For novel ideas about building embedded systems (both hardware and firmware), join the 40,000+ engineers who subscribe to The Embedded Muse, a free biweekly newsletter. The Muse has no hype and no vendor PR. Click here to subscribe.

The Hackaday Prize

Summary: Want a free ride into space?

I remember watching our grainy black and white TV in 1961 when Alan Shepard was lofted 100 miles up and 260 downrange aboard a Mercury spacecraft. The nation was glued to their sets. Later, many more adventurous missions hurled a small group of highly-selected astronauts as far as the moon.

The Shuttle changed the nature of space faring. Mission specialists didn't need to be so carefully selected. Whereas once only the best of the best test pilots were part of the program, with Shuttle at times the only qualification required was the ability to vote for funds for NASA. Even a septuagenarian got a free (uh, taxpayer-funded) joyride into space.

Today, the United States has no indigenous manned launch capabilities. But very soon, perhaps this year, private enterprise will be offering suborbital access for average Joes. Joes, though, with deep pockets. Few in the middle class will be able to experience this ultimate experience.

Unless you're an engineer.

The folks at are running a contest where the grand prize is a ticket into space aboard the commercial carrier of your choice. Alternatively, you can pocket the cost of the ticket. Either way, this is a princely reward.

Contest rules are simple ( You have to build something electronic. Note the "build" requirement; paper designs are insufficient. It has to be connected to, well, something. Everything - hardware and software - must be well documented and open, as in open source. You have to register on their site and produce a short YouTube of the project.

Coolness, "wow" factor, and innovation will accumulate points.

Afraid of the competition? There are hundreds of other prizes, including a high-end milling machine, top grade 3D printer (or, these winners can take a $10k cash option). Fifty - that's right, 50 - lucky winners will get a grab back of electronic parts worth about $1000. And there's gobs of swag.

Alas, being a judge my feet will remain firmly planted on planet Earth. But they did send a nice box of t-shirts, stickers and posters.

Some cool projects are already posted on the site, like the SUBEX, a high altitude balloon payload that sports a cameral GPS, and more. One project makes blueprints "because they look so cool." In the Sci-Fi novel "A Canticle for Leibowitz" a post-Armageddon group of monks preserve old drawings, copying blueprints they don't understand, by coloring in the blue on white sheets of paper. This project is a bit more sophisticated. But it is interesting that yesterday's technology is so forgotten that it is being recreated as a novelty.

Another uses an Oculus Rift to control a toy crane on which a pair of stereoscopic cameras are mounted. One fellow is building a sub-$10 PCB mill using discarded printer parts. The postage-stamp-sized robots driven by, cleverly, pager motors, is pretty cool. And what contest would be complete without a wireless flux capacitor?

The contest closes August 4, so get your entries in soon!

More data here

Be sure to send a picture from 100 km above the surface of the Earth! I'll run it on

Published June 23, 2014