Hack a Day visits LVL1 hackerspace in Louisville

We recently had the pleasure of visiting the LVL1  hackerspace in Louisville, Kentucky. Any hackers in the Louisville area who haven’t visited yet are doing themselves a big disservice.  The space recently had its one year anniversary in July, but it’s hard to tell. The space features many of the things you’d only expect in older spaces such as a laser cutter (added while we were visiting), CNC machines, extensive electronics workbenches, and even a section for those who are into music. The best part about the LVL1 hackerspace is it’s members. We’ve all heard horror stories of hacker spaces with drama or overly restricting rules, but the people at LVL1 are extremely friendly and willing to help.

The Micro Colonel (president, if you wanna go that route), [Christopher Cprek], gave us a tour of the space and its current projects. One of the most impressive is the White Star Balloon project, which aims to fly a balloon across the Atlantic. There’s also the Louisville Soundbuilders which meet at the space every other Monday at 8pm to make new instruments. Some other projects include a telepresence robot, a pony that breaths fire, and a power wheels race car for the Detroit Makerfaire. There are also things such as the Kentucky Open Source Society (KYOSS) that meets at the space. Even a few sumobots were scattered around. We were fortunate that at the same time we were visiting [Brandon Gunn], who regularly does video tours of the hackerspaces he visits, was there too; watch his video tour of the space after the break.

The space usually has an open to the public meeting every tuesday at 7:00, but be sure to check out their calendar for more.  If you’ve never been to a hackerspace before you should definitely make an effort. It’s not the tools that make a space, but the people, and LVL1 delivers.

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Modifying a cheap robot arm for arduino control

Many a hacker has put together one of those cheap $30 robot arm kits you can get in just about any store with a section labeled, “science”.  In an ongoing search for a cheap robot arm, [Larry] decided to modify one of them to be controlled with a PC through an Arduino. The article doubles as a really basic tutorial on dc motor control. On the site he gives a brief explanation of how to use H-bridges and a good explanation of how he wired them up for this purpose. He eventually goes on to add a processing interface to the project. The next step would be figuring out how to add some kind of position feedback, such as encoders. Though, if modifying an arm is not your style, [Larry] has another cool article on rolling your own robot arm cheaply with some foam board and hobby servos.

AVRcam for small robot machine vision

It’s neat how a project from 2004 can still be relevant if it’s done really well. This is the case with AVRcam.  It uses an Atmel AVR mega8 and can do some pretty impressive things, like track up to eight objects at 30fps. The hardware and software is also open source, so it should be possible to build one yourself. There are many projects like it on the internet, though often they require much beefier hardware. Although, these days you can fit a computer inside a match box, so we see more and more projects just throwing a full USB camera on a robot to do simple things like line following.  It’s debatable which solution is more elegant, but maybe not which one is more impressive.

Autodesk enters the hobby market

Autodesk aims to enter the hobby market with its offering of Autodesk 123d. If you’ve ever been spoiled by a nice CAD suite like Solidworks, Pro-E, or Inventor it becomes readily apparent that the free offerings don’t come anywhere close. At first Autodesk 123d seems to be entirely a Google Sketchup clone, and in some ways it is. Though, after a bit more exploring, the software offers some pretty advanced features, such as assemblies and constraints . All worries about it being windows only and closed source aside, it’s pretty cool that a big name in the CAD industry is taking a look at the hobby market, and overall it is worth testing out to see if it fits into your toolbox.
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$14 swarm robot, kilobot, is extremely cool

Reader, [Michael Rubenstein], sent in a project he’s been working on. Kilobot, as stated in the paper(pdf), overcomes the big problems with real world swarm robotics simulations; cost, experiment setup time, and maintenance. The robot can be communicated with wirelessly, charged in bulk, and mass programmed in under a minute. Typically, robots used for swarm research cost over a $100, so large scale experiments are left to software simulation. These, however, rarely include the real world physics, sensor error, and other modifying factors that only arise in a physical robot.  Impressively enough, the kilobot comes in far under a hundred and still has many of the features of its costlier brothers. It can sense other robots, report its status, and has full differential steer (achieved, surprisingly, through bristle locomotion). There are a few cool videos of the robot in operation on the project site that are definitely worth a look.

Compaq Portable III rises again for a noble cause

[Autuin] found a Compaq Portable III destined for the scrap bin at Free Geek Vancouver. Upon seeing it he realized that it could still fight;  fight against the tyranny of hipsters and their shiny Macbook Pros at his  local coffee shop. Unfortunately, being a 286, the computer couldn’t do much. He could take the usual route; which is to remove all the internals, and use the vast amount of space to fit a more modern computer inside. However, he decided to go a different path and save the internals, leaving it in original working order. The computer didn’t have enough power to browse the web, but it had just enough room to fit a small single-board computer inside; to which he could connect through serial. He hasn’t taken it down to the coffee shop yet, but we’re hoping for a few horrified hipsters and a full mission report when he does.

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onshouldersTV knows how to use OpenSCAD

Recently there’s been a increase in the popularity of OpenSCAD as the tool of choice in the 3d printing community. [Gavilan Steinman] is putting out a series of webTV shorts on the use of OpenSCAD. While it lacks a lot of the features of big CAD suits (such as the ability to generate drawings of your parts), the community has proven it’s effectiveness as a design tool. There are only two episodes out so far but they cover  OpenSCAD, mathcast, 3d printing, and a really neat robot design.  Watch them below.

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