Various parts and electronic components lay strewn across the desks. Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, and more were stuck to various contraptions, churning away. Redbull infused students buzzed around these contraptions, working feverishly through the night. Is this an all-nighter for an engineering class? A party in at an Adafruit warehouse? No, this is none other than Muddhacks, Mudd’s very own hardware hackathon.
Every year students from the 5 Claremont colleges gather at Mudd to build some kind of project in the 12 hours between 8 pm Friday and 8 am Saturday. Students are funded up to $50, and given all the snacks and Redbull they could need. On 4 or 5 person teams, students code, solder, and hack the night away to build awesome contraptions. I participated in the event, and I’m going to share my experience in this blog.
My teams goal was to build a Bluetooth-enabled door handle opening device and mount it on the door to my suite. The goal was to eliminate the need to swipe your card every time you wanted to enter the suite (aka enable collective laziness), because everyone knows those two seconds spent fishing your ID out of your pocket could be much better spent. The device wouldn’t open the door for you, merely pull down the handle from inside the suite, so that all you have to do is push the door.
There were four main components of the system: Bluetooth recognition, ultra-sonic range finder implementation, stepper motor control, and stepper motor mounting. The door handle was supposed to open when you were standing close to the door (so you set off the ultrasonic sensor) AND your phone was recognized by the Bluetooth module. That way the door wouldn’t open for any random person, only for people that the Bluetooth module recognized.
The night started off poorly with the realization that the power supply we had ordered wasn’t going to be nearly enough to power the stepper motor. After foraging Wal-Mart and Target to no avail, we had a burst of inspiration when we realized we could simply use a power supply from our monitors in our rooms (at least temporarily). The ultrasonic sensor worked great, but the Bluetooth module was a real hassle to integrate, failing completely around 6 am. By this time we had split up to divide and conquer, but it instead turned into divide and disappoint. Building and mounting a mechanism to the shaft of the stepper motor to transfer rotation into torque to pull down the door handle turned out to be a more challenging task than our sleep deprived selves anticipated. Circa 7 am, after finally mounting the stepper motor to the door and connecting the shaft to the handle, we learned the motor didn’t provide enough torque to the handle to pull it down successfully. Zombified, we retreated to the suite.
A valiant effort and a spectacular failure, the automatic door handle opener proved to be a valuable learning experience. Nearly everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong, but in light of those challenges we regrouped, adapted, and tried again. My suite may not have a fancy automatic door handle opening device, but by Odin’s beard do we have innovative problem solving skills, quick thinking abilities, and fantastic Christmas sweaters.