Open Hardware Hackathon

Open Hardware Hackathon 2022

Target Date: 7 January 2022 10.00 – 18.00

Sign up: Microsoft Forms Hackathon sign-up

Host and organise on the Open Lab Team, in the Hackathon Channel: Microsoft Teams channel for Open Hardware at Reading

For more info, contact or other organising team members:

Micro-Bio-Hack: a small hackathon about Microbiology, Microfluidics, Microscopy, Manuscripts and MORE

What is Open Hardware? What is Open Source?

Whilst open hardware is like many things complex when you look closely, the basic principle is simple:

  • Develop hardware (pretty much anything you can think of: from circuit boards to complete lab instruments, ranging from complex microscopes to simple 3D objects)
  • Publish a full list of components
  • Publish the design of any custom components
  • Publish instructions on how to make
  • Publish guide for how to use
  • Publish using an open license, to allow anyone to adapt or re-use

Open Source software is quite widely known to have become a critical segment of computing, from semi-open (Android).

Why 3D printing helps Open Hardware but is not the whole story

Open Hardware isn’t just about 3D printing. Mostly it doesn’t need 3D printing. Often 3D printing is the worst way to make hardware.

However: almost all hardware needs some custom bits (not just off-the-shelf components), and often the best way to make these custom components on a small scale is to 3D print them. 3D printing makes it easy to replicate simple plastic parts of many different shapes.

3D printing is just like 2D printing- harder than you think, but nearly anyone can do it now.

Examples of the success of Open Hardware

Desktop 3D printing: Rapid prototyping has been common for many decades, but cheap, simple,
melted plastic-based 3D printing only came to our homes through Open Source “RepRap” 3D
printer movement, driven by hobbyists and enthusiasts, but now mainstream.

Raspberry Pi and Arduino: The Raspberry Pi is a single-board computer platform/ecosystem, that has spread dramatically and allowed many people (myself included) to build computer systems
cheaply and easily. Interestingly, it’s not fully Open Source. Arduino likewise for microcontrollers.
So, if you want to build a custom computer or robot, it’s cheap and easy. Much of the software
and hardware around these systems is very well documented online, so you can use it even
without proper training (!).

CERN has increasingly used open-source hardware, rather than just buying instruments.

Timetable: 7th of January
Time                                              Activity
10.00 am                                      Team formation and introduction to Open Hardware
10.30 am – 4.30 pm                    Teamwork: making things and planning new ideas
4.30 – ~6:00 pm                          Team presentations and PRIZES with drinks and nibbles

Hackathon Activity: Hardware session

We will supply different kits to each team to build something, but we also want to talk about
microscopy if you want. We can show you a few examples of 3D-printed microscopes.

The three main activities you will complete are:
1. Mechanical: assemble your parts
2. Computer: run your Raspberry Pi headless; connect via VNC
3. Operate: operate your kit

What to bring: We will need teams to run Raspberry Pi computers, which is easiest if you have
an HDMI monitor, and a USB keyboard + mouse. However, they can be run remotely via Wi-Fi using a laptop if you install VNC.

We will try to supply enough monitors and keyboard/mice for each team, but if you can bring these (or bring your own Raspberry Pi) that would be helpful.

Hackathon task: Team projects

We will form teams, ideally, new teams with mixed backgrounds, to spark new ideas and to solve problems faster. Each team will develop their own open hardware project to pitch, and at the final session, all teams will present their project in 3 minutes.

Hackathons typically lead to presentations of a micro business plan or ‘hack’, this presentation should demonstrate:

  • WHAT: What is the idea?
  • WHY? What can be achieved? What problem can be solved?
  • HOW? Evidence this can work- e.g. model, prototype, example images, example designs, sketches
  • WHO CARES? Why does it matter?

Theme and challenges

Our overall theme is Open Source Hardware: we have a particular interest in hardware for life
science research but have no prejudice. Projects should either develop new open hardware or
apply open hardware to current and future challenges.

Challenges are flexible but we encourage projects in fields such as:
Microbiology: ideas for developing and using open hardware in microbiology
Microscopy: ideas for using open digital microscopes
Imaging: Raspberry Pi cameras are brilliant for flexible, controllable, lab-quality imaging
Healthcare: how can open hardware be used to tackle global health problems

We also identified connections and applications across the campus including:
Worms (Nematodes) and Fishes: Time-lapse and video imaging of nematodes C. elegans and
zebrafish is vital to many researchers in SBS and beyond. Laboratory imaging instruments are
expensive and closed. We plan to build custom high-performance and high-throughput imaging
systems using Raspberry Pi.

Manuscripts: Typography archives include exquisite manuscripts and print items. We are
exploring ways of digital imaging to create online open-access archives for international

Types of open hardware are also flexible, but we envisage projects might develop:
Types of digital microscope
Hardware for health data collection
Imaging instruments or rigs

Prize for the best team idea/presentation: TBC


Whoever is interested in Open Source Hardware!

We hope to include people from diverse backgrounds, roles, experience levels and career stages. From masters student to professor; from healthcare, biomedical science and pharmacology to engineering, computing, instrumentation. Etc. We also welcome arts and humanities participants, food and agriculture.

We would also like to invite members of rLab Hackspace in Reading:

We have secured the budget to run this first hackathon and possible sources of support for cross-campus research projects. We are keen to explore external research funding opportunities, and
also, a modest core budget to support Open Source hardware development into the future.

Links and examples:
links to Open Hardware pages; more to be added!
Our Biomedical Technology Laboratory Open Hardware stuff: