Disrupt NY Hackathon Hardware Find: Robots!

The floor at Disrupt’s NY Hackathon is filled mostly with people working on software projects, but there were also some interesting hardware endeavors underway. One in particular caught my eye: a robot built from open-source components build to help anyone subject their app or device to strenuous, physical testing in a non-simulated environment.

The basic bot is built from an Arduino controller, along with 3D-printable components is a test automation device for iPhone, brought by R/GA Technical Director Sune Kaae and designed/built by Jason Huggins, creator of Selenium-based open source Angry Birds-playing robots. It’s a device that Kaae says is easily programmed via Node.js, meaning it’s accessible for software developers who are more familiar with web languages.

One of the big remaining challenges facing hardware startups, Kaae says, is that developers are intimidated by a perceived barrier to entry in programming physical devices. They don’t have to be, though, he explained, since it can be made relatively easy to accomplish things with programming languages they already understand.

Kaae’s robot, which positions a touchscreen-compatible stylus anywhere on a screen someone wants to place it, and can run tests that just aren’t possible via simulated virtual testing, or are too costly or boring to do human testing for. It can also help with things like testing movement for the Nike Fuel + Band, which R/GA helped design.

Right now, Kaae’s looking for a mathematician to help refine the product, to make sure that when you input a coordinate to hit, it hits exactly that coordinate and not just roughly the right area. But the little bot is a great example of how some people are trying to make it easier to make and test hardware to begin with.