The unexpected result of combining hardware, art and geeks

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When you put harware, artists and geeks in a room for 48 hours what do you expect to find? The Garage48 Hardware & Arts Hackathon was a display of passion, humour, and the international startup community coming together to have a good time.

The Riga Technical University Design Factory played host to an event of 104 participants from over 10 countries this past weekend - the Garage48 Hardware & Arts Hackathon. The event stipulates that in 48 hours a team, which is usually formed on the spot within the first hour, brings an idea to completion and presents it at the end - the winners chosen by a jury.

The overall winners and audience favourite - Gaga, the personal assistant

Gaga is a personal assistant in a ball that can roll around, be sent to different rooms, manage your smart home, your calendar, blink its eyes and play music.

This was an ambitious project, and was also the biggest team. For team lead Helen Kokk this was the first hackathon as a participant, but has participated in many hackathons as a mentor.

They won the Ubiquiti Networks prize, 250EUR in Taxify credit, and 2 tickets to TechChill.

Runner up & Best design: Fading world

Fading world takes a sound byte, turns it into a visualization, and then a machine draws the visual with an artists' medium, such as charcoal. The result is a stunningly beautiful design, which can be reverse-engineered to hear a loved one's message again, a favourite sound or song. 

Fading World was lead by Toms Burans, a lecturer on graphic design. This is not his first hackathon, and this time he brought with him a handful of his students to participate and broaden their horizons. He emphasized that it's important for artists to get aquainted with the possibilities that technology offers. Only when they know what's possible can they beging to think about how to integrate technology in art. 

2nd runner up & RTU Design Factory special award: "They are watching us"

The hackathon participants have taken to calling them the "creepy heads" team. The idea is simple - using motion tracking, turn several heads to follow the person who's moving past them. They had several heads made from different technologies - 3D printing, wooden laser cut, papier mache, clay, and more. The head were, indeed, creepy. Mission accomplished.


The environment - a hardware engineer's paradise

The space they were in, the resources available to them, made the hackathon space any hardware engineer's paradise. The RTU Design Factory itself is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment, some of the only publicly available equipment in the Baltics like the Connex3 Stratsys printer that can print three different materials simultaneously. In addition, they have several 3D printers, laser cutters, and all of the tools necessary to get to work. The RTU Design Factory, headed by Guntis Kulikovskis, provided student volunteers to help and train the teams in using the equipment.

As 3D printing for prototyping is a must, the Mass Portal 3D printer company brought 9 of their own 3D printers to support the teams, both in printing, as well as creating the 3D print file. All together there were 15 3D printers available to the hackathon teams, all of which were constantly in use. Arguably, they were the hardest workers of the hackathon. (Joking! Kind of…)

The University of Latvia set up a station that contained every little bit of hardware that would be necessary for building a product - the pieces were made available to the teams, free of charge.

Putting aside the physical resources available, the intellectual resources were also staggering. A collection of hand-picked experienced, knowledgeable mentors, known as the A-Team, were made available to help teams iterate or re-iterate themselves out of seeming black holes. The mentors included: Emil Syundyukov, Janis Dimpers, Andrejs Pukitis, Harijs Grinbergs and Janis Lapsa.

A 48 hour hub of creativity, skills and passion

Above all else, it was evident that the participants are here to have fun. Starting from the ideas they pitched, to the presentations they made at the end, it's clear that they were having a good time throughout the entire process. 

One team, the GrillMallow portable marshmallow griller, stated in their presentation that "we burned 100% of the prototypes". However they were very optimistic and continued to actively collect emails for pre-orders, and stated that they plan to proceed with production. 

The "Fidget Spinner Roulette" presented their product as "yet another completely useless product", but garnered many laughs from the audience and took home the title of "Most Fun". The Fidget Spinner Roulette's idea is - you have to keep spinning the fidget spinner, and if it stops, it explodes. The team ended up iterating the product to shoot out nerf darts rather than actually explode, in the interests of not hurting anyone.  

Mentors Janis Dimpers and Andrejs Pukitis are hardware hackathon veterans. They're known for their crazy and fun ideas, matched with preparation and knowledge - they showed up to one hardware hackathon with their own 3D printer so that they wouldn't have to wait for their turn for the venue-sponsored 3D printers. They ended up taking orders from other teams, too. They expressed that it's weird to show up to a hackathon with nothing but a pen, but nice to be guaranteed a full night's sleep. 

Even Garage48 founder Priit Salumaa commented the tendency of Latvians veering towards humour: 

"I still remember my first hackathon in Riga in 2011. The first evening when people started to pitch ideas, I clearly felt that my stomach started to hurt because I laughed so much. I still remember that. In a way for me it has been a lot of fun to come to events in Riga."

Now we know where all of the Latvian humour is hiding - it's just always been with the engineers!