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17 Apr 2018, 10:11

Could I Hack it at the Hackaday Unconference?

Having never been to a Hackaday Unconference, I was keen to go and experience one. DesignSpark sponsoring last week's event gave me the perfect opportunity, so I headed off to Dublin to see what it was all about and meet some DesignSpark members.

Now I must say that I’m not an engineer or a maker and in fact would describe myself as a bit of a technophobe, so I was dubious as to whether someone like myself could get anything out of an event such as this. I’m pleased to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

LEDs and Stem Cell Eyeballs!

From the minute the first presenter Rachel Wong, aka konichiwakitty, stepped up to talk about her Wearable Fashion Technology project, I could instantly relate because although I’m not an engineer I am into fashion! From teaching herself the basics of electronics only a couple of years ago, she had created some unique pieces of jewellery combined with electronics which have generated a great deal of interest amongst young girls, showcasing that electronics doesn’t just need to be for boys.


For some attendees in the room, LED necklaces may not have been their thing, but Rachel had a second project to talk about ‘The Future of Medicine’ that left everyone completely awe-struck. In her day job, Rachel is a stem cell scientist currently growing eyeballs in a lab to study blindness – who couldn’t be impressed by this! By developing biomaterial scaffolds that closely resemble the environment of retina tissue she is able to add stem cells that then hold on to the scaffold and grow into an eye. Human clinical trials are already in progress and Rachel’s vision for the future of stem cell science is ‘off-the-shelf and pick-n-mix organs’ whereby scientists will be able to grow any type of organ from a liver to a kidney as and when required. Absolutely fascinating information that I didn’t expect to find out about at a Hackaday Unconference.

JavaScript and Arduino

Next up was Christos Koutiaris, who was introduced as a hobbyist that likes making things with JavaScript and electronics. On hearing the word JavaScript I instantly thought that I’d struggle to relate to this one (having never used it in my life and no real knowledge of it) but I was wrong. He had designed a transmitter using an Arduino Nano along with a transceiver and some clever coding to inform him when the one parking space that he had to ‘share’ with his neighbour was free – brilliant.

Then, of course, there was the magician James Twomey, I mean who doesn’t love a bit of magic? Taking us back on a technology journey through time he rode on to the stage on a Penny Farthing with a carbide powered light, demonstrated how to make capacitors out of tin foil and how to build a crystal radio.

Stand Outs

The day was packed with so many more fantastic presentations from hobbyists, electrical and electromechanical engineers, software designers, gamers and students. Some stand out ones for me were:

  • Hacking Magnetic Tracking by Alex Jaegar – created a field sensor potentially for medical applications with open-source code
  • Transcending Barriers in Education and Medicine by Calliope Wong – discussing her project of creating space for transgender women in higher education by developing a diverse support platform and resisting institutional discrimination
  • Controlling a motion simulator with a physics simulator by Ben Sunshine-Hill – a live demo showing the robot in action
  • Destroying and American Electric Grid by Beth from ToganLabs – showing how easy it is to hack smart meters with poor security
  • Electric Suzuki RF by Marc Evers – who created his very own electric motorbike

Next Stop, the MakerFaire!

If you asked me whether I would go back to another Hackaday Unconference my answer would definitely be YES. I’m looking forward to going along to more events like this in the future such as MakerFaire in Newcastle at the end of the month because who knows what I’ll learn!

Member of Team DesignSpark!

17 Apr 2018, 10:11