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‘Makeathon’ encourages engineers to work with hardware

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The lights in Dreese Laboratories will stay on throughout the weekend as students stay up all night creating new gadgets and machines.

OHI/O, Ohio State’s hackathon program, is helping the Electronics Club put on a makeathon this weekend. The makeathon is a hardware-focused hackathon, which is an intensive and lengthy period where people construct machines that do a certain function based on the hardware available.

Up to 80 students can compete in the event, and participants are allowed to work in teams, with a maximum of four students per team, said Eric Bauer, president of the Electronics Club and a third-year in electrical engineering.

“This is a pilot event to determine if we can do a hardware-focused hackathon. We’re calling it a makeathon because you’re physically making something instead of building software,” Bauer said.

Students will have 24 hours to make whatever they can out of hardware provided to them courtesy of the Electronics Club, OHI/O, Texas Instruments, AwareAbility and Microsoft, Bauer said.

Bauer said he hopes the makeathon will provide students with an outlet for ideas to come to life and be part of their professional portfolio.

Hardware that comes out of the makeathon is “something we want students to be able to show to people on their resumes. It’s a great way for sponsors and professors to look for valuable candidates for research or internships in the hardware field,” Bauer said.

There will be an awards ceremony that will give prizes to the winning team and a runner-up based on judgment by the organizers of the event. TI, AwareAbility and Microsoft will also be giving away their own prizes based on their own judgments, Bauer said.

The prizes will be kept secret until the day of the event, but even those who don’t win a prize will still receive honorable mentions for special categories, such as “coolest lighting project,” “coolest use of motors” and “coolest failure,” he said.

Josh Kuehn, a first-year in computer science and engineering and president of Buckeye Hackers, a student organization dedicated to the technology culture at OSU, has coordinated with the Electronics Club in organizing and advertising the event. He said the event is good because of a natural bias to software.

“It’s a lot easier to get into software. There’s no money investment. There’s no physical investment. You can just pick it up and start going, and if you give up on it, you can give up,” Kuehn said. “It’s harder to get into hardware, but at the same time, you can do some really cool things with it, because hardware is where software meets the physical world.”

TI is another large contributor to the event, and it will be donating 50 LaunchPad microcontrollers for students to use. Workshops will be available for students to learn how to use them, Bauer said.

Microcontrollers are smaller computers that do one thing well. They typically take a single form of input and convert it to some form of output, and they are found in many consumer electronics, such as microwaves, automobiles and TVs.

If the event this weekend is a success, there is a possibility for future makeathons, said Steven Bibyk, an associate professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the adviser of the Electrical Club. Bibyk added that he hopes there will be a larger artistic technology presence in future makeathons rather than limiting it to people in fields related to engineering.

“If you want to make it more humanistic … you have to start bringing in parts of the world and hook up software to it,” Bibyk said. “There are lots of creative people who never touch software, but they do touch hardware, so that’s their path to software.”

Bibyk also said he is looking for new ways to teach his classes, and he hopes to learn from students that attend the OHI/O Makeathon.

Kuehn said he hopes to see interesting hardware hacks at this weekend’s event.

“I want to see something really unique. I want to see something that I can look at and say, ‘I had no idea that was a problem, and I had no idea that was a way to solve it,’” he said.

The makeathon will officially start at 1 p.m. on Saturday and run until 1 p.m. the next day in Dreese Laboratories 260. The awards ceremony will be at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

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