Troy's Center of Gravity is alive with invention


All types of tinkering and testing was happening Saturday afternoon at the Tech Valley Center of Gravity.

The center, a so-called “maker space” where would-be inventors go to dabble and make prototypes on Third Street in Troy, was holding its third hackathon of the year.

What’s a hackathon? It’s when people get together to invent things over a day or two, with prizes awarded at the end.

While hackathons originally were the exclusive realm of computer coders who made software, hackathons are now used for any type of inventing.

And this weekend, the Tech Valley Center of Gravity is holding a 32-hour “clean tech” hackathon focused around new ideas and devices that create clean forms of power or help save energy.

In quiet corners of the center on Saturday afternoon, hackers were working on everything from air ships to a solar electric device that would help power a bicycle up a hill.

A Saturday afternoon, Xavier Quinn of Union College in Schenectady was working away at a bunch of mechanical parts and what looked like tubes. He said he and his team were making a jacket that would make electricity from body heat using thermoelectric peltier chips.

“We came up with the idea two days ago,” Quinn said. “It’s more of a proof of concept at this point.”

Nearby, Mark Ferran of Grafton, an RPI grad who visited the Tech Valley Center of Gravity during homecoming weekend earlier in the month, was building what a sign by his invention indicated was a “pet re-animator” that he said was based on battery experiments by Alessandro Volta and Luigi Galvani in the 1700s using frog legs.

But that was just a diversion, Ferran said, from what he really was creating — an energy conservation device using used fluorescent tube lamps.

This weekend’s event, which began Saturday morning and continued until 4 p.m. Sunday, is sponsored by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority and National Grid. There will be $5,000 in prizes given out to the winners, with 12 judges determining the winners.

Thomas Tongue, executive director of the Tech Valley Center of Gravity, says the two previous hackathons were on the Internet of Things and virtual reality, but the clean tech competition has been the busiest one yet with 80 participants, including sponsor volunteers.

Tongue says that students, entrepreneurs and engineers who want to take a crack at inventing something participate. And those who do take part get a free “super user” membership at the center, which provides 24-hour access to the equipment, including the downstairs machine and wood shops, and usually costs $100. Sponsors also provided food for the contestants.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity to build new teams and try things out,” Tongue said of the hackathon.

He said that people come from outside the region as well for the events, and many want to stay when they visit.

“It’s a great opportunity to show off the region,” Tongue said.

[email protected] 518-454-5504 @larryrulison