FlowIO Takes Top Honors In The 2021 Hackaday Prize

FlowIO Platform, a modular pneumatics controller for soft robotics and smart material projects, took home Grand Prize honors at the 2021 Hackaday Prize. Aside from the prestige of coming out on top of hundreds of projects and bragging rights for winning the biggest hardware design challenge on Earth, the prize carries an award of $25,000 and a Supplyframe DesignLab residency to continue project development. Four other top winners were also announced at the Hackaday Remoticon virtual conference on Saturday evening.

In a year full of challenges, this year’s Hackaday Prize laid down yet another gauntlet: to “Rethink, Refresh, and Rebuild.” We asked everyone to take a good hard look at the systems and processes that make the world work — or in some cases, not work — and reimagine them from a fresh perspective. Are there better ways to do things? What would you come up with if you started from a blank piece of paper? How can you support and engage the next generation of engineers, and inspire them to take up the torch? And what would you come up with if you just let your imagination run wild?

And boy, did you deliver! With almost 500 entries, this year’s judges had quite a task in front of them. Each of the five challenges — Refresh Displays, Rethink Work-From-Home Life, Reimagine Supportive Tech, Redefine Robots, and Reactivate Wildcard — had ten finalists, which formed the pool of entries for the overall prize. And here’s what they came up with.

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Spooky Winners Of The Halloween Hackfest Contest

It was a tight race, but the results of the Halloween Hackfest contest are in. We asked you to scare up a terrifying build in one of three categories, and as usual, you didn’t disappoint! These three hackers have each won a $150 shopping spree at Digi-Key to fund their future frights.

Best Undead Tech: 3-Axis Skull Mod for a 12-Foot Skeleton

Nelson Bairos

Skelly the 12-ft Home Depot skeleton comes alive with servos.[Nelson] has been in the Halloween-based animatronics business for more than a decade, but always gets beaten to the punch when it comes to doing the really fun stuff like making things move and speak. Once [Nelson] got their hands on a 12-foot skeleton from the big box hardware store, it was time for the gloves to come off and the fun to begin.

The three axes of movement come from a rotation servo, a tilt servo, and a nod servo, all of which are connected to each other and the skeleton with 3D-printed supports. Lucky for us, [Nelson] documented this first build quite nicely and provided the 3D models, should you suddenly get the urge to go see if they have any of these magnificent skeletons left on clearance.

Best Haunted Smart House: Safety Coffin Grave Bell

Glen Atkins

What’s scarier than the undead? How about people who were buried alive, whether accidentally or not. Can you imagine hanging around in a graveyard, innocently doing tombstone rubbings or some ritualistic sacrifice when suddenly you hear someone ringing a bell and/or a terrified, muddled voice screaming for help?

[Glen Atkins]’ Safety Coffin Grave Bell build forgoes the body part, but in the dark, it’s easy to let your imagination run wild. It looks like a bell on a post, but pass too close and the ultrasonic rangefinder detects unsuspecting trick-or-treaters and gives them a scare by frantically ringing the bell with a big servo hidden inside. We hope they brought spare underwear.

Best Crazy Costume: Computer Head

Skye Rutan-bedard

Holloween costume with an old computer screen for the head[Skye] won a lot of people over last year with their computer head costume that featured a lone blinking eye and a voice. What those people didn’t know was that it suffered from three big problems: it had poor ergonomics from a heavy monitor shell, the blinkenlights matrix used to display emotions was underutilized, and using a keyboard proved to be an inconvenient UI for running the voice. This year, [Skye] set out to fix all the problems and make the costume even more awesome and comfortable to wear.

The brain of this computer head costume is a Raspberry Pi 4. As for [Skye]’s actual head, it is safely enclosed inside a hard hat that’s epoxied to the inside of the case. A wide range of emotions dance across the 16×16 RGB LED matrix that looks great behind some mirrored film, and they go great with the new voice method — [Skye] speaks softly into a small microphone, and the Raspi uses Mozilla’s DeepSpeech to repeat whatever they say in a robotic British accent.

Hack-y Halloween

Congratulations to all the winners, and a big thank you to all 45 entrants for your hair-raising hacks. Thank you also to Adafruit and Digi-Key for sponsoring this contest. We hope you had a great Halloween!

Meet The Winners Of The Hackaday Prize Round Four: Redefine Robots

The judges’ ballots are in and we’re proud to present the ten winners of the fourth round of the 2021 Hackaday Prize. We love robots, and it’s obvious that you do too!  The number and range of projects submitted this year were overwhelming.

No robotics round is complete without a robot arm, and while a few of them were in the finals, we especially liked CM6, which really pulled out all the stops. This is research-grade robotics on a not-quite-student budget, featuring custom compliant mechanisms so that it can play well with its fleshy companions.

With six degrees of freedom, and six motors, the drivetrain budget can quickly get out of hand on builds like these, so we’re especially happy to see custom, open, brushless-motor driver boards used to reduce the cost of admission. Even if you’re not going to make a 100% faithful CM6 clone, you’ll learn a lot just from going through the build. Oh, and did we mention it has a software stack? Continue reading “Meet The Winners Of The Hackaday Prize Round Four: Redefine Robots”

Reinvented Retro Contest Winners Announced

Good news, everyone! The results of the Reinvented Retro contest are in, and the creators of these three groovy projects have each won a $200 online shopping spree to Digi-Key. We asked you to gaze deeply into your stuff piles and come up with a way to modernize a cool, old piece of hardware, and we left it up to you to decide how cool and how old.

No matter your personal vintage, you have probably used or even built an educational computer like [Michael Wessel]’s next-generation Microtronic. This is a re-creation of an early 1980s West German 4-bit microprocessor trainer called the Busch 2090 Microtronic Computer System. You may have never heard of it, but [Michael] swears it’s one of the best ever made. Years ago, [Michael] made a talking Arduino-based Microtronic emulator and has grown the concept into a prize-winning system that uses an ATMega2560 Pro Mini and a Nokia 5110 display. As a bonus, it doubles as a cassette interface emulator that plugs into the 2090’s expansion port. Take some time to dive into the YouTube videos or go straight for the gerbers and make your own.

Retrocomputing fans will love EBTKS, a project that seeks to circumvent the disintegrating tape drives in HP85A and other early 1980s HP computers by emulating them and delivering 20,000 virtual tapes via SD card. The project began as a solid state replacement using a Teensy and an ESP32, but [Philip] and the team realized they could do a whole lot more than that. The full list of features includes 70 new keywords and both disk and tape drive emulation. Everything is explained in detail on the project’s main documentation site, where you’ll also find a handy user guide.

If you have a soft spot for old Soviet gear, check out [ptrav]’s MK-52 Resurrection. [ptrav] took an early 90s-vintage calculator with a busted vacuum fluorescent display and breathed new life into it with an ESP32 and a 320×240 TFT screen. The point isn’t to merely resurrect the MK-52, but rather to create a phoenix of programmable Soviet calculating power that rises from the ashes and realizes its hardware unleashed potential. As part of the software development path, [ptrav] also built a fully-functional simulator in C# which you can check out on GitHub.

A Most Honorable Mention

It’s always so difficult to pick winners from among all the amazing projects we see. For this contest, we’ve chosen [Michael Gardi]’s WDC-1 — aka the Paperclip Computer — for an honorable mention. And that means more than just a published pat on the back — [Michael] has won a $25 gift card for Tindie. Way to go, [Michael]!

This WDC-1 is a bit of an inverse take on the reinvented retro concept. Instead of new tech in an old box, [Michael] employed modern PCB fabrication and 3D printing to house the upgraded homebrew guts of this 50+ year-old computer design.

Congratulations to all the winners, and a big thank you to all 138 entrants for your faux nostalgia-inspiring builds. Take some time this weekend to check them out, and get your alternate reality on.

No Wonder These Projects Won The Circuit Sculpture Contest

There are five winners of the Hackaday Circuit Sculpture contest, and every one of them comes as no surprise, even in a tightly packed race to the top.

Beginning with the gorgeous photo above, we have [Eirik Brandal’s] waldian being named the most beautiful. Imagine this hanging on your living room wall, then head over and listen to the video demo as it’s light-actuated synthesizer chimes like distant (or maybe not so distant) church bells. This isn’t a one-off dip into circuit sculpture for [Eirik], we featured his broader body of work back in 2018, all of it worth checking out in more depth.

The glowing mask is actually made of PCB. The seams are secured with super glue bolstered with baking soda. The labor behind this one is intense. As we mention back in September, the project took place over about two years, mostly due to the sheer volume of cutting and sanding [Stephen Hawes] needed to do to bring together so many pieces. This one grabbed him the most artistic award.

[Jiří Praus] takes the top spot for best video with his luminescent RGB LED sphere. We swooned over this one when it first dropped back in December. [Jiří] shows off a combination of patience and ingenuity by using a 3D-printed mold to hold each LED while he soldered brass rod in place to serve as both electrical and mechanical support.

Speaking of molds, one of the challenges was to show off the best jig for creating a circuit sculpture. [Inne’s] Soft Soldering Jig provides the channels needed to keep crisp right angles on the brass rod as you work, with voids to position components at intersections for soldering. Drawing on the advice of numerous circuit sculpture success from people like [Mohit Bohite] and [Jiří Praus], he was looking for a way to easily position everything on a surface that would not be burnt by the soldering iron. The answer comes in the form of Silicone jigs made with 3D-printed molds.

Finally we have the Binary Calculator project which won the most functional award. While it does operate as a binary calculator, the beauty of it is not to be overlooked. Among its many attributes are a set of cherry-wood keycaps that were milled for the project and a bell-jar display stand where the calculator rests and serves as a binary clock when not in use. You may remember seeing our feature of this project last week.

As prizes, the binary calculator, orb, and wall sculpture creators will each be receiving $200 in goodies from Digi-Key who sponsored the contest and will be featuring entries in a 2021 wall calendar. Creators of the soldering jig and the PCB mask will receive a $100 Tindie gift card.

Tech At Home Winners Who Made The Best Of Their Quarantine

Back in April we challenged hackers to make the best of a tough situation by spending their time in isolation building with what they had laying around the shop. The pandemic might have forced us to stay in our homes and brought global shipping to a near standstill, but judging by the nearly 300 projects that were ultimately entered into the Making Tech At Home Contest, it certainly didn’t stifle the creativity of the incredible Hackaday community.

While it’s never easy selecting the winners, we think you’ll agree that the Inverse Thermal Camera is really something special. Combining a surplus thermal printer, STM32F103 Blue Pill, and OV7670 camera module inside an enclosure made from scraps of copper clad PCB, the gadget prints out the captured images on a roll of receipt paper like some kind of post-apocalyptic lo-fi Polaroid.

The HexMatrix Clock also exemplified the theme of working with what you have, as the electronics were nothing more exotic than a string of WS2811 LEDs and either an Arduino or ESP8266 to drive them. With the LEDs mounted into a 3D printed frame and diffuser, this unique display has an almost alien beauty about it. If you like that concept and have a few more RGB LEDs laying around, then you’ll love the Hive Lamp which took a very similar idea and stretched it out into the third dimension to create a standing technicolor light source that wouldn’t be out of place on a starship.

Each of these three top projects will receive a collection of parts and tools courtesy of Digi-Key valued at $500.

Runners Up

Out friends at Digi-Key were also kind enough to provide smaller grab bags of electronic goodies to the creators of the following 30 projects to help them keep hacking in these trying times:

The Making Tech At Home Contest might be over, but unfortunately, it looks like COVID-19 will be hanging around for a bit. Hopefully some of these incredible projects will inspire you to make the most out of your longer than expected downtime.

Contest Winners: Machine Learning On All Kinds Of Gadgets

With nearly sixty exciting entries, the Train All the Things contest, presented in partnership with Digi-Key, has drawn to a close and today we are happy to share news of the winning projects. The challenge at hand was to show off a project using some type of Machine Learning and there were plenty of takes on this theme displayed.

Perhaps the most impressive project is the Intelligent Bat Detector by [Tegwyn☠Twmffat] which claims the “ML on the Edge” award. His project, seen above, seeks not only to detect the presence of bats through the sounds they make during echolocation, but to identify the type of bat as well. Having been through a number of iterations, the bat detector, based on Nvidia Jetson Nano and a Raspberry Pi, can classify several types of bats, and a set of house keys (for a “control”). It’s also been impeccably documented and serves as a great example of how to get into machine learning.

The Soldering LIghtsaber takes the “ML Blinky” award for using machine learning in the microcontroller realm. This clever use of the concept seeks one thing: destroying the wait times for your soldering iron to heat up. It takes time to make temperature readings while the iron heats up, if you can do away with this step it speeds things up greatly. By sampling results of different voltages and heating times, machine learning establishes its own guidelines for how to pour electricity into the heating element without checking for feedback, and coming out the other side at the perfect temperature.

Rounding up our final two winners, the AI Powered Bull**** Detector claims the “ML on the Gateway” award, and
Hacking Wearables for Mental Health and More which won in the “ML on the Cloud” category.

The idea behind our illuminated poop emoji project is to detect human speech and make a judgement on whether the comment is valid, or BS. It does this by leveraging a learning set of comments that have previously been identified as BS and making an association with the currently uttered words.

Wearables for mental health is a wonderful project that was previously recognized in the 2018 Hackaday Prize. Economies of scale have made these wearables quite affordable as a way to add a sensor suite to behavior analysis. But of course you need a way to process all of the sensor data, a perfect task for a cloud-based machine learning application.

All four winners received a $100 gift code to Tindie. Don’t forget to check out all of the other interesting projects that were entered in this contest!