Featured Developer: Noel Geren and The Hardware Hack
Not sure exactly which direction to go at a hackathon? Thinking about taking on a big project and hacking hardware? Maybe you’re thinking about leveraging API platforms such as AT&T M2X? Then our latest featured developer has some insights that can help.
Noel Geren is a veteran of AT&T Hackathons and no stranger to hacking. From R/C cars controlled via hand motion to watering your plants via phone, he has created a number of interesting projects. Noel is co-founder and CEO of the startup Sprinkl, a smart irrigation control that was recently a finalist in the Internet of Things category in the 2015 SXSW Interactive Innovation Awards. Sprinkl was one of five finalists for the award given “for the best smart product that most seamlessly integrates into our lives to improve convenience and efficiency through its intelligence and interconnectedness.”
In the spirit of sharing insight into the world of hacking hardware, we reached out to Noel to hear some of his thoughts on getting started. Hopefully these will help spur some ideas for your future projects and hackathons. As Noel says, “The world’s the limit!”
Most of us start out with software development; what made you branch out into hardware?
Hardware seemed like a natural evolution. I’ve always loved to build things. Heck, it’s why I became a programmer. With programming alone, creating new things can only go so far. To take my projects to the next level I had to take the plunge into the hardware world.
For those interested in, or new to, hacking hardware, where is a good place to start?
The Arduino and Raspberry Pi platforms are perfect for beginners. Sparkfun Electronics, Adafruit, and other sites sell thousands of components, and offer hundreds of examples for all skill levels. I would recommend starting with an easily achievable project. Dubbed the “Hello World” of the electronics world, the blinking LED is a perfect project for beginners using an Arduino or Raspberry Pi. It’s something that takes little electronic knowledge, is easily accomplishable, and gives a great understanding of the GPIO (general purpose input output (pins)) that both the Arduino and Raspberry Pi have. Once basic control of the pins is understood, you can take the project further by expanding on it either through additional hardware or software controls. The world’s the limit!
Do you have any preference for prototype platforms?
I’ve always been a strong believer in using the right tool for the job. When I look at which platform to prototype on, it’s all based on the goals of the project. If it’s something that would be better running within a Linux environment that doesn’t need to interface with analog components, the Raspberry Pi wins hands down. If it’s a basic circuit prototype using analog (or digital) components that doesn’t need the overhead, I will always go with an Arduino, or even something more minimalistic like an ATtiny85 with the Arduino boot loader.
Would you share some examples of your hacks?
- Always‐on speech/voice controlled home automation:
Used an Arduino Ethernet and the EasyVR shield to develop a voice control interface for the Universal Device (ISY) Home Automation Controller. By integrating in a Mac mini with a custom service and a text-to-speech engine I was able to give voice responses to the commands. Source code and a further explanation of the project is available in the YouTube video below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Ws60Z2DVxg
- Phone Controlled Wireless Plant Watering Prototype:
Proof of concept using the Pubnub messaging service for providing a real-time integration between a Raspberry Pi and an iOS app. The goal was to build a wireless plant watering device that could be controlled using a mobile app that received instant feedback of watering cycle progress. See the prototype in action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hE-eLWXusQQ
- Hand Gesture/Movement Controlled R/C Car:
Modified an R/C car from Target so that it could be controlled using hand movements. The project consists of an Arduino Mini Pro, Gyroscope/Accelerometer, a 3D printed handle, and of course the R/C car. This project was recently featured on Hackaday.com and Makerflux.com. Watch the car drive: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MP1wo0sJzMQ
What is your favorite AT&T API?
As technology evolves (and the AT&T APIs expand) so does my API of choice. Initially, my favorite (and most used) API was the AT&T Speech API. You can see an early example of this on my YouTube channel, where I’m using it to control my home automation system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L1jwTz61urA
The AT&T M2X API is great – I’m currently working on a few projects that will utilize it exclusively.
How many AT&T Hacks have you attended and what prompted you to attend your first one?
So far, I’ve been to two local AT&T Hacks. The first one I attended out of curiosity was for the connected car, where I met individuals from the local maker space, and worked closely with kids from a private school.
How have Hackathons helped you personally?
Hackathons are a great way to ignite innovation and meet other like-minded individuals. I use the time requirements (crunch) of a hackathon to push myself to start projects I’d otherwise never begin.
You have taken on some significant projects at hackathons – why?
Big (overly ambitious) projects are tough. If I were out to win or place at a hackathon I would definitely look at doing something accomplishable in 24 hours. For me, it’s always been fun to push myself as hard as I can, even if the goal/project completion isn’t possible. This has given me a great headstart on projects that I can finish at home, at a more realistic pace once the hack has wrapped up.
Thank you to Noel for sharing your experiences with us. Keep up with Noel’s hacks on Twitter or YouTube. You might also see him at one of the AT&T Hackathons in Dallas. You can see upcoming AT&T Hackathon dates and cities here. If you know anyone who should be a featured developer, we’d love to hear your thoughts.