Michal Kohutek

MADhack 2018 – Going for the win.

The final post about my experience at MADhack 2018

In the last post, our colorful clique of techno-misfits had faced the misgivings caused by inaccurate task specification, but pushed through and went on swinging. We had come up with a new approach and, while short on time, were filled with hope and regained confidence. We’ve spent the last two weeks of the competition designing and constructing the individual parts of the prototype, such as the weight scale itself, the main controller unit, etc. We had tested all the modules, and they worked remarkably, but we still had the final assembly to do. That’s when we had noticed that we had had a slight problem at hand. For some reason, the various modules would not communicate over i^2c. We had solved this issue by replacing one of the main microcontrollers, and with a few hours left to go, and an unfinished code, we left for Bratislava. After checking in at our hotel and arriving at the venue of the competition, we had gone on with assembling our smart weight scale, and performing some finishing touches. You do not know an adrenaline rush, until you see the first successful insert into database an hour before showing it off before the judges.

Assembling the prototype
Assembling the prototype

Encouragingly, we had not been the only ones with work left to be done, our main rivals, who got under our skins with their incessant questions in the first round, barely tried to hide the fact, that they too had some tweaking and polishing to do.

Our rivals with their Smart Tree project
Our rivals with their Smart Tree project

Luckily for us, Adam is very good at working under duress and together we had assembled and tested the prototype. All that was left to do was hope for the best and wish our competitors some last-minute injury. Max and Andrej had prepared our presentation, filled to the brim with inside jokes, infantile clever memes and valid selling points. We were ready and confident, already seeing ourselves at the top. Then, it started. Never have I had my ego drop so quickly and so low. The moderator introduced the first team to present their solution. Their presentation was something of beauty. I suspect they spent most of their budget and time on the presentation, worthy of a startup in Silicon Valley, presenting to a venture capitalist. It was blingy, it was cool and, in my opinion, mostly fake.

Cool presentation is key!
Cool presentation is key!

They had been working on the same assignment as we were, but they went with off-the shelf commercial distance sensors mounted in the trash cans. Their Android app was visually impeccable, but they were monitoring the volume of waste produced, instead of the really useful metric – the weight. Also, they admitted, that they could not finish the project on time, due to “bad version of the software running in the commercial sensors”. Seems like grabbing an off the shelf sensor for €100 per trash can, with lacking wasn’t the best idea after all. The other issue was that their numbers were too clean-looking to be real-life values. Not that it mattered all that much, as the jury was composed of five people – two experts from Resco, and three laymen – technology journalists.

The jury
The jury

At this point we had understood our grave mistake. We had prepared a presentation for the technical folk, while we were about to be judged by people writing the lists of “Top 10 android games for the summer holiday”. We had had to rethink our strategy and do it fast, even as the dread of utter defeat was looming all over us. The clock was ticking and other teams were also nailing their presentations, with their overpriced smart urban lighting systems ( >€150 per lamp to dim the lights),

I wonder what municipality would pay €500 for dimmable light bulb.
I wonder what municipality would pay €500 for dimmable light bulb.

and an attempt to solve one of the more obvious issue in Slovakia – mass illegal logging. Their approach was flawed in it’s concept, where they would only know if a car went by, not what kind of car, it’s load, nor it’s number plate.

Finally, it was our time to shine. After initial shock at the production value of other presentations, we went off the rails and let Andrej start us up with a few jokes, small details about out trip to Podkonice and resulting conundrum.

Andrej - our designated presenter
Andrej – our designated presenter

After that, we did a small show’n’tell with our first 3D printed prototype,

What joy can be brought by a few meters of PLA filament and four weight cells.
What joy can be brought by a few meters of PLA filament and four weight cells.

After that, Adam and me asked the jury to follow us to our prototype and asked them to start playing with it. We measured a weight of a laptop, few glasses, etc. Adam explained most of the inner workings, while I chimed in with some additional insights.

With all this improvisation, we had used all of our time left and had just a few extra minutes to respond to any questions. Overall, we were quite happy with how we handled the situation, and our hope for the top position had risen from cinders of our burned down egos. Last but definitely not least were our rivals, the Smart Tree team. They had aimed to solve the problem of illegal logging, by strategically installing their tiny device, filled to the brim with sensors – Gyroscope and barometer to detect any major movement of the tree, LoraWan module for communication, GPS for localization, etc. As a bonus, they claimed it had the capabilities of being an ideal Big Data generator for studying forest climate, apart from real-time reporting of the tree status. They even brought a few prototypes, which were very cool, and even had a very clever way of snapping together the 3d printed box together.

After their presentation we saw two ways it could go. Either we would fight for the top spots with the Smart Tree team, due to both of our teams bringing functioning prototypes and generating real data, or we would fail to pick the interest of the laymen in the jury, who could be wooed by fancy animations in presentations. It was all up to the jurors. In the meantime, we had time and opportunity to talk with the other teams and to wish them luck.

Networking with other teams
Networking with other teams
Networking with other teams
Networking with other teams
Networking with other teams
Networking with other teams

After the jury has decided on the winners, they had gathered us up again. When they had awarded the third place to the other team dealing with waste management, we thought we lost any hope, especially after a mention of their great presentation.

Third place - the other waste management team
Third place – the other waste management team

It seemed like the second possibility was all but certain to become true. Fortunately for us, it seemed that our improv and working prototype had won over at least one of the laymen judges and placed us at the second place.

Second place - The WasteX project
Second place – The WasteX project

The first place went to the team with the €150 dimmable light bulb. We were honestly dumbfounded. We had expected the The Smart Tree, with their cool technology and wide application to win the trophy, but neither of the tree logging teams had succeeded in placing in the top three.

First place - Dimmable lights
First place – Dimmable lights
Avengers assemble!
Avengers assemble!

After getting our oversized checks and all the other formalities, the main event of the night has begun – the networking over unlimited cuba libre and good food. To conclude my experience with Resco-sponsored MADhack competition, I loved most of it. The organization, the forthcoming nature of the employees and the intent behind the event were very pleasant surprise for a young cynic like me. I may not agree with the team at the first place, but I accept it and it has been a valuable lesson that we should have learned earlier – Marketing is as important as the technical solution. The whole experience was a valuable one and if possible, I will gladly partake in more Resco events.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *