Hardware Hackathon winners design world’s first connected cash-counting till

4 Nov 2014

The winning team at last night’s Hardware Hackathon at Dublin City University (DCU) created over the course of just one weekend a prototype for the world’s first connected, real-time cash-counting till.

“Welcome to the new revolution,” the CEO of TechShop Mark Hatch told more than 100 industrial designers and hardware enthusiasts who arrived on Saturday as strangers and emerged as 12 cohesive teams that battled it out to create viable products and working prototypes by Monday.

Hatch, who is spearheading plans to open TechShop’s first overseas facility to provide engineers and entrepreneurs with rapid prototyping tools in Dublin in partnership with DCU, told the assembled hardware hackers that because of access to tools such as 3D printers and CNC machines, the cost of prototyping new hardware has fallen in many cases by a factor of 99pc.

He demonstrated new technologies created at TechShop’s eight locations in the US, including a portable incubation blanket for newborn babies that has been credited with saving more than 50,000 babies’ lives so far.

“Change the world or die trying,” he advised the enthusiastic hardware hackers who gave up their weekends for free to vie for the overall prize.

The two-day event was held at DCU’s Innovation Campus in partnership with DCU and the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in Dublin, and was the second in a series of DCU and PCH hardware hackathons in just two months. The previous event took place in September.

First prize went to Cash Up, which developed and prototyped a connected cash register for automated cash management. The team was awarded a €1,500 fund for the continuing development of its product, sponsored by PCH and consulting from Each&Other. The team also received three tickets to the Web Summit.

The winning team consisted of Kilian Dolan, Paul Ganly, Adam O’Brien, Aoife Crowley, Kevin Loaec, Alex Beregszaszi, James Foody, Jonny Cosgrove, Pauline O’Callaghan, Jason Ruane and Andrew Conlon.

The winning Cash Up team

“We used the fact that each euro note has different absorption characteristics for near-infrared light to count what kinds and how many notes were in the till, and force sensors incorporated into individually calibrated pots kept track of coins,” explained Foody, who delivered the winning pitch.

“It enables business owners to assess cash flow analytics remotely in real-time, triggering alerts when any discrepancies between till read and actual cash in the till arise. This helps business owners eliminate the need for manual till counts (up to eight hours a day in busy venues), clamp down on employee theft and minimise human error in till counts,” Foody said.

Second prize went to City+, which developed a bicycle-powered connected sensor. The team received a €1,000 cash prize for the development of its product and an Autodesk Licence.

PillPal won third prize for its smart pill box to tackle medical non-complianceThe team received a €500 cash prize for the development of its product.

Among the other prototypes developed at the weekend were a control and monitoring system for urban allotments, a sensor to monitor the shelf life of products, and a wearable sensor to monitor air quality.

Design for life

Prior to the winners being announced, Silicon Republic CEO and editor-at-large Ann O’Dea hosted a panel discussion that included PCH CEO Liam Casey; Airbnb’s head of consumer experience Aisling Hassell; Paul Cocksedge, co-founder of Paul Cocksedge Studio; and Yonatan Raz-Fridman, CEO and co-founder of Kano.

One thing all the panel members made very clear was that the world today is very much design-led and the best designers take their inspiration from the world around them and the need to improve, preserve and ultimately simplify things.

Raz-Fridman is behind London-based start-up Kano, which raised more than stg£1m on Kickstarter from investors that included Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. The funds were used to build a DIY computer kit designed to help people of all ages assemble a computer from scratch and learn basic coding skills.

Raz-Fridman said that in designing products for consumers, innovators should always try and stretch themselves.

“We built a computer for kids to build themselves in a simple and fun way. We asked for stg£100,000 on Kickstarter and achieved that goal within 12 hours and eventually raised over stg£1m.

“After Kickstarter we took a flight to Hong Kong to meet Liam Casey and after 12 hours we decided to work together. A month ago we shipped our first product to 26,000 people in 86 countries.

“We delivered 98pc of the units bought by people, which is a solid achievement. In design you always try and stretch yourself. We think of ourselves as a design company making computers.”

Cocksedge studied industrial design in Sheffield and art in London. He said that to succeed in this new revolution that Hatch described is really about combining technical and artistic thinking.

His studio is designing a restaurant in Paris, a sculpture in Shanghai, and various electronics products.

Cocksedge told the room how one of his hardware products was inspired by the fact that 10,000 perfectly good audio speakers go into landfills in the UK every month. He revealed his creation Vamp to wild cheers – a tiny red box that sits on any speaker or amp and streams music digitally.

“We raised stg£110,000 and we are now in production with Vamp and it has been a joyful experience.”

Hassell pointed out that at least two of Airbnb’s players were graduates of the Rhode Island School of Design and that “design thinking” is very much at the heart of what Airbnb is all about.

“Airbnb is fundamentally a tech company that has a platform and components. We build the experience, see the aesthetic – it permeates every single decision we make.

“Every frame matters. It means the founders are part of every design process and question every experience the customer will have. It permeates the employee experience, too.” Hassell said.

Airbnb opened its offices in Dublin in April this year and Hassell told Siliconrepublic.com the operation is now hurtling towards 300 employees in the city.

“Everything we do is very centred on design with a functional back end. It’s a continuous system of customer-led innovation and improvement.

“We always listen to the customer’s voice at every stage in the design process. The customer’s tastes will change and so the product always evolves.”

Casey said the one thing that successful products have in common is that its creators are passionate about the customer experience.

“You have to care for the experience and the design,” he told the assembled hardware hackers. “Think about people unboxing the product and their continued experience with the product.

“We were thrilled that NCAD came on board this time and from walking around over the weekend (it was easy to see) design influence was very obvious and the teams embraced design and were smart about what resources they had.”

Raz-Fridman summed up the design-led world we are in today.

“There is a tension – design is the beginning but engineering needs to accompany design. The world has changed – people wait in line for a phone that looks the same as the last one. Apple has sold more computers in the last quarter than in its history. It’s not just about practicality, it’s about experience and consistency between software, hardware and packaging.”

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years