Hackaday Prize Competition Gears Up

Photo-illustration: Getty Images

The World Cup is over. But we engineering nerds will still have the Hackaday Prize competition to entertain us.

After all, we really enjoyed the thrill of the Ansari X Prize competition for nongovernmental flights into space, which ran from 1996 until 2004, when Burt Rutan and his colleagues claimed it. And there was the American Helicopter Society’s Sikorsky Prize for a human-powered helicopter. The prize, which was established in 1980 and long remained a tantalizing challenge to athletic aeronauts, was finally awarded a year ago almost exactly.

Such engineering-design competitions are indeed great fun to follow. But unless you’re part of a well-funded and well-organized team, participation is out of the question. The Hackaday Prize is different, because any avid DIYer can throw his or her hat into the ring. All you need to do is come up with an idea for “an open, connected device” and describe the design by 4 August 2014. Then if you make the first cut, you’ll have until 29 September to build the hardware and be in the running for the grand prize: a trip into space, which will be awarded in Munich in November.

Wait, how is Hackaday going to send somebody into space? I for one wouldn’t want to ride in a rocket they built!

Mike Szczys, managing editor at Hackaday, explains that they are not erecting some sort of Jules Verne canon over there; they are offering to buy the winner a ticket to space at some point in the future, after commercial flights become available. And that might not take long: Virgin Galactic (an outgrowth of the aforementioned Ansari X Prize competition) hopes to begin its commercial sub-orbital operations sometime this year.

Even if you’re not keen on rocketing to the Kármán line, if you win, you can collect a cash award of US $196,418 instead—which, as Szczys explains, was chosen because it’s a Fibonacci number somewhat shy of what he and his colleagues expect a ticket into space will cost.

What sort of gizmos qualify for the Hackaday Prize? You can read up on all the details, but the requirements really only call for something that is open and connected, which is easy enough to satisfy. Of course, it would have to be really cool to win, place, or show. And the competition is bound to be brutal.

Current entries include a frequency-modulated continuous-wave radar (a much slicker version of the MIT coffee-can radar, which I described in 2012) and a 3D-printable Raman spectrometer controlled by a Raspberry Pi. My favorite at the moment, though, is a homebrew proton-precession magnetometer, something I once tried (and failed) to hack together myself.

So if you’re a DIYer who has always wanted to enter an engineering-design competition but were never in a position to do so, now’s your chance. Gentleman (and ladies), start your soldering irons. And may the best hack win.

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