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Hackaday Prize Is Looking for Products—and Profitability

The 2017 contest puts a renewed emphasis on projects that could become successful businesses

2 min read
Drawing of prize cup and various technologies

The 2017 Hackaday Prize launched earlier this week. And the general theme is similar to what it’s been since the contest’s beginnings in 2014: “Build something that matters.” But the organizers are especially keen this year to inspire folks to design things that could turn into bona fide products—and profitable businesses.

“A business plan is part of engineering these days,” says Mike Szczys, Hackaday’s managing editor, who explains that the 2017 contest will include a US $30,000 prize for Best Product. To win that, you’ll have to provide a detailed bill of materials for your gizmo, show that it can be readily manufactured, and provide a compelling business plan. The three working prototypes of your brainchild you submit by 24 July will also have to impress the hands-on judges, who will include a hardware engineer, a product engineer, and several editors.

That’s a lot to ask an aspiring garage tinkerer to pull together in a few months, but contestants aren’t restricted to submitting freshly minted ideas. Indeed, you could have been working on your concept—even selling commercial versions of the end product—for quite some time and still qualify. The criterion Hackaday will use is not how long the project has been around but how much money has been invested in it. If that figure is less than $2 million, the enterprise qualifies to compete for Hackaday’s Best Product prize in 2017.

Organizers didn’t offer this category in last year’s competition, although they had done so the year before. The 2015 competition drew fewer contestants for Best Product than desired, says Szczys, likely because already-existing products or projects were excluded. 

Szczys hopes this year’s competition might inspire some folks who have already been working to develop and market a product to share with others the details of their entrepreneurial journeys. “Successful companies aren’t writing about the things that make them successful,” he says. The project documentation that Hackaday Prize contestants must provide could help to fill the gap.

And there are plenty of ways for you to compete even if your aspirations fall short of commercializing what you dream up. In addition to the aforementioned best-product prize, there will be a $50,000 grand prize, second- through fifth-place prizes that range from $20,000 to $5,000, and $1,000 prizes for the top 20 projects in each of five categories: “Design Your Concept,” “Internet of Useful Things,” “Wheels, Wings, and Walkers,” “Assistive Technologies,” and a catch-all called “Anything Goes.”

All in all, there will be $250,000 in cash prizes awarded to more than 100 entries by November, when Hackaday convenes its “superconference,” likely at the Pasadena design lab of SupplyFrame, its parent company. So gentlemen (and ladies), start your soldering irons, 3-D printers, and CNC machine tools. The game is afoot!

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From WinZips to Cat GIFs, Jacob Ziv’s Algorithms Have Powered Decades of Compression

The lossless-compression pioneer received the 2021 IEEE Medal of Honor

11 min read
Photo of Jacob Ziv
Photo: Rami Shlush

Lossless data compression seems a bit like a magic trick. Its cousin, lossy compression, is easier to comprehend. Lossy algorithms are used to get music into the popular MP3 format and turn a digital image into a standard JPEG file. They do this by selectively removing bits, taking what scientists know about the way we see and hear to determine which bits we'd least miss. But no one can make the case that the resulting file is a perfect replica of the original.

Not so with lossless data compression. Bits do disappear, making the data file dramatically smaller and thus easier to store and transmit. The important difference is that the bits reappear on command. It's as if the bits are rabbits in a magician's act, disappearing and then reappearing from inside a hat at the wave of a wand.

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