[Steel 9] was looking around for a LED strobe light for reasons unknown. He couldn’t find any that he liked, and when that happened, he did what any normal person would do – make one himself.
[Steel] based this build around a Harbor Freight 27 LED flashlight. This flashlight is just that – a simple switch to turn the LEDs on and off, a button, and from the looks of things, not even a single current limiting resistor. A masterstroke of engineering, surely,
The added circuitry consists only of a pair of transistors, a few resistors, a capacitor, and a pot. Yes, [Steel] is too cool for a 555 chip, It’s just a simple multivibrator circuit and none of the component values are very sensitive.
[Steel] got exactly what he wanted without even having to break out a breadboard. Since he just deadbugged all the circuitry, he’s also reusing the plastic enclosure of the flashlight. That’s a win in any book.
For one reason or another, we’re starting to see a lot of projects featuring some old seven-segment HP bubble displays. Yes, those displays once relegated to ancient electronic calculators are making a comeback for reasons we can’t understand why, other than speculation that someone found a bunch of NOS displays. [Markus] picked up a few of these olde tymie displays and built a very nice bubble display alarm clock.
To keep things simple, [Markus] didn’t go the usual ATMega with RTC route. Instead, he’s using an MSP430, a 32kHz crystal, and a few buttons to construct this tiny alarm clock. It’s powered by a single AAA battery, and in a nice change of pace from fancy, professionally made boards, [Markus] built this on some perfboard with a little bit of enameled wire.
It’s a neat little clock, and with the speaker and most likely extreme battery life thanks to the MSP430, a wonderful portable, classic-looking alarm clock. Video of [Markus] manipulating the time below.
Although it’s derided for not being open source, EagleCAD is an extremely popular piece of schematic and PCB layout software. Most of the popularity is probably due to the incredible amount of part libraries – it’s certainly not the features Eagle has to offer or its horrible scripting capabilities. [Rob] had enough of the lack of good scripting support in Eagle, so he’s been spending his time making Eagle’s ULP work with Python. He’s only been at it a short time, but already it’s much more usable than the usual Eagle scripts.
Below you can check out a pair of videos of [Rob]’s Python tools for Eagle in action. The first video goes through aligning a few symbols and creating a board outline (with proper curves!) from a DXF file. The second video shows exactly how valuable these tools are when laying out a board: imagine hundreds of LEDs and resistors automatically aligned to each other with a single click of a mouse. Beautiful.
All the PyEagle stuff is available on [Rob]’s github, with a DXF importer, group manager, and alignment tool included. Now that everything’s Python, it’s easy to build your own tools without relying on Eagle’s odd ULP language.
There are a lot of builds out there that retrofit modern electronics into ancient knitting machines. The ability to print in yarn is very cool, but when you look at the total costs of these projects – especially the ancient Brother KH-930 knitting machines – these projects start getting very expensive. A much cheaper solution to these $700 knitting machines is the Brother KH-910 model, the first of its kind, and a machine that can be purchased for about $100. For their entry into The Hackaday Prize, [chris007] and [andz] put modern electronics into this slightly less capable knitting machine, turning what was once old junk into something with the same capabilities of a much more expensive machine.
The more expensive KH-930 and -940 knitting machines are fairly impressive pieces of technology, controlled with a floppy drive, and can be retrofitted with a serial cable to upload patterns. This is the basis of the Electro-knit and Knitic, but they simply don’t work with the Brother KH-910, a machine programmed with a primitive scanner and semi-transparent picture cards. It’s like the difference between punch cards and a disk drive, really.
[chris] and [andz]’s new controller for the Brother KH-910 is based on the Arduino, acting as a connection between a PC and the 200 solenoids and pins inside the knitting machine. That in itself is impressive – now, instead of being limited to 60-pixel wide yarn prints, the Brother KH-910 can use its full width, limited only by your arm strength and amount of yarn.
The project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.
Humans generate a lot of waste. It is somewhat relieving to see so many great reuses of old items out there on the ‘web. We love covering these types of projects here on Hackaday. [Martin] likes using recycled items in his projects and wrote in to tell us about his recently completed Wooden Ghettoblaster that utilizes a bunch of old parts and doodads he had kicking around.
The main case, believe it or not, is constructed of leftover wood flooring. The fake tape deck, buttons and tuner may look like they are just burnt/etched/stained but they are actually inlaid pieces of darker wood. Once all of the inlays were installed in the front face of the cabinet, the entire surface was sanded smooth and the edges chamfered to add some visual appeal.
Holes for a pair of old aftermarket car speakers were not only cut into the front face of the case, they were also counterbored so the speakers would sit flush with the panel. [Martin] did decide to purchase one component for the project, a set of VU meters. They are mounted to the case via their own inlaid piece of wood and are connected in parallel with the line-level portion of the signal path.
It seems like I’m constantly having the same discussions with different people about the Open Design aspect of The Hackaday Prize. I get arguments from both sides; some attest that there should be no “openness” requirement, and others think we didn’t set the bar nearly high enough. Time to climb onto my soap box and throe down some sense on this argument.
Open Design is Important
When you talk about hardware there is almost always some software that goes into making a finished product work. Making the information about how a product works and how it is manufactured available to everyone is called Open Design; it encompasses both Open Hardware and Open Source Software. Open Design matters!
First of all, sharing how something is designed and built goes much further than just allowing others to build their own. It becomes an educational tool and an innovation accelerator (others don’t need to solve the same problems over and over again). When using a new chip, protocol, or mechanical part you can learn a lot by seeing how someone else already did it. This means faster prototyping, and improvements on the design that weren’t apparent to the original creator. And if it breaks, you have a far easier time trying to diagnose and repair the darn thing! We all benefit from this whether we’re creating something or just using an end product because it will work better, last longer, and has the potential to be less buggy or to have the bugs squashed after the fact.
There is also peace-of-mind that comes with using Open Design products. The entries in The Hackaday Prize need to be “connected devices”. With open design you can look at the code and see what is being done with your information. Can you say that about Nest? They won’t even allow you to use the thermostat in a country that hasn’t been pre-approved by decree from on high (we saw it hacked to work in Europe a few years back). Now it has been rooted so that you can do with it what you please.
But I contest that it would have been better to have shipped with options like this in the first place. Don’t want to use Nest’s online platform? Fine, let the consumer own the hardware they pay for! My wager since the day they announced Google’s acquisition of Nest is that this will become the “router” for all the connected devices in your home. I don’t want the data from my appliances, entertainment devices, exercise equipment, etc., being harvested, aggregated, and broadcast without having the ability to look at how the data is collected, packaged, and where it is being sent. Open Design would allow for this and still leave plenty of room for the big G’s business model.
I find it ironic that I rant about Google yet it would be pretty hard to deny that I’m a fanboy.
Decentralize the Gatekeeper
I’m going to beat up on Google/Nest a bit more. This is just an easy example since the hardware has the highest profile in the field right now.
If Nest controls the interface and they retain the power to decide whose devices can participate the users lose. Imagine if every WiFi device had to be blessed by a single company before it would be allowed to connect to any access points? I’m not talking about licensing technology or registering a MAC address for a chip. I’m talking about the power, whether abused or not, to shut any item out of the ecosystem based on one entity’s decisions.
If connected devices use a known standard that isn’t property of one corporation it unlocks so many good things. The barrier for new companies to put hardware in the hands of users is very low.
Let’s consider one altruistic part of this; Open Design would make small run and single unit design a possibility. Think about connected devices specialized for the physically challenged; the controller project makes specialized controls for your Xbox, what about the same for your oven, dishwasher, the clock on your wall, or your smart thermostat?
The benefits really show themselves when a “gatekeeper” goes out of business or decides to discontinue the product line. This happened when the Boxee servers were shut down. If the source code and schematics are available, you can alter the code to use a different service, build up your own procotol-compliant home server, or even manufacture new devices that work with the system for years to come. There are already pleas for belly-up manufacturers to open-source as the last death throw. Hacking this stuff back into existence is fun, but isn’t it ridiculous that you have to go to those lengths to make sure equipment you purchased isn’t turned into a doorstop when they shut the company lights off?
To drive the point home, consider this Home Automation System from 1985 [via Reddit]. It’s awesome, outdated, and totally impossible to maintain into the future. I’m not saying we should keep 30-year-old hardware in use indefinitely. But your choices with this are to source equally old components when it breaks, or trash everything for a new system. Open Design could allow you to develop new interfaces to replace the most used parts of the system while still allowing the rest of the hardware to remain.
Why not disqualify entries that aren’t Open Hardware and Open Source Software?
Openness isn’t a digital value
Judging preferences are much better than disqualifying requirements. This is because ‘openness’ isn’t really a digital value. If you publish your schematic but not your board artwork is that open? What if you’re using parts from a manufacturer that requires a Non-Disclosure Agreement to view the datasheet and other pertinent info about the hardware?
In addition to deciding exactly where the threshold of Open or Not-Open lies, we want to encourage hackers and companies to try Open Design if they never have before. I believe that 1% open is better than 0% open, and I believe that there is a “try it, you’ll like it” experience with openness. If this is the case, The Hackaday Prize can help pollinate the virtue of Open Hardware far and wide. But only if we act inclusively and let people work their way toward open at their own pace.
There are more benefits to Open than there are drawbacks.
The biggest worry I hear about open sourcing a product is that it’ll get picked up, manufactured, and sold at a cut-throat rate.
If you build something worth using this is going to happen either way. The goal should be to make a connection with your target users and to act ethically. Open Design allows the user to see how your product works, and to add their own features to it. Most of the time these features will appeal to a very small subset of users, but once in a while the community will develop an awesome addition to your original idea. You can always work out a way to include that in the next revision. That right there is community; the true power of open.
A while back, we had a sci-fi contest on Hackaday.io. Inspired by the replicators in Stargate SG-1, [The Big One] and a few other folk decided a remote-controlled hexapod would be a great build. The contest is long over, but that doesn’t mean development stopped. Now Stubby, the replicator-inspired hexapod is complete and he looks awesome.
The first two versions suffered from underpowered servos and complex mechanics. Third time’s the charm, and version three is a lightweight robot with pretty simple mechanics able to translate and rotate along the XYZ axes. Stubby only weights about 600 grams, batteries included, so he’s surprisingly nimble as well.
The frame of the hexapod is designed to be cut with a scroll saw, much to the chagrin of anyone without a CNC machine. There are three 9g servos per leg, all controlled with a custom board featuring an ATMega1284p and an XBee interface to an old Playstation controller.
Video of Stubby below, and of course all the sources and files are available on the project site.