Hackbright Academy’s Silicon Chef hosts over 200 makers in sold out women-centric hardware hackathon!

Our annual Silicon Chef hardware hackathon (September 27-28, 2014 in San Francisco) was a hit, thanks to our brilliant participants and mentors! Over 200 people joined the two-day event at Stripe HQ. We had hackers of various ages come from all around the state, including Los Angeles, Salinas and Oakland, in order to hack!

With the help of our awesome mentors — experienced hardware and software hackers — the hackathon attendees worked on 27 projects and demoed them on Sunday afternoon. The weekend included inspiring tech talks from experienced female engineers in the industry as well, from Tindie’s head of engineering Julia Grace to O’Reilly author of “Making Embedded Systems” Elecia White.

Check out the full list of winners and their inventions below. Thanks to Autodesk, Stripe, Salesforce, and Amazon Lab126 for sponsoring the women-centric hardware hackathon. And HUGE thanks to all the participants for their passion, innovation and creative inventions!

Click here to check out hackathon photos on Facebook from the weekend!

Here are the winning teams from Silicon Chef 2014 —

Winner of “Best Internet Connected Hardware”: Graceful Exit!

Team Graceful Exit built a beautiful, functional LED visualization of bus arrival times, using Electric Imp and the NextBus API. Thanks to Electric Imp, the winners received SparkFun multimeters! Winning team members: Meghan Hade, Kieu Tran, Kyla Farrell, Tiffany Lee, Kelsey Stemmler, Ashley Lorden.

Winner of “Best Use of Twilio API”: Wanderful Bag!

Team iD Tech built Wanderful Bag at Silicon Chef 2014 – a smart backpack that connects parents with their little explorer. Thanks to Twilio, the winners received Raspberry Pis! Winning team members: Kaylyn Gibilterra, Katie Smith, Crystal Harpstreit, Stephanie Imperial, Alaina Valenzuela, Jyoti Shirolikar, Caroline Orsi.

Runner up for “Most Likely to Go to Market”: Check Yo Self!

Team Check Yo Self built a feedback response system that allows teachers to make strategic pairings between students. Thanks to O’Reilly, winners received various books on electronics, Arduinos and sensors! Team members: Claire Shorall, Saundrea McElroy, Ronye Cooper, Sandra Vivian-Calderon, Laura Hernandez.

Winner of “Most Likely to Go to Market”: LadyTemp!

Team LadyTemp built an Internet-enabled thermometer for female fertility tracking. Thanks to Highway1, winners received 1-hour design review with MEs, an EE review with a senior EE, and 5 hours of 3-D printing! Winning team members: Anna Cyganowska, Malina Arevalo, Neha Sharma, Lavinia Karl, Liubou Yudasina, Maggie Shine.

Winner of “Most Likely to Help in a Zombie Outbreak”: Scary Photobooth!

Team rokusaburo machine-bas packaged their hack into a scary photo booth! The hack scares people, and tweets reaction shots to Twitter. Thanks to TechShop, winners received 2-month TechShop memberships! Winning team members: Vanessa Henderson, Nadine Hachouche, Jamie Piazza, Ugaso Sheik-Abdi, Jessica McElroy, Julie Krugler Hollek, Nora Humpage.

Winner of “Most Likely to Make A Career of Hardware Hacking”: BrainWave!

Team BrainWave built an automatic reminder for prescriptions and medicines. Thanks to O’Reilly and Logical Elegance, winners received books on “Making Embedded Systems”. Winning team members: Sukhada Palav, Pranjali Gharat, Lakshmi Vyas, Padmini Rajeevan, Maggie Lee.

Winner of “Most Likely to Save the Planet”: CSIT-in-3 Irrigation!

Team CSIT-in-3 from Salinas, California built an auto irrigation water flow model at Silicon Chef 2014. Thanks to O’Reilly, winners received various books on electronics, Arduinos and sensors! Winning team members: Anita Garcia, Lesly Garcia, Bianca Hernandez, Araceli Gopar, Yarely Chino, Ana Perez, Miriam Flores.

Winner of “Most Creative Use of Hardware”: Alpacathon

Team Alpacathon built 360 degrees of pictures of item for 3D scanning at Silicon Chef 2014. Thanks to Adafruit Industries, winners received $40 Adafruit gift certificates! Winning team members: Amelia Downs, Sara Gudeman, Camille Villa, Laurel Chun, Fanny Chow, Brandi House, Jahlela Hasle.

Hacker Blog Posts from Silicon Chef 2014 –

• The engineers behind “A Graceful Exit” share their hardware hackathon experience!
Scary Photobooth Team shares their hackathon experience
• Ruby engineer Brittany Martin shares her experience building “Moanitor”!
• A member of Team Alpacathon blogs about being inspired by a lazy Susan and building a 3D scanner using Autodesk 123D. The Arduino would partially turn the lazy Susan and then trigger a computer webcam to take a picture (and repeat).
Let us know if you’ve written a blog post about the Silicon Chef experience!

Tweets from #SiliconChef –












 Amazon Lab126





LAUNCH Hackathon First To Adopt Code of Conduct From Hackbright Academy

The technology sector has been rife with controversy, from highly-publicized sexual harassment incidents between conference attendees to ensuing snowballing fall-outs, from PyCon to RubyConf.

Engineering school Hackbright Academy released a Code of Conduct from its successful women-centric hardware hackathon Silicon Chef free for use by other hackathon organizers to create more inclusive hackathons and events.

Afterall, hackathons are community events intended for innovation, collaboration, and engagement in the developer community.

Today, Hackbright Academy’s code of conduct for hackathons has been adopted by leading hackathon LAUNCH, with 1000+ builders anticipated at hackathon happening this November 8-10 in San Francisco.

Hackathon organizers globally are welcome to adopt and link to the Code of Conduct for hackathons Hackbright Academy has set forth. We are happy to have proved successful at creating awesomely inclusive and radically transparent hackathons (eg. Silicon Chef) that are welcoming to all.

We especially like this part in LAUNCH Code of Conduct about inclusiveness:

Be Open
We welcome attendees from all backgrounds. This event is about increasing the overall amount of innovation, partnership, and engagement in the developer community.

You are welcome to use the Hackbright Academy Code of Conduct for your own hackathon.

See it in action at the LAUNCH hackathon, where dozens of Hackbright students and alum are expecting to build great things this November 8-10 in San Francisco. Grand prizes include $1.6M investment (or $10k cash), and there will be awesome food and drink throughout the free hackathon. Find out more info and apply to participate here.

Leaprobo Project – AKA Gizgig Goes For A Walk – From Silicon Chef: Hardware Hackathon For Women

80% of the 150 attendees at Silicon Chef 2013 were WOMEN – and for many of the attendees, it was their first time coding, hardware hacking, or both. The hackathon goals were to break down the mental and physical barriers to entry for hardware-curious beginners. Simply put, we provided the silicon; they provided the enthusiasm and laptops.By Melanie Warrick (Hackbright Academy – spring 2013 class)

Last weekend at Silicon Chef, the women-centric hardware hackathon, there were over 100 participants and 20 projects demoed. My team built an Arduino on Parallax wheels controlled by a Leap Motion (3D programmable motion sensor).

Check out the video to see our robot car:

Leaprobo Project Idea

I bought the Parallax kit several months ago with the intent of attaching it to my Arduino because I think everything is better with wheels (almost everything). However, I was too busy with so many other projects and things to study that I didn’t get around to assembling it until now. When the hackathon came up, it seemed like the perfect motivator to break out the wheel kit. Plus, my team had heard about Leap Motion and controlling things with a sensor seemed like a fun. Thus, the idea for the Leaprobo project came together.

It seemed simple enough and yet not so much considering how new most of us were to hardware. Lucky for us, one of our team members had several years experience with robotics, and we had some great mentorship on system design and building.

Leaprobo Hardware Parts:

• Arduino Uno
• Leap Motion
• Parallax Robitics Shield Kit (for Arduino)
• USB cord
• HC-05 Bluetooth Chip (not finished)
• Accelerometer (not finished)
• Mac / Unix Terminal

Leap Motion Script

We created a Python script using the Leap’s library to read hand motions and then print out letters to the command line.

• Forward = Flat palm with all fingers kept together or one finger = print “F”
• Backward = 5 fingers spread open = print “B”
• Stop = Closed fist = print “S”
• Left = hand tilted left = print “L”
• Right = hand tilted right = print “R”

You can see the full script for the project at the following link:

Leap script =

One tricky bit to note is the Leap Motion script required using the standard Python language that comes with Mac (which can sometimes be an older version). It threw errors if we tried to run it off the Homebrew installed version. So we created a virtual environment that explicitly pointed to the Mac Python version. Below is the command that made it work on our computers but other computers may be different:

$ virtualenv -p /usr/bin/python [envname]


We built a script in the standard Arduino version of C to loop/continually read the serial port for input. A switch statement defined each case that corresponded to the outputted letters from the Python code. So if “F” is printed to the serial port, the corresponding case would call a forward function that told the servos to rotate (left counterclockwise at 1400 microseconds and right clockwise at 1600 microseconds). We had a case and corresponding function that gave servo direction based on each movement defined in the Leap code.

Note, we had to program opposite rotation for the servos for forward and backward because they are mounted in the Arduino in opposite directions. To see more about the script for the Arduino, checkout the link below.

Arduino script = car_test.ino

Parallax Wheel Kit

Parallax provides comprehensive online directions regarding how to put the wheel kit together. The first chapter gives a great overview of Arduino’s script language and the chapters covering how to build the shield is really good for someone new to hardware.

We actually assembled the wheel kit the weekend before so we had practice with it. We were ready to disassemble and reassemble if necessary, but the hackathon was pretty low-key and focused on us having fun and learning. Thankfully that was the case because we had enough roadblocks to keep us busy the whole weekend.

Serial Port – Pulling it Together

To pull the pieces together, we connected the Leap and the Arduino to one computer with USB cables. We ran the Leap program and redirected the output to store on the USB serial port file connected to the Arduino. The command that we used in the Mac terminal to make this happen is the following:

$ python > /dev/tty.usbmodem1411

Note, your serial port name is probably different.

How it worked is that we ran the program. While Leap Motion read the hand gestures, the program printed letters that were then written to the USB serial port file that was connected to the Arduino. The Arduino’s code continually read the serial port file for new information. When a letter showed up, the Arduino script would match it to a case and based on the called function, send directions to the servos on the Parallax shield; thus, making the car move.

Biggest Challenge – HC-05 Bluetooth

We tried to set up a Bluetooth connection with the Arduino vs. the USB cable that kept the car tethered to the Mac. Unfortunately the HC-05 chip we were using refused to read inputted data. It would pair with the computer and send output, but would not take input. We checked and rechecked many times the way the wires were setup. We tried a couple different HC-05 chips and different computers, but it just was not working for us. We fell back on the USB connection and thankfully we had one that was long enough. If anyone out there has heard of this issue and has ideas on how to fix it, please share.


Our team did such an amazing job figuring things out and making the product come together. Several of us were new to programming and some had never met before. There was a lot of collaboration as well as capability to work independently that helped get the project done.

Meggie worked hard on figuring out how to implement the accelerometer, and it was ready to add to the car. Unfortunately we ran out of time because we were down to the wire making the main Leap to Arduino connection work.

Kara and Chris dived deep into understanding Arduino C and with Rita’s help Kara was able to build out the code that ran the car. Kara did such a fantastic coding job with only a month of programming, and she rocked the demo, driving the car like a pro after only 30 minutes practice.

Kelley pulled together the Python code for the Leap and had that ready for us to run once we started working on the serial port connection. I had already put together the wheel kit, was helping to give team direction and spent a good deal of time working on Bluetooth as well as troubleshooting pulling the pieces together.

Still we wouldn’t have been successful without Rita. She helped us to really defined and led our system design, coached different members on how to build the code in C and figured out the serial port connection to finally make the car work. We also had some great mentorship help from Mark, Magee and Jeremy.

It was a great team. We had a lot of fun and learned a ton. The best part was having it actually work by demo time.

Next up, I need to figure out how to make it fly, talk and do facial recognition. Simple, right?

This post was originally posted at Melanie Warrick’s blog.