Hackathon FabLab: two days and the consequences. How it was

    Such an interesting event as FabLab Weekend , a hackathon with soldering irons and 3d printers, took place a couple of weeks ago in Moscow . I participated in this event and was filled with emotions, which I want to share with the habrasociety.

    Attention: inside the essay and pictures.

    Hackathon is a popular attraction in recent years. The traditional format consists of several stupid presentations with the presentation of an idea, free coffee, pizza, the Internet and bag-chairs. The promoter company receives several hundred young, passionate users, and sometimes several sensible ideas.

    Ideal entertainment for a geek student or freelancer. Another thing is that even something conditionally similar to a product or at least the rudiments of a startup as a result of hackathons is obtained quite rarely.

    All the more mysterious was the prospectus of the upcoming “hardware hackathon”, with 3D printers and soldering irons right in the workshop: the placement of equipment and its provision to everyone was clearly beyond the scope of the promotion campaign. The threshold for entering the hardware business is higher; corporations prefer static exhibitions at expocenters; the maximum you can get from them is a cup of coffee and a demo set. Recalling the experience of previous hackathons, we imagined a thrash and a crowd of enthusiastic schoolchildren, and with these thoughts we signed up for the event.

    In general, doing something ironic is a riskier occupation than making software products, and therefore unpleasant. Equipment costs money, fails, requires handling skills, and the process of designing devices itself requires additional knowledge and experience. It was difficult to expect success from several groups of enthusiasts within the framework of the format and even an objective concept.


    On Friday evening, we gathered in the office of Ernst & Young, where, according to the program, the registration of participants was to take place. The negotiation "Paris", more like a small lecture hall, was filled quite densely. The presentation template provided by the organizers, for the most part, consisted of parts of a business plan, which looked unusual for a three-minute pitch.
    We had to come up with a “serious” product, and we unpacked our student work: our department was engaged in medical electronics, and almost all of the work was related to electrophysiology, so in the presentation we described a portable cardiograph. The calculation was that we will build the hardware according to the project from the diplomas, put it in a beautiful building, deploy the service on Azure based on proven technology and add integration with social services. networks - it seems enough to impress experts.

    We modestly sit and make a presentation - half an hour before the performance. I am ashamed.

    At the stage of the presentation statement, another participant approached us and suggested joining forces. It was Mikhail Shagiev, who was looking for a team for a startup, which is just connected with cardiography. Our team was even more than staffed: we invited as many of our friends as we were able to study and work, and just friends. Therefore, at nine zero zero, at McDonald's on Tverskaya. Clear.


    Digital Telegraph is similar to other sites located in historical monuments, such as Artplay or Digital October, and is completely different from small cellars-anticafe or office rooms in the buildings of Soviet institutes. The Telegraph is very spacious, empty and cold: the brick walls are not covered at all with trim, and slots gap in the slopes of the windows. Having seized a strategic resource - furniture and partition walls, boards, we began to unpack the brought material.

    Soon the heroes of the occasion arrived with their masters - three Picaso Designer and three MakerBot. All this resembled a microscopic exhibition of cats: the owners nervously cherished their pets, and visitors eagerly examined the wonder with touching eyes. As it turned out, all the devices were provided by various organizations: MakerBot brought Ivan from the 3D Printing Laboratory, Picaso - Sergey Gerasimov from Bionic Lab and the guys from HSE Lab. Most of all I expected to see a compact CNC engraver, like the Roland MDX, but none of the "owners" were going to take it with me. There were no soldering irons either, and several people left for their offices to correct this oversight.

    Printers have arrived.

    The announced format assumed only one checkpoint on the iron part - at the very end, but a lot of events were planned for marketing. The team was required to conduct a survey of the target audience, draw a landing page of a non-existent product, and compose a “business plan”. In addition, strange people walked around the site all the time and asked different questions: they asked to formulate the concept “in two words” or “sell” the device as if it were ready.
    The rest of the equipment was brought in: two Lukey stations with a hairdryer, a 100 MHz Chinese Rigol oscilloscope, a bench multimeter, a scattering of soldering irons and a “junk box” of junk.
    We planned to assemble a simple circuit for a couple of channels on a breadboard, consisting of a balanced amplifier, an active filter, and a sigma-delta ADC. As a "head" was prepared Raspberry Pi with Linux on board. Filters and amplification were counted in diplomas, components were purchased according to the lists, it remained only to collect all this.

    According to the plan, everyone did his own thing:deployed an ASP service on Azure, orinichev wrote a client for WinRT, simbik made up a web face and brochures for the competition, alexzero collected a scheme, and I set up a strawberry environment for data collection and sending.
    We were very lucky - the communication on the “sales” side was completely compensated by the joined participants, Mikhail and Oganes, including the task of interviewing several dozen people on the street and drawing up the appearance of the target audience.

    The work has gone.


    In the evening, it becomes especially cold in the Telegraph, and the organizers did not provide for any insulation - neither plaids nor heaters. Outside the window, it was pouring rain. On the bar, Jura's coffee machine materialized very successfully, which looked like the only, except for soldering irons, heat source. Almost the entire population of the hackathon gathered around it, as if a totem.

    “In vain you did not order rugs. At all the hackathons that I was, there were plaids. ”

    As usually happens, an inadvertently abandoned phrase very quickly developed into a lengthy conversation about the format, goals and fate of the event. The initiative for holding such an atypical competition in Moscow belongs to Dmitry Kirsanov of REAL Inventors, creating a platform for launching hardware startups. They work closely with Moscow CMITs and rely on their equipment, but the startup of the prototyping platform is not enough: according to Dmitry, you need to cook engineers, marketers and consumers in one pan, make sure that a good idea finds your client, and therefore people from HSE and Skolkovo. This is the first event of this kind, and the preparation was carried out in a hurry, some of the guests did not come, they expected a very small audience, but it turned out better than expected.

    When Dmitry and the other organizers left for the night, it was time to continue working on the project. The lonely standing oscilloscope was expropriated and the struggle between sleep and debugging began. The subsystem of interaction with the ADC was the spidev driver, python implemented the system logic - it is quite simple and convenient for RPi.

    We also work at night.

    In periods when sleep and hunger prevailed over all sorts of productive thoughts, I approached the rack with 3d printers in the hope of catching an idle machine and making myself some souvenir. Finally, I was lucky: most of the participants fell asleep, and two of the three devices blinked in standby mode. Having downloaded several pre-prepared models from my scientific and professional activities on a state-owned laptop, I put them to print. Estimation of the print duration was not very optimistic - the work was supposed to be completed only in the morning.

    Empty in the forest - only a bird sings.

    Unfortunately, the data from the ADC was garbage, the readiness line switched without any order, and it was not even possible to conduct one read-write register cycle. Questions were caused by the logic of working with the CS line, preliminary gating and internal clocking. The most advanced electronics engineer decided that we will fix the last option. There was no suitable quartz around, rPi from the user mode gave out only 10 kHz, so it was necessary to assemble a generator from improvised materials.
    It was four in the morning and the dream prevailed. With glass eyes, alexzero wrote a 1 MHz assembler blink and went to check, but someone accidentally pressed the x10 software modifier. Fifty volts from the output of the Arduins sent to knockout everyone :(


    In the morning it became clear that nothing will come of the ADC, and it needs to be replaced. While the guys had breakfast, I managed to visit the nearest Chip and Deep. The new chip was configured from the lines and had a good manual. Having connected and slightly corrected the existing code, I saw that the data is quite meaningful.
    When the device began to return something intelligible, work began on associating it with a web service. Requests were connected to the python, which sent portions of the signal to the server. On the server, in the meantime, I threw a pulse detector and sent the board for packaging in the case.

    The printing of my “souvenirs” has ended. I experimented with 3D printing for the first time, and it was unexpected for me to fill holes and bushings with frequent stiffeners, layered cracks and accidental displacement of some layers. In principle, I was ready for the low quality of parts and the result completely pleased me. For comparison, I asked Ivan to make several parts on MakerBot, and the result was somewhat better: there was no damage when removing the part and separating the fillings, but I liked the quality of the external surfaces on Picaso. Special thanks I want to say to Picaso employee Eugene for help in removing the details.

    And here is the result.

    HSE trackers reappeared on the site. This time they were already interested in the prototype, and we could even demonstrate something to them. After lunch, a young man of a creative kind arrived at the site and conducted a speech and confidence training on the stage. This training, full of choreography and non-standard sounds, contrasted quite strongly with the tired faces of the participants and was very popular.

    Anton Lande takes possession.

    It soon became clear that there was no more strength or time. The device was finally packed in a transparent box, connected to the batteries and started. The service worked with a bang, the signal came with a lot of network noise, but against its background it was possible to somehow distinguish the pulse. The client for the phone turned out to be simple, but pretty nice.

    Presentations of the projects were completely calm. The guys really put together workable prototypes. The most disastrous aspect of the performance was the duration of the pitch, which no one fit into. A long adjustment of the audience by the atmosphere of a startup incubator led to the fact that talk about product positioning supplanted both the idea itself and the progress over the weekend, but I wanted to state it all.

    On the stage - Misha Shagiev and orinichev .

    In the end, they measured out the second place and the audience’s prize, so we consider ourselves winners - we have only two nominations here. Here is a drop of disappointment: there were no material prizes. A few days later, however, a letter came in confirming the free monthly access to the three CMITs - modestly, but great for the initial communication with the CMITs themselves.



    In some ways, the hackathons resemble a little fair of village brides in front of the master, in some ways - an advertising party, like the Red Bull festival, and in some ways - a dead corporate conference with curtsy and lousy coffee. It turned out something else: the organizers had nothing to advertise, the invited guests looked like a “cherry on the cake”, there was no master, no one knew how to do curtsies. And it turned out pretty interesting!

    On the other hand, the lack of advertising initiative led to organizational blunders associated with a lack of funding. The corporation can afford, of course, much more.

    In general, I don’t understand why CMITs lack an audience, because rudely they are single inventors, startups, students and children, and they all potentially have their own activity and are looking for opportunities to implement their ideas. There is some kind of conceptual failure between the use of money for equipment and its use, and the “hard hackathon” - one clogged pile in building this bridge.
    The success of the pilot event shows that the "entry threshold" has fallen, and even a group of enthusiastic schoolchildren can demonstrate a prototype in iron in two days. Nevertheless, experienced electronic engineers and designers among the participants significantly raised the overall level of the event (this is an invitation to electronic engineers on the hub!).

    Dmitry promised that such hackathons will be held every two months, which means the next in September. Will wait.

    As for us - after work done in two days, we began to receive offers about resellers. Such an unusual return for us and the efforts of Mikhail is, of course, an occasion to open a startup, and we are already slowly working on a prototype and talking with investors at the initial stage. Follow the news!

    Most of the photos belong to the organizers, and I thank them very much for them.

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