The very last thing we did on Sunday was to review all the hacks and present the prizes for best hacks, immediately after which began the task of clearing up and driving home, hence the delay in reporting back to you all out there on our results. But here, at last, is the full run down of the hacks, the feedback from the judges and those all important prizes (results are right at the bottom with the podcast, so YOU NEED TO READ THIS ALL!):
Mike and Nick had come up with a plan to create a bat detector peripheral for a smart phone or tablet that would do the electronics bit of turning very high frequency sound into something a device can analyse, and then doing the frequency analysis and other nice connectivity driven things like location logging and species identification. For the demo they were able to demonstrate the electronics element of their hack across a few different devices, and Nick nicely explained, by means of a proxy, the sort of interface that users could expect from a fully fledged detector.
The judges felt this was a really inspirational hack, and was one that individual could get into (most others were group use). It was really interesting to see physics and other science in the mix, not just biology and a ‘self build and download the app’ scenario seemed really promising.
3D printed Beach Profiles
Gemma Peter worked with David Rogers and Jo Debens to take beach profiling data and to demonstrate turning it into 3d file data that could be printed out on a RepRap printer for use in the classroom. Various modes of application were posited, including periodical production at a field centre for schools to take home (and build up a collection based on their visits), a physical weekly build up, and the creation of larger 3d files based on historical data for output. The possibility of accentuating the vertical component was also suggested, and indeed the use of alternative variables so to give a physical tactile representation of intangible factors like soil pH or species density.
In the view of the judges, this hack was particularly well suited to application in schools with their slightly higher levels of support, and had extraordinary accessibility benefits. A highly innovative hack it also represented a great jumping off point for more experimentation, and that could easily be driven by students themselves.
FLAIR (Field Logging Analysis and Instant Resource)
Sym Roe and the guys took the biggest challenge on offer and tackled it head on. This was a big team with at least a dozen people making significant contributions over the weekend, but it really showed. Sym ran a tight team too- the work was carefully apportioned and expertly shepherded through, and at the final presentation the team produced functional multiplatform applications capable of real time collation, analysis and presentation of data across a network or stand alone. The massive impact on field education of this can’t be understated- the delay between gathering numbers in the field and showing results in the classroom is a major barrier to supporting understanding, and with one shot this team hit it. And it worked. And by Monday it was being demonstrated in other centres. Sym and team even took the time to carefully document their whole project and it’s now up on Git Hub for anyone else to download and build for themselves. Git Hub Link for FLAIR.
The judges were pretty much as bowled over by this as the rest of us – the ambition to build working applications and to achieve it whilst facing the toughest challenge was universally applauded.
Andy Piper and Neil Ford had been working on a physical hack to create a kind of universal low power low cost geo data logger, with a core powered by an arduino (a tiny computer) saving data to SD cards. The prototype they were able to show at the review was functional, if still a little bit untidy, but demonstrated brilliantly the idea of having a single button data grabber that could be so cheap and easy to use as to be utterly ubiquitous. The demo did re-ignite a debate that had been running across the weekend as to when was too much automation and machine assistance a bad thing- would tools that did all the data gathering flawlessly not possibly get in the way of a hands on understanding of concepts, and to their credit the team did come up with ways to configure the tool so as to demand more proactive engagement of students in using it. As a core platform this could even be a modular tool so users would need to construct (to a greater or lesser extent) the scientific tools they are using.
The feedback from the judges was really positive- “more data!” is always welcome, especially if it’s cheap and granular, and the benefits of more time to explore concepts rather than repeat the less interesting tasks was identified as a real boon.
Heidi had been helping a lot of the teams in the early stages with their UX ideas, but was able to present a really in depth analysis of the potential for geo-caching within a Field Centre environment. Based on in depth interviews with several educators, and her own wide experience of the activity, the potential use of active and passive games and puzzles in a nature reserve based setting was a fascinating look into future possibilities. In fact it was really nice to see a hack that was about thinking strategically- the weekend was as much about ideas and introductions as making things, and it was great to see ideas properly explored and documented.
The judges notes: Well presented – really useful interviews – interesting balance between self-guided and tutored approach to learning – great to see GPS in the mix and gamification. Very imaginative.
The team from Outlandish Ideas had kept us guessing what their final app would be most of the weekend, refusing to give a name or label much beyond ‘historical data stuff’, so it was a relief to see they had really focused down and when we were shown River Cruncher the impact was huge. Taking masses and masses of field data from river surveys (though conceptually beach survey would work just as well) they built an online tool that lets classes explore the rivers through time and space as their profiles change with the location, the season, and the slapdash measuring of their class mates! This was a really beautifully presented hack, and the animated transformations between the data sets were a joy to behold universally acknowledged with ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ like a good firework display. Harry presented a really compelling educational scenario too, and this was appreciated by teachers in the audience.
As the judges said- Awesome! A great curriculum fit, fantastic way of learning about issues around historic collection of data and accuracy issues, and excellent visual representation.
Pop Up Lab
Bristol Hackspace Suite of Tools
As our resident engineering support, the Hacksapce team didn’t have a huge amount of time or headspace to do their own hack but they did work on a few little, but significant developments during the weekend. These included little temperature loggers that can be left out gathering data (a bush was seen to warm strangely during the night), little cheap IR sensors that were made into camera triggers turning ordinary cameras into camera traps, and another interface that allowed camera flashes to trigger data collection devices (remember Floggr…? Exactly!). These tools together really extended a lot of the capabilities of other hacks, and of course the help of the team to others, and their tools and facilities, was invaluable.
The judges felt this really was a set of hacks that pointed the way to really interesting future work, either as tools, or as science projects in their own right. It was also excellent to see cameras traps in the mix – kids would engage and it could generate many ideas for the future.
AWS (The Automated Weather Station)
Steve and Gordon were hard at work and heads down in a very focused way for the whole weekend working on this, even going so far as to draft in 15 or so of the GCSE students from the school sharing the centre on Saturday night to design a user interface for the web end of their system. With an arduino driven data collection end and a Raspberry Pi unit serving the data to the web, this set up has tremendous potential to simplify the collection of data for use in classrooms at the centre, and crucially for students before and after their time in Slapton. The team did butt up against a couple of really difficult connectivity issues with both their wireless and ethernet connection attempts falling prey to gremlins over the weekend. By Sunday they had the set up working by USB, however they announced the intention to donate the set up to the centre for use, so will be back down in a couple of weeks to finish a linked up set up.
From the judges, the generous donation was particularly commended, as was the innovative and collaboratively designed user interface. The low cost of the parts to create this rig was also applauded allowing wider application of this approach in schools and other centres.
And the Winners Were…
After an intensive discussion our five judges agreed on the following as being the best hacks in the following categories:
For the best build in terms of data use, software development, UX and/or hardware, the judges felt that Outlandish Idea’s River Cruncher was deserving of the Best Build award. The prize was a new Raspberry Pi.
By popular vote (most pebbles in a beaker) the hackers voter that their favourite of all their peers was the Bat Men’s Bat Detector by Mike Saunby and Nick Charlton. The guys were awarded FSC Slapton Hoodies as prizes, and basked in the warm appreciative glow of their colleagues’ approval!
The judging panel felt that as so many of the hacks were clearly early steps along brand new avenues, and since the whole point of the weekend had been to kick off new developments, that it was worth recognising these initial ideas and identifying the one with the most potential for future educational impact. The prize of O’Reilly text books and a large stash of the excellent Sugru went to Andy Piper and Neil Ford for their Floggr hack.
Best in Field
The prize for the best overall hack of the weekend, combining excellence in technical build, superb educational impact and general awesomeness was a unanimous decision by the judging panel. Sym Roe, Norm Caesar, Steve Day, Hanry Miller, Chris Hunt and their many collaborators were universally recognised as producing the weekend’s best hack in the form of FLAIR, and were awarded the prize of a guided visit to the Met Offcie in Exeter. Which was cool for everyone except Steve who works there anyway, so we’ll sort him out with something else. Not sure yet.
Here’s a complete recording from the judges’ feedback and prize giving ceremony: