The tech community of

 Mar 28, 2018’s Internal IoT Hackathon

Internal Community & University Relations Coordinator’s Internal IoT Hackathon

Internal Community & University Relations Coordinator

or, How We Bought a 3D Printer and Didn’t Use It, there’s a Slack channel for almost everything. One of those channels is dedicated to crazy ad hoc ideas where anyone within the company can share a project they’d like to see implemented. Some six months ago, ideas were floated such as “let’s create an IoT device which will show us if people are at their desks or not”, or “let’s configure a button to order more coffee”. Some of those ideas were just for fun, but some of them were smart and really cool.The community team makes sure that the devs in the company love their jobs. As a result, we decided to organise an internal hackathon to bring some of those suggested IoT ideas to life.

We started with a joint shopping list on Amazon. Soon it was full of Raspberry Pis, IoT cameras, batteries, wires, AWS buttons, Arduino kits and some other toys. But one request was unusual — a 3D printer?

When we saw it, we initially thought that we would probably have to skip that idea. We spend a lot of money on our people, it’s true, but we have to be reasonable, too, and a good 3D printer could easily devour our entire budget. Luckily, the price of a basic 3D printer was below our expectations, so we made some small adjustments and decided to order it.

The 3D printer arrives

A week after we placed the order, we celebrated an early Christmas when all the stuff arrived at our office. The big surprise for us was that the printer came as a building kit, so it was up to me to assemble it. I enjoy building Lego and assembling IKEA furniture, so I thought that this would be a piece of cake. But, I soon discovered connecting wires was a much different story.

After 4 hours of trying and 3 failed attempts, the printer finally turned on

After 4 hours of trying and 3 failed attempts, the printer finally turned on and we were ready to print our first 3D model. One more surprise, printing from a 3D printer doesn’t quite work like it does on a regular printer. If you would expect plug&play (like I did), you’d be wrong. Before you can print, you need to do a lot of setup — prepare the filling, adjust the position of the bottom layers, set the nozzle height to fit perfectly, heat the printer to the right temperature, and a few other things. But, we managed and we were ready to print our first 3D model.

The hackathon

On December 14th we prepared our 7th floor kitchen, we piled the AWS buttons and other equipment on the tables, ordered pizza, bought some beer and waited for people to join. 20 of our employees attended.

The winning team connected an RC car to a Raspberry Pi to control it with a smartphone

Christmas was approaching, the Christmas Party was the next day, everyone was buzzing around getting ready. We began to draft some of the suggested projects. Many of them were created for fun. The winning team connected an RC car to a Raspberry Pi to control it with a smartphone. Other projects were more focused on actual work.

The Data&Automation team developed an IoT data watcher which helps to display real-time data that we use for monitoring our internal systems. Another team worked on a simple display that might raise productivity at work. It could be placed on an office door to display the status of the people at work inside the office, such as Do not disturbOFF or Home Office. As a side project, our devs created an IoT clock with online time corrections.

Last but not least, my colleague Jirka and I played with a Raspberry Pi and turned it into a gaming machine for an old school game.

What happened to the 3D printer?

As you can imagine, there were plenty of cool projects but none of them made use of the 3D printer. Why? Unfortunately, the idea owner of the project which required the printer couldn’t make it to the hackathon. It just wasn’t needed for any of the other projects, even though it was there and ready to print the entire evening.

Was its order useless? I don’t think so, because:

  1. We learned how a 3D printer works.
  2. We have a 3D printer in our offices. And anyone can use it. We’ve already printed Dungeon and Dragons characters and spare parts for the coffee grinder.
  3. We shouldn’t organise an internal hackathon right before the Christmas party, and when we do schedule one, we should promote it more.
  4. And finally, I can assemble a 3D printer. A skill I would never have expected to gain as an Internal Community Coordinator.

And one more positive aspect of the hackathon — all of us left with some early Christmas presents, mostly electronics and soft gifts. The winning team received a couple of AWS IoT buttons for their own projects and the rest of the participants were equipped with socks. Christmas as it should be!

Right now we’re working hard to make the next internal event an even bigger success. We carefully chose a date — April 12th — which comes after the birthday party. This time the hackathon will focus on Smart Home gadgets. Check back in with us to see how it turns out. Let us know what is the coolest (or the most unusual) thing you have in your offices. We’re always looking for inspiration.

The Data&Automation team members working on an IoT data watcher which helps to display real-time data that we use for monitoring our internal systems
Featured articles
Phishing-as-a-Service (PHaaS) – A Case Study
Cautiously Configuring Copilot