The Hackaday Prize: Thinking Really, Really Big


In case you’ve been living under a rock for a few weeks, we’re giving away a trip to space for the best, most grandiose connected hardware project. [coxrandy], a.k.a. [Phillip Cox] realized the best way to build something awesome was to think big, and his plan for building a 1km dome (yes, 1000 meters) is the most ambitious project we’ve ever seen.

The BuckyBot, as [Phil] is calling his build, relies on the ideas of the great [Buckmister Fuller] and his idea to build a huge geodesic dome covering all midtown Manhattan. [Fuller] didn’t have the resources to build a structure this large in the 1950s, and to be honest, we don’t have the resources to build it nowIt would be a ludicrous effort to build something like this one beam at a time, and [Phil] concludes that to build something this big, we need to think small.

Instead of thousand ton cranes and several thousand vehicles trucking in building supplies, [Phil]’s idea uses small “BuckyBots” – a combination 3D printer and robot – that builds one structural cell of a giant dome at a time. These BuckyBots climb around the structure, build the internal and support structure, slowly climbing to the skies on their fractal-inspired creation.

The Hackaday Prize contest will end far before [Phil]’s BuckyBots will have the ability to build a kilometer-wide dome, so the current plans are to modify his RepRap Mendel to crawl. Once that’s done, he’ll have his newly built BuckyBot build a 2 meter hemisphere in his garage. From there, construction moves to the back yard where a 10 meter dome will be built.

Even if this project never makes it past the planning stages, it’s an awesome example of thinking big, something you’re going to need if you’re trying to win a trip to space.

68 thoughts on “The Hackaday Prize: Thinking Really, Really Big

  1. This furthers my confusion about what you mean by “connected hardware”. I’ve read all the posts about the contest, but I still don’t have a clear understanding. With the project in this post, does it just need to be connected to a power source?

    From the contest requirements: “It must involve some type of electronics that are connected to something”

    1. I think Phil’s project fits the requirement nicely as the individual BuckyBots will need to communicate with each other to build the dome structure. I also think simpler interpretations of ‘connected’ are fine: connecting a microcontroller to a robotic arm, for example.

  2. So the buildings and streets underneath the dome don’t get washed by rainfall on a regular basis? If the dome is somewhat airtight, the vehicle exhaust and chimney smoke just collect under the dome? Will the dome act as a magnifying lens and the people below it like ants? What if a giant groping around for a lost contact lens, takes it?

    1. We were talking about this project at the monthly hackerspace meeting last night. Someone mentioned that the air below the dome will become hotter than the air outside it. Eventually the dome will react like a hot-air balloon and float.

      In my mind’s eye it would float just long enough to come crashing down in a calamitous fashion. Oh the humanity!

      Still, I love the idea of the how this is constructed. Fascinating robotics challenge…. and swarm robotics at that since you’d need a mechanical army to actually get the job done.

      1. Those robots would have to return to base constantly to get materials to apply, and those storage places would need to be restocked too and there would have to be a great many of them I guess.And the bots would need to communicate to maintain structural integrity of the partial build else you might get a lopsided asymmetrical construct that collapses. .

        But even so, the whole thing would take 200 years if it was at all possible.

        1. “But even so, the whole thing would take 200 years if it was at all possible.”

          Which means, if true, it would never happen since even the best modern plastics can’t come even remotely close to maintaining structural integrity for that long when subjected to the UV light in sunlight.

        1. That solve the problem of the dome being like a magnifying glass and the people being like ants. In the actual magnifying glass/ant situation, there is no enlosure at all and yet the ant still fries…

          1. Yes, transparent plastic isn’t anywhere near as optically clear or effective as glass when creating a lens but that doesn’t necessarily matter. Even if the effect is much, much less effective than the magnifying glass and the ant, there’s still a lot of room for people to become extremely uncomfortably hot even if they don’t spontaneously burst into flames.

      2. Actually it being able to float was cited as an advantage by Buckminister Fuller; we suggested intentionally building domes not tethered to the ground, building a flat platform on the bottom and building a flying city.

        1. Luxury.. Back in the day, we had to build the space cannon out of vacuum tubes and the space elevator out of pieces of string, industrial waste and foliage, if we were lucky.

          1. Bah! Such sophistication! We built our space elevator cannon interstellar starship launchers from spit, chewing gum, iron filings, shards of glass, stone knives and bearskins!

  3. Yeah… I’m not feeling it for this project. connect a Mac Plus to a hexapod and have it walk around and talk through Macintalk … and have eyes on the screen now that would be a fun hack.

  4. My plan is to build a city as a 10 story tall 10 Km diameter ring with no streets and no cars is bigger. Transportation will be by multiple monorails built into the side of the structure. Surrounding the lower floor on the inside and outside will be a 100 m stone paved open shopping and eating plaza.

    All living areas will be on the inside and outside of the structure, so everyone gets a view. Every view out the windows on the inside and outside will be just woods and farmland.

    The entire 100m wide 31.4 Km long roof area will be lined with solar electric and solar water heaters. There will also be hydroponic gardens on the entire roof area. All water and electric and data conduits will run in a basement sub-level. These sub-levels will be hardened to double as emergency shelters during emergencies.

    All the rooms on the inside will be multi-use. Sunlight will be piped into interior rooms via reflective tubing. For example, the same room could act as a 4th grade school room in the mornings and afternoons, teaching night classes from the community college at night and being a religious meeting room on the weekends. Businesses can lease space on the lowest level and interior space for anything up to light manufacturing. A zero fume, odor, and dust ban will be in effect for these businesses. Heavy industry will be performed in a separate area out of the line of sight of the city. This area will tie to the interstate and have long term parking for residents. There will also be light rail to a regional airport.

    All restaurants, bars, and retail stores will have space along the 62.8 Km retail space facing the plaza on the inside and outside of the structure. There will be cafe style outside seating that all the businesses will share along the entire length.

    In the wooded parkland surrounding the inside and outside of the city there will be bike paths, jogging and walking paths. There will be rock walls to climb, fountains, outside amphitheaters that are also multi-use. Basically the entire nature area around the building would take years to fully explore and a lifetime to really know.

        1. “A zero fume, odor, and dust ban will be in effect for these businesses”

          What? You didn’t ban noise? So no breathing, cooking, or even living allowed. Heck, people alone create all these just sitting in one spot doing nothing.

          It’s just another poorly conceived utopian fantasy. It will be like a home owner’s association from hell.

    1. ” Sunlight will be piped into interior rooms via reflective tubing.” highly inefficient way of doing it.

      fiberoptic will work better, and in fact is already in use for many large buildings using the highly flexible plastic large diameter stuff, plus it makes it trivial to have the same light pipes act as the artificial light at night. a simple mechanical iris can adjust intensity or even completely block the light if needed.

  5. This whole Hackaday Prize thing is actually driving me away from the site. It all seems even more poorly thought-out than the “let’s sell Hackaday to the community” idea that came and went. Between the ridiculously short time frame, poorly defined rules, extravagant prizes, and bizarre hyping, it really looks like you guys have no idea what you’re doing.

    1. EXACTLY!!! Less hype, less contests, less gloating and self-back patting about “how cool the editors and their puzzels are” and more articles about hacks! Unless you just happened to finish your lifelong “magnum opus” project at the same time they are announcing, you’re never going to win. I doubt very seriously that anyone starts a project from scratch just to compete on HaD… It’s more like a contest starts that fits what someone was already working on. However unfair, It’s the nature of the beast. So go ahead and que the guy who implanted a Wi-Fi module in his rectum to tweet when nature calls or the girl inventing a Wi-Fi connected prostesis leg so that starving pygmy children all over the world can learn to program arduino enabled kittens to dance in blinky dresses… Just like Pun ^ intended….

      1. Don’t get me wrong, I love Arduino enabled kittens and blinky dresses. Honestly, I’m just a little disappointed that I don’t have time to work day and night nonstop for the next 3 months to develop a suitable project. Maybe if it’s a success (and they have this more under control than their PR so far has led me to believe) I’ll get my chance next time.

    2. Instead of saying, “this sucks” and “you’re not doing your job right”, how about offering Hackaday suggestions on what we should be doing? How about that?

      I look around at other similarly sized Internet communities – youtube streamers, vlogs, and a few forums – and I just don’t see the level of vitriol we get directed against the mods or content creators of that community. It’s like a lot of you are trying to be assholes on purpose.

      So, do you have any suggestions, or do you just want to whine?

      1. I was a total jerk there. I woke up in a bad mood and I took it out on Hackaday. I shouldn’t have been so critical, and I’m sincerely sorry. :( Truth be told, I love Hackaday and everything you do here. Please forgive me.

      2. If I were going to offer one legitimate suggestion it would be to extend the contest deadline by a month or two. My life is kind of crazy right now and that would at least give me a chance to get (myself and) a project together to submit. I could see having a little extra time to start something big being a help to many others as well.

          1. Not true at all. I’ve sort-of given up really.

            I would start by suggesting (as many, many people already have) that you (the staff in general) either spend 5 minutes doing a bit of proof-reading and possibly check your facts, or hire someone to do it!

            The post earlier today about VR movement from ETH Zurich is a prime example.

      3. Can’t agree more. Doesn’t help that most people who prowl this site have social issues :P (myself included).

        Here’s my attempt at constructive criticism:

        Domes are awesome, I’ve always wanted one for myself.

        But I do have a few questions.

        What about feasibility? The bots are likely to travel at a set speed, manufacturing support material at a pretty much fixed (or at least average rate). Any calculations? Even pseudo ones would do :)

        I foresee these challenges:
        1. The ground would have to be prepared for this with a foundation creating a stable and lasting base for the dome. A giant circle of concrete could do
        2. The dome will be more and more angled the higher you get up, meaning that if the bots are to ride the layer as a rail they’d get angled too, they would also have to be fed from the top with filament and power since they couldn’t climb down again. If not on a rail they’d have to have some sort of insanely advanced form of locomotion.
        3. speed, weight and material integrity; I’m talking about construction speed, weight of dome and the structural strength of the building material.
        4. ribbing; deposited materials will cause layers which will collect pollutants, leaves and in time moss/other plant life clouding up the transparency, stability and weight of the dome.
        5. water and wind proofing of bots.

        Some things scale well and some don’t. If the project owner had stated he wanted a dome around his house then sure thing. Building a dome of this size and magnitude however… It doesn’t seem feasible, albeit amazing.

        I think, if possible the best way to do this would be with a x metre diameter sheet of flexible material that gets inflated from the inside and then either through chemical or electric means solidify into a then perfect, smooth and transparent dome. Inflation would cause a perfect dome all by itself. Does such a material exist? Would it be resistant and stable enough?

        1. A reverse vacuuformer could do this with acrylic. But It’d use several power plants worth of power to heat up the air that’s supposed to heat the sheet and power the skyliner size compressors needed.

      4. Well, like all communities, you have a vocal minority. And people tend to be more vocal when they disagree with something. So even when more than 50% of the comments are complaining about something, it can still be that the large majority of readers is perfectly fine with the content.

  6. Excellent and logically carrying on. Fit some gert big rocket engines and send it off in to space, just a trial. If successful (ie we get rid of Manhattan) then we can do the same with London, Paris, Moscow etc etc.

    That has to improve the world for 99% of people and the other few % won’t be here to whinge.

  7. Well, maybe I have to active imagination, but i can see the “Manhattan” project as a example of possible scale… anyway i can imagine something like this on mars, or on the moon as a place to live :-) (at least until somebody try to build one on my backyard on the north hemisphere :-D )

  8. Using this sort of a robot to build a dome may be a new idea may be new idea, I don’t know, but a biosphere isn’t. What follows doesn’t mean I don’t think such a robot couldn’t have utility, although ultimately it would be a job killer. In the event such a dome isn’t a biosphere it’s construction would be pissing in the wind, even when thinking small of smaller version of a dome as depicted in the top photo. The environment under the dome will import what it consumes from the environment outside it and exhaust it’s waste outside it. Nothing gained from the cost of it’s construction. To close an area as depicted in the lead photo inside a biosphere, a lot of demolition would have to take place to build what it would take to build a sustainable environment under it. That’s going to limit the number of human inhabitants, and those inhabitants should be cool living and dieing with nuclear electrical power plant under the dome, if they hope to live the current electable consumption level in the first world. Yes this sort of robot could change the world, so would less ambitious domes.

  9. There are certain issues with loading and stress here once you scale to city-size. Some solid modeling might be in order, though building the domes progressively bigger until you find a repeatable failure mode would probably be more fun, at least for the folks outside the dome.

    Also, UV exposure is going to be an issue for any clear resin without also introducing a host of other issues.

  10. Why a dome? How about a building? How about a dome structure that uses hexagonal block design for storage, allowing for opening and closing of the windows for temperature regulation and air flow? The grand idea is interesting….the scale up ideas are good, but the application of the idea is where I see the greatest fault. “Hey, to prove we can use small scale robotics to build something immense, let’s build something immense that’s absolutely useless.”

  11. I’m working on a similar technology but not as grandiose of a goal. I’m looking for collaborators and angel investors, as the application base is huge. I’d love to talk with like minded people.

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