FlowIO Platform, a modular pneumatics controller for soft robotics and smart material projects, took home Grand Prize honors at the 2021 Hackaday Prize. Aside from the prestige of coming out on top of hundreds of projects and bragging rights for winning the biggest hardware design challenge on Earth, the prize carries an award of $25,000 and a Supplyframe DesignLab residency to continue project development. Four other top winners were also announced at the Hackaday Remoticon virtual conference on Saturday evening.
In a year full of challenges, this year’s Hackaday Prize laid down yet another gauntlet: to “Rethink, Refresh, and Rebuild.” We asked everyone to take a good hard look at the systems and processes that make the world work — or in some cases, not work — and reimagine them from a fresh perspective. Are there better ways to do things? What would you come up with if you started from a blank piece of paper? How can you support and engage the next generation of engineers, and inspire them to take up the torch? And what would you come up with if you just let your imagination run wild?
And boy, did you deliver! With almost 500 entries, this year’s judges had quite a task in front of them. Each of the five challenges — Refresh Displays, Rethink Work-From-Home Life, Reimagine Supportive Tech, Redefine Robots, and Reactivate Wildcard — had ten finalists, which formed the pool of entries for the overall prize. And here’s what they came up with.
GRAND PRIZE WINNER: FLOWIO PLATFORM
We tend to think of robots in terms of rigid frames with electric actuators. FlowIO Platform aims to change that thinking, and kickstart a design revolution in wearables, collaborative robots, and just about any task where a softer, gentler robot would be useful. The key to these applications is pneumatics, and FlowIO makes it easy to connect the pumps, valves, actuators, and sensors necessary to bring pneumatics projects to life. The FlowIO main module has five pneumatic channels, and connects up to other modules that support pumps, sensors, and general IO — it’s like a Lego set for pneumatics!
FlowIO aims to make pneumatics as easy to add to a project as it is to spin up an Arduino and a couple of steppers. The principal on the project, Ali Shtarbanov, came on our Hack Chat a few weeks ago to talk about the applications of pneumatics in soft robotics in general, and the niche in that ecosystem that FlowIO fills specifically. We can say confidently that there’s a lot of pent-up interest in pneumatics, which seems to be due to the lack of an accessible, affordable integrated pneumatics platform. FlowIO changes all that, and with a well-earned Grand Prize under its belt, we’re looking forward to a spate of projects that show just what pneumatics can do.
OKAY, NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
As with every Hackaday Prize, the work has only just begun — we don’t sit on our laurels around here! Part of the reason for the Hackaday Prize is to be an inspiration; to set a high bar and expect our winners — and the rest of the community — to jump over it. We want everyone to take what the 2021 Hackaday Prize winners — and all the other entrants — have done and run with it. Look at each of these projects and find something in it that resonates with you. Take that and use it to improve your projects, or learn a new skill, or explore a fascinating aspect of our world that you never knew about. It’s your world, so hack it!
Congratulations to all of the 2021 Hackaday Prize winners, and a heartfelt thanks to everyone involved in running the Prize and judging the entries, as well as to everyone who took the time to enter. We couldn’t do it without you!