What’s a Beacon?
On Monday morning of week 10, the teams for our cohort’s final projects were announced. I was in a team with Matteo, Jack, Hannah and Marcin. We’d all expressed an interest in working with beacons, but to be honest, none of us actually had much idea what a beacon was.
It says something about the what and how of the Makers Academy experience that we didn’t just want to consolidate things that we’d learnt but carry on learning new things, even in our graduation project.
So project task number one was to Google what is a beacon. Once we’d worked out that it was a device that emits a bluetooth signal (and we’d tracked one down in the Makers office), we spent the rest of the day brainstorming ideas of what to do with it.
We thought of plenty of ideas, such as;
- Providing an added layer of security for Uber, so passengers can ‘authenticate’ their ride before getting in.
- Creating collaborative location based digital art installations, where you can only contribute / view when in range of the beacon.
- Providing a ‘promotion and communication platform’ for independent stores, to enable them to target passing shoppers and battle back against internet shopping.
The idea we settled on was to improve the experience of collaborating with friends on a party playlist of songs. Hannah came with an insight from a Karaoke bar where at the end of the evening there were lots of songs still to play that were chosen by people who had left. The idea we had was that songs should come and go with the people (hence the name TurnUp TuneIn) and we would use the beacon to marshall this operation.
There were lots of challenges with this;
- How would we know that people arrived / left a party? So we built a mobile phone app that recognised the beacon at the party and knew when it was in and out of range. (we’d not built a mobile app before)
- How would we give the party organiser access to the songs? We used the API (Application Program Interface) for Spotify to create playlists and add / remove songs. (we’d had a little experience with APIs before, but not this one).
- How would we get party goers to choose their songs? We created a lightweight Mongo database to store song choices along with party details. (we’d never used this type of database before – quite different to PostgreSQL).
- And then a NodeJS / Express server to pull the whole thing together, with a front end for party planners and party goers, and interaction with the database and mobile app. (We’d done some Node before but not on this scale).
You can see that we gave ourselves plenty to do and after spending the first day choosing the proposition and knowing that we had to freeze feature development the next Wednesday we only had 7 days (and the weekend) to build it. Challenge on.
Graduation and a Live Demonstration
On the Friday of week eleven it was our graduation. There was a packed audience as it also coincided with Makers Academy second birthday celebrations and the evening started off with a few previous alumni talking about their experiences after Makers and passing on hints and tips on how to survive and thrive as a developer.
Then the presentations for the final projects. We’d elected to go last as our’s was a party project we wanted to give a live demo to get the party started. So we had to nervously watch the other teams present their work. Their was a real diversity in the projects that other teams had worked on;
Meshee: a project that ‘rebuilt the internet without the internet’ using Raspberry Pi’s to generate a secure wireless chat application not connected to the internet.
I am me: A really visual way of personalising a what’s on calendar to individual tastes and preferences.
Horsell Snow Angels: Providing an automated solution to managing volunteers and task allocation for a groups that assists older people during poor weather.
One Day: An application that links young people searching for employment with professionals who can offer a day of mentoring / work experience.
Then it was our turn. As well as showing a video demonstration of how our website worked we’d decided to do a live demonstration that would bring the concept to life. Always a risk to do it live, but we felt confident and had even loaded the app on to the phones of a number of fellow students and staff at Makers and at the end of our presentation we got them to also ‘TurnUp and TuneIn’.
It was great to see the songs joining the playlist in real time as people opened their apps and joined the party. Success. And then the party started.
Reflecting on the project, it was great to work in a team with such a mix, who all brought a lot to the project, and it was amazing to have achieved something that we didn’t know how to do at the start. A real testament to the process at Makers and the drive of our team.
Now it’s on to week twelve with a focus on how to turn the skills we’ve learnt into a career.