2016: As The Hardware World Turns

Soon, the ball will drop in Times Square, someone will realize you can turn ‘2018’ into a pair of novelty sunglasses, and the forgotten mumbled lyrics of Auld Lang Syne will echo through New Year’s Eve parties. It’s time once again to recount the last 366 days, and what a year it’s been.

Arduino got into an argument with Arduino and Arduino won. We got new Raspberry Pis. Video cards are finally getting to the point where VR is practical. The FCC inadvertently killed security in home routers before fixing the problem. All of this is small potatoes and really doesn’t capture the essence of 2016. It’s been a weird year.

Want proof 2016 was different? This year, Microsoft announced they would provide a Linux ‘shim’ with every version of Windows. By definition, 2016 was the year of the Linux desktop. That’s how weird things have been in 2016.

Man, 2016 Sucked, Didn’t It?

By all accounts, 2016 wasn’t a good year. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Carrie Fisher, Antonin Scalia, Morley Safer, George Martin, Marvin Minsky, Keith Emerson, Doctor Heimlich, George Michael, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Gordie Howe, Janet Reno, Elie Weisel, Gene Wilder, Kimbo Slice, Erik Bauersfeld (voiced It’s a Trap), Anton Yelchin, Kenny Baker, Arnold Palmer, Leonard Cohen, Harambe, Fidel Castro, John Glenn, Zsa Zsa Gabor, and Alan Thicke all passed away this year. Former Toronto mayor Rob Ford died at the predictably young age of 46. Lemmy lived harder and faster than anyone and beat this terrible year by three days.

In the political sphere, 2016 will go down as the start of something. It’s far too early to tell what the end result will be, but between Brexit, the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, the release of the Panama Papers, a failed Turkish coup, and the presidential election in Gambia, 2016 was a year without parallel. Historians and sociologists are beginning to opine on this year, with the first drafts of the history books citing 2016 as the beginning of a populist revolution. Right now, only one thing is clear: Twitter somehow played a part.

I would like to point out we had absolutely no political coverage at all. You’re welcome. The absence of anything political was an editorial prerogative, and by our judgment was the best thing to do. Like our conscious decision not to embed tweets into posts, it’s one of the many editorial decisions we make that goes without thanks or recognition. It would have been so easy and very profitable to pump out a few half-baked opinion pieces on the US presidential election this year. The word ‘trump’ is a verb, and could be easily dropped into a few very clever headlines. This level of restraint deserves, I think, a few pats on the back.

Oh yeah, the Cubs won the World Series, Dylan won the Nobel Prize in Literature, we’re going to get a great NOFX album real soon, and the trend of over-hopped beer is finally coming to an end. It doesn’t balance the rest of the year, but it’s something, right?


2016 In 3D Printers

2016 was the year 3D printing started to recover from Makerbot, with advances seen in both very low-end printers and the slow but steady rise of dual (and quad) extrusion.

Last year, a good $200 3D printer would have been inconceivable.
Last year, a good $200 3D printer would have been inconceivable.

At CES last January, Monoprice announced a $200 3D printer. The Monoprice MP Select Mini was really just a rebadge of the Malyan M200, but holy crap this thing is awesome. This printer is cheap at just $200, but it’s more than capable of handling anything you could throw at it. It has a 32-bit controller board, and save for a few upgrades (PEI sheet for the bed, maybe throw a larger stepper in the extruder), this printer would be worthwhile at twice the price.

2016 was the year we started to see usable dual extrusion on desktop 3D printers. Dual extrusion isn’t a new thing — it was available on the plywood Makerbots back in the day. Dual extrusion that worked well is another thing entirely. At this year’s MRRF, E3D released Scaffold, a water-soluble filament that is best described as, ‘the stuff gel-cap pharmaceuticals are made out of’. Unlike HIPS or PVA, Scaffold is easy to print with, non-toxic and can be dissolved in water. Dissolvable filament is one of the best use cases for dual extrusion, and with E3D’s Scaffold, dual extrusion makes sense now.

Of course, dual extrusion traditionally means two extruders and two hotends. If you want quad extrusion, that’s four extruders. This design is ultimately impractical; it’s either too much mass to move around, or there aren’t enough pins on a controller board. Prusa turned these ideas on their head this year with the release of the quad material upgrade for the i3 Mk2. Instead of four different hotends, the Prusa multi-material upgrade only uses one hotend to print in four different colors. The results are spectacular, and it does it using only three extra stepper motors and a simple, cheap breakout board. In 2017, you’re going to see a lot of companies bring a Prusa-style multi-material machine to market.

Last year’s review of the state of 3D printing lamented the lack of a mainstream CoreXY printer. This year brought us the D-Bot by [spauda], the first CoreXY printer to be picked up by the community.

MakerBot sold the Smart Extruder – a part that should not fail – in packs of three.
MakerBot sold the Smart Extruder – a part that should not fail – in packs of three.

Makerbot is dead. We knew this last year, but we had to wait for the yearly financials to be released. Makerbot stopped manufacturing their printers in Brooklyn, and now the easy break ovens are manufactured in China. Every other manufacturer of 3D printers is now selling more units than Makerbot. Still, Makerbot released their sixth generation of printers this year, and Makerbot seems to be transitioning to a software company.

I have said time and time again that the public perception of 3D printing is tied directly to Makerbot, and no writings on the state of consumer 3D printing mention this basic fact. The graph of the hype cycle matches shares of SYSS. The general public is a few years behind the enthusiast market, so 2018 or 2019 should see a resurgence of 3D printing in the public’s mind. Will Makerbot be around then? Yes, and they might even be making printers a few years from now.


2016 In Embedded

ESP32

[Sprite_tm])'s keychain Game Boy
[Sprite_tm])’s keychain Game Boy
In 2014, a weird chip showed up on Seeed Studio. It was the ESP8266, and while initially this chip was simply a WiFi chip with a UART, hackers got their hands on this tiny little module and turned it into one of the most interesting electronic building blocks in recent memory. 2016 saw the release of the ESP32, the successor to the ESP8266. The first info for the new ESP32 dribbled out around this time last year, and the specs were amazing. The ESP32 is a dual-core WiFi and Bluetooth powerhouse that’s available for peanuts and shows awesome promise. Right now, the ESP32 is fairly rare, but it is available in quantity one. If you want to, you can build the tiniest Game Boy in the World with it. We welcome 2017 and all the ESP32 hacks it will bring.

The Raspberry Pi Zero Does Not Exist

Cattywampus. The chip layout on the Orange Pi is cattywampus.
Cattywampus. The chip layout on the Orange Pi is cattywampus.

In November of last year, the Raspberry Pi Zero was released. Idiots on the Internet suggested the Pi Zero didn’t exist operating under the theory that since you can’t buy a Ferrari right now, Ferraris don’t exist either. Disregarding that derailed train of thought, there was a very good reason for the limited production of the Pi Zero. The Pi Foundation was busy manufacturing the Raspberry Pi 3. The Pi 3 was released in February of this year, and is proving to be one of the best single board computers available. It’s fast, has amazing support, and yes, you can just go out and buy one, just like a Raspberry Pi Zero.

In other single board computer news, Orange Pi figured out how to rotate parts on a PCB. Intel did something, but not documentation. The DEF CON badge was an x86 chip, and there’s a really, really small x86 system.

This year, Microchip acquired Atmel for $3.56 Billion. The PIC vs AVR microcontroller holy war is over. What will become of our ATMegas? At the very least, AVRs will still be around. There’s a new version of “the Arduino”, the ATMega328. It’s the ATMega328PB. There are new ATtinys.  There is, however, a lot of speculation over what will happen to Atmel and the chips we love so dearly. Microchip released a statement. This statement said, basically nothing. That’s good news. “Microchip will continue their philosophy of customer-driven obsolescence,” and Microchip is very good at keeping parts in the catalog long after they have been rendered obsolete. Don’t count on the DIP ‘Tiny85 disappearing anytime soon. Microchip did screw up the Atmel social media today, but at least the chips will be alright.

sea-of-chips

2016 saw the release of the first Big-O Open microcontrollers. Finally, there’s a glimmer of hope that our silicon will be unencumbered by patents and licenses. Open-V is the first Open Microcontroller, and the HiFive 1 brings the RISC-V core to the Arduino form factor. The RISC-V ISA isn’t a big deal now, but take a look around and see how many ARM microcontrollers are around you. All of those chip manufacturers pay a licensing fee to ARM. RISC-V doesn’t have that. Kids, this is one to put on your resume.

2016 In Hardware

Computing

Image by Ruben de Rijcke CC-BY-SA 3.0Since the dawn of computing, we have all wanted one port. We needed something to attach microphones, hard drives, keyboards, printers, and phones to our computers. It would be nice if this port could supply power. The ability to connect an external device directly to the PCI bus would be neat, and connecting a display through the same cable would be really cool.In 2016, we sort of have it. The USB Type-C port, with Thunderbolt 3, is the closest we’ve ever gotten to this dream.

Apple is the standard bearer of new ports. Just look at the original iMac. In an age filled with serial, parallel, and joystick ports, Apple took their ADB cables and turned them into USB ports. The industry quickly adopted USB, and 20 years later, Apple decided to do it again.

Apple’s new MacBook Pros are rightly called out for being too expensive, but there is one huge advancement here: the only ports on these machines are Thunderbolt 3 with USB-C. Donglepocolapse is now a word, but it’s not going to last long. My cache of Griffin iMates tell me that. Look forward to fewer ports on your machines in the coming years, thanks to Apple and their support of Thunderbolt 3. Just don’t cheap out on the cables.

The Galaxy Note 7 sold like hotcakes in 2016. Wait, I have another one. Samsung was on fire this year with the Galaxy Note 7. This year, Samsung’s flagship phone, the Galaxy Note 7 blew up. The problem was with the battery, and a few devices turned into bombs while charging. Samsung recalled the Note 7, and it’s illegal to take this phone on a commercial airline in the US. With this many lithium-powered devices, something like this was bound to happen sooner or later. Despite being outlawed by the FAA and kicked off cellular networks, the Note 7 is still selling for about $200 on eBay. I kind of want one.

Microsoft and Apple

heart

If 2016 wasn’t weird enough, Apple and Microsoft swapped places. Now the Evil Empire is based out of Cupertino and innovation is coming out of Redmond. Microsoft started this whole mess in March (two days before April Fools) by saying Cygwin Can Suck It. Ubuntu will run with native Windows libraries. In reality, everything is still Windows, but Microsoft is providing a ‘shim’ that will allow Linux binaries to run.

Apple Sucks Now, Here’s A Thinkpad Buyer’s Guide. For the past few years, Apple hasn’t been paying attention to the Macintosh. Really: go look at the MacRumors Buyer’s Guide and note the release schedule. Desktops are forgotten, the flagship Mac desktop hasn’t been updated in three years, and the recent update of the MacBook Pro was poorly received. In contrast, Microsoft recently released the Surface Studio PC, a neat piece of hardware that’s even better than an iMac and a Wacom Cintiq. Microsoft will soon require manufacturers to use ‘precision touchpads’ in laptops, giving Windows users an experience similar to the excellent Apple touchpads. The world has turned upside down, and soon we may see bog-standard Windows laptops with the same high-quality hardware found in Apple machines.

2016 wasn’t all bad for Apple. Pressured by the FBI to build a new version of iOS with a backdoor, Apple CEO Tim Cook did something amazing. He said no. The eleventh largest company in the world stood up for civil liberties and user privacy. Around here we swing anti-corporate and anti-establishment, but we have to give Tim Cook the respect he deserves for this action. Of course, a backdoor in iOS wouldn’t have done anything, and the FBI eventually cracked the phone in question, but still, Apple deserves a lot of respect. There’s a lot of real courage over there.

Actual Hardware

We’ve had desktop CNC mills forever, and the RepRap project is still a noble pursuit. 2016 brought some very cool new machines to market, allowing weekend warriors access to the same tools the big boys have.

static1-squarespaceWazer is a real waterjet machine that fits on your workbench. For a few thousand dollars, you can cut glass into any shape you want. You can cut metal without heating it. You can cut carbon fiber without wearing out a blade.

A waterjet has a lot of requirements — you need high-pressure pumps, nozzles that can withstand abrasion, and a consumable medium. It took several years, but Wazer finally released their machine with a successful Kickstarter.

Although the Shaper isn’t fundamentally different from a ShopBot, this hand-held CNC router is technically the largest CNC router on the planet. Instead of an XY gantry, Shaper uses computer vision and an attentive human operator to keep a bit where it should be. It’s amazing technology that’s been years in the making, but in 2016, this neat piece of kit was finally released.

What does 2017 have in store? It’s a bit too early to tell, but desktop injection molding might be a thing next year. Everything will be bigger, better, and cheaper.


Looking Forward

How does 2017 look like for Hackaday? This year was great for the entire Hackaday family. Editorially, we could have sold out so hard. So hard like you wouldn’t believe. We didn’t. You’re welcome. We’re producing more and better content than we ever have before.

Tindie, our ever-faithful robotic dog, is going gangbusters. Every day, more people are selling their electronic and ‘maker’ paraphernalia on Tindie. Hackaday.io is likewise going crazy. Growth is huge, and we continue to have the best hardware community on the Internet. This year was the third Hackaday Prize The entries were amazing, the work was fantastic, and someone even found a use for ferrofluid that wasn’t just artsy-fartsy stuff. We gave away a lot of prizes, and learned a lot from the hundreds of submissions. The SuperConference was a blast, and we already have a theme for next year: “SuperCon IV – Because ‘Zoso’ was already taken”.

What does 2017 have in store for Hackaday? More. More of everything. The third edition of the Hackaday Omnibus is in the works, and thanks to our fantastic community managers, we’re doing more events than ever before. 2017 is going to be a great year, and it’s all thanks to you, our readers.

23 thoughts on “2016: As The Hardware World Turns

  1. My hope is that Hackaday and the Hackaday community can stay aloof from what is likely to be a very contentious political environment as it has succeeded in doing over the last few years. There will be more than enough venues for social outrage – let this place stay an oasis technical discourse.

    1. Pretty much. Hot button topics are easy because no one knows how to handle them…including the audience. But boy do they make the servers burn.

      As for the waterjet and glass, does that introduce any stress in the cut edges that needs to be treated out?

      And the Note 7 maybe a third supplier can fix the “too big for the space” battery assuming that was the problem.

      1. The waterjet will not add any additional stresses. This doesn’t mean that already existing stresses won’t make trouble, though.

        I have a friend who had a Note 7. I think he would have gone for a slightly smaller battery as long as the pen related software stayed the same (which as far as I know means you’re still using the stock ROM image). He wouldn’t have liked that, but if an external battery-case would have offset it, I think he would have lived with it. I’ve not messed with my Android phones, so I don’t know how easy it would have been to disable the auto updates that are disabling Note 7’s currently. It STILL would have not been allowed on a plane (or other public transportation?), however, which would continue to reduce its audience.

        1. “Wazer finally released their machine with a successful Kickstarter.”

          Umm, might want to reword that to read: Wazer finished a Kickstarter campaign.

          That doesn’t mean they have or are going to actually release a machine or that the machine is actually going to be any good. It’s a niche machine in a niche market with major drawbacks and it still is very much a manual machine in terms of the amount of work you have to do to operate it, clean it, etc. Plus, waste disposal and just buying the raw abrasive materials are not easy at all either. It’s basically a “no frills” machine that can produce about as much (still undisclosed) pressure as a pressure washer that happens to be able to erode materials but does so at a much
          slower pace than anything commercially available, while using significantly more abrasive per minute. There remain a significant amount of unanswered questions about the machine and until those are answered, I am still reserving judgement on exactly what this machine can actually do.

          It’s a neat toy for sure and it has a very small user base that would appreciate what it can do but I am reserving overall judgement until they actually, you know, release something (machines, actual specifications) to customers.

    1. I don’t know man, I’ve had a Shaper Origin in my hands — and there were several in use. They definitely exist and work. Ben Krasnow did a video with on in his shop.

      I would like to get my hands on a Glowforge for a review. I’ve asked them to send us a test unit that we would send back but so far no dice.

    2. A recent update says it is shipping in December after a 6 month or so delay. Did it actually ship yet? One would hope with the amount of investment they presumably actually obtained that they will deliver *something*.

      It’s still not a 3d printer though.

      “If your Glowforge was pre-ordered before October 25th, 2015, it will be ready to ship July 2017”

      “If you choose to receive a pre-release unit, it will remain our property. We might need to make changes or improvements.”

      Right…….

      There’s a bunch of previously touted items that still are not available with no ETA.

    1. I mean I haven’t seen mention of DirectX from hackaday either. Not that I check all the articles.

      Mostly the newer graphics technologies are not only relevant to the game development field but more specifically the game engine development. It reveals the complex workings that used to be driver domain and leaves it up the programmer to do all the code leading to a lot of bloat where unless your making a engine you probably aren’t going to use it.

      Hackaday seems to focused on hardware and hardware hacks. Vulkan and DirectX seem a bit out of scope.

    1. Yes. Thanks everyone for keeping the silly partisan politics and tweets away! The other tech sites drove me off with that junk. They will be forever suspect in my estimation going forward.

  2. “…our conscious decision not to embed tweets into posts, it’s one of the many editorial decisions we make that goes without thanks or recognition.”

    Let me offer my heartfelt Thanks for that one. The embedded tweet is where I usually stop reading.

  3. Thanks for all your work over the year(s) and keeping HaD going strong and consistent especially after the acquisition. I know a lot of people were worried about that.

    Also, thanks for sending meaningful excerpts in the emails instead of just 2 liners, or like Facebook does (this person sent you a message, but we won’t tell you what it is until you visit our site!)

  4. As much as I would like it to be, I remain a bit reserved that desktop injection molding is going to be a huge game changer in 2017 unless I am missing something about the mold production process being made cheaper and easier? I could see it happen by combining a few automated 3d design tools with JIT aluminum milling, bringing the costs of the mold down to maybe a few grand, tops without requiring huge amounts of mold design work, combining that with a $10,000ish machine with a high degree of automation that can use off the shelf nurdles. Who handles mold post finishing and polishing work? You are not going to get a high polish finish without somebody or something rubbing the heck out of the mold first.

    But they are quoting a mold cost of $250.

    “Mold cost by using CNC machine your own $250 (Tormach).”
    That feels a bit… optimistic. And a Tormach, while a decent machine, is not cheap nor automated. The $250 quoted “mold cost” would be for mostly the cost of the material and maybe wear on the tooling but nothing else.

    1. Protomold can pretty much do what you’re referring to–upload a CAD file and quote you a cost to produce X units in Y material. As you say, you see right away that much of the cost of a tool is how nice a finish you want. As-machined tools are pretty cheap.

      As for the cost of making a tool on a Tormach, a couple nice chunks of 6061 bar is maybe $30, so unless you’re snapping endmills regularly, most of the cost is going to be labor. If you’re making your own prototypes, then I suppose it depends on how you value your time and whether you’re amortizing the ~15k cost of the mill and tooling.

      I’m also a little curious about the volume:clamp pressure ratio. I have a Morgan G55T which has a 2oz shot size which is a little bigger than this, but the max clamp pressure is 20 tons versus about 6.5 on this one, and it has more than twice the injection pressure. So I wonder about the limitations there. That said, the controls and automation on this machine look very nice. I’m a bit skeptical of the price given that a new Morgan is ~20k for a much simpler machine whose R&D costs were paid off decades ago, but I guess Chinese controls and mechanicals are pretty cheap nowadays…

  5. The lack of political content has been noticed and is much appreciated. When explaining Hackaday to my boss a few weeks ago I used the phrase “I read it every day because it doesn’t have any political crap” :-)

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