The Instagram of Toast & Our Best Hackathon Yet!





































We just wrapped up our best hackathon yet. Across the board we blew past our goals. I think it goes without saying that hardware is back. Hackers & inventors are everywhere and they are working very hard to make your world a better place.


First off, I need to thank Y Combinator and all of our peers in YC alumni companies that helped make this event happen. Without them this hackathon just wouldn’t have been possible.

A few months ago I was having a coffee with Paul Graham in Palo Alto. I was bragging about the latest release of Upverter and how it was now possible for us to host hardware hackathons, having hackers design hardware in hours instead of weeks (a huge requirement for a hackathon). I told him how awesome our other hackathons had been. Paul stopped me and said:

Wait, wait, wait… You can finally do all that? Do you want to do a hardware hackathon at YC?


We agreed that it’s still very early in the hardware renaissance, and that small communities need a focal point. We agreed that we should all be trying to help and if we could help in any way, it would be in getting everyone together in the same space and providing that focal point.

It turns out a hackathon is the perfect way to do that.


Over the last 2 months we’ve been working to make this hackathon happen. It all came to a head on Friday when three members of the Upverter flew team down to Mountain View, rendezvoused  with about 20 other mentors, worked out out the flow of the event, got almost no sleep, showed up at YC at 7:30 (the morning one… ugh), and kicked off the biggest event we have ever thrown.


We spent the first 30 minutes frantically setting up power and network for ~200 people. 300+ outlets, 40 power strips, 15 extension cables, and 3 wireless networks…


About 50 team leaders start showing up. We go on a deep dive through the tools, the event, the workflow, judging, food, how to get help, and how to design hardware.


Leaders start soliciting team members and chasing down ideas. Ideation hits full stride. Teams start forming up.




The event kicks off. We all go through the entire event flow and logistics talk. We do a round of Q&A, and we wrap up with a 10 minute countdown to finish ideation & team building.


GO! With all but 2 hackers grouped into teams and all ideas tabled, the hack starts.


Lunch is served! (BBQ… Which is delicious!) Other than a lack of utensils everyone gets fed without a hitch.


1 hour left!


PENCILS DOWN! After 8.5 hours of solid hacking we break for dinner


DINNER IS SERVED! (Chinese.. Also delicious, and a bit spicy!)


Presentations begin. 60 seconds per team, tell us the problem/idea, what you wanted to do, what you actually did, and show us some design files or prototypes.


Presentations end. Judges confer. Hackers mingle.


Awards! Prizes!




Cleanup finished! High fives all around! Upverter locks up and heads out for an exhausted pint


Some numbers to paint a picture of who this event touched:

  • 10K+   Pre-event reach
  • 300     Applications
  • 200     Invitations (limited by space)
  • 132+   Attendees
  • 32       Submitted hacks
  • 30       Presentations
  • 23       Mentors
  • 11       Awards

1st Prize: Tactilus

The Tactilus is a haptic feedback glove for interacting with 3D environments. A series of cables applies pressure to the wearer’s fingers to resist their motion in response to pushing against a virtual object. When can I get my hands on one?

Runner Up: Baby Rocker

Why rock your baby to sleep yourself when you can have a robot do it for you? Prototyped with an electric can opener, the baby rocker rocks your baby gently to sleep with the push of a button in a mobile app.

Most Marketable Award: DIYNot,actionId=

The DIYNot is a plug that goes in-line with any of your AC appliances (that draw 2 amps or less) and gives you the power to switch it on or off via a microcontroller (not included). The simple schematic give it an excellent part to prize ratio.

Vision Award: Circuit Checker,actionId=

Circuit Checker is a tool for verifying the construction of your electronic devices. It analyzes files in the Upverter Open JSON Format and calculates the expected impedance at several nodes in the layout. The designer then uses the device to measure impedance at the calculated points and verify the construction of the device.

Presentation Award: Picture Toaster

The Instagram of Toast. Send it an image, and this magical toaster will burn it into the surface of the greatest thing ever invented – sliced bread. Jam and butter not included.

Utility Award: Window Blind Controller,actionId=

We’ve all been there – the streetlights shine into your room at night and prevent you from sleeping, but if you close them, you’ll miss the sunrise and sleep in ‘till noon. Not with the Window Blind Controller! This handy device clips to your blinds and opens them automatically as morning approaches.

Assistive Technology Award: Walkmen

The Walkmen  is an ultrasound virtual walking stick with haptic feedback for guiding blind and otherwise disabled people while they walk.

Wearable Technology Award: Body API,actionId=

For the quantified self enthusiast who needs more than a step counter, the Body API is a comprehensive metric-gathering device that gives you the data you need to min/max real life.

Student Award: SeeTheLight,actionId=

The $1500 price tag on Google Glass got you down? For students on a budget, these glasses made of laser-cut MDF help you find north by lighting up one of the embedded LEDs that most directly faces Santa’s Workshop. There’s no built-in video camera, but those are kinda creepy anyway.

Corportate Shill Award: Electric Imp / Twitter M&M,actionId=

A candy dispenser upgraded with a sleek and sexy Electric Imp. It dispenses M&M’s in response to tweets, making it an invaluable addition to introductory psychology classes everywhere. Did we mention it was made by the team from Electric Imp?

Best Lockitron Knockoff Award: Spark,actionId=

It’s like Lockitron for your lights! This ATMega-powered light switch adds Wi-fi to your home switches, giving you the power to prank your friends, confuse your neighbours, throw wicked lightswitch raves, and even do useful things like making sure you didn’t forget to turn your lights off.

Upverter Honorable Mention: Prism

These guys built themselves a Google Glass knockoff in 9 hours, complete with embedded display and gesture-based interactions, and didn’t even get an official award. We can’t stop talking about how cool their project is, though, so we’re giving them an Upverter Honorable Mention. Great work guys!

Participating Companies

Thanks again to everyone that helped out!

Y Combinator and Upverter are hosting a Hardware Hackathon!

With the ever-increasing number of hardware startups being accepted to Y Combinator, we thought that we could throw some gas on the fire and encourage the Hardware Renaissance.

So we’re excited to be hosting the first ever Y Combinator Hardware Hackathon! We’re currently accepting applications from both individuals and teams. Accepted teams will be contacted by February 8, 2013. We already have some really exciting companies signed up, including PebbleOctopart and CircuitHub.

Event Page:

Date: February 23rd, 2013, 10AM – 10PM


You should come and join us! The hottest up-and-coming startups are all hardware. There is no better place than a hackathon to bounce your ideas off like-minded people and change your trajectory. You might even find your soon-to-be co-founder!

The w2013 startups just voted on which of their peers were most likely to succeed. The top two were both hardware companies.

— Paul Graham (@paulg)

January 23, 2013

Find more information (, or go straight to the application form (

Open Compute Summit IV: Hardware Hackathon


Originally posted here.

Last week at the fourth Open Compute Summit in Santa Clara, we held the first-ever OCP hardware hackathon. In just nine hours, a group of about 70 hackers generated seven really interesting hardware designs — all of which could now be turned into physical products that are ready to plug in and power up.

Like in a software hackathon, the goal in a hardware hackathon is to take an idea from concept to prototype in as little time as possible. The big differences in a hardware hack are that the “prototype” is a set of manufacturing files (bill of materials, Gerbers, and solid models) and that projects are often judged not just on their innovation and utility, but also on how easily they could eventually be manufactured. At stake in this hack: The OCP Foundation would help the winning team patent their design or take it to prototype.

We began the process several weeks in advance, soliciting project ideas from the OCP community and zeroing in on six themes: storage, sensors & displays, communication, power, racks & mechanical, and robotics. My company, Upverter, provided design tools for the teams to use, and GrabCAD got involved to fill out the mechanical side of the hack.

And then came the main event! At 1:00 pm on the first day of the Summit the 70 hackers got together in one of the ballrooms. We walked through what tools were available and what type of files could be submitted at the end of the hack. We then started a timer and the hackers began to find and form teams.

The energy that poured into ideation and team formation was pretty awesome to watch. We had whiteboards set up all over the room, with little semicircles around each and hackers debating the problems they were excited about. After about 30 minutes teams were formed, ideas were picked, and the actual hacking began.

Here are the projects the different teams tackled:

19″ to Open Rack conversion

The challenge: Build mechanical and power interoperability between legacy compute hardware and the Open Rack standard. The hack was predominantly mechanical and resulted in a three-piece rack design that could be configured to accept either type of hardware. The team was working on the mechanical designs at the end of the hack.

Bluetooth adaptor

The challenge: Get rid of the USB and serial cable mess that’s required to hook a laptop up to the debug port of a server. The hack designed a small circuit that allowed the technician to connect to a server via Bluetooth, instead of via a serial cable. The team had a working prototype and design files in Upverter at the end of the hack.

Debug port aggregation

The challenge: Collect all the debug port information from all the servers in a rack and connect it to the Internet. The hack was designed mechanically and electrically and was mostly complete by the end of the hack.

The “FlexiStrip”

The challenge: Line a smattering of server racks from floor to ceiling with an array of temperature sensors and then use that data to generate a thermal profile of the data center. The team focused on the sensor arrays themselves, but they also did some Arduino prototyping into reading sensors and wireless communication.

The “Happy Rack”

The challenge: Monitor the health and happiness of a server rack and display it prominently and physically on the top of the rack. The hack was done as a prototype cardboard box with an Arduino-driven arrow that moved between an unhappy face and a happy face depending on input. (This hack won our unofficial “Hacker Spirit Award.”)

High-density Open Rack JBOD server

The challenge: Take a high-density array of cheap disks and design an enclosure for them that would fit into an OCP Open Rack. The team made it as far as mechanical and thermal models. They were beginning to work on the carrier/backplane circuit boards at the end of the hack.

Mesh-networked sensors

The challenge: Distribute a large number of low-power sensors around a data center and communicate between them efficiently. The hack was built on top of Arduino, ZigBee wireless, and a simple thermal sensor. The team focused on a prototype, finished it early, and spent the rest of the hack on documentation and moving the design into Upverter.


At the end of the hackathon, all the groups did quick presentations on their hacks. We were all impressed by the quality, applicability, and completeness of all of the projects. To determine the winner, we looked at the five deliverables (schematic, layout, mechanical, prototype, documentation), the hack’s applicability to data centers, and the hack’s completeness and manufacturability.

The winning design: The debug port aggregation hack. This team produced a design that hit 4 of the 5 deliverables, was super applicable, and was just hours from completion.

Congratulations to all the teams involved for their great work, and see you at the next OCP hardware hack!

Zak Homuth is the co-founder and CEO of Upverter. Upverter builds the pickaxes of hardware engineering. Ideation tools, schematic capture, PCB layout, design hosting, parts library management, and affordable prototyping. All of which are collaborative, accessible, reusable, and in the cloud.

Hardware Hackathon with Open Compute & Upverter

The Open Compute Project and Upverter are hosting a massive open hardware hackathon – and you’re invited!

You + Open Compute & Upverter
What: Hacking Hardware at the Open Compute Summit
Where: Santa Clara Convention Center
When: January 16/17, 2013
Why: To design a set of open hardware “lego” blocks


The OCP will host its first ever hardware hackathon at the upcoming summit, January 16/17. We are limiting attendance to 100 people so signup ASAP! We also ask that you only register if you plan to participate in the entire hack (6-10 hours over the course of the two day OCP summit).

Participating hackers will use the Upverter platform (see among others. We will provide tutorials and the Upverter team will be available to provide guidance throughout the hack. We will break the hackers into different teams for the duration of the hack and present the end results at the summit’s plenary on the 17th. Once you register we will start working with you on ideation. We will provide reference material on hardware design and circulate information on the Upverter tools.

Note that registering for the hack will also register you for the entire OCP summit.


To design a set of “lego” blocks that can be applied to the scale compute datacenter space with a focus on improving energy efficiency, operational efficiency and cost reduction.

Design Tools

The following list of tools are what will be used to design & collaborate on each of the hacks:

Reccomended Team Makeup

Ideally each team has a combination of these skill sets:

  • ElecEng,
  • MechEng,
  • SWEng,
  • Designer.

Starting Point

We recommend starting with a really simple problem & design that can be modified, and iterated on top of, or even whole-scale deleted. It will provide a great reference point to fall back to through out the hack and a base to scaffold on top of.

Physical Tools

We are going to avoid the machine shop, soldering irons, etc. that go along with building real stuff during the hackathon and instead focus on the design side. The tradeoff is that we will get everything you design professionally manufactured and distributed to you post summit.

Example Hack Project

Use low-power sensors for temperature information across a datacenter. Use the Zigbee wireless protocol and aggregate the heat data across the datacenter. This has the benefit of not requiring any additional wiring or interfaces.

Toronto Hardware Hackathon: Wrap Up







Phew! What an event!

First let me say thanks to everyone for coming out. All told we had about 90 different hardware hackers join us at some point over the course of the weekend. NINETY! There was a time last week when I thought we would be in great shape if we got 10 or 15 people out… Needless to say you rocked my world. Who knew hardware was such a popular topic?

For those of you that hacked with us, thanks again for being so awesome! You guys created some pretty cool stuff – we were absolutely thrilled to be seeing the tools in action, helping where we could, fixing where we had messed up, and generally just being surrounded but such a stellar group of individuals. Thanks!

For those of you that missed it – I think you’ll get a second shot at it. In a few weeks we will be releasing the latest and greatest version to the public. And… Because of the killer attendance were thinking about organizing a hardware hackathon version 2 for the fall – so stay tuned!

Who won?


It was really never about winning. But prizes are awesome! So we had a community vote at the end of the event, and chosen by you the winners were:

  • The wireless, micro-controller based, laptop drivable robot
  • The white-noise microphone and generator for securing conversations
  • The solar powered, super capacitor, blinky organic firefly LED



I want to say thank you again (and again!) to our sponsors. We love you! You helped pay for food, for beer, and for swag. You gave us an awesome space to hack in. You made this event possible for all of us. So thanks!

Some stats!

Who doesn’t like stats?!?! Here’s a rough breakdown of who the event touched and how.

  • Attendance: 93
  • T-shirts given out: 82
  • Upgraded accounts: 67
  • New designs: 204
  • Red bulls consumed: 21
  • Coffees consumed: 27
  • Beers consumed: 116
  • Event uptime: 37 / 46 hours (80%)
  • Event cost: $3,952.15

Theres a survey!

If you attended the event please help us make the next one an even bigger success by filling out our short survey (it should take you about 7 mins). Thanks!

Bugs & Manufacturing

For those of you still blocked by bugs – know that we are still hard at work! We will be releasing a big round of fixes this week (we’ll notify you when we do), and hopefully they will mean you can get back to work on your projects. Whenever you’re ready to kick off manufacturing of your project just send an email to with you real name, shipping address, username, and the design id(s) you want fabbed. The whole process should take between 7 and 14 days from you notifying us.