An Interview with Alex Williams, Grand Prize Winner

Alex Williams pulled off an incredible engineering project. He developed an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) which uses a buoyancy engine rather than propellers as its propulsion mechanism and made the entire project Open Source and Open Hardware.

The design aims to make extended duration missions a possibility by using very little power to move the vessel. What’s as remarkable as the project itself is that Alex made a goal for himself to document the project to the level that it is fully reproducible. His success in both of these areas is what makes the Open Source Underwater Glider the perfect Grand Prize winner for the 2017 Hackaday Prize.

We got to sit down with Alex the morning after he won to talk about the project and the path he took to get here.

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Open Source Underwater Glider Wins 2017 Hackaday Prize

The Open Source Underwater Glider has just been named the Grand Prize winner of the 2017 Hackaday Prize. As the top winner of the Hackaday Prize, the Open Source Underwater Glider will receive $50,000 USD completes the awarding of more than $250,000 in cash prizes during the last eight months of the Hackaday Prize.

More than one thousand entries answered the call to Build Something That Matters during the 2017 Hackaday Prize. Hardware creators around the globe competed in five challenges during the entry rounds: Build Your Concept, Internet of Useful Things, Wings-Wheels-an-Walkers, Assistive Technologies, and Anything Goes. Below you will find the top five finisher, and the winner of the Best Product award of $30,000.

Open Source Underwater Glider

Grand Prize Winner ($50,000 USD): The Open Source Underwater Glider is an AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) capable of long-term underwater exploration of submarine environments. Where most AUVs are limited in both power and range, the Open Source Underwater Glider does not use active propulsion such as thrusters or propellers. This submersible glides, extending the range and capabilities of whatever task it is performing.

The Open Source Underwater Glider is built from off-the-shelf hardware, allowing anyone to build their own copy of this very capable underwater drone. Extended missions of up to a week are possible, after which the Glider would return home autonomously.

Connected Health: Open source IoT patient monitor

Second Place ($20,000): The Connected Health project aims to bring vital sign monitoring to the masses with a simple, inexpensive unit built around commodity hardware. This monitoring system is connected to the Internet, which enables remote patient monitoring.

Assistance System for Vein Detection

Third Place ($15,000): This Assistance System for Vein Detection uses off-the-shelf components and near-IR imaging to detect veins under the skin. This system uses a Raspberry Pi and camera module or a modified webcam and yet is just as reliable as professional solutions that cost dozens of times more than this team’s prototype.

Adaptive Guitar

Fourth Place ($10,000): The Adaptive Guitar is an electromechanical system designed to allow disabled musicians to play the guitar with one hand (and a foot). This system strums the strings of a guitar while the musician frets each string.

Tipo : Braille Smartphone Keypad

Fifth Place ($5,000): Tipo is effectively a Braille USB keyboard designed for smartphones. The advent of touchscreen-only phones has unfortunately left the visually impaired without a modern phone. Tipo allows for physical interaction with modern smartphones.

Best Product Winner: Tipo : Braille Smartphone Keypad

The winner of the Best Product is Tipo : Braille Smartphone Keypad. Tipo is the solution to the problem of the increasingly buttonless nature of modern smartphones. A phone that is only a touchscreen cannot be used by the visually impaired, and Tipo adds a Braille keypad to the back of any phone. It is effectively a USB keypad, designed for Braille input, that attaches to the back of any phone.

The Best Product competition ran concurrently with the five challenge rounds and asked entrants to go beyond prototype to envision the user’s needs, manufacturing, and all that goes into getting to market. By winning the Best Product competition, the creators of Tipo will refine their design, improve their mechanical build, start looking at injecton molding, and turn their 3D printed prototype into a real product that has the ability to change lives.

Congratulations to all who entered the Hackaday Prize. Taking time to apply your skill and experience to making the world better is a noble pursuit. It doesn’t end with the awarding of a prize. We have the ability to change lives by supporting one another, improving on great ideas, and sharing the calling to Build Something that Matters.

These Are The Top Projects In The 2017 Hackaday Prize

For the last eight months, Hackaday has been running the greatest hardware competition on Earth. The Hackaday Prize is a challenge to Build Something That Matters, make an impact, and create the hardware that will transform the world. These projects range from reliable utensils for the disabled, a way to clean drinking water for rural villages, refreshable Braille displays, and even a few high voltage Tesla coil hats. The Hackaday Prize is the preeminent hardware hackathon with a goal of making the world a better place, and this weekend we’re going to see the fruits of everyone’s labor.

Watch It Live

We will announce the winners of the Hackaday Prize live on stage at the Hackaday Superconference this weekend. Even if you can’t make it to the conference, you can join in by watching the livestream (broadcast on YouTube and Facebook) and by joining the Supercon chat room.

What the Judges Have to Say

Over the last few weeks, our fantastic team of judges have been combing over the finalists in the Hackaday Prize. We’ve put together this video roundup with judges discussing the top ten finishers:

These ten projects are the best the Hackaday Prize has to offer, and one of these projects will walk away with the Grand Prize of $50,000 USD. The second, third, fourth, and fifth place winners will take away $20,000, $15,000, $10,000 and $5,000, respectively. The top ten projects in the Hackaday Prize are, in no particular order:


5 Top Finishers for Best Product

The Hackaday Prize isn’t just about finding the best projects. We’re also looking for the best products. For that, the Hackaday Prize includes a Best Product award. This promises to awaken the hardware entrepreneurs to build a manufacturable thing that will shake up an industry. Here’s an overview of the five top finishers in the Best Product Category:

From a field of the twenty best product finalists entered into the Hackaday Prize our fantastic panel of judges have winnowed these down to five incredible finalists. They are, in no particular order:

The winner of the Best Product competition will walk away with $30,000 USD and an opportunity to interview for a residency at the Supplyframe Design Lab. Here, the hackers behind the Best Product will have a materials budget, mentoring, and access to some world-class tools that will enable them to turn their prototype into a real product.

These are the best projects and products the 2017 Hackaday Prize has to offer, and we couldn’t ask for more. Watch live as the Hackaday Prize is awarded tomorrow at 6:30pm Pacific. It’s going to be a blast, and a few lucky projects will take away a pile of prize money and the respect of their peers. It really doesn’t get better than that.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Reflowduino, the Open Source Reflow Oven Controller

Face it — you want a reflow oven. Even the steadiest hands and best eyes only yield “meh” results with a manual iron on SMD boards, and forget about being able to scale up to production. But what controller should you use when you build your oven, and what features should it support? Don’t worry — you can have all the features with this open source reflow oven controller.

Dubbed the Reflowduino for obvious reasons, [Timothy Woo]’s Hackaday Prize entry has everything you need in a reflow oven controller, and a few things you never knew you needed. Based on an ATMega32, the Reflowduino takes care of the usual tasks of a reflow controller, namely running the PID loop needed to accurately control the oven’s temperature and control the heating profile. We thought the inclusion of a Bluetooth module was a bit strange at first, but [Timothy] explains that it’s a whole lot easier to implement the controller’s UI in software than in hardware, and it saves a bunch of IO on the microcontroller. The support for a LiPo battery is somewhat baffling, as the cases where this would be useful seem limited since the toaster oven or hot plate would still need a mains supply. But the sounder that plays Star Wars tunes when a cycle is over? That’s just for fun.

Hats off to [Timothy] for a first-rate build and excellent documentation, which delves into PID theory as well as giving detailed instructions for every step of the build. Want to try lower-end reflow? Pull out a halogen work light, or perhaps fire up that propane torch.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Mess Of VGA On A Breadboard

Before all our video games came over the Intertubes, before they were on CDs, and before they were on cartridges, video games were all discrete logic. Pong was the first and you can build that out of several dozen logic chips. The great [Woz] famously built Breakout out of 44 simple chips.

For [Marcel]’s entry to the Hackaday Prize, he’s taking the single board microprocessor-less computer to the next level. He’s building a multi-Megahertz 64-color computer on a breadboard. What’s the capacitance of a breadboard? Just ask [Marcel].

The design of this disintegrated computer has just about everything you could want in a discrete CPU. There is no microcontroller or complex chips like the 74181 ALU, there’s pipelining with sometimes two instructions per clock, decoding with diodes, and a 60 Hz, 64 color VGA output and four sound channels. There’s only about 40 TTL chips on this board.

The project logs for this Hackaday Prize entry are a treat in themsleves, ranging from topics to the implementation of NES controllers to getting rid of the breadboard and turning this computer into something like a vintage game system, but with a custom CPU and instruction set. It’s an amazing build, and an awesome project for the Hackaday Prize.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Microfluidics Control System

Microfluidics is the fine art of moving tiny amounts of liquid around and is increasingly used in fields such as biology and chemistry. By miniaturizing experiments, it’s possible to run many experiments in parallel and have tighter control over experimental conditions. Unfortunately, the hardware to run these microfluidic experiments is expensive.

[Craig]’s 2017 Hackaday Prize entry involves creating a microfluidics control system for use by researchers and students. This device allows for miniaturized experiments to be run. This allows more projects to be run in parallel and far more cheaply, as they don’t use as many resources like reagents.

[Craig]’s rig consists of an ESP32, a 40-channel IO expander, 3 pressure regulators tuned to different pressures, and around 2 dozen solenoid valves mounted to manifolds. Solutions are moved around with a combination of two pumps, with one providing positive pressure and one serving as a vacuum pump.

Far cheaper than professional microfluidics systems, [Craig]’s project aims to assist biohackers and underfunded researchers in their pursuits.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Open Bike Shoe

Shoes are some of the most complex pieces of equipment you can buy. There’s multiple materials ranging from foam to weird polyesters in a simple sneaker, and if you dig into shoes for biking, you’ll find some carbon fiber. All these layers are glued together, stitched, and assembled into a functional piece of exercise equipment, with multiple SKUs for each size. It’s really amazing.

Accordingly, [marcs] created N+ Open Bike Shoe Platform, the purpose of which is to create open source,  customizable, and repairable shoe platform based on 3D printing, though with other techniques like rubber molding and sewing fabric uppers are included as well.

The project breaks down its signature shoe into all its various parts: heel, toe tread, insole, upper, and so on. With each part individually customizable, the shoe can be tailored to suit each individual, all while part of a cradle-to-grave lifecycle that allows shoe parts to be replaced, repaired, or recycled.