Some months ago I ordered 4 micro:bit-based Maqueen robots. I also ordered Huskylens AI-cameras and Maqueen Mechanics parts to connect to the robots. The idea was to gather our developers and let them use their skills on the robots. The results were amazing!
The robot with all parts connected gives you a lot of options. There's a lot of sensors on the micro:bit controller; sensors for temperature, acceleration and light. In addition to a LED display, buttons and a compass. The Maqueen robot has features like a line-tracking sensor and an ultrasonic sensor. As well as RGB lights, a buzzer and a lot more. The Huskylens camera is an easy-to-use AI Camera with features like face recognition, object tracking, object recognition and color recognition.
With all these posibilities, there were a lot of room for creativity and innovative solutions!
Hackathon and company culture
Work on the robots was done in the context of a Hackathon. We gathered at a cabin in Sjusjøen and divided the developers in 4 teams. The teams were presented with a set of badges that they could get when finishing a spesific task. This could be something like "Creative use of the LED display" or "Drive 1m west". Each badge gave the team points in the Hackathon-competition. We also had three competitions where the robots met in an obstacle course, a sorting assignment and an exciting robot battle!
Being presented with some nerdy hardware, coding challenges and a bit of friendly competition, the teams started developing with great enthusiasm. Some teams focused on badges, others on the competitions. After coding for 2 days, we were ready for competitions! And it was as epic as you could imagine!
The idea for the Novanet Hackathon was based on a request from our consultants of "coding more together". As consultants we don't see all our colleagues every day, so coming together and solving complex problems lets everyone get to know each other's skillset. The yearly Hackathon is very popular. Almost all of our consultants attend. Probably because it embodies some of the important values of our company culture, like sharing knowledge, collaboration and hardcore tech skills. When you combine it with like-minded people, some winter activities and a fun "aftercode", it's really a perfect mix.
So, what did we learn after 2 days of hackathon? Other than programming robots.
IoT is becoming really accessible! The robot with all parts connected has a lot of sensors. Getting data on temperature, distance (ultrasonic) or even object recognition/tracking was pretty easy. You could even do it visually with block programming in tools like MakeCode. Can you think of any of the sensors that could make your life easier?
Visual programming is pretty cool! At least for collaboration. One of the teams only used MakeCode and programmed the robot entirely with drag-and-drop. They did mob-programming and had lots of great discussions while looking at a shared screen and moving blocks of code around. Is it possible to visualize more of the software we develop?
Language doesn't matter. Great developers usually understand and can be proficient in other programming languages, even in visual programming tools like MakeCode. Our hackathons has shown that our developers quickly figure out how to solve problems in other programming languages than the ones they use on a daily basis.
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The hackathon was great and we're doing it again next year! If you have an idea for a hackathon or need some pointers on hosting a hackathon, please let me know. If you're a group of developers near Oslo, Novanet can even host a hackathon like this for you! Don't hesitate to get in touch!