Building the Internet of “Thing” at FTF2014

It’s official: all the hype around IoT is starting to get a bit annoying. Not because there’s anything wrong with building Internet-connected devices, but because so many people are trying to jump on the bandwagon with the same old “Future: brought to you by Megacorp #07″-mindset. Recycled visions of estranged professionals, with their homes, offices, business meetings and hotel rooms, all powered by the latest “one IoT platform to rule them all” – are back on. Even though the mythical “Smart” refrigerator didn’t changed the world back in 2001, I guess that there’s no harm in trying it again. After all, we have seen this working out great in software, with redos of dot-com era ideas turning into massive successes a decade later.
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Heroes of Hardware Revolution: Bob Widlar

Bob Widlar (1937-1991) is without a doubt one of the most famous hardware engineers of all time.  In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that he is the person who single-handedly started the whole Analog IC Industry. Sure, it’s Robert Noyce and Jack Kilby who invented the concept of Integrated Circuits, but it’s Widlar’s genius and pragmatism that brought it to life. Though he was not first to realize the limitations of planar process and designing ICs like discrete circuits, he was the first one to provide an actual solution - µA702, the first linear IC Operational Amplifier. Combining his engineering genius, understanding of economic aspects of circuit design and awareness of medium and process limitations, he and Dave Talbert ruled the world of Analog ICs throughout the 60s and 70s. For a significant period of time, they were responsible more than 80 percent of all linear circuits made and sold in the entire world.

Bob Widlar

 

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Hackaday’s Guide to Shanghai

We happened to be in Shanghai for Electronica trade fair this year and had a great time exploring heavy industrial gear and fantasizing about all the things we could do with it. However, we simply couldn’t ignore the fact that there was a whole city out there that we’re completely missing out on. So after less than a day of being surrounded by businesspeople and Miss Universe-dressed promoters, we decided to pack our bags and hit the streets.

The question was, where should we go? Finding interesting things in a city that keeps shapeshifting (the whole Shanghai skyline did not exist 20 years ago) can be a challenge. Fortunately, our friend [David Li] gave us a list:

  1. Xin Che Jian
  2. Jiu Xing market
  3. Beijing Lu electronic market
  4. Qiujiang Lu CNC/lasercut market
  5. DFRobot.com

…and off we were.

 

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The Gathering: Shanghai’s Hackaday Community

Screen Shot 2014-03-23 at 12.33.00 AMIt happened! The Gathering crossed the Pacific and landed in Shanghai on Thursday, March 20th. It took place at the venue ironically called ‘Abbey Road’ (it’s the only one we could find on such a short notice) and more than 150 people showed up. The whole scene had a huge Chatsubo feel too it – an eclectic mix of local and expat hackers and engineers, professors, students and all sorts of industry mercenaries from around the world. And everyone with skull-and-wrenches t-shirt or a sticker on.

I can only imagine what Chinese police would think if they happened to drop by. Not to mention if they asked how in the world did all these ‘anarchist’ t-shirts enter the country.

But that’s another story…

We met a lot of exciting people and heard all sorts of weird tales, such as the (off-the-record) one about the real reasons behind certain well-known laptop manufacturer’s batteries bursting into flames. We also got a lot of great advice on smuggling electronic components out of China and other everyday tips & tricks.

d8d27574b02a11e38f1d121190b145cb_8My favorite conversation was with [Alexander Klink] on his research in Denial of Service attacks using algorithmic complexity of collision resolution in (a priori known) hash functions. Though the original paper is more than two years old, its takeaways can still have a huge impact on all sorts of software and hardware devices out there.

The general theme of the night was how exciting it is to live in a place like Shanghai, where rapid urban growth and access to manufacturing resources meets a blossoming technology and art scene. It is even more so thanks to places like Xin Che Jian, which make being a “hacker” a socially acceptable thing on the other side of the Great Firewall.

That said, reading all of Hackaday content still requires a proxy.

Remembering the Future – SciFi Novel Tech Seen at SXSW

Remember the days when the future was console cowboys running around cyberspace trying to fry each other’s brains out? MIT Media Lab remembers too. They have a class called MAS S65: Science Fiction to Science Fabrication in which students are trying to create hardware inspired by technology imagined in the works of legendary Speculative Fiction writers such as William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and many others. They happened to be at SXSW this year showing off some of the projects their students have been working on. Since we were around, we thought we should pay them a little visit. Fifteen minutes later it was clear why working at Media Lab is a dream for so many hackers/makers out there.

case+molly1

Jon Ferguson from Media Lab showed us a prototype of a game called Case and Molly, inspired by scenes in Neuromancer in which Case helps Molly navigate, by observing the world through vision-enhancing lenses sealed in her eye sockets. OK, they haven’t really build surgically-attached internet-connected lenses (yet.. we’re certain[Ben Krasnow] is working on it), but they have built a very cool snap-on 3D vision mechanism that attaches to the built-in iPhone camera. Add a little bit of live video streaming, a person with Oculus Rift and a game controller and you can party like it’s 1984.

mandala1Another interesting project is called “Mandala : I am building E14″ and it uses data collected from a sensor network in MIT E14 in order to provide a view of the universe from the standpoint of a single building. It tries to address the old “what if buildings could talk?” question by visualizing the paths of people walking around the building and providing an overall sense of activity in different areas. It is also a pretty good demonstration of all the creepy things that are yet to be built using all the ‘connected devices’ coming our way.

sensory fiction1It gets better. The Sensory Fiction project is a special book that comes with a vest which enhances the reader’s experience by providing stimulation that causes the reader to experience the same kind of physiological emotions as the characters in the book. The wearable that you have to put on supports a whole bunch of outputs: light, sound, temperature, pressure and vibration that can influence your heart rate. It is very easy to imagine so many potential ‘creative’ abuses of such a device.

limbo1Another Neuromancer-inspired piece, called LIMBO (Limbs In Motion By Others) allows synchronization of hand gestures between multiple ‘users’ over a network using a special electric muscle stimulation rig. The result is a sort of ‘meat puppet’ – one person’s hand being forced to match movement of the other. Devious ideas aside, it has great potential in helping paraplegic control their muscle movement using eye tracking.

bubblesynth5Finally, a more cheerful project called BubbleSynth demonstrates an open computer vision/sound synthesis platform using physical processes as input to granular synthesis. The current installation is based on a bubble generating machine and motion tracking as a trigger for a modular synthesizer resulting in beautiful ambient sounds. The audio part of the platform is based on SuperCollider and is completely customizable. The next iteration of the project will be using movement of a species of bacteria in order to generate the music. Why struggle learning how to play an instrument?  We’ll get bacteria do all the work.

Feel like building something similar? Hackaday’s current Sci-Fi contest is a perfect excuse. Need inspiration? Check out the syllabus for the MIT SciFi2SciFab class!

The Future Doesn’t Need Another Internet-Connected Teddybear – Hackaday at SXSW Create

Hackaday happened to be at South by Southwest this year and visited SXSW Create – part of the festival dedicated to hackers, makers and DIY scene. While modest in size, this event serves as a great contrast to the internet-hype machine omnipresent everywhere else in the city during this time. So we thought we should drop by and show them some love.

sxsw-launchpad-croppedTrey German showed us a couple of great real-time power control demos using his C2000 Launch Pad as well as his Bluetooth Cooler which, for whatever reason, decided to fail on him just in time for the big show. The demo we have been looking forward to the most was a thermocouple-controlled barbecue using Energia framework but were disappointed to learn that The Man has banned grilling hotdogs in the tent. The universe was telling us we’re not here to party.

atx_hackerspace_TARDISATX Hackerspace had a large booth featuring the full-size replica of Doctor Who’s TARDIS (who wouldn’t like to have a picture taken in one ?) and a fully-functional 1930-es vacuum tube radio with a mandatory iPad dock. We have also learned that a massive collection of working vintage vacuum tubes has been donated to the hackerspace, so if you’re in need you know who to call.

The event has also featured a long list of industry participants. The product launch we were most impressed with was Easel by Inventables, an in-browser app that enables easy control of their Shapeoko CNC milling machine and definitely has the potential of bringing the joys of design and fabrication to much larger masses.

e_coli_ut_austin_experiment1However, the most interesting things we saw were the ones a bit outside of the current tech mainstream. [Dennis] from UT Austin iGEM team showed some of the crazy work the synthetic biologists are doing out there. They have engineered Escherichia coli so that it is addicted to caffeine, used cell growth as a measure of caffeine content in particular drinks, and used that to rank local Austin coffee shops! We have also talked with several guys working on automated gardens and soil sensors who were educating attendees about the huge potential that increased environmental data aggregation can have on the ways we grow food.

To quote the Growerbot guys : “We definitely have enough Internet-connected teddy bears. We need more Internet-connected tomato plants”.

Stick with us after the jump to see a gallery with all our adventures at 2014 SXSW.

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Hello from SupplyFrame – your new evil overlords !

Supply Frame Logo

A couple of weeks ago one of our engineers woke up and read that HackADay was going up for sale. His first reaction was much the same as most regular readers of HackADay, he was worried and concerned that a site that he has read daily for years was going to be sold to someone who would promptly carve it up and ruin it. So he bumped it up the chain here at SupplyFrame and we decided that HaD would be a good fit for us and so we made an offer and here we are!

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