I’M A FIRIN MA LAZER! – Science Hack Day Berlin 2015

Finally I can put this category „hacking“, that I started when setting up this blog, to a good use.

This weekend, from the 23rd to the 25th of October, the Science Hack Day took place in the fab lab in Berlin. I was so lucky to hear about this one ahead of time, not like usual only 4 weeks later. So Doro registered me while I was in a car in Saxony (work, yay!) and some 2 weeks later I sat down on a red plastic chair in the fablab.berlin in Prenzlauer Berg.

After a few lightning talks that covered private space hacking, light installations and the hacks behind bee keeping it was time for some project pitches. In some weird turn of events I came first on stage and presented my idea: Building a physical interface to display digital data from public transport data sets. Not very sciency, but hey, data and visualization were ticked off the science hack bingo sheet.

The following pitches were more or less sophisticated, weird and interesting. Then we formed groups and much to my surprise a group of 5 or so people were interested to follow my idea and build an interface. We talked and joked and shared ideas before we went home to get some rest to prepare for the upcoming hackathon.

Saturday morning we brainstormed and planned our little project. The goal was to create an object that is once set up and customized to provide exactly one kind of information, much like a watch on the wall. There is no interaction needed to get the information you’re looking for. Of course all information is available on other channels, but always hidden behind several taps or clicks. Much like a clock on the wall, that could be replaced by a smartphone, which can even show time in different places on the world. The physical appearance of a piece of technology like a clock though provides a different feel for the interaction and provides a quicker but specific feedback.



To keep things simple and straightforward we wanted to create an installation, that illustrates the distance of the next train to our station. To start our daily commute to work we could just look at our product to see, how far the next train is from our station and whether we have to run, can casually walk or still have plenty of time. Or even missed the connection. We chose the station on Prenzlauer Allee at fablab as an example. To avoid electronic parts we wanted to build a physical interface based on a moving train cart that physically approaches our station. A circular indicator provides information if we should go or stay and wait.


Our little team, comprised of Canadian Matt, US American Michaela, German Tom, Gil and me started to work on the different parts of the project. The computer geeks started coding, grabbing live train data from the internet. Berlin unfortunately locked its data behind and authentication process, but we could find useful data in London. Matt took care of talking to the Arduino driving the stepper motor while Michaela took care of the mechanical problems involved in the project. I was designated designer and mostly played with the laser cutter. The wheel on the stepper motor to hold the piece of string to pull the train was one of my best designs. I measured, put a vector file together and had it cut to fit so perfectly on the axle that we didn’t even have to glue it. I love laser cutters.


Our first prototype just consisted of a stepper motor hooked to the Arduino and a piece of string with tape to measure movement speed and precision of the stepper motor.

The thing below is from another group. It is science.

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The stylized map of the neighborhood was cut into a piece of MDF. I was amazed how well the laser cutter translates the vector files into super sharp marking on the wood.





The train was designed and printed by Michaela. It even featured a hole for a LED, but we dropped that due to time restrictions.


The whole thing is powered by an Arduino Uno and a motor shield, both of which are fed by some clever python code from a PC.



I focused on the physical aspects of the build but it should not be forgotten how important the coding was. Gil, Tom and Matt managed to put some code together that worked really well not only for the demonstration purposes but is also easily adaptable to real application with live data from the public transport providers.

And this is the working train in action.


After the hacking comes the presentation on Sunday. Every team had 4 minutes to show their work. It was impressive what was pulled off in the short time. There was a PCR machine hack, a tunneling electron microscope, a visualization of CO2 production by websites and several health hacks, including a device to detect teeth grinding when sleeping. After these impressive presentations we were quite surprised to hear that we did not only win the best design price but also the audience favorite (shared with the teeth grinding detector). Now we can all look forward to 6 months of free 3D printing at fablab! Wooooooo! \o/


We quickly assembled for a group picture in the absence of Tom, who couldn’t make it on Sunday. And we will use our prize as an excuse to come back together and print things together, in 3D.


The best day of this summer (probably)

Winter is coming.

That’s the best occasion to review one of the best days I had this summer.