When your team consists largely of nerds with a penchant for biting off more than they can chew in the D.I.Y. department, outlandish project ideas get tossed around pretty much constantly. The “what if” quotient around here is pretty high, and tends to lead us down rabbit hole after rabbit hole – “what if our menu board were digital?” turns into “what if our digital menu board could be configured remotely?”, which turns into “what if our digital menu board could be automatically updated in real time in both our taproom and on our website?”, which then snowballs into a sprawling patchwork quilt of semi-related functionalities. Knowing how much we geek out about these types of things, but also understanding that we have a tendency to get a bit overambitious, we decided to organize a 24-hour hackathon: gather a team, brainstorm a few tech projects, and bang them out within a set budget and timeline.
So with the help of our own tech team and a few software developer friends, we set off on Saturday afternoon to build four projects. Here’s what we decided to work on, and how each project turned out.
Project #1: Build digital display boards to replace the picture frames in our bathrooms.
Using a pair of Raspberry Pi micro-computers and wall-mounted monitors, we created digital displays that can be remotely updated via our web dashboard – thus eliminating the bitch of a job that was the regular printing, framing, and hanging of new flyers. Saves time, saves paper, looks a tad nicer than something that got spat out of an inkjet printer. We’re happy.
Project #2: Incorporate remote controlled, color-customizable lighting into our taproom decor.
Using a few HUE lights and a bit of homemade software, we built taproom lighting controls into our web dashboard. For now, the functionality is pretty basic – we can change the colors of the pendant lamps above the bar to any color we want via the internet. But we now have a system that can be built upon and added to in the future, which is the whole point of these types of things.
Project #3: Create pretty much anything that utilizes a Kinect 3D camera.
This was the most open-ended project of the bunch, and was therefore the most ambitious. Not only did we have to learn the software and hardware-specific intricacies of the Kinect itself, we then had to figure out a way to use it. Much like the lighting project, this one was much more about laying the groundwork for future development than finishing it to completion. So we built a basic platform, added it to the web dashboard, and now have a constant stream of 3D camera data to play around with in the future.
Project #4: Design something useful using taproom sales data from our P.O.S. system.
After fumbling around for a couple of frustrating hours with our cash register’s backend software and getting absolutely nowhere, we decided to chalk this one up as a wash. We’re just happy we realized that as soon as we did.
All things considered, the first annual Beer + Code hackathon was an overwhelming success – we pulled an all-nighter building some cool stuff, and we had a good bit of fun doing it. But most importantly, we now have the ability to continue working. What’s far more compelling to us than progress we’ve made on these projects is the amount of uses we can invent for them moving forward.
And down the rabbit hole we tumble once again.