Since Har2009, a hackerfestival/conference in the Netherlands, our little hackerspace in Utrecht, RandomData, has been quite close with the guys from Hack in the Box. I have to admit that I'd never heard of this security group from Malaysia back then. We were talking about the conferences that they were giving in different places around the world and about them willing to come to The Netherlands for their next conference. We were all excited.
In 2010 the fist HiTB conference was an actual happening. Lots of guys from the hackerspace community, 2600nl and other friends of Randomdata+Hack in the Box joined up as volunteers to make this an experience to remember. For hackerspaces, there was a special area of the conference to set-up and show off your projects which was visited by a dozen of people who had nothing to do with the con, but who were just interested. Of course, with every start of something, we ran into some minor problems but in the end, it was a successful conference. They would continue to host conferences in Amsterdam.
Months of preparation it took the guys from HiTB and the volunteers to get the conference of 2011 set up. This year a lot of guys from the Dutch hackerspace community volunteered to make this another unforgettable experience. Because the guys behind HiTB and HiTB.nl saw how enthusiastic the hackerspaces scene was, this year they turned it up a notch. There was an actual hackerspace challenge, sponsored by ITQ. No space knew what it was about or what to bring. After social engineering a bit, I found out that we were going to play with Lego! Too bad my skillz aren't that good, or I would've been able to found out more. Spaces from our neighbouring countries entered the challenge as well hailing from Belgium and France.
The challenge was awesome, to say the least. We were to play with Lego NXT(c) \o/. The challenge was to build a robot of some kind, using only the bits provided and the things that you brought with you to the conference. It was not allowed to go out and buy stuff, only allowed to hack the stuff you had with you to build "extras". The ITQ stand had something which resembled a battleground, at least - that's what we made of it. But after explanation of the challenge, the objective was that you would program your robot so that it would automatically drive to a light, which was placed on one of the four corners of the "battlefield". The first one to arrive would gain a point and this with a time limit of a few minutes. You could gain extra points by obstructing the opposing robot and having nice code or a cool looking robot.
Because RandomData and HiTB are so close, all our members kinda volunteered for the con so it was a small problem to actually get guys to show off our (amazing and oh-so-many) projects. Good thing [com]buster was able to get time off work and was glad to join myself with the showing-off, who is an excellent coder where as I am horrible at it.
The building of the our robot, it was lots of fun and good experience. It was cool to see what path our hackerspace friends took, some started with the basics, others thought that the language provided by Lego was inferior and started by making the NXT brick speak a different language. I saw another space who just started to build a dragon out of it. Our road was less spectacular. We just wanted to get the robot working with all the different sensors so it would be able to compete in the challenge, then worry about arming ourselves for the obstruction bonus points. The challenge had certain hours to build, only five on the first day and three on the second.
At the end of the second day every space had a working robot out and proudly set them ready to play in the challenge. At this point, we found that our robot was actually doing very well. We saw that some robots were using sensors for the black lines at the end of the field, so they would know where to stop. Fifteen minutes before the start of the challenge we thought up a little idea; To add black markers to the side of our robot which would write on the ground, where ever we went. The idea was good but the lines were too thin. The lines our robot made, the perfection... It could be sold as art! Another idea we had was to build a lightdome on top of our robot. Seeing the objective was too be the first at the light, we thought this might sidetrack some robots. After some soldering and failing, we saw that bitlair (highlight/url) was building a bulldozer-like robot which would pick up anything it would drive against. We added some extra lego-bar protection instead of a lightdome.
After thirty minutes of stealing the show at the conference, the challenge was done. After some quick calculations of the ITQ team, RandomData was pronounced the winner, huzzah! Bitlair and their bulldozer robot came second, I think it was whitespace(0x20) from Gent, Belgium who came third. RandomData takes home a 1000 euro cheque to spend on our space!
Overall, it was a very cool conference and we're all looking forward to next year's event!