June 08, 2009

Howduino, How Did It Go?

On Saturday 23rd May, a collection of about thirty geeks, coders, artists and complete novices took over the Gallery 1 space at FACT for a day of learning about hardware hacking and working on interesting projects to fuse computing power with the real world.

Howduino was an event hatched up by Thom Shannon and me, and the space at FACT was a perfect location for it. There was a big screen where I ran my "Getting started with Arduino" talk, and plenty of big work tables where people could spread out their tools, soldering irons, laptops and projects as they worked on them.

We weren't quite sure what to expect, given the wide range of abilities from the attendees (from the architecture students who had no knowledge but lots of enthusiasm, to the similarly enthusiastic but much more experienced Aaron from .:oomlout:.) but after a quick run round the room for everyone to introduce themselves, people seemed to find groups to work in and share knowledge.

I think our use of the wiki before the event was vital, as it meant that people had an idea about what projects were available to be tackled, which helped us organise people into groups - we had a quick "hands up if you're interested in X" for each project on the wiki, and then people could find each other afterwards to get started. It also meant that people could work out what components they'd need beforehand, and so come prepared.

By mid-afternoon there was a real buzz in the air, as people helped each other out, traded parts and some real progress was being made by on the projects. It seemed a shame to break up such a productive community, which meant that we left it a bit too late to start wrapping up the day. That was my biggest regret - we didn't get chance to share what everyone had achieved during the event, but it's been great to see the blog posts filtering out over the following weeks as things get finished.

That also meant it was hard to work out what to do about the prizes we had. The guys from O'Reilly who I met at Maker Faire had very generously sent us some book vouchers, t-shirts and an i-Sobot robot, and initially we'd planned to have a number of categories for "Best project", "Most ambitious project", "Most components killed in the pursuit of hardware hacking", etc. However, as most projects were group efforts, and the groups were formed by people who'd only met on the day, it seemed a bit hard to work out who would get the prize; so in the end we held a raffle amongst all the attendees. It seemed to fit the collaborative, helping-each-other-to-achieve-cool-things vibe to the day.

It also means I don't have an easy way to run through what was built on the day, so I'll just list them as I remember them (and include links where I can). We had...

...and there are photos from Nikki, Tim D, and Thom, and blog posts from Nikki and .:oomlout:..

What could we have done better?

The biggest problem with any hackday is the amount of time you have. Ideally we'd make Howduino a weekend event, as that would give people time to get something significant finished. I'd also see if there's a more hands-on way to get people started wth Arduinos. Maybe I could give a shortened version of my talk, so people could get the basics and then get started on a project; but also have a longer, more practical session for people who wanted a bit more hand-holding through getting things working. And maybe run a "driving motors with H-bridges" session, as lots of people were trying to do that, and possibly combine that, or run it just after, a session to harvest stepper motors from old printers or floppy drives.

Thanks again to Thom for helping me organize it all, Sophie for the excellent logo, O'Reilly for the prizes, FACT for a great venue, and attendee Stewart Dunn for the robot kits.

So, will there be another Howduino day? Definitely. We don't know where, or when, but keep an eye on the wiki or follow @howduino on twitter to find out when there's more news.

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Posted by Adrian at June 8, 2009 12:13 AM | TrackBack
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