To be honest, when I knew about this hackathon, I had mixed feelings. I have attended many hackathons in France and in Singapore this year, and as a non-developer, I just felt my contributions were minimal, it’s hard to gather a team and speak the same language with designers and tech people, and, well, as someone from the marketing side, I just spend my time watching desperately at screens with broken hopes to understand anything.

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César Harada’s leitmotiv

But, hey, going to Protei’s hackathon, I just made a boat with 5 other non-technical guys and girls in a few hours, and this boat made it in the (almost) open sea in East Kowloon, Honk-Kong!

Protei DIY boats made out of pieces of wood, plastics, wires, foam, anything

My coming to Hong Kong was initially to reach quickly Shenzhen and explore the maker scene over there (which I got to do two months later due to visa issues). A few connections from France to China got me in touch with César Harada, an ex-MIT researcher now heading Protei, a startup building DIY boats he already tested in several environment missions, such as getting data on Fukushima’s radioactive waters, all with open-source software and open-hardware electronics. César invited me to the hackathon, and I was excited like a kid to go there.

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The Kowloon Bay, both as a background and a test field

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What about a network of DIY boats?

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Hong Kong and Shenzhen (north-west), quite a busy place on the sea

The venue of the hackathon was already something quite interesting. Located in East Kowloon, a district of Hong-Kong bound to be profoundly rebuilt in the coming years, we were working from EKEO, a publicly owned agency which also hosted in the same time part of the Biennale of architecture of HK and Shenzhen, so a lot of artwork, architecture folks and prototypes surrounded us. And of course it doesn’t hurt when it comes to building a boat.

After a rough training on the basics of sailing, we were put in a large room with all necessary materials. Foams, wood, pieces of cardboard and steel. All sorts of tool I didn’t know the name of even in French, mechanical and electrical (I told you I was non-technical). Glu, wielder, and also small engines, rotors, and, well, a few hours to make a boat that could make it somehow.

The beauty of hardware: anyone with a will and a wielder can do things

The four teams made quite different boats, the main objective of the day was to make them float and move, then, if it proved ok, we could think of future developments like Protei’s boat, adding sensors to track down motion or environment data.

Our team was funnily arranged, with one Italian, two American, one German, one Hong-Kong social enterprise guy, and me as a “French-living-in-Singapore”. We had quite different views but eventually settled for some sort of catamaran, and I must say we were able to make a first test after just an hour (buoyancy checked in a baby’s swimming pool). Then we added a motor to make it go straight (second test successful in the docks nearby), and we even had the time later on to add a rotor to make the whole thing turn with a remote controller.

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A Maker’s paradise!

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Most if not all materials come from waste, reuse, recycled stuff.

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The yellow sort-of-a-balloon was our first and decisive piece to build our boat

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Adding a motor and its flaps to have the whole catamaran move forward

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Another team, another design

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A multimedia boat which flashes light and songs a 8-bit piece repeatedly, good for long trips on the open sea ; )

Making a boat in 5 hours: done! #makers in #hongkong :-)

A video posted by @martpasquier on

We had also different timings, not all the team was constantly “on the dock”, but that’s also a way for everyone to have some time off to watch other team, chat with César and his interns, and well, get to know better a few hacking and making tricks for our boats.

In the end of the day, all 4 boats were able to float, almost all were able to be propelled and not to let water spoil the engine, and 2 of them (I think) had their rotors operational. I was delighted to make this boat with the rest of the team.

Now I just want to run to a maker shop buy some stuff and build something. Maybe related to noise detection in cities. Living in Singapore, it’s hard to find a place where you get no construction site or road noise, so a network of 24/7 noise sensors could help to build a real-time map of where the noise is, and how to choose a flat accordingly?

Thanks again César and the Protei team for this great moment, no competition, no crappy prizes, just a good day at the sea to make boats like kids, and hopefully drive a few non-technical urban dudes like me turn a bit more into makers.