It's just amazing what like-minded engineers who have never previously met each other can come up with when working together to win a design competition. It does of course help that the target was to devise a workable, affordable, and simple off-grid power generation source for domestic use by poverty-stricken communities around the world.
Earlier this month one of the UK's foremost distributors of electronic components (and much else) RS Components, together with its US affiliate Allied Electronics and Practical Action, an international charity focusing on the use of technology to challenge poverty in developing countries, organized the so-called Power Hack.
The rapid-prototyping hackathon was held over two days at Google's offices in London. The three participating teams grouped electronic and electrical engineers with different backgrounds from companies such as Schneider Electric, Elektor, Bare Conductive, as well as tech industry leaders such as 3D printing pioneer Adrian Bowyer, founder of the open-source RepRap project.
This was RS Components/Allied Electronics' second attempt at such an event. "The first one, held last year, was also a useful challenge, but came up with novel designs that were all over the place. This time, we brought in Practical Action and gave the hackathon a much more focused target," Mike Brojak, applications manager at RS Components and one of the judges, told EE Times. The other judge was Neil Noble, technical adviser at Practical Action, who laid down some ground rules about the type of systems the judges were looking for simple, practical, cheap, easy to maintain, and culturally appropriate for use in remote areas. The designs had to be such that they could be assembled by villagers with limited resources. Noble and a colleague from Practical Action, with years of relevant experience in the field, also advised on the types of materials and devices they could reasonably access.
The one criteria shared by the design engineers was that they were all already active in the company's DesignSpark community. A couple of them had sparse experience using the rapid prototyping tools provided -- Design Spark Mechanical, DesignSpark PCB, and the Toolbox App. "The companies nominated them as they felt it would provide excellent training," said Brojak.
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