Putting More Tech Into More Hands: The Robin Hoods of Hackaday Prize

Many different projects started with the same thought: “That’s really expensive… I wonder if I could build my own for less.” Success is rewarded with satisfaction on top of the money saved, but true hacker heroes share their work so that others can build their own as well. We are happy to recognize such generosity with the Hackaday Prize [Robinhood] achievement.

Achievements are a new addition to our Hackaday Prize, running in parallel with our existing judging and rewards process. Achievements are a way for us to shower recognition and fame upon creators who demonstrate what we appreciate from our community.

Fortunately there is no requirement to steal from the rich to unlock our [Robinhood] achievement, it’s enough to give away fruits of price-reduction labor. And unlocking an achievement does not affect a project’s standings in the challenges, so some of these creators will still collect coveted awards. The list of projects that have unlocked the [Robinhood] achievement will continue to grow as the Hackaday Prize progresses, check back regularly to see the latest additions!

In the meantime, let’s look at a few notable examples that have already made the list:

Affordable Tools

A surefire path to success is to make big pieces of equipment available at a much lower price than their predecessors. Such was the thinking behind Maslow, a $500 CNC router designed to turn ideas into reality one 4′ x 8′ plywood sheet at a time. We first featured the Maslow when they were in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign that was ultimately successful, and then we cheered their ripple effect enabling projects like the PlyPad tiny home. A Maslow was actively cutting samples in a windy outdoor tent at Bay Area Maker Faire, showing off how it’s more portable than industrial CNC routers and working in conditions more austere than a factory floor.

Stepping down in size but not ambition, we have a 3D printer project taking a few steps off the beaten path. As we outlined earlier, this design skips the expensive precision linear guides typical of its peers, which the Maslow did as well. This printer also incorporates one of the latest novelties in the 3D printing world, a conveyor belt print bed for unlimited Z-axis travel. And don’t forget the design has a short parts list, many of which can be 3D-printed. A design that stays true to the spiritual roots of RepRap is one we’d love to see succeed.

Affordable Instruments

Building affordable alternatives to expensive instrumentation is another way to unlock the [Robinhood] achievement. [Kris Winer] noticed a few interesting chips in the AMS catalog and saw potential for a $25 reflectance spectrometer. This isn’t merely cheaper than science lab instruments, it’s even cheaper than the typical sensor evaluation board AMS sells for >$100. We like where this project is going. And remember when we said it’s possible to win both achievement and challenges? This entry also placed on the Open Hardware Design Challenge winner’s list.

Going into the invisible world, those of us who play with analog circuits (especially RF design) knows that simulation will only take us so far. When it comes time to go beyond the theoretical and measure the reality of what a circuit is actually doing, we need a network analyzer. Historically an expensive instrument, the TEENY open network analyzer project aims to put a simple one in reach of electronics hobbyists on tight budgets. Knowing what the circuit is actually doing means less stumbling around in the dark and less frustrating debugging. Which leads to happier hackers and successful projects.

Affordable Components

An equally valuable approach is to work from the bottom up, reducing cost of components so that others can create on a lean budget. [Craig Watson]’s air pressure regulator module was motivated by his microfluidics control system project. Realizing that a pressure control system is valuable for more than microfludics, he started highlighting the regulator separately so other fields — like soft robotics — can run with it.

A different kind of pressure sensing can be built from Goophene, a homemade variant of a lab grown material that is sensitive enough to detect spider footsteps. (Yes, you read that right.) The instructions on Goophene’s project page is the distillation of countless hours the creator spent trial-and-error replicating results of the research paper at home. Now anyone can build Goophene – which dramatically changes its electrical resistance in response to small mechanical forces – for a few dollars in raw materials. As of this writing, the latest formulation is sensitive enough to detect a beetle walking, with the eventual goal of sensing ant footsteps.

Affordable Is Good, Free Is Better

But the project that most closely follows the footsteps of Robin Hood is the solar lantern soldering kit. The solar lantern itself is not the special part, as it is functionally similar to small solar-powered backyard lights most of us can pick up at our local dollar store. It’s how the kits will be deployed that is interesting: the team intends to use these kits to teach young children how to solder, demystifying technology by giving them a taste of building something themselves. Furthermore, these classes are held where the kids don’t always have reliable illumination at home when the sun goes down. The solar lantern thus serves multiple purposes: as a teaching tool, as an inspiration, and as a practical light source.

The team hopes that participation in the Hackaday Prize will get them funding and publicity to attract more funding, because they want to teach their classes and provide solar lanterns at no cost to the kids. Spreading knowledge and material wealth of lanterns to these children, helping build hope towards their future. It is quite an admirable goal making this team our modern-day Robin Hoods of the Hackaday Prize.


9 thoughts on “Putting More Tech Into More Hands: The Robin Hoods of Hackaday Prize

  1. This is exactly the kind of thing I love. Getting more technology into peoples’ hands.

    Anyone have any ideas for tools or devices that are good candidates for making more hacker friendly that I could look into?

  2. What about joule thief? Steals power from singy batteries to light up LED or power some low powered device a while longer. If I am going to spend an average of $1 per ‘AA’ battery, I might as well squeeze every milliamp out of it before it’s really dead. Not when it’s only about 60% dead and refuses to work in most anything.

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