Hitchin Hackspace Presents…



Hitchin Hackspace is a maker community group based in Hitchin, a market town in North Hertfordshire. The group began in March 2012 with a monthly social event in a local pub. After several successful meetings a monthly build night was established, which soon evolved into a weekly build night as momentum gathered. The group now comprises around 20 regular members.


A number of members attended Maker Faire in 2013, primarily as visitors, with some helping with the Hackspace organised solder area. For 2014 a last minute application to be an exhibitor was submitted, and to everyone’s delight, was accepted.
Between the group there was a reasonable number of personal projects to fill the expectant trestle tables, but what better than a group project to really make an impact? Much fevered discussion took place about what we could exhibit. The conversation wandered, as is often the case, until someone piped up ‘how about a ride-on bigtrak, you know, that toy from the 70s?’. The combination of nostalgia and outrageousness of the suggestion was enough to provoke further conversation ending in the fateful words ‘You know what, I think we could do it’. And so the madness began.


For more than one of the Hitchin based makers, time spent with a bigtrak sometime in the early 80s represented their first foray into the world of programming. Released in 1979 the bigtrak was a programmable electric vehicle created by Milton Bradley, which resembled a futuristic Sci-Fi tank / utility vehicle. Well bighak is very similar, but on a rather larger scale – 5.2:1 to be precise.

bighak is driven by two electric wheelchair motors and has a chassis made from recycled space-age aluminium honeycomb. The ‘commander’ enters their chosen route via a web interface ‘Forward 10… clockwise 30 minutes… forward 5… fire laser!’ which is translated into a futuristic coded message onto their smartphone (well, a QR code…). When ready to commence their mission of daring-do, the commander presents the mission plan to the bighak via a webcam connected to a Raspberry Pi. Once sat in the bighak, the commander presses go. The instruction set is then translated into a series of commands which, via an Arduino microcontroller, control the movement of the bighak…

forward 10. clockwise 30 minutes. Forward 5. Fire laser!’.

At all times the commander is overseen by a co-pilot, i.e. one of the Hitchin Hackspace team holding an emergency cut-off button.

The story continues