In the London meetup scene, I couldn’t have missed the HNLondon meetup event yesterday evening. Hacker News London aims to attract “hackers”, geeks and similar human beings - usually about 450 people! The talks remind me somewhat of TEDx events, but primarily focussed on technology.

My friend Laura recommended this meetup to me. She’s been there once or twice already, and this edition took place 10 months after the previous one: high expectations in the air!

At the end of the event I was asked which talk I preferred, and I suddenly felt like a parent who’s been asked to name their favourite child… can I say all of them equally? But let’s proceed in order. The meetup started of course with the usual pizza and beer (kindly offered by Craft Rebellion), and around 7PM the host, an amazing Steve Buckley introduced the event. A few minutes later, we were greeted with the first speaker, Umesh Pandya CEO of Wayfindr

Wayfindr

To summarise the mission of this company, who joined forces with RLSB sharing a natural interest in the goal of the project, I’ll quote what’s on their website:

“We want to empower vision impaired people to navigate the world independently”

The CEO and co-founder guided the audience on the journey that brought the company to turn an idea into reality, stressing how important it is validating the product with your users. He explained all the challenges faced in the attempt of shifting the “user experience” that we usually have on a screen to the space around us. Your mobile device is just a small part of the bigger device that is all around you, your city, the world. Again, a great example of how technology can improve lives, and their quality. 👍

Then it was the time for…

Open Bionics

Can you make people laugh in front of a prosthetic arm worn by a child? Well, probably not, unless you are Joel Gibbard, founder or Open Bionics. When you start from the age of 7 tinkering with aluminium to create your first “robotic hand”, you continue to pursue this passion within your academic career, then going on to found a company that uses 3D scanning and printing to create bionic hands, you eventually end up on a stage with a working prototype of a hand, right there: Joel guided us through the process that led him and his company to prototype and create a working bionic hand that aims to be sold at ~3000£, providing the same features of the competition, but at 110 to 140 of the price - and with a promising effortless “3 steps” path to get it:

  • 3D-scan the amputated arm (the tool to create the 3D model costs ~£150 and can be connected to an iPhone)
  • Upload the model and wait a couple of weeks
  • Fit and adjust to your liking.

The hand currently responds to conscious and voluntary movements of the arm muscle, but Open Bionics is working in collaboration with the NHS and in the future they plan to improve the experience of the patient by connecting the sensors to the nerves of the arm through a small surgery.

For now, in collaboration with Disney and Marvel, this is what they’ve done, transforming children into super-heroes:

From Open Bionics website

Again, another example of technology, passion and hacking that gives hope, chance, and puts a smile on peoples’ faces.

Brief break for everyone before the next couple of talks…

FieldMargin

…or “How software will feed the world”

A brilliant and hilarious Rob Carter presented his idea, transformed into a product, to help farmers to take advantage of the new technologies (whether satellite images, internet of things, data mining and prediction). FieldMargin aims to fill a technological gap within the agricultural sector, where software is still based on cd-rom updates on old desktop computers. The old software shows tabular data, while predictions and best practices have traditionally come from generations of farmers passing on their knowledge about the land to the new generations and usually mobile phones are useless in the middle of a land where mobile signal is absent. The project/app will grow to the point of being able to help farmers (the biggest industry on the planet) manage their lands from the palm of their hands, and predicting the best day of the year to perform a specific task (not surprisingly Watson was mentioned). Great idea, and a lot of fun on the stage, especially when going through the mistakes the company went through, including the swap that, apparently, affects also Poundstretcher that on Google Maps placed few shops in the middle of the ocean.

From Google Maps

Kano

Alex Klein, just back from New York and sleep deprived, told us the story of his life, from being an 11y.o. child asking on forums how to build a computer (and getting responses back saying things like “How old are you? 11???”), through his studies of economics first and the Cambridge university dropout later, to the time spent with his little cousin making “computers” accessible. In few years he went from raising $1.5M on kickstarter (the target was $100K) to being backed by a VC for $15M. Great personality on the stage, funny anecdotes, all leading Alex to being founder of Kano, a computer for everyone that is so cool that a child (well, one of his customers) decided to sleep hugging the box for days.

Conclusions

I loved the meetup, which felt more like a small conference. I loved the vibe in there, smart speaker, smart people (I mean, I was there…), a celebration of technology, passion, and dreams: all the reasons that I moved to London.

Photos? Meh…

And of course, all the sponsors were great, but a mention for the most creative way to make your entrance goes to the Monzo team, flying a small drone to deliver Monzo cards.

Here Simon testing the drone during the break…

It goes without saying that I’m already looking forward to the next edition which, if we are lucky, will happen in a couple of months!