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IoT at Liverpool Makefest 2018

Likes to Android with the aim of making that million dollar app one day; retiring to a beach of his choice. For now writes blog posts to hopefully enlighten others & gain some feeling of self worth.

Liverpool MakeFest is a family-friendly event celebrating low level technologies, hardware, hacking and making. Here's our review on what we did and what we learnt.

We participated with a stand at the 2018 event and built an immersive Internet of Things gaming experience, called Dungeon Crawler to engage with those attending and learn more about Redux, Firebase and Android Things for ourselves.

We have been participating with MakeFest for the last 3 years and every year it gets bigger and better. We had a lot of people visiting our stand all with a wide range of knowledge, which made for some great conversations. People played the games and were really interested in what Android Things as well as the Redux architecture is all about. Most attendees of MakeFest were families with children aged 7–17, which is why we created an IoT game and gave away Android Things prizes to spark their interest.

We wanted to build something that would be engaging to people of all ages, something that we would want to play with ourselves if we had one in the office. So we decided to build an IoT dungeon crawler game. We based our game on the original Line Wobbler and on Twang which is an open-source version of the game, built for Arduino.

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Dungeon Crawler uses an LED strip as a display, where the player, enemies, and other game entities are represented as different LED colours. The player can be controlled with a joystick that’s built using a spring from a doorstop, which includes a gyro & accelerometer sensors to determine the movement speed or if the user is attacking.

Paul playing a sneaky game before MakeFest ended

We ported all the game logic to Java/Kotlin running on Android Things and once it was working with the hardware, we decided to take it one step further to explore how we could make the experience even more engaging. We considered multiple options, but one that really caught our attention was having a replay feature. After someone plays a game, the game stores the replay as JSON in Firebase in order to replay it later on. Using the Redux architecture enables this feature as we store a list of game states (one for each frame) as the game progresses, and at the end of the game, we store the list of states in a Firebase Database. Additionally, we built a companion app, which can run on a regular Android device. The companion app observes for new game replays in Firebase and when there’s a new one, it pulls it and replays it on the separate tablets screen.

The companion app replaying a game

MakeFest is such an enjoyable experience, all of the parents and kids that come along are so engaged or interested in technologies. It bodes well for the future of the industry. Personally making our DungeonCrawler game work was a big challenge in understanding low level details but also modular architecture and I’m glad we pushed it to the edge, as it was great learning for myself and watching the kids faces light up when they won the prize was amazing.

Paul Blundell

This was the first time at MakeFest and I’ll definitely repeat. Initiatives like this one are very much needed to get kids interested in new technologies and in the ‘maker’ spirit. I was able to sneak out of our booth a couple of times to see what was going on around MakeFest and I was impressed to see all the different technologies being showcased in a way that kids were able to interact with and get excited about. And seeing how excited (and competitive!) some were when playing our game was priceless.

Xavi Rigau

Some of the other interesting stands we noticed included: CPC, they had an awesome kids crane that they had retrofitted with new controls and more powerful motors. There was a brilliant DIY built ‘hammer bell’ game that the kids could wack, and a table of magnified cells that used all recycled materials to show cells at a gigantic scale.

DYI built hammer bell game

On the top floor there was a drone section where kids had to program the drones using building blocks from a Scratch-like language and someone had made a punchcard reader that would create Minecraft structures shaped with the wholes in the punchcard. Really great stuff!

Kids learning about robotics by playing

Attending MakeFest had two aims for us: We love helping the community, and seeing young people engaging with technology is a real inspiration. We enjoy helping to spark creative ideas and showing how easy it can be to get into technology. Secondly, we are always learning and trying to push the boundaries of our own knowledge. Working with hardware is not a daily occurrence yet for most of our projects, so working on a new project for MakeFest really pushes us to learn new things.

We can't wait for next year. Each year we learn more and want to make it more awesome next time. We already have some bigger and crazier ideas, the trick is to start planning right now. If you have a platform or product and are interested in collaborating, feel free to reach out to us. Stay tuned!

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Want to build this project yourself? Check out the project on hackster.io

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