Inspiring Hacks at Hacked.io
The team, based in Salford, are leading exploration of network-connected physical devices, and screenless interfaces. Part of our research is to understand how we can support audiences in building their own connected experiences with media and entertainment.
Our aims for the weekend were to share our work on Internet of Things prototypes, such as the connected fob for radio, to experiment with a platform for delivering workshops, and to support learning with physical computing activities.
A few months ago we asked groups of 10 year old children to think about the kind of magical powers that they wished they had. We asked them to illustrate their powers with a drawing and a story. Below is an example of one story form a child who wished they could turn people into animals:
To respond to this inspiration, our suggestion to developers at Hacked was that they could make a voice modulator that changes the spoken word into the sound of an animal, or a temporary tattoo machine that replicates animal fur/ scales. All ten of our challenges (the children's stories and our suggestions) can be viewed here.
These inspirational stories combined with the theme of the weekend; to LEARN, BUILD, & SHARE: to inspire developers and designers to explore new ways of prototyping with physical computing.
In order to set up for the weekend we prepared a large flight-case full of hardware components comprising of: microcontrollers, input and output devices (specialist sensors, motors, and optical components) tools and craft materials. To get people prototyping fast we advised them to use quick circuit-building methods with Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Arduino-compatible circuitry, and modelling techniques with paper and any other items they could lay their hands on to realise their ideas.
Inside the O2 we had a space next to colleagues from TV Plaforms who were inviting developers to play with the iPlayer API. Also next to us were Philips Hue who brought along 'hackable' Hue lights; the colour intensity of the lights can be controlled using an API.
The outcomes of the weekend, the hacks, were varied in their scope. Attendees were incredibly keen to develop applications that had a physical output, and use sensory input to control gaming and web-based applications.
On the Sunday of Hacked over 60 teams demonstrated their prototypes, ranging from musical mobile applications to Rube Goldberg machines, and even the occasional quadcopter. Here are three hacks that were inspired by the challenges we set:
Lily was inspired by a story from a child who wanted to be very strong so he could lift up a house if it fell on his family. Lily used an Arduino, a DC motor, and an ultrasonic proximity sensor to lift a paper house on a platform. When the sensor detects danger (i.e. an obstacle approaching the house) it whisks the house out of the way. Lily likened this to the story 'Up', where a house can be moved by attaching helium balloons.
David's team wanted to combine an array of sensors to replicate telepathic powers by 'reading the state of a human', and to monitor this by activating colour changing bulbs. This was a very interesting mix of 'the quantified self' (a sector of the Internet of Things about self-evaluation through monitoring body performance) and reflective/ playful interaction with sensors.
The team's first iteration was to take pulse readings from a fingertip by using an Infra Red switch reflector module. The team also experimented with skin conductance, conductive inks, body temperature, and a piezo transducer to monitor the neck pulse. They used lights that changed from calming pastel tones to more vibrant colours according to physiological state.
Emanuele's team started with an initial concept to place a sensor on a cat's collar to collect the rhythm of purring, this would then be translated into subtle vibrations in a wristband worn by the cat's owner. They took this idea technically further by displaying information about incoming calls, from a paired mobile phone, on the wirstband. An LCD display and a vibration motor notify the wearer of changes in the call status.
The hacked organisers have a fabulous almanac over on hacker league for a full rundown on all of the hacks completed over the weekend.
It was also very dark in the venue, and I'm not used to 24 hours without daylight, so my own hack was to introduce some illumination. The 'come back from being dead' story inspired me to modify an old voltmeter (in the form of a pocket-watch) with RGB LEDs. These replicate the heartbeat of a distant loved one. Sadly I didn't manage to finish this hack, but I'll devote some time to it over the coming weekends!
An aim of the event was 'to be the most physical hackday ever!' and this was confirmed by the variety and physicality of the hacks. Due to the success of the event we would like to use this approach to run smaller workshops in the future with mixed groups to learn about the possibilities for connected toys.
Thanks again to Libby, James, Ian, and Cefn for their help over the weekend!