The IoT hackathon is an event that brings together project leaders, developers, and designers to achieve a large goal in digital spaces. Learning the details of these events, why businesses and leaders should use them, and how to host them can make a massive difference in the success of project outlook and achievement. 

What is an IoT Hackathon?

An IoT (Internet of Things) hackathon brings together programmers, developers, and designers to generate and develop ideas helping to bring humanity the dream of an omnipresent Internet connecting not just people but our things.

The first hackathon was held in June 1999 and later tailored to the Internet of Things (IoT) as those fields began to develop in earnest during the past decade or so.

Upcoming IoT hackathons will generally adhere to a predetermined path: Attendees will form competitive teams to create some application of technology during the course of 24-50 hours or so. The grande finale involves 3-5 minute product pitches and demonstrations with judges awarding cash prizes.

Benefits of hosting an IoT hackathon competition

There are several reasons why hosting a hackathon is a smart idea both financially and from a business standpoint:

Benefit 1: Expanding Business 

To the side of academica, established manufacturers may benefit from hosting IoT hackathons with the potential to find new applications for existing products. Microsoft hosted an IoT hackathon in Houston in 2018 that drew representatives from 13 different corporations from the tech-heavy area.

Microsoft’s primary goal for the Azure IoT hackathon: To explore Microsoft IoT solutions for industries such as farming, warehousing, manufacturing, energy, transportation, public safety, traffic management, among others. The company also asked participants to think big thoughts on the development of future smart cities.

The benefit here was obvious. The IoT hackathon teams employed existing Microsoft development products to find marketable technology solutions of interest to Houston-area companies.

Benefit 2: Saving development money

The present-day IoT hackathon is a great way for corporations to efficiently focus their development budget.

In Microsoft’s case, corporate managers know that building and deploying IoT solutions may require lots of money and significant amounts of time. The IoT hackathon brings the best and most ambitious minds in IoT together under one roof with a time limit.

Through its IoT hackathon, Microsoft secured great ideas for quickly building secure, smart devices leveraging its cloud technology. At the end of the competition, the company awarded $20,000 in prizes to the winners for a good return on investment.

Benefit 3: Gaining real experience

The IoT hackathon offers competitors and business developers alike the chance to gain real-world experience in the quickly developing fields associated with Internet-everywhere. 

At Microsoft’s shindig, students and professionals who participated in the IoT hackathon gained experience connecting their devices into Azure IoT Hub, Azure IoT Central, Azure Time Series Insights, among others. But you get it. Microsoft was pushing their cloud computing business.

How to run a hackathon in IoT: A full four-step guide

Learning how to host a hackathon requires that you are recognizing everyone involved as well as the nitty-gritty logistics. Recognizing the IoT hackathon winners with monetary IoT hackathon prizes or further employment opportunities is a great way to ensure you are not only getting people’s best work but casting a wide net for talent across the world.

Step 1: Practical matters

The first step to running an IoT hackathon is to book the venue and invite attendees from academia, business, and maybe even the government sector if applicable.

Corporate sponsors may fund the event, including IoT hackathon prizes. Such events in the recent past have involved total prize awards in the neighborhood of $20,000, which is far less than a video-gaming event but with potentially lucrative rewards in business.

The venues should include the following:

  • Proper seating with at least one power strip per table
  • WiFi that is sufficient for the purpose
  • A/V equipment
  • Wheelchair-accessible

Step 2: Training

These IoT hackathon events should attract competitors whose ages skew fairly young, including many undergraduates in engineering programs. Thus, organizers should hold highly interactive training workshops either on-site or maybe online just prior to the event, according to one hackathon guide. Veterans of IoT hackathons recommend choosing workshop leaders with experience. They should also represent the diversity of expected participants, including age demographic.

Step 3: Supervision

Organizers of IoT hackathons should take a light touch to overseeing the event once its set in motion.

Professional adversaries in the IoT hackathon sector say hackers should never be interrupted while they’re working on projects. Naturally, focus and concentration is integral to the success of teams competing for the IoT hackathon prizes.

However, organizers should step in to ensure that participants don’t start with ridiculous ideas or ones that have already been explored and shot down.

Step 4: Incentivize

People often find the most creative solutions when incentivized to do so. Recognizing the IoT hackathon winners with monetary IoT hackathon prizes or further employment opportunities is a great way to ensure you are not only getting people’s best work but casting a wide net for talent across the world.

Common mistakes to avoid when organizing IoT hackathons

The “Internet of things” began a generation ago with the development of RFID technology. Since the late 1990’s, visionary thinkers began dreaming of IoT applications and their implications for society.

Sometime during the past decade, industry and academia began hosting IoT hackathons to brainstorm ideas to push this technological development into being. The past several years particularly have given collaborators enough experiential wisdom to guide future hackathon efforts. Following are some mistakes to avoid.

Mistake 1: Goes nowhere

What good does bringing the best minds of IoT together if their ideas go nowhere, shelved forever in a library of local hard drives and memories of good times?

Veteran IoT hackathon experts with experience dating back five to seven years decry the failures of most past events as great ideas and good intentions gone nowhere. Typically, computer programmers and coders of varying ages, with maybe half of them undergraduates, would come together for a convivial and caffeine-fueled weekend of brainstorming. 

They would take lots of photos to share on social media and award prizes to the best teams. Lots of pizza was eaten. A good time was had by all.

Follow-up

Ideally, something should be “born” at an IoT hackathon, whether an initiative that furthers study in a niche or a product category that later comes to market. Or maybe two to three competing teams at the hackathon then come together to form a startup technology company to develop the best of their ideas.

The best IoT hackathon events these days around the world gain sponsorship from industry and academia, with expectations of generating ideas with real-world market value.

In the earlier days of IoT hackathons, the Kyoto, Japan-based Murata Manufacturing helped sponsor the Nordic IoT Hackathon 2016 in Sweden. The early IoT hackathon brought 10 international teams from the United States, Canada, Russia, Israel, and Germany, among others, for 50 hours of marathon hacking development.

The Japanese maker of electronic components saw the IoT hackathon as integral to their own business development. “The Nordic IoT Hackathon is a key event for Murata,” said Hiroshi Dan, the company’s product manager for sensors. “Supporting the creation and development of [IoT] applications is a significant focus for us and we look forward to working together with young engineers at the event to help them achieve their designs.”

The IoT hackathon focused on an area important to Japan’s domestic marketplace: the development of intelligent health systems to assist with the care of a rapidly aging population.

Mistake 2: Poorly defined goals

One of the worst aspects of the IoT hackathon is the failure to define clear goals toward technology solutions that would help to improve the world.


Lots of goofy ideas have been promulgated when speaking of the Internet of things. Rejected ideas for IoT products include software that helps find lost shoelaces or a coffee maker that displays real-time stock market quotes. And who really needs an Internet-connected toilet or a smart toothbrush?

Focus on real problems

Organizers of IoT hackathons should start by focussing teams on the business model before a single line of code is written toward so-called solutions. Teams should begin the multi-day exercise by developing a clear problem statement and then conducting market research.

Today, the popular image of IoT conjures scenes from the Jetsons or maybe talking toasters that tell jokes. In reality, the IoT represents an aspect of what may be the coming Fourth Industrial Revolution. In the next couple of decades, the manufacturing sector will become so automated they will simply shut the lights off. 

No humans will need to enter the building. The IoT of manufacturing will involve advanced machine-to machine communications with even the ability to anticipate the need for maintenance or software updates.

The long-held dream of the driverless car will come to fruition, too, as unmanned vehicle systems of the near future depend upon smart infrastructure infused with IoT. Networked urban areas may provide improved traffic management with individual vehicles themselves networked for more efficient traffic flow. 

Intelligent waste management systems, too, would help to improve public health and air quality in major cities.

Mistake 3: Narrow Goals

On the subject of business development, many IoT hackathon participants might focus on too narrow of a market niche, rather than swinging for the fences.

Much time has been wasted at IoT hackathons by participants who either focused too narrowly or unwittingly reinvented the wheel.

The fix

Computer programmers and coders who compete in today’s IoT hackathons should play to win. Competitors should prepare for the event by researching past ideas and potential marketplaces, arriving at the hackathon armed with ideas supported by good websearch. If IoT solutions lack good marketplace potential, they're not worth the trouble and effort of developing. 

They won’t make money and they won’t help to build the future, experts say. And why would you spend 50 hours of your time developing a solution that has already been rejected by entrepreneurs or will soon come to market under someone else’s brand?

Inspiring IoT hackathon ideas

There are dozens of ways that a hackathon can take shape. Here are a few hackathon ideas for IoT to give a general understanding of how varied they can be.

Nighttime Patrol Bot

Among myriad other impressive hackathon ideas for IoT is the modern-day version of last century’s RoboCop.

The maturing fields of robotics and artificial intelligence years ago produced remote-controlled and then semi-autonomous robots useful for police operations. Just last year, the New York City Police Department drew criticism for leasing a robotic dog from Boston Dynamics, which some called a “dystopian” example of over-policing.

Yet the public appears more receptive to less-threatening applications for police robots, including surveillance.

A robotic night watchman armed only with night-vision cameras would make a great idea for IoT hackathon competitors to develop. A number of civilian police agencies around the world have already fielded robots that handle dangerous or monotonous tasks for officers. However, nothing yet has hit the consumer marketplace as the security equivalent to the Roomba vacuum cleaner.

Like the Roomba, the semi-autonomous night watchman might work independently to protect homes and private property from intruders. The robot would patrol a predetermined path while capturing continuous 360-degree video of its surveillance area. Any facial recognition or unusual movement would trigger an alarm sent to the homeowner’s smartphone.


The marketplace may be replete with home surveillance tools but this niche represents some “blue-ocean” opportunity for the right entrepreneur and marketers.

Street lights on demand

In the mid-1980’s, the Clapper brought sound-activated lighting to America’s homes — at least for consumers who buy products advertised on infomercials.

Likewise, motion-activated security flood lights hit the market decades ago. However, the required technology for motion-activated public lighting has now come to fruition. An IoT-based public streetlight monitoring system would enable the system to shut down lighting in areas of town without anyone walking or driving.

Such a system would drive municipal energy savings and perhaps lower light pollution, too. In this IoT system, street lights with LDR sensors would monitor the area for movement associated with pedestrians or drivers. A microcontroller would then adjust lighting appropriately, maybe even “following” a lone pedestrian or vehicle along the path.

More than mere cost-savings, the system might also employ load-sensing capability to detect problems with individual street lights for repair.

Traffic Management

Some 1.4 billion cars, trucks, and busses rolled around the world by 2019, according to estimates.

The exponentially increasing number of vehicles reached more than 148 per 1,000 people that year, as traffic congestion continued to take hours from the day and, potentially, years from the individual’s life.

A number of reasons contribute to traffic congestion in Cairo, Egypt, one of the most congested cities in the world. Aside from a rapidly growing population, the government offers cheap, subsidized fuel. Poor urban planning makes the situation even worse.

Cairo and other cities of the world would benefit greatly from intelligent traffic management systems. Therefore, an IoT hackathon team might develop a smart traffic management system capable of meaning road traffic and clearing the way for emergency vehicles, such as ambulances.

Aside from gaining lost time and productivity, people benefiting from such a system would gain a safer and healthier place to live, with less time spent in the car and quicker response times from paramedics.

As an ancillary benefit, the smart traffic management system would monitor traffic to identify lawbreakers whose selfish actions disrupt the smooth and more coordinated flow of traffic. Such a system might then deploy police robots to punish the transgressors — or maybe just email a ticket.

Liquid Monitoring

The equivalent of more than 200 barrels of oil per day spills from America’s network of oil and gas pipelines, according to data collected from the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

After cleanup efforts by industry, some 31,500 barrels of oil remain in the ground and in the water as a longer-term environmental and health hazard. Amazon Frontlines and other environmental groups say the spills cause irreparable harm to human health, as confirmed by studies of biomarkers. These harms include damage to the respiratory and immune systems, reproductive health damage, and increased cancer risk.

Thus, an IoT hackathon team might choose to fight this problem with a liquid monitoring system that would allow pipeline and infrastructure owners to exponentially improve safety surveillance. Recent drone technology offered an incremental improvement in surveillance capability, but more technological progress is needed.

The IoT project would attempt to build a system to remotely monitor liquid levels in varying bits of infrastructure, including oil and gas pipelines. The system would consist of ultronic, conductive, and float sensors connected by WiFi that would alert infrastructure owners to important changes in liquid levels.

The system would also be able to track individual chemicals within the pipelines and other pieces of infrastructure. Such a system would bring implications for the environmental movement as well as homeland security infrastructure protection.

Looking for a good hackathon platform to organize your hackathon IoT projects? Try Hackathon.com

Already, the international community has seen the growth of professional organizations devoted to the burgeoning field of IoT and its development.

More information on the professional world of IoT hackathons may be found online on Hackathon.com.

Final points

The IoT hackathon should become an increasingly more relevant event in technology development as business developers look for ways to accelerate the adoption of the Internet of Things. The IoT hackathon is a great way to bring the best minds in technology together to quickly and efficiently develop new applications for existing products.