An Internet of Things night at Aerolab

What if we connected a flower pot to internet?

On March 9, we hosted our very first hackathon at Aerolab. We delved deep into the universe of the Internet of Things, and, at the end of the day, we had three prototypes for functional products: a smart plant that notifies users when it needs water; a cute pet that lights up when there is activity on our social media accounts, and a scoreboard to keep track of the table tennis matches played at the office in our own website.

It was late 2015 when we started toying with the ideas that we wanted to prototype –a number of objects what we wanted to connect to the Internet– and, to do so, we bought a bunch of Particle Photons  — small devices that make it possible to hook virtually any sensor to the Internet and make it work as a result of instructions given from a remote location. We had the Photons lying around the office until we decided to kickoff the hackathon season with the perfect excuse: pizzas and Internet of Things. We set a date, sent emails, listened to project proposals, crazy ideas and some rather sensible ones, and started to get ready.

During the weeks before the event, we began to introduce the Internet of Things (IOT) to those who were not familiar with it, while we focused on looking into the projects that emerged at Aerolab. The turnout –albeit shy at first– proved very interesting: 14 projects were submitted, most of which ended up posted on Hackdash

While some Aerolab developers already had some experience from other hackathons, this was the first event of this kind for most participants. As a result, it was paramount to clearly define its possibilities and limitations. Thus, in the days before the hackathon, we chose four projects that we believed could make it in barely six working hours. This choice did not mean that we didn’t see any potential in other projects, but rather that we wanted to make sure everyone walked away with renewed enthusiasm and the feeling that their ideas had materialized.

We truly believe in working for hours on end on projects that do not necessarily come to fruition, because those experiences help us to make better choices when we have to face new challenges. However, to that end, first we need to prepare, to feel confident about what we can do and that we can actually accomplish interesting outcomes as a result of our efforts.

The Internet of Things, without Breaking Anything

The event first unfolded with a presentation of the activities to be carried out, the inauguration of Aerolab’s hackathon season, and a description of IOT’s state-of-the-art in Latin America and in Argentina in particular by Cristian Reynaga (an expert in art and technology, as well as IOTBUE’s founder). This account helped us understand current developments in IOT and gain a better insight into where the industry is headed.

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Once the introduction was complete, we presented the projects we were going to work on. At this point, we wanted those who had brought the selected projects to take the leading role and explain their ideas, selling them to all other participants, who would soon choose the project they wanted to join.

Planto (The Internet of Plants)

The idea for this project was submitted by Dafna, and it stemmed from the desire to be able to monitor the state of plants remotely. In its original version, the project consisted of a scheme of sensors (moisture, nutrients, pH, etc.) and an online panel that would check the status of one or more plants. As a nice-to-have functionality, we contemplated the possibility of doing something to the plant –for instance, activating a sprinkler system.

You can read the full article of this project on Medium (in Spanish).

Twitter Firefly Jar / Internet Status

The notion underlying the Twitter Firefly Jar suggested by Patricio was to have a jar with “fireflies” that would light up when an Internet-based activity (in this case, an interaction on Twitter) took place.

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This is a nice idea that has been going around on internet, and a hackathon provided the perfect excuse to take the ideas we had been entertaining for weeks and turn them into prototypes. In turn, with the Internet Status project, submitted by Sergio Behrends, we wanted to have a fairly reliable system to know the uptime of office connections, which would also reveal power supply uptime –keep in mind that acanohayluz.com.ar emerged as a result of a collaboration between Aerolab and Celestineia.

You can read the full article of this project on Medium (in Spanish).

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Table Tennis Scoreboard

As we mentioned just before its presentation, this project was our hackathon’s favorite –in fact, it was one of the initial motivations to devote a hackathon to the Internet of Things. A month ago, we moved to a very cool new office, where we have a fancy table tennis table. The well-deserved break after designing for endless hours or programming as if the world was coming to an end now takes the form of a table tennis match. At Aerolab we are known for overcomplicating things for fun, so we came up with the idea of an internet-based system to keep players’ and teams’ table tennis scores and to be able to post a ranking on Aerolab website’s Cultural section.

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This project was initially suggested by Sergio Behrends and Roberto González, and it immediately caught the attention of all the other table tennis players –a very enthusiastic crowd.

You can read the full article about this project on Medium (in Spanish).

What can we connect next?

As midnight crept in and some couldn’t help yawning, after binging on pizza and Coke, questions arose about future events of this kind. The good news is that we will soon open up a space devoted to inventions emerging at Aerolab, our very own invention workshop, a makerspace of sorts. And that’s it, there are no bad news.

Since this first experience forcing ourselves to play with wires and objects connected to the Internet, ideas just keep coming up, piling up together, crashing and turning into other, sometimes even better or bigger, ideas. The three projects of our first hackathon are very much alive, and, whenever our daily routine (“our real work”, actually) gives us a break, we use that time to tweak and improve them. With a place to experiment, we hope to push the boundaries of what Aerolab can offer and to fuel the restless, curious spirit that we look for in our people.

Thank you all for participating in our hackathon! And our gratitude also goes to Ale Ramírez for his illustration and to Adri Somoza, Guillermo and Dafna for the photos

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