2020 Hackaday Prize: Highlights from the first six weeks.

We reviewed the entries to the open challenges since the start of the competition. Here are some of the projects to keep an eye on.

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30 Jun, 2020

image: ThisIsEngineering

image: ThisIsEngineering

The Hackaday Prize is an annual hardware design competition that invites engineering talent to solve some of the world’s toughest problems. This mission seems more timely than ever.

During the Covid-19 crisis, many engineers, designers, and entrepreneurs rushed to create brilliant solutions to address the global and local needs that sprung by this pandemic. At the same time there are many other pressing humanitarian and environmental challenges that require attention as well.

Hackaday collaborated with four leading nonprofits working in the space of environmental conservation, disaster relief, renewable resources, and assistive devices to design this year’s Hackaday Prize challenges. At the end of the competition, each nonprofit will receive a new open-source solution, plus a $10,000 donation that enables them to implement the project. Winning participants will get a share of the $200,000 total prize money as well.

If you want to learn more about the competition and the non-profits that it supports — or you just want some inspiration from last year's winners — you can read more in our previous post. In this article, we want to give you an update on the current state of the competition and highlight some of the most innovative projects that have been submitted so far.

Current phase of the Hackaday Prize

The competition kicked-off on May 19th, with challenges divided into two categories; open call and dream team — i.e. dedicated three-person task force teams that tackle specific challenges. Currently, the deadline to apply to a “dream team” has passed and the twelve teams are put to work. The submission to the open call challenges will remain open until August 31st.

An important deadline to remember is July 6th. On this date, the “community vote” closes and the top 100 most liked projects will be reviewed by a panel of judges. The judges will select 20 projects which will receive a bootstrap grant of $500 to continue working on their projects.

The winners of these microgrants will be selected based on the entry round judging criteria. According to the Official Contest Rules, these are the following:

  1. How effective of a solution is the entry to the challenge it is responding to?
  2. How thoroughly documented were the design process and design decisions?
  3. How ready is this design to be manufactured?
  4. How complete is the project?

As of today, the threshold to get into the list of the top 100 project list is only 5 likes. So, if you are considering submitting your entry to the open call challenges, you should do it now. Keep in mind that it is generally beneficial to apply to the competition sooner rather than later as you also get access to the network of mentors, further improving your chances of winning.

Highlights of the submissions (so far) to each challenge

To give you an idea of what is happening in the competitions, we scouted the 153 projects that have been submitted to the open challenges so far and we selected the ones we think are the most promising. There were many submissions that fall under the wildcard category, but we focused only on the projects that tackle the challenges posed by the four nonprofits. 

For full disclosure, we don’t have any affiliation with the judging panel or any of the participants of the competition; the projects we showcase here are just the submission that we think are the most promising based on the information that was provided so far.

Non Profit 1: Conservation X Labs

Conservation X Labs’ mission is to end the global extinction crisis through the democratization of science. Their challenges are related to the conservation of aquatic ecosystems. More specifically, they are looking for solutions that combat invasive species and for new tools for marine protection. 

Here are some noteworthy projects that were submitted so far.


Aquametric by Rohan Menon

Submitted by Rohan Menon, a high school student from upstate New York, this device uses cheap, off the shelf components to provide live data on stream and river conditions like water level, temperature, and conductivity. By creating a low-cost, distributed sensor network, this project aims to increase the availability of large volumes of data and improve weather forecasting, and ecosystem health monitoring, and more. Rohan has also done an amazing job describing the motivations and documenting his progress on this project. Read more.

Intelligent Wildlife Species Detector

Intelligent Wildlife Species Detector

This is a device that can autodetect the animal species —  whether it be bird, bat, rodent, whale, dolphin, or anything that makes a distinct noise — using audio data and a machine learning algorithm. The advantage of this approach over existing solutions is that the audio data is filtered automatically at the source, saving both disc space and human intervention. The prototype was developed to identify bird calls and other forest animals, but it could be easily adapted for marine life applications. Read more.  



Aruna is a low-cost, underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV). It is also modular which means that it can be adjusted to the specific needs of each application. For example, it can be equipped with a camera, a soil or water sampler, a tagging system, or a microphone. Since it is open, new and better sensors can also be retrofitted when they become available, giving additional tools to marine scientists. What attracted our attention was also its minimalistic, yet effective design. Read more.

Non Profit 2: United Cerebral Palsy of Los Angeles (UCPLA)

United Cerebral Palsy LA is working on advancing the independence, productivity, and full citizenship of individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Their open challenge focuses on the design of high-quality tools and devices that enable the creative expression of individuals with cerebral palsy. There were many great submissions to this category. Here are our three favorite ones.

Adaptive Drawing Device

Adaptive Drawing Device

This is a simple 3D printed solution that helps students with cerebral palsy draw and paint. It is the result of a collaboration between two teachers, a student with cerebral palsy and her therapist. Since it only has a few 3D printed components, it is relatively easy to print and assemble. This device has already been tested by many students. It has helped them to be more independent during art classes and enabled them to express themselves more easily with both wet and dry media. Read more.

Open assistive robotic arm

Open Assistive Robotic Arm

Here’s a more high-tech solution: an open-source assistive robotic arm. This is a collaborative project that has been in development since October 2018 at the Besançon's Hacking health. Originally it was designed to help people with special feeding needs. However, it could be adapted to allow artistic expression instead. A project to follow for sure. Read more.

The Byte (and the Bit)

The Byte (and the Bit)

This is a hands-free universal interface that can be mounted on a pacifier. The goal of this project is to create a new input device that allows the user to control a mouse with a small sensor placed on the roof of the mouth. This project has potential as it can be used to control other hardware devices — like the robotic arm above — which can in turn enable the artistic expression of people who do not have control of their hands. Read more.

Non Profit 3: CalEarth

CalEarth develops and educates the public in self-made, environmentally sustainable building designs. They are looking for modular add-ons that seamlessly mount into their dome housing biomes and assist with connectivity, power harvesting, lighting, heating, and water storage. Most of the projects submitted so far tackle challenges in the first two categories. Here are some of them.



This is an open-source wind turbine that can be manufactured using a 3D printer and a few standard mechanical parts. Even the disk generator consists mostly of parts that have been 3D printed. A DIY wind turbine is definitely not the cheapest way to harness wind energy; you could buy a wind turbine of similar size for a lower cost. However, the ability to build one using only simple mechanical components and a 3D printer makes it appealing for the remote settlements that Calearth specializes in. The project is also very thoroughly documented with regular updates. Read more.

Disaster Radio - LoRa Mesh

This is a low cost, network which can be entirely solar-powered and can enable communications during a disaster. The network uses the LoRa modulation scheme for point-to-point or point-to-multipoint connections between nodes. The users can use the app to transmit announcements and coordinate in case of an emergency. This is a large and long-term project with regular commits to GitHub that happens to fit nicely to the CalEarth open challenge. Read more.

Armawatch & Armachat

Armawatch & Armachat

Currently leading the “community vote”, this is a long-distance communication device that does not rely on external networks. It can send messages at a distance of at least 500 meters without a direct line of sight. The device is also small enough to be mounted on your wrist or integrated into the Calearth housing domes. Read more.

Non Profit 4: FieldReady

FieldReady makes aid supplies in disaster zones to get around bottle-necked supply chains. They are looking for solutions to three different challenges: a fluid warmer for medical applications, a UV wand for curing adhesives, a heat sealer and welder for packaging, prototyping, and manufacturing with sheet Polyethylene, or textile production without sewing. Even though the challenges of FieldReady cover the widest spectrum of applications, they have received by far the least number of submissions. Here are the best of them. 

The TRIO, Fire Fly and the Fire Fly Mini

Fire Fly Mini

These are three handheld UV devices submitted by Josh Starnes. They can be used either for UV glue curing or germicidal sanitation using high energy irradiation. The TRIO also can be used as a spotlight for the visible spectrum. The prototypes all three devices look impressive; probably an industrial-grade 3D printing system has been used to produce them. Read more.

IV Fluid Warmer

IV Fluid Warmer

John Opsahl submitted this low-cost intravenous fluid warmer design. The IV Fluid Warmer is meant to be used during rapid transfusions and as an alternative to commercial IV fluid warmers when the latter is too expensive or unavailable. What attracted our attention was the well fleshed out list of product design requirements. A prototype is already under testing. Read more.

Why should the Hackaday Prize be on your radar?

Apart from doing meaningful work that supports the efforts of nonprofits, there are many other reasons you should consider participating in this competition. Here are some of them:

  • There are many opportunities to win. More than $100.000 will be distributed among the top ten projects. Plus, an additional $100.000 is distributed in the form of microgrants and donations to the participants of the competition.
  • The top solution will be produced in a limited run and will be deployed in the field with the aid of the Supplyframe DesignLab.
  • You will get feedback from a large online community. The competition is hosted in the hackaday.io website, a world-leading platform that promotes the work of engineers and makers of the open-source community.
  • You get access to a network of expert mentors. By signing up for the competition, you get the chance to discuss your ideas directly with experienced engineers and designers. Their feedback can help you flesh out your project and improve your chances of winning.
  • You get the opportunity to promote your work. The Hackaday Prize is a prestigious competition. By submitting a project, you get the chance to showcase your work for free.


As you may have noticed, there are still very few submissions to many of the open challenges. If you are currently working on a project that fits one of the themes of the competition or if you just got inspired and want to start a new project, there is still plenty of time to apply to the 2020 Hackaday Prize. You can find more details on hackaday.io, and prize.supplyframe.com. 

The 2020 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by the following companies:


If you submit your application before July 6th, you may still have a chance to be one of the 20 “community vote” bootstrap winners.

So, if you are a student looking to take your final-year project to the next level, an engineer working on new inventions in spare time, or a startup with activities in one of the main focus areas, this competition could be a great opportunity.

Stay tuned for another update on the 2020 Hackaday Prize next month.

30 Jun, 2020

CEO and co-founder of Wevolver. Trained as an industrial designer. Previously founded a design studio that pioneered 3D printing large functional objects in the late 2000s. I also worked a lot with composite materials. Wevolver was a side-project that got positively out of hand...

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