Build Your Own Hacklebox

IMG_0911In the last two years I supported something like 50-60 hackathons and developer workshops. Many of these were hardware focused.

It became abundantly clear that students can’t do much with just a device – they need soldering irons, pin wire, breadboards, tape, scissors and all manner of other supplies in order to actually build something. These items are not always present at many events.

Thus the idea of a rolling hacklebox was born.


We (Intel Mashery DEVO, at the time) gathered some feedback, observed the common types of projects that get built and distilled it into this Google spreadsheet. Feel free to use this to build your own rolling hackathon solution for hardware events.

I broke out all the costs, suggested counts of devices and embedded order links from Amazon to make it easy to stock up. The Keter Master Pro (pictured) happens to be quite nice as a rolling chest for these events. It doesn’t survive airplanes very well.

I tried to pick supplies that are on the cheap side.


Sensors and Sensor Kits

A good approach is to pick a sensor format such as Seeed Studio Grove (a simple format for pluggable sensors) and lend people Grove shields. You can then provide a wide library of sensors for checkout during the event if people want them. These sensors are generally too expensive to give away, so I suggest appointing a sensor librarian to track and recover everything.

Sensors tend to be useful between hackathons, other components like pin wire and LEDs are going to get chewed up and you aren’t going to want them back. Some venues will complain about smoke from soldering and not allow it.

Hardware Platforms

This is too broad a topic to cover in great detail, there are new boards coming out daily.

The Arduino 101 ($30) is pretty sweet, not just saying the because I work on it at Intel MIG. I like that it has BLE and Gyro / Accelerometer by default. This particular combination of basic functionality combined with Arduino Uno compatibility will be compelling for many students.

Anything that requires WiFi is going to have problems at most public events. There are often barriers to overcome (navigating HTML redirects, authentication, isolation mode etc).

Raspberry Pi and other HDMI-capable devices – People are going to want keyboards, mice, monitors – that is hard to support at an event with many people unless you just run in headless mode.

The LightBlue Bean+ is likely a great platform for hackathons and workshops. Most devices from should be pretty good. RedBearLab and mBientLab have devices which are promising as well.

The more common requests (with some examples) from students:

  • Flex sensors  (1) (2) -> Good for building glove projects, darn expensive to give to people
  • Light sensors  (1) (2) -> Can be used as a primitive motion sensor also
  • Proximity sensors (1) -> Detect presence of objects
  • PIR / Motion Sensors (1) -> Lots of requests for these to use in home security projects
  • Potentiometers (i.e. knobs) (1) -> General control of some analog actuator
  • Buttons  (1) (2) -> A must, lots and lots of uses
  • Lots of LEDs, multi-color as well as single color (1)
  • Battery power packs, LiPos, 9v batteries (or USB battery sticks) -> A must for wearables, USB battery sticks are wonderful for hackathons
  • 9v Barrel Jack Connectors for 9v batteries (1)
  • Alcohol sensors (1) -> College students go nuts with these things with projects
  • Accelerometer / gyros (1) -> Endless requests for these, very popular
  • Hall sensors (magnetic) (1) -> Detect a gate opening and closing, or maybe if a key or object is picked up
  • Crash Sensor (1) -> Car or skateboard, snowboard crashes, good for wearables
  • LED strips are very popular, especially the NeoPixel
  • There are other fun sensors out there such as UV,  moisture / humidity, flame, dust, gravity and gas
  • Servo motors (1) -> People build really simple things like a box that opens and closes to hide a key to prevent a drunk driver kind of thing
  • Brushless DC motors aka stepper motors (1) -> Robots, things which require stopping the motor at a specific angle
  • Motor driver shields (1) -> Rovers and other similar robots, need wheels though

Where to get kits

Here is the spreadsheet with all the buy links and costs: Check out the open source hacklebox manifest.

Thanks to Martin Kronberg, Steven Xing, Wai Lun Poon, Cheston Contaoi, Dan Holmlund, Monica Houston for providing feedback and suggestions to this list.