Hackathon 2014

July 2014, Hackathon was organized for first time company wide. We had 3 days of time to hack!

Somewhere around the month of May, Abhishek and I been working on some projects and we had recently started exploring IoT. Actually Stanley introduced me to embedded work (Arduino) and the same time Abhishek had some requirement to build some basic IoT demo.

An email arrived talking about Hackathon. We had no idea but we decided to do something in IoT. After exchanging some thoughts and finally catching up on board, the question we asked was – Do every device in IoT need to connect to Internet?

Analogy was, Internet 1.0 – static pages, Internet 2.0 – dynamic pages and databases! We decided to enable connected devices, not just a device that can be controlled from a phone app, but to be able to design complex scenarios!

First to be pulled in was Stanley, given that he was the only one who had some electronics background. Next, Ujjwal (Evangelism), Nischay (OS) and Vinod (Marketting). Abhishek then brought in Siddharth and DeBabu with Phone and Azure experience.

We had everyone convinced that this is beyond Home Automation. Ujjwal got us required funds to buy hardware. I guess we spent 6000/- which was a big money, though later I spent more than 50k buying hardware and building things.

We built an introduction video which needed to be posted for people voting on ideas. Spent whole night getting it ready as we were running behind the time. Before the Sun came out, we had our Video posted and were very proud of the outcome!

As soon the hack started, next 3 days, 3 nights, we were locked in a conference room. Stanley and I were designing scenarios, radio communication, edge devices, hub device… Abhishek was busy with Azure and Phone.

The first scenario we had ready was capturing a Photo when it detects motion and posts it to the Windows Phone. It shows up as a toast notification. Edge devices (Camera, motion sensor, light sensor) were all talking to our hub device wireless! Super proud. Soon, other teams started showing up in our dungeon and the word started to spread out. Then came Video and Cameras, we were all over the internal portal.

Sounds like a dream? Just like any other movie, we also had our twists and turns. The day we were to integrate with other scenarios (like fish tank automation), Radio stopped working. Why? No idea! Stanley's Electronics background came to rescue, using an oscilloscope (we built using an open source software and a firmware on one of our precious Arduino boards) we found 434Mhz channel filled with garbage. Who is making this transmission? We changed rooms, building but it was everywhere. Someone suggested, this must be the large number of Ham radio operators in Bangalore. It lasted 7 days!

Luckily, we had written most of our code in a much modular way, so we quickly replaced the radio with 2.4Ghz transceivers. The protocol we built remained unchanged. We had developed a protocol which was quiet similar to CSMA (no CD). Nischay and I spent many hours on phone every evening discussing the protocol, edge cases, scenarios, cost, etc. It paid off!

Proudly, the next morning we were presenting our work. There was voting, everyone liked our idea and results. We secured 90 votes, second project had 12. It was big margin. Judges came, asked a lot of questions, we had answers to every one of them. They were impressed too and we made through.

We were asked to prepare in 30 min for a presentation to India panel. It had all Senior Leadership people. Without lunch it was difficult, lot of anxiety, difficult. By evening, we were India winners! Global Top 25!

Next two days, a lot of canvasing, advertisements, emails… We had to gather votes. 48 hrs in office! Sleepless nights, so many people asked for demo that they missed and we made it again and again over Lync. A lot of people helped us gather votes, finally when voting closed at morning 6, we were globally No. 3 across all categories and no 2 in consumer.

We had no representation in the US, where final presentation happened, we did not win but it was way too far than we imagined 🙂

Next morning, back to work!

However, Abhishek and I continued to experiment with IoT, made some demo for various workshops. One was presented in Pune Conference recently and an IoT workshop in Bangalore. Stanley finally completed his 3D printer. We were wondering if we can start a company and chase these cool ideas. A bunch of ideas that we had in our plan during Hackathon are now out in market.

Someone somewhere always gets the same idea that you get and thus Time to act is very important. Probably it comes to someone else's mind so if one of you fail, the idea still makes through 🙂 (Philosophy!)

I still have the device at my home that beeps when someone climbs stairs and clicks-posts to my phone. Keep adding/updating features to it. Now I am planning to write a short tutorial/blog on what all I learned in IoT through Arduino, Raspberry, Galileo (Gen 1 and 2) and Udoo. I should add disclaimer, IoT is an expensive hobby!

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