Is Silicon Valley still the only mover and shaker, or are creative ideas born in other places too? Are million-dollar labs a must, or is an old former railway building enough? This year’s #AimtecHackathon in Pilsen’s Moving Station was proof positive that progress can be born anywhere – and it changed our thinking too. This March, fans of new technologies from among students, academics and professionals came together in Pilsen for the fourth time.
Hackathons are a format that is popular worldwide. And with good reason, because they connect technologies with creative people who can find new uses for them. These two sides of the equation might never come together otherwise, because not everyone has access to their own robot, IoT cloud platform, or latest-generation VR hardware. We do have that access. And because we’re well aware of the power of thinking outside of the box, we offer opportunities to others as well.
This year’s #AimtecHackathon had a single spirit: “the technologies have matured”. In previous years, we often found ourselves trying a technology for the first time. We didn’t know anything about it, and there really wasn’t anyone in the world who could advise us. It was trial and error, in a sense. We usually had major enthusiasm at the start, and at the end sometimes a little disappointment too. But the technologies that reigned in this year’s hackathon already have those wild years behind them. “This year AimtecHackathon was a three-day event, which was very exhausting for the organisers, but at the same time, the entire event filled us with energy, and I’m confident that besides the new ideas, it has led to a number of new friendships”, says #AimtecHackathon’s main organiser Jiří Dobrý. Markéta Jedličková from the winning team praises the atmosphere as well: “AimtecHackathon is great because of how you feel at home. There’s a great team of people here organising it, and they put a lot of energy into it”.
IoT and the cloud attracted the most attention. Today it’s nearly certain that the age of smart refrigerators is just around the corner. Within the Hackathon, participants could try out all three of the IoT networks in the latest generation, while also receiving a chance to prove that smart devices can be built for just pennies using commonly available components. The Big-Clown platform, for example, saw use as the foundation for a sensor that monitored parcel shipment (it monitored a parcel’s temperature, humidity, position and acceleration), while commonly available sensors were used for a system that monitored the air quality in a house or apartment, and an outdoor version that monitored urban spaces. As well as one of those smart refrigerators we mentioned – it could monitor its own contents via barcode scanning, and could even talk to its owner.
Just about every IoT project today has to use cloud services it seems, and here we were pleased to offer the teams a number of services from the market leader, Amazon AWS. Likewise nearly every team worked with the RDS database service for data stoage, and we tested the mettle of AWS Rekognition as well, for face recognition and other services.
Mixed Reality was another popular area. The team named ARigami presented one option for harnessing augmented reality as an interactive guide; they applied it to the problem of origami folding. Using the OpenCV framework, it performed image analysis, and then it recommended the next step in real time.
Virtual reality was there in the form of not only the HTC Vive headsets that are so widespread today, but also the top-of-the-line and professional-ready XTAL headset from vrgineers. The real-world use of a hand-motion sensor, Leap Motion, was a small exception to the “no new technologies” theme. It lets users manipulate the environment of an augmented or virtual reality without any kind of controller, thus bringing us closer to mass utilisation of these technologies. Without any kind of training, using natural motions, users can play the piano, control VR strategy games and more. This sensor proved itself fully up to par for use in gaming.
We saw the greatest leap this year by the technology that’s been with us the longest. We’ve all known the word robot for a hundred years, and robots assemble most cars today, but recently we’ve seen a change in their availability. Today they’re not just a tool for the elite costing hundreds of thousands of Euros. You want to build your own android? Today you can do it for even just €500.
The influence of robotics on our future will be enormous: once-expensive goods will become an everyday commodity open to everyone. The Czech open-source robot project Matylda is a nice example. It gained a bit of national fame for its hitch-hiking travels back and forth through our country. But it really deserves international fame, as a great example of a new generation of robots that everyone can build themselves. Its body can be printed on a 3D printer, and countless e-shops out there can sell you its electronics. A RaspberryPi or an Arduino can be used as its brain.
A team at this year’s Hackathon managed to not only assemble an entire Matylda robot, but also teach it a number of things. Thanks to cloud services, it was able to communicate in natural language – the team used IBM Watson for its speech recognition and SpeechTech TTS for its speech synthesis. It also used a dialogue system for managing communication, thanks to which this Matylda could react to simple commands in natural language. The icing on top was live video streaming using Amazon Kinesis straight into the cloud for analysis. Here the Rekognition system processed the video and could recognise human faces and their characteristics – such as age, gender and mood.
Collaborative robots were another quite interesting area. Until now, for safety reasons, every robot has had to be enclosed in a cage, with no humans allowed inside. However, global manufacturers are beginning to become aware that human-robot co-operation is also an important part of solutions, and so today nearly every one of them offers “collaborative robots”. A robot of this type differs from its older brothers and sisters mainly in its set of sensors that detect whether it has collided with anything or encountered any kind of resistance during its motion. It is entirely safe in conjunction with humans, who can behave entirely unpredictably around it without a risk of injuries.
An international team presented a possible use for collaborative robots at AimtecHackathon via a simple game of noughts and crosses. The robot was fitted with a camera that monitored the scene, and its image was processed using the OpenCV framework. Through segmentation, the real-world image was transformed into a digital description of the current situation that the gameplay algorithm could use. This example of playing a very simple game vividly illustrated a much broader concept in which a robot could co-operate with a human in performing a certain task while also reacting in real time to the current situation. The Fanuc collaborative robot to which the hackathon’s participants had access had no predefined motions (since the human it was playing against chose moves randomly), and yet it was always able to react to the token just placed on the playing field and to choose a new move using artificial intelligence.
AimtecHackathon has expanded our boundaries once again. It has shown us IoT solutions that no longer require years of waiting. It has pushed the possibilities of virtual and augmented reality forward with help from natural hand control. And meanwhile it has confirmed that robots are indeed here for everyone. They don’t need to be enclosed in cages, they don’t have to cost millions and any one of us can build one at home. Now let’s all go out and find ways for these technologies to help us as much as they can.
#AimtecHackathon is organised by Aimtec to support tech education and IT awareness among the public. Our first Hackathon was held in 2016, and over time these events’ programming marathons have been joined by presentations and children’s programmes. The event is traditionally held in Pilsen in March. The Faculty of Applied Sciences at UWB and nvias – a youth tech education centre – are its main partners. For more information on this project, visit www.aimtechackathon.cz.
#AimtecHackathon 2019 Partners: Alpha Industries, Amazon Web Services, Arduino-shop.cz, BigClown, Campo Arduino, The City of Pilsen Robotics Centre, Cisco Systems (Czech Republic), DataScript, Desseq, eMan, Fanuc, The Faculty of Applied Sciences at UWB, The Faculty of Health Care Studies at UWB, iNFINITE production, juicymo, nvias, OpenTechLab Jablonec nad Nisou, RVTECH, SentiSquare, SpeechTech, TrendMicro and VOŠ a SPŠE Plzeň. Media partners: ABC magazine, AIMagazine and ComputerWorld.