What’s a Hardware Hackathon?

Former Hackathon Winner Tracy Keogh explains what a Hackathon is, and why you should get involved.

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Hackathons bring makers, tinkerers, entrepreneurs, designers, marketers, and developers together for one weekend where they get their hands dirty and come up with innovative new ideas and products. And for the second time this fall, we’ll be doing just that at Hardware Hackathon, hosted by PCH, DCU Innovation Campus, and, of course, Web Summit.

Thanks to breakthroughs like 3D printers, Arduino boards, Raspberry Pi, and Linux, you can now build just about anything you imagine. But making something that’s well-designed, easy to use, and easy to manufacture is still out of reach for most people. That’s why Hardware Hackathon exists: to help us makers hack our way from concept to designing a product consumers will love (and want to buy!)

At the last Hardware Hackathon in September, I joined 120 other attendees to build something unique. By the end of the weekend, 12 teams had 12 great prototypes of cool new hardware ideas. These included a smart package delivery box that allows for secure drop off when no one is home, and a device that monitors water quality in residential areas not connected to main water sources.

My own team – which we dubbed “Pharmalytics” – prototyped a smart fridge that can monitor the temperature of medicines inside it. With this, pharmacies would no longer need to manually check the temperature of a medicine. They can simply look at what the fridge sensors say on their computer screen.

Hardware Hackathon Final

We took home first place – as well as €1500, a few free electronic engineering consultations with PCH’s in-house team, and more equipment to help us bring our idea to market. We continue to be well-supported even weeks after the hackathon ended.

So how did we do all this in just 48 hours? It’s thanks to the magic of hackathons. All you need is an idea, a good team (whom you’re most likely meeting for the first time!), and enough energy drinks, tea, and coffee to get you through the two days of designing, prototyping, troubleshooting, project managing, and more troubleshooting.

The Format

Hardware Hackathons are fun-spirited, competitive maker events that take place over a weekend. It starts with a large group of mostly strangers who are excited to share their product ideas, join teams of like-minded people, and create something the world hasn’t yet seen. If you ever attend the final day of a hackathon, you’ll be surrounded by roughly a dozen innovative new products that weren’t even a napkin sketch three days prior.

The first day of a hackathon usually kicks off with a panel discussion or keynote talks. At the upcoming Hardware Hackathon, they’re featuring a discussion with some of the world’s top makers: Alex Klein, Co-Founder and CPO of Kano; Liam Casey, Founder and CEO of PCH; Aisling Hassell, Head of Consumer Experience at Airbnb; and moderator Ann O’Dea, Editor-at-Large of Silicon Republic.

After the talks, Hackathon participants are invited to pitch their ideas to the crowd and attract other attendees to form design and production teams. (Note: You are not required to pitch at a Hackathon!) After the ideas are voted on, participants break up and join the product team they’re most interested in. Over the next two days, they’ll design and prototype the idea.

Hackathon attendees don’t need to bring much. At Hardware Hackathon, the hosts and sponsors will provide your team with an incredible list of resources including developer kits, an Intel Galileo board, and a Raspberry Pi as well as 3D printers, CNC machines, soldering irons, a laser cutter and, of course, whiteboards and markers. And if you just need friendly advice, they’ll also have a group of hardware and design mentors walking around who will help you think through the prototyping process and beyond.

They also keep you well-fed with sponsored meals, snacks, and drinks (including the tea, coffee, and energy drinks you’ll most likely reach for at some point).

On the final day, you pitch your product to a panel of judges who will pick three winners.

After all that, you finally get to sleep! Of course, if you win, you might be too excited to keep your eyes shut.

Who should attend?

Hackathons are open to everyone, and teams need a wide variety of skills to create something that’s not only functional, but can be pitched to judges as a product that consumers will love.

Haven’t made a hardware device on your own before or haven’t participated in a hackathon before? No problem! At the last Hardware Hackathon, we had entrepreneurs, designers, mechanical engineers, electrical engineers, developers, marketers, sales people, tinkerers, hardware hobbyists, and a range of other technical and non-technical people. Everyone had a good time, and everyone contributed something of value.

If this sounds like something you could do, join us by registering now. I’m excited to see what innovative new products come out of next week’s Hardware Hackathon, and I hope we’ll see you there too.

Sign up for the Hardware Hackathon in association with PCH International & Web Summit here.

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