Technology Workshop Culminates in Mini-Hackathon

Student teams compete in the first annual Intel Edison hackathon.
Student teams compete in the first annual Intel Edison hackathon.

April is probably the busiest month at Villanova. As classes wind down for the spring semester, a variety of events engage students across campus. Engineering majors are busy with poster presentations, senior design projects, the Pitch Day competition and more. This year, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Ed Dougherty ʼ69 EE, ʼ86 MSCS, director of the Engineering Entrepreneurship program, added something new to the mix—the Intel Edison Workshop and subsequent mini-hackathon.

Edison is a new, ultra small single-board computer from Intel that can be programmed by inserting the board into the USB port of a computer. According to the company’s press release, Edison can be designed to work with most any device, making the possibilities endless for entrepreneurs and inventors.

“The general concept was to offer students a four-hour training workshop one week followed by a four-hour competition, in the form of a mini-hackathon, the next week,” says Dougherty. Among the 38 participants were sophomores, juniors and seniors from various engineering disciplines. Most attended both the training and the competition, but students could choose either depending on their confidence levels and availability.

By the end of the mini-hackathon, self-formed student teams had developed six projects for demonstration:

  • Bubble blower.  A servomechanism placed a wand in bubble fluid, raised it up and turned on a fan to blow bubbles repeatedly.
  • Beer pong table.  The device was able to sense and display how many glasses were on the table.
  • Ultrasonic "cane" for the visually impaired. An ultrasonic obstacle sensor provided auditory and vibration feedback to help protect a visually impaired person from running into hazards.
  • Musical beat visualization.  LED blinks to the beat of music from a smartphone.
  • Beverage robot. A sensor first detects the amount of fluid in a glass. When the glass is empty, the robot takes the glass to a remotely located refrigerator for a refill.
  • Foot health sensor.  Counts the number of steps taken, while measuring the humidity inside the shoe. An alarm sounds if an unhealthy condition exists.

The beer pong table won the hackathon prize, with second place going to the bubble blower. The Caritas award, which recognizes a project that benefits society, was given to the ultrasonic cane.

Winners were each awarded their own Edison and Arduino Breakout kit, as well as a Sparkfun Inventors Kit Parts Refill Pack. In reporting on the event’s results, Dougherty expressed his appreciation to Intel’s Director of Wearable Innovation and Technologies Jeff Ota, who provided Edisons for the workshop and mini-hackathon. Dougherty plans to offer the event annually and hopes to create additional workshops and competitions. “Right now we’re considering viral marketing, short video production, printed circuit board design and construction, robotics, logo design, woodworking, crowdfunding campaigns, and web site design,” he says. “But we would like to hear from students and others what they would find most valuable. We’re open to ideas!”