Hack and Make: the joy of learning

Some visitors at Hack and Make 2019 sat behind the steering wheel of a toy eCar and sucked on a pacifier, while others talked shop with a well-known YouTube star. Siemens used this opportunity to show the maker scene how even beginners can make their ideas a reality using Siemens automation products.

The little coffeemaker produced one hot chocolate after another, as well as the occasional coffee for mom or dad. It’s designed to make ten cups a day, but this weekend it was pushed to its limits. All the other participants, both Siemens colleagues and trade fair visitors, were there just to share their love of technology and have fun!


At “Hack and Make 2019,” which was held at Nuremberg Messezentrum, Siemens rubbed elbows with the predominantly young maker scene. In most cases, visitors were allowed to handle the exhibits, which included using VR glasses and a Siemens controller to mix their favorite cocktail, racing their car on the Carrera track against automatically controlled competitors, propelling a Lego bucket wheel excavator, trying to outsmart a robot arm equipped with AI, or ordering a hot chocolate or coffee by voice command.

Makers on the lookout for simple solutions

“Alexa, activate Siemens!” That’s all it took, and the paper cups were already being filled. “This is an area where women have a higher success rate. They instinctively place the right emphasis on the command,” said Kolja Knobloch, who was passing out the hot drinks to trade fair visitors. He was also explaining how the SIMATIC IOT2000 IoT controller transferred the voice command to the coffeemaker. “We purposely got the cheapest appliance we could find because we’re here with amateur inventors who need simple solutions, nothing fancy,” he said.

Easily controlling a 100-kilogram skateboarder

Something a little more sophisticated was happening next door at the Corporate Technology (CT) booth. Young colleagues were using TAPAS, a freely programmable inverter, to control a skateboard for skateboarders weighing up to 100 kilograms and to play music. “We’re able to achieve a very high operating frequency and extremely low switching losses,” explained Stefan Steinmüller. “Power electronics is a complex area where it’s easy to make a mistake. But the makers have lots of good ideas for which they need decent power. And TAPAS makes this possible.” Until a sponsor is found, CT will donate the solution to universities and maker spaces.

The joy of learning

Sucking on his pacifier, three-year-old Tim pressed the pedal to the metal. His father could barely keep up with the toy eMini. “We keep the car in the office so that we can test charging stations, PLC controllers, and communication interfaces for different vendors,” said Sven Kiebler. Was it exhausting to spend two days taking care of tiny wannabe racing drivers? “No, on the contrary, the maker fairs are a lot more fun than regular trade fairs. The atmosphere is a lot more relaxed. The important thing is that the kids have fun and learn something in the process. Then we know we did everything right.”

Excavating like there’s no tomorrow: Logo! meets Lego

Matts appeared to be lost in another world. By carefully pressing the buttons on the display, he was controlling the large Lego bucket wheel excavator, moving it backwards and forwards, digging, starting up the conveyor belt, turning the light in the driver’s cab on and off, all with the aid of a Logo! controller. His mother had a hard time dragging him away. After all, there were plenty of other stations at the Siemens booth at Hack and Make, as well as at the higher-level inventors’ trade fair iENA and the large Consumenta, in which the specialized trade fair was embedded.


The excavator’s assembly instructions alone are 552 pages long. “My boss assembled it,” explained Jacqueline Zuber Scott, a budding electrical engineer. It must have required a great deal of patience. Ten-year-old Valentin also has a Lego excavator at home and gradually assembled it himself when he was seven. “For the Logo! part, you don’t need a lot of programming knowledge,” said Scott, and that’s ideal for the maker scene.

Virtual Carrera track

Logo! was integrated into many other exhibits as well, including the Carrera track. As part of a master’s thesis, NX Mechatronic Concept Design (MCD) was used to create a digital twin of a racetrack and cars and, based on this data, to optimally control the cars via computer-aided pulses to the joystick. At “Hack and Make 2019,” the next generation of racers were able to participate in an exciting – if not exactly fair – race against the car controlled by LOGO!.


But it was lots of fun for the kids and such vivid showcases also made it easy to gain the attention of makers. “Logo! is available for just 100 euros,” said Matthias Pohl. “Such cool things are created in the maker scene, and with our offering for beginners, we can sometimes update the slightly outmoded image we have with young people.”

One size bigger: SIMATIC S7-1200

Among makers, he’s a luminary. Norbert Heinz, alias HomoFaciens (a made-up word that basically means “creative man”), presented the new version of his CNC machine, controlled by a SIMATIC S7-1200, at the Siemens booth at “Hack and Make.” “In my YouTube videos, you can only see my hands, so most of the people here know me by my voice,” he said.


Actually, he wanted to write names on ping-pong balls, but then he wanted to install a different motor, and then he started running out of time. “The trade fair organizers let me work here until 8 p.m. and then I was frantically soldering wires at the hotel. We’ll see how soon I can manage it today,” he said, grinning. Was it a bad thing that his machine wouldn’t run? No! That’s all part of the maker scene. “I’m mainly here to share ideas.” With makers, you’re allowed to borrow what you see – it’s even encouraged.

Bringing AI to the field level

“Here we’re demonstrating how you can bring artificial intelligence (AI) to the field level,” said Birgit Schöll. A robot arm was reaching for previously unknown wooden objects and loading them onto a conveyor belt. “This kind of performance can’t be achieved with ‘hard’ programming,” she explained. She also said that children love outsmarting the robot.


This exhibit has already been around the world and was most recently in Brazil. “It’s a very good way to demonstrate artificial intelligence. Brain (AI), eye (3D camera), and arm cooperate as they would in a human,” said the Siemens employee.

“Make the future yours”

Whether Logo!, SIMATIC IoT2000, SIMATIC S7-1200, NX MCD, or AI, the colleagues were giving it their all. They were all volunteers who had responded to Annemarie Lötzsch’s call. “This is now the third ‘Hack and Make’ and we’re also here for the third time,” she said, not without pride. “We want to address technology lovers, and especially children, with exhibits that they can try out themselves. Because if we inspire them, then they might one day become our customers or even our colleagues.”


The self-created motto also pointed to the future: “Make the future yours.” It was printed on the backs of the black t-shirts worn by all the Siemens colleagues. The coffeemaker seemed to be the only one at the trade fair that wasn’t enjoying itself. Which means that the colleagues did everything right!

Photo gallery:

November 2019

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