We’ve been to our fair share of hackathons here at makers.htxt, and while we’re always impressed by what the contests churn out in the precious few hours, the results are usually software.

While custom-made programming under deadlines is something of a miracle, we do also miss the tactile elements that are often forgotten in the mad dash to finish projects.

It seems our friends over at BinarySpace had the same idea when they attended the Microsoft Open Government Data Hackathon. With their eyes on the R50 000 prize, the team was tasked with creating a project that could utilise government data open to the public.

The team took inspiration from the Points Sing, a moving, smart sign post that could have its display screens changed to suit its use, and whose arrows can freely swivel.

With all of that in mind, the project boiled down into Pointr – a sign for public use which would literally point people in the direction of four different government facilities (Home Affairs, Libraries, Child Services and Courts) as well as four types of emergency services (panic button, police, hospital and fire department).

The inspiration for Pointr. Hopefully Pointr will do more public good than showing where Bruno Mars is.
The inspiration. Hopefully Pointr will do more public good than showing where Bruno Mars is.

Pointr required a Herculean amount of effort to pull off in the two day time limit.

The body of Pointr is made up of a PVC pipe, a steel pipe and a lot of 3D printed parts. Held inside are the moving parts that allow the arms of the sign to move about. An offset motor within gives the project its ability to move through 360 degrees (albeit not continuously, at a certain degree the motor will stop and spin the other way to make up the distance.

For the control panel the eight buttons are inserted into 3D printed boxes and accompanying logos to represent their use.

Finally, each of the three arms feature an LED screen that displays the intended target after a button is pushed. These had to be scrounged from car displays but, in the end, they did their job.

Software in the Pointr is handled by an Arduino Mega.

Unfortunately Pointr and team BinarySpace didn’t walk away with the prize, but a great project came out of the hackathon regardless.

“Most data hackathons revolve around participants creating mobile apps and  websites. This is great, but in a country where most of the population don’t have access to mobile internet, we wanted to create something more physical that would be accessible to all,” Said Tom Van den Bon, BinarySpace Co-Founder who worked on Pointr, “We are hoping to take this project, improve upon it and turn it into something viable that can be used in South Africa.”

There’s also a video of the swivelling sign in action. It’s hard to believe that all of this was made in only two days – harder to believe that the team didn’t win the hackathon.

 

Read the full build log over on BinarySpace’s website.