Tessel Comes to Hack Reactor for an Inspiring Hackathon

Tessel, the maker of a hardware device by the same name which can be programmed with JavaScript, came to Hack Reactor to hold a hackathon over the weekend. Roughly 50 Hack Reactor alumni, from the just graduated to Software Engineers firmly entrenched at their companies, came to learn, experiment and build. The hardware-software combination created by Tessel inspired the attendees to build a wide range of devices.

The Tessel offers a wide range of hardware possibilities for Software Engineers.

The Tessel offers a wide range of hardware possibilities for Software Engineers.

“I think the Tessel team has done a fantastic job of creating hardware modules that are programmable with JavaScript,” said grad Alex Jacobs. “I found the flexibility of the device, in that you can attach several modules, to be very inspiring. The team was extremely generous with their time, and with the hardware prizes that they offered to the winning teams.”

Jacobs collaborated with Don Mamaril and Vin Halbwachs to build a “Tesselbooth.” This uses Tessel’s photo module to create a photobooth script, which timestamps photos and uploads them to a website. Users can opt-in to trigger the camera. The group has plans to finish the project and donate it to The Douglas, Hack Reactor’s alumni lounge, to create an ongoing photo log of life in the lounge.

Another group, consisting of Ash Hoover, Andrew Krause, and Sean Dokko, was thinking visually as well. They built a program that takes data from a scannable ID card and uses the information contained in the card to make abstract robo-art.

This Tessel-based machine creates abstract art.

This Tessel-based machine creates abstract art.

The group also used the ID scanning function to create a smart doorbell. A user scans his or her card, and this triggers an email to a group specific to that user stating that he or she is at the door, and also provides current weather data.

“The Tessel modules were incredibly user friendly,” Hoover observes. “Essentially, we just had to connect the almost LEGO-like components and install the appropriate Node modules to get up and running. It's exciting to be able to write JavaScript code to directly control hardware components! I definitely hope to be hacking on more Tessel projects in the near future.”

A unique project scored Tessel’s award for best Node module. The Tesselcopter, built by Kate Jenkins, Rohan Pethiyagoda, Mark Rossetti, and Nick Vandewalle, is exactly what it sounds like: a mini-helicopter with controls written in JavaScript.

The Tesselcopter, in all its glory.

The Tesselcopter, in all its glory.

“The final project ended up being a control system based on gesture and breath and relayed by recorded buffer streams,” writes Jenkins.

In the end, the Tesselcopter did take to the skies, receiving directions in the form of inhales, exhales and gestures.

Beyond the specific projects that came out of the hackathon, it was an inspiring day for Software Engineers to experiment with a wide spectrum of possibilities in the hardware space.

“The day really reinforced the value of hackathons as a way to improve your problem solving and communication skills through working on novel problems in groups,” notes Jacobs. “I really look forward to participating in more events like this.”

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