements, such as lines and curves, which were processed on the robot’s on-board Atmel-based Arduino.

The base of the robot?

The Roomba, a popular circular robot used to vacuum homes.

“The Roomba is made for hobbyists to play around with,” noted Rockwell. “It has a programming environment within it that would wait for input from the Arduino.”

The dominoes were loaded using a cardboard magazine, keeping the items organized in a vertical column.

“We originally wanted to just dump a bucket of dominoes in; however, they kept on jamming,” said Rice.

“So we developed an Allen wrench attached to a servo that would load them one at a time. This pushed dominoes through in a organized manner, preventing them from jamming.”

Domino configuration was also assisted by a servo, which helped prevent the dominoes from tipping over.

“During the competition, the cardboard would deteriorate over time, so there (were) modifications that had to be made regularly,” said Rockwell.

Nevertheless, Rice and the others concurred that BoilerMaker was a great experience overall.

“It’s really nice to interact with companies while you’re working on a project. It’s better than a job fair where you just hand them a resume – and they either like it or they don’t,” he added.

No drunk coding with Gitdown

Gitdown – created by Alex Qin and Geoffrey Litt during a recent hackathon – can perhaps best be described as a platform designed to prevent engineers from committing code when intoxicated.

As ITWorld’s Phil Johnson reports, Gitdown is built around the Arduino DrinkShield, an open source breathalyzer. Essentially, Gitdown requires a software engineer to blow into the breathalyzer before committing code. Meaning, individuals with blood alcohol levels are stopped dead in their tracks, presumably before they manage to embarrass themselves.

“It’s certainly pretty easy to mix alcohol and code. Lots of the companies that I worked out had beer in the corporate fridge and developers wouldn’t be shy about cracking them open at their desks late in the day (and sometimes not so late). And, of course, lots of coding goes on at home and at strange hours when your own private stash of booze is readily available,” writes Johnson.

“As for me, during all my years as a developer, I didn’t do much drinking and coding. Once I had a beer or two, writing code and trying to solve complex problems was about the last thing I wanted to do. I was at my best coding when the only drug that I was on was caffeine and could think clearly. It’s hard for me to believe that really good software development or design can get done under the influence.”


Yes, we know there is almost always version control software with its magic “undo” abilities, but still. Friends don’t let friends code drunk, especially over the holiday season.

Building an Atmel based wireless MIDI floor piano

Jianan Li and a team of Makers recently designed a wireless MIDI floor piano for Duke University’s Hackathon. According to the Hackaday crew, a DIY Pressure Plate for a haunted Halloween house featured on the popular website served as the initial inspiration for the wireless MIDI floor piano.

“Having only 24 hours to compete in the Hackathon, they had to choose something that was fairly easy to build out of cheap materials, and quick to assemble. This was just the ticket,” explained Hackaday’s James Hobson.

“The piano features 25 of the aluminum foil pressure plates, whose state are read by the [Atmel-based] Arduino Mega. This is then transmitted by an XBee radio to an Arduino Uno (ATmega328), which acts as the receiver for the laptop that processes the signals. They even added a remote control using Atmel’s ATtiny85 to allow for octave and instrument changes – it uses an XBee to communicate back to the Uno.”

Unsurprisingly, the above-mentioned pressure-sensitive wireless floor project isn’t the first that we’ve seen powered by Atmel microcontrollers (MCUs). Indeed, earlier this year, Sean Voisen and his team at Adobe were asked to build “something new” for the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco.

By August, a digital-physical environment for kids called “Sense It” was up and running. With a 14′x8′ touch-enabled LED wall and a 14′x12′ pressure-sensitive floor, the platform can best be described as a place for kids to run, jump, play and create in a world of ‘extra large’ digital experiences. Sense It is built around a system of pressure-sensitive resistors placed under MDF panels, comprising a total of twenty-one 2′x4′ tiles, each one including 8 pressure-sensitive resistors and an ATtiny84 based platform.

Interested in learning more? Additional information about SenseIt can be found here, while the wireless MIDI floor piano project page is available here.