Local hardware hackers smart up homes, farming

At first glance, it looked like a normal lacquerware box. But when Hardware Hack Week group “Team Unlocker” opened the embellished container’s lid, a familiar Myanmar classical tune – “Myanma Seit Yinn” – floated out, prompted by a customised app and a tech system that could be hidden beneath an inner tray.

A cleaning bot with motion sensors can sweep up scraps.(Catherine Trautwein/The Myanmar Times)A cleaning bot with motion sensors can sweep up scraps.(Catherine Trautwein/The Myanmar Times)

The high-tech music box, which could also play text out loud, was presented to judges along with a cleaning robot yesterday as part of a week-long program of hardware-hacking at downtown innovation lab Phandeeyar. Through the event, hackers had the chance to get trained or hone skills in subjects such as 3D printing, design thinking and Raspberry Pi – small, portable computers.

Participants could choose to solve problems pitched by local organisations Pomelo, Proximity Designs and the Myanmar Mobile Education Project (MyME), or to pursue others.

Pomelo, which sells fair trade Myanmar goods, asked hackers to combine traditional handicrafts and technology, according to Phandeeyar program manager Ko Yan Naung Oak. Meanwhile, Proximity hoped for expanded functionalities and improved user interface for a sensor prototype, and MyME sought a local server for educational content, he said.

A high-tech lacquerware box plays a traditional tune.A high-tech lacquerware box plays a traditional tune.

Yesterday, nine teams – including participants from Mandalay – presented their creations, which included a home automation system similiar to Google bet Nest as well as a revamped Chinese LED lamp that could act as a moisture and light sensor. Groups competed for three months free residency at the co-working space, US$100 in store credit to the Myanmar Future Science shop and Green Electronics Store, two model aircraft, and a Raspberry Pi.

Phandeeyar has been holding events for makers since January. The tech and community hub is working toward setting up a dedicated maker space, according to its founder, David Madden.

“It’s a really interesting thing for Myanmar because a lot of what we’ve seen with software is happening with hardware as well, which is democratisation,” he said. “Things are getting super cheap and really easy to use, and so this sort of prototyping and manufacturing that previously would have only happened in an industrial environment you can now literally do on a desktop.”

One corner of the room at Phandeeyar showed bits of debris from participants’ efforts, including pliers and a small saw on the floor. Meanwhile, a 3D printer plugged away at a Superman logo.

While before it may have been difficult to obtain materials in Myanmar, that is changing, Mr Madden said.

“Historically getting some of these tools and equipment has been challenging, but that’s not really the case now,” he said, adding quite a lot was available on the ground.

A 3D printer creates a familiar logo for the Man of Steel.A 3D printer creates a familiar logo for the Man of Steel.

“In the same way it’s now possible to build apps very cheaply that solve challenges that are specific to Myanmar, the same is largely true for hardware as well,” he added. “And developing and supporting the community of people that are interested in working and playing with these tools and engaging with these challenges is really important.”