2021 Hackaday Prize: Rethink, Refresh, And Rebuild

The 2021 Hackaday Prize begins right now. Tap into your creativity and build your piece of a better future on the topics of supportive technology, everyday robotics, imaginative displays, and work-from-home innovations.

Now in its eighth year, the Hackaday Prize is a global engineering initiative that seeks out new and interesting uses of electronics and other technologies with an eye toward open source/open hardware and a goal of getting your creations out into the world.

The grand prize winner will receive $25,000 and a residency at the Supplyframe Design Lab. In addition to top prizes for the second through fifth place winners, 50 finalists will each receive a $500 prize. But you don’t need to win the Hackaday Prize to take something away. This is your calling: spend time working on those abstract ideas and figuring out how they will fit into life tomorrow, next month, or next decade. Whether it changes peoples’ lives or just brings a smile to a few faces, every interesting step forward is an example where people had ideas so crazy they actually worked. Let’s get in on that!

There are five categories to target with your builds. If you have an idea kicking around, you can probably enter it this year.

Choose From Five Challenges

Rethink Displays: Screens are all around us, and unfortunately they’re most often begging us to stare at them and stop paying attention to the wider world. What about the information that’s nice to have handy but doesn’t demand you pull out and unlock your phone? Maybe what is normally an artistic wall hanging can now update itself with important daily reminders for you to notice while enjoying that morning coffee. The wall beside your front door is now your best friend advising you to take a jacket or umbrella. Or maybe there’s a more subtle way for customers waiting for help at your work to know what’s going on from the state of the surroundings in the waiting area.

Come up with a cool way to communicate information that isn’t just a push notification on that phone in your purse or pocket.

Refresh Work-From-Home Life: Being productive from home used to be novel, but suddenly it became a necessity for a huge number of people, from the adults who could no longer go into the office to the students who could no longer visit the classroom. Of course homes and workplaces are very different, no wonder it was a rocky transition. But a lot of good ideas made life more tolerable: from building offices in sheds to turning your laptop webcam into a document camera, we want to bubble up the good ideas.

Show us your ideas for carving out some space at home to make it feel like office or school, for bringing specialty equipment to life, and for managing your time and sanity when a change of physical location isn’t an option.

Reimagine Supportive Tech: Raise your hand if you’ve designed something without much thought toward how it feels to use the thing. Great ideas are only great if they actually get used, so let’s do the legwork on making things work for everyone. This could be an assistive technology to overcome physical challenges, or it could be ergonomics that make tasks easier for everyone. It might be hardware that helps better learn a skill or makes it easier to get high-end results with less than 10,000 hours of practice.

Think about time and labor savers, and think about designs that preserve precious resources.

Redefine Robots: Automation shouldn’t be dystopian; it should make sense. There’s already automation in your house that follows this mantra: both the dishwasher and the clothes washer were revolutionary time savers, and it turns out they are a great way to curb water waste. You could argue that they’re robots — not the brightest of robots, but something that’s able to operate automatically.

We want to see what other everyday automation makes a better future, from making changes around the house to keeping you company and cared-for. Get to work because everyone deserves a chance to benefit from our robotic future.

Reactivate Wildcard One of the biggest problems with setting goals for inventors is that it doesn’t leave room for the problems you didn’t realize needed solving. So all bets are off with the wildcard challenge. Just make sure you explain the problem you’re solving, how you solve it, and you’re set to go.

Out of Lockdown and Into the Future

An incredible opportunity lies in front of us. The global pandemic is a wake-up call to how we have lived our lives before and during. Now it’s time to decide what life can be after the pandemic has passed. Technology should work for all of us, and it’s up to all of us to show what that means.

17 thoughts on “2021 Hackaday Prize: Rethink, Refresh, And Rebuild

  1. I’ve always wanted to participate in these but I am neither talented nor creative enough to do anything on my own.

    If anyone needs an extra teammate please recruit me. I’m okay at most things and I do have a mechanical engineering degree.

    1. I suspect you set the bar for yourself too high. Take a chance this year, give yourself permission to fail, and set a goal of at least getting a prototype of something built. That first step is the hardest, but once you make it, ideas tend to fall into place of where to go next, and there’s a whole community here happy to pitch in their thoughts on how to expand the original concept.

      You can do it, you just need to take that first step.

    2. I will be the realist/contrarian; to wit, life sucks, then you die.

      Many experienced engineers recognize their limitations. And there are some people that have no significant strengths that would oppose their perceived weaknesses. These are not necessarily bad things, but they are part of the human condition.

      An experienced engineer knows their strengths and their weaknesses, and conversely an inexperienced engineer may have yet to develop strengths and weaknesses. That this engineer recognizes his/her limitations makes this person a reasonable and valuable addition to product development team.

      1. And any experienced engineer acknowledges it´s not the first step that costs the most, it´s the last one: it takes over than 80% of the resources to finish the last <20% of the project.

    3. I think I’m sort of talented and creative, yet distractable and awful at time management. A couple projects I have in mind:

      A piezo-disk traveling-wave motor/acoustic pump for FDM filament coater/color

      Requires drilling a piezodisk, patterning the electrodes (perhaps re-poling them), putting an elastomer gasket between a top plate. Disk-gasket sandwich sits between nozzle and heater. When the segmented electrodes oscillate, ink slurry, or conductive paste is exuded in the filament melt passing through on the way out the nozzle. The rim of the disk has orifice for ink/slurry rubber capillary or ink cartridge.

      Need to model the disk, calculate acoustic impedance, force, flow rates. Then firmware for the usb chip, and software to interpret g-code and device driver for cura.

      Then you can extrude multi-colored, or conductive et. coated filament.

      The other are some very strange sonic robots involving a nonlinear phonon lattice, with magneto/electrorheologicaly tuned bandgaps. This would enable mechanically-multiplexing dozens to hundreds joints, using two speed-regulated vibrators or fluidic oscillators to pump the phonon lattice, and either magnetic earphones or kilovolt-level voltages to either switch or refract acoustic momentum in certain lattice cells, distorting the viscoelastic lattice (legs, body, et.). Snakes, spiders and bipeds ohmy!

      Think phased-array sonar meets stacked spider/snake cross-sections of vibrating Oobleck filled elastomer lattice. Relatively very cheap to make. However, the efficiency better be up ~20%, far better than nitinol or nylon thermal actuators.

      So I need all the motivation and help I can get. Especially, since I’m trying to relocate now.

    4. I have an idea for a novel laundry robot idea, but no time to work on it. (I’m working on a Coffee & Pie machine!) Wanna take it on? It has multiple stages of automation, so you can partially succeed and still have a full robot. It goes from hanging clothes to dry, to folding them automatically. Hanging clothes eliminates one aspect of my natural gas usage, and eliminates the electricity of the spinning motor. The electricity usage for the robot will be much smaller. And it would reduce my laundry work by 90%. Talk to me if this interests you!

    5. Well, I feel a lot like you. And the well thought out response you received definitely push me in the right direction.
      So lets do something , you go for it, present a a built or a prototype and i will too, and I will know that i am not alone doing my best without full confidence xD.

      no, English isn’t my first language sorry ^^

  2. Wow, the deadlines/rounds/challenges structure is odd.
    So, if you enter and are selected in the display round, you have 5 months to finish your project.
    If you enter and are selected in the wildcard round, you have about 3 weeks.
    Conversely, you have a few weeks to work up an entry for the first, and 5 months to work up an entry for the last.
    It is what it is. Just glad to see the contest continuing.

    1. It looks like they all line up, so you can focus on one challenge at a time and have a few weeks for each one. And the harder ones are later, so you can start early. I mostly like it, but the first deadline is too short IMO.

      The finalists are announced a week after the deadline, so while there is still a long time before the final judging, you have to be a finalist to get there. And completeness is part of the challenge judging. So while there is a long time from the end of round 1 to the final judging, it already had to be mostly complete to get there. One advantage of that is it gives you extra time for the artistic elements in the display challenge, if you’re a finalist, and if you’re not you don’t need to go all out on those details.

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