Fluke Issues Statement Regarding Sparkfun’s Impounded Multimeters

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Fluke just issued a response to the impounding of multimeters headed for market in the United States. Yesterday SparkFun posted their story about US Customs officials seizing a shipment of 2000 multimeters because of trademark issues. The gist of the response is that this situation sucks and they want to do what they can to lessen the pain for those involved. Fluke is providing SparkFun with a shipment of genuine Fluke DMMs which they can sell to recoup their losses, or to donate. Of course SparkFun is planning to donate the meters to the maker community.

Anyone with a clue will have already noticed the problem with this solution. The impounded shipment of 2k meters will still be destroyed… eh. The waste is visceral. But good for Fluke for trying to do something positive.

Before we sign off let’s touch on the trademark issue for just a moment. We can’t really blame Fluke too much for this. The legal crux of the matter is you either defend your trademark in every case, or you don’t defend it at all. In this case it was the border agents defending the filing, but for ease of understanding we’ll not go into that. On the other hand, speaking in general business terms, the way things are set up it is advantageous to acquire a trademark specification that is as broad as possible because it helps to discourage competitors from coming to market. So trademark is good when it keep hucksters from trying to rip off consumers. But it is bad if applied too broadly as a way of defending a company’s market share.

Where does Fluke come down in all of this? Who knows. There is literally no right answer and that’s why the discussion around yesterday’s post was full of emphatic arguments. A Fluke meter is a cream-of-the-crop device and they have the right (and obligation) to ensure that reputation is not sullied. SparkFun serves a market that probably can’t afford a Fluke at this time but may some day in the future. And this is the reason we can feel okay about this outcome.

[via Twitter]

Sparkfun’s AVC 2014: Robots, Copters, and Red Balloons of Death, Oh My!

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Registration is open for Sparkfun’s 2014 Autonomous Vehicle Competition (AVC)! Every year the fine folks at Sparkfun invite people to bring their robots, rovers, and drones  to Colorado to see who is the king of the hill – or reservoir as the case may be. We see plenty of robots here at Hackaday, but precious few of them are autonomous. To us that means capable of completing complex tasks without human intervention. Sparkfun has spent the last five years working toward changing that. Each year the robots get more complex and complete increasingly difficult tasks.

The competition is essentially a race through the Boulder reservoir. Time is key, though there are multiple ways to gain bonus points. For aerial vehicles there are two classes: fixed and rotary wing. Planes fall under the fixed wing category. Helicopters, gyrocopters, tricopters, quadcopters, and beyond fall into rotary wing. We’re holding out hope that e-volo shows up with their Octadecacopter. Ground vehicles have a few more class options. Micro/PBR class is for robots with a build cost less than $350 total, or small enough to fit into box that’s 10″x6″x4″. The doping class is unlimited. Sparkfun even mentions costs over $1kUSD+, and weights over 25LBS. Non-Traditional Locomotion class is for walkers, WildCats and the like. Peloton is Sparkfun’s class for robots that don’t fit into the other classes.

Sparkfun is also making a few changes to the course this year. A white chalk line will be drawn through the course, so robots don’t have to rely on GPS alone for navigation. We’re hoping to see at least a few vision systems using that chalk line. Aerial robots will have to contend with three “Red Balloons of Death”. Robots can navigate around the balloons without penalty. The balloons can be bumped or even popped for bonus points, but the robot must do this with its own body. Projectile weapons are not allowed. To say we’re excited about the AVC would be an understatement. As much as we enjoy watching the big players at competitions like the DARPA Robotics Challenge, we love seeing individuals and small teams of hobbyists compete every year at the AVC. Click on past the break for Sparkfun’s AVC 2013 wrap up video.

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SparkFun Ponders Women in STEM Fields

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Tuesday was [Ada Lovelace] day and to recognize it SparkFun posted an article about women in their workforce and the STEM initiative. [Ada Lovelace] is credited with forging a path for women in mathematics and computing. The STEM acronym represents a movement to get more of America’s students into Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics fields in order to keep up with the rest of the developed world. But part of the issue includes drastically increasing the interest of young women in these fields and their access to it. The thing is, I feel the same way about the community at Hackaday.

Obviously some of the biggest names in the hobby electronics and engineering enthusiast industry are women. The name that seems to top lists is always [Limor Fried] who you may know better as [Lady Ada]. She founded Adafruit industries. But there are couple of other notables that stick out in our minds. [Jeri Ellsworth] has been huge name around here forever. Just this week Hackaday was celebrating the Kickstarter for her latest project. [Becky Stern] has had a ton of awesome project featured, mostly in conjunction with her work at Adafruit but her knitting machine hack when she was with MAKE has always stuck out in our minds. And of course, there’s [Quinn Dunki] who has long been building her own 6502 computer from the ground up (Incidentally we’re running a Guest Rant from her at midday on Friday).

What I’m missing is the grass-roots hacks from women. I know they’re out there because I see them at monthly meetings at the local hackerspace. We featured [Caroline's] bathymetric book, and [Robin]‘s collaboration that produced solar powered supercap jewelry. Both are members of Sector67.

So I call for all Hackaday readers to make this a friendly environment for anyone who wants to participate. If you’re a female reader who has been lurking around rather than sending in links to your gnarly hacks please take the plunge and send us a tip! If your female friends have awesome projects, offer to help them document it for a feature. You may not have thought of it, but sharing your projects makes you a role model for young readers.

By trade I’m an orchestra musician — a field that was completely closed off to women until well into the last century. While gender equality hasn’t been reached in all orchestras, the Regional Orchestras I have and do play with, show equal representation of gender throughout. Let’s make the same thing happen with STEM!

SparkFun takes their educational show on the road

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They’ve bought an RV and are headed for your state with buckets full of hobby electronic hardware. It’s SparkFun’s National Education tour and if you want them to host a workshop for kids in your area now’s the time to sign up!

It’s no stretch to say that our everyday lives are tightly bound with technology. Chances are every one of the kids in this picture will walk around with an embedded system in their pockets by the time they hit middle school if not earlier (seriously, many of them have the newest generation of high-end smart phones). The sad fact is that nearly 100% will never have any idea how the hardware in those devices functions. And that’s where we think this program really shines.

SparkFun is scheduling 50 stops where $1000 of the cost is subsidized. The team will work with each school/organization to come up with an appropriate workshop for the age of the students and their base knowledge on the topic. Hopefully this will inspire a new generation of hardware hackers who will eventually contribute to using technology to solve world issues. Check out their promo clip after the jump.

We mentioned subsidized visits. The program still costs $1500 and will go up to $2500 after the first 50 stops. But the hardware used in the workshop stays with the kids. And we hope that the $37.50-$125/head price tag will be seen as a worthwhile investment in getting kids interested in more than just entertaining themselves with the social medial offerings running on the hardware.

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Self-balancing unicycle using Arduino and Sparkfun IMU

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Here’s proof that you can build cool stuff with simple tools. This self-balancing unicycle uses an Arduino and a five degree of freedom IMU from Sparkfun to keep the rider upright. Well, it’ll keep you upright as long as you have good side-to-side balance. But that’s true of any unicycle, right?

The Raptor was built by [Nick Thatcker] who is no stranger to self-balancing transportation. A few years back he built a Segway clone and the same type of geared motor used in that project also went into this one. I connects to the wheel with a chain, allowing him to keep the motor hidden in the saddle. He gets between 90 and 120 minutes of used on one charge with a top speed of 10 MPH. The motor could move you along faster but he has limited this in firmware to ensure it has enough power to ‘catch up’ if you lean too far forward.

Don’t miss the demo after the break. If you like this unicycle there are several others worth looking at.

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Sparkfun recognized for their growth

The Denver Business Journal has recognized Sparkfun Electronics as the 2nd fastest growing company in the Denver area (in the $17.5-$46million class). This is fantastic news, not only for Sparkfun, but for Open Source Hardware.  Sparkfun is the worlds largest manufacturer of open source hardware, located right in the middle of the country, Boulder Colorado.

Not only has Sparkfun grown immensely in open source hardware products, they’ve also put together several educational systems like their tutorial section as well as their “learn at sparkfun” system. Way to go sparkfun!

Cramming for Sparkfun’s Autonomous Vehicle Competition

[Paul Breed] participated in this year’s Autonomous Vehicles Contest put on by SparkFun Electronics. As with most projects, the deadline really snuck up on him and he ended up cramming a bunch of code development into the waning days before the competition. His experiences are shared in this recent blog post.

One big part of the hardware is a laser range finder used for wall following. This is explained well in the video after the break, but you can see the side-pointing blue box in the image above. [Paul] also spent a lot of time preparing for the checkpoint portion of the course where the vehicle would need to pass through a red hoop. He worked long and hard on an image processing setup to find and navigate those hoops before learning that they would be positioned at known locations and it would be much easier to use a path following technique to complete the challenge.

He had a few follies along the way. At one point during debugging the car — which was connected to his laptop via Ethernet — it got away from him. This ripped the NIC right out of the back of his computer. And on the day of the event he had some low battery issues that zapped his laser calibrations. But [Paul] rolled with the punches and ended having what sounds like a really exciting experience participating in the contest.

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