Challenge Accepted: Automation

Today marks the beginning of the Automation Challenge round for the 2016 Hackaday Prize. We want to see what you can create that automates life. It’s a terrifically fun jumping off point for a project, and done just right, it can score you some amazing prizes.

Technology can make life better and automation is one place that is about to see huge expansion. This is a chance to put your mark on the future by envisioning, prototyping, and explaining your ideas. The animated image at the top of this post is a perfect example of how fun automation builds can be. It’s the part of the Sunday Morning Breakfast Machine which steeps the tea. We covered this Rube-Goldberg like device a few weeks ago. About 1,000 hours went into building a completely automated breakfast machine.

Building something whimsical is fine for entering this round — a lot of discovery happens when having fun with interesting ideas. But there is plenty of room for serious builds as well. Technological development has always included iterating on automation; asking and answering the question of how can we do more with less effort.

AutomationFor instance, you can boil coffee in a pot but then you have to use some filtering technique to sequester the grounds. You can use a French press but that this hasn’t saved you much effort. So someone invented the percolator but you still must watch that you don’t burn your brew. From there we have espresso machines and drip brewers that both regulate how much water is used and at what temperature (in addition to keeping the grounds separate). And now we’re seeing single-unit machines like Nespresso and Keurig which make everything a one-step process, if you’re happy with the pods they sell you. I like to refill my own pods, which lets me choose my own grind. I’d love to see someone automate this entire process of cleaning, grinding, filling and presenting a reusable pod. That would make a great entry and help move more people away from disposable plastic/metal.

All I see when I look around me are ways that life should be more automated, and I bet you have the same proclivity. Now you have a reason to take on the challenge. Automate something and enter it in the Hackaday Prize. Twenty of those entries will be awarded $1,000 and move on to vie for the grand prize of $150,000 and a residency at the Supplyframe Design Lab in Pasadena, plus four other huge top prizes.

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Last Chance to Get In on the Citizen Scientist Challenge

The last week of the Citizen Scientist challenge round is drawing a close. Here’s what you need to know to enter your project, and to give it the best chance at making the top twenty. You need to do this by Monday morning, July 11th, to be in the running.

What is Citizen Scientist?

Sitizen ScientistCitizen Scientist is part of the Hackaday Prize. This round challenges you to make meaningful scientific study more approachable for everyone. Examples include projects that let people build their own lab equipment, sensor modules that can be distributed (or bootstrapped) for widespread data collection like weather stations and pollution monitors, or a new way of studying the world around us. The important thing is your explanation of the project. Show off your idea for making us all Citizen Scientists.

Right now we have a few hundred entries in this challenge round. Twenty of them will be selected to win $1000 and move on to the final round for consideration in the top five prizes: $150,000, $25,000, $10,000, $10,000, and $5,000.

This round ends on Monday morning, so make sure to enter your project now. Starting a new entry is easy but you may also enter a project that you have already document, or one that was submitted to an earlier round of the Hackaday Prize. In all cases, use the “Submit Project to” menu on the left sidebar of your project.

What Your Project Needs to Succeed

four-project-logsAn entry boils down to an idea, a picture, documentation, and four project logs.

You want to show that you are progressing toward a fully working prototype. We suggest that you start with a quick overview of the topic you chose for your entry. How does your project move Citizen Science forward? What led you to the idea, and what kind of impact do you hope it will have.

Don’t forget the build logs! One requirement of your entry is to have at least four build logs. At the minimum, pull out four different aspects of your design process and make them logs. To the right you can see a screenshot from the top of a project page. The log count is there and it needs to be at least 4.

A picture is worth a thousand words. You need at least one image, and we suggest that you put it in the image gallery — use the “Edit Project” button on the top right of your project page for this. It’s best to include some kind of system diagram that shows all parts of the overall project. If you have pictures of an actual prototype make sure to include those, as well as any other schematics, renders, CAD drawings, etc.

Upcoming Challenge Rounds

Don’t have something the fits with Citizen Scientist? Don’t worry, there are still two more rounds coming. On Monday July 11th we will begin the Automation challenge round. The name says it all; any and all automation projects will make great entries. The final challenge round, Assistive Technologies, begins August 22nd and seeks great ideas to make people’s lives better though technology that overcomes difficulties of body and mind.

No need to wait until those dates. Start your project now and you will be able to enter it into those challenges once they officially begin.

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Blinktronicator’s POV Sends Our Eyebrows Rocketing Skyward

You think you’ve seen everything that there is to see regarding blinking LEDs and then a simple little trick proves you wrong. Our friend [Zach Fredin], aka [Zakqwy], added a pander mode to his blinky board which shows the Hackaday Jolly Wrencher in a Persistence of Vision mode. We love pandering, and obviously you just need to start the mode and wave the board back and forth. But in thinking the obvious you’d be wrong.

blinktronicator-board
Badass deadbug soldering to “fix” a mirrored shift register footprint

In the video after the break [Zach] demonstrates all the features of the blinktronicator and it’s recently finalized firmware. The tiny little board is a USB dongle featuring two buttons and an arc of sixteen LEDs in a rainbow of colors. When we say tiny, we mean it. Those LEDs are 0402 components and the board was small enough (and interesting enough) to receive an honorable mention in the Square Inch Project.

You would think that soldering all those LEDs by hand would be the trick, but [Zach] pulled off a much more difficult feat. Look closely at the image here (or click to embiggen). The two shift register footprints on the prototype were mirrored. He deadbug soldered each of them using — get this — the individual strands from some 28 AWG stranded wire. You sir, get the hardcore hand soldering badge and then some.

Okay, we’ll stop beating around the bush. The ATtiny45 on this board isn’t connected to the USB data lines, they’re only for power. That means, at its heart this is purely a blinking LED project, albeit one that uses the huge range of colors of the PICOLED family of parts. [Zach] did well with just two user inputs, but it’s the very simple POV party trick that really sucked us in. Instead of waving the board around, [Zach] uses a metal offset spatula as a mirror. Moving it back and forth unfolds the carefully timed flashes to draw your message in the air. Such a simple concept, but so satisfying to see it applied in a slightly different way.

Continue reading “Blinktronicator’s POV Sends Our Eyebrows Rocketing Skyward”

Inside the Supplyframe Design Lab on Opening Night

Last week the Supplyframe Design Lab in Pasadena opened it’s doors, welcoming in the community to explore the newly rebuilt interior which is now filled with high-end prototyping and fabrication tools and bristling with work areas to suit any need. I had a chance to pull a few people aside during the opening night party to talk about how the Design Lab came about and what we can expect coming out of the space in the near future.

Opening night was heavily attended. I recognized many faces, but the majority of those exploring the building were new acquaintances for me. This is likely due to a strong connection the Design Lab is building with the students, faculty, and graduates of the ArtCenter College of Design. Located just down the road, it is one of the top design schools in the world.

Continue reading “Inside the Supplyframe Design Lab on Opening Night”

PinJig Soldering Clamp has Pins Seized by Airport Security

There’s an old adage that when performing a live demo, previously working hacks will mysteriously go awry. In this case, the hardware demo was doomed before it ever arrived at the conference.

PinJig is an interesting take on though-hole soldering. As its name indicates, it’s a jig which holds through-hole components in place as the board is flipped on its side (or even upside down). This is accomplished by 2000 steel pins which are locked in place after being nestled around all of the board’s components. Unfortunately, carrying this prototype onto an international flight didn’t work out. [Niall Barrett] told us that on his way from Ireland to Bay Area Maker Faire he was required to ditch the 3-inch steel pins that make up the jig, or not get on the plane.

Continue reading “PinJig Soldering Clamp has Pins Seized by Airport Security”

Fail of the Week: Arachno∙fail∙ia

Going down the list (FCC, CE, UL, etc.) we can’t think of a regulating body that will test for this failure mode. Reportedly, a $1M irrigation system was taken down by a spider. And an itsy-bitsy spider at that.

This fail turned up as a quick image post over on /r/mildlyinteresting but I wasn’t the only electronics person attracted like a moth to a flame. Our friend [Sprite_TM] popped in to answer a question about conformal coating. Seems this board was sealed in a waterproof enclosure but was obviously not conformally coated.

fotw-spider-short-relay-diagram[Sprite_TM] also helped out with some armchair-engineering to guess at what happened. It’s not hard to tell that the footprint on the board looks like a set of mechanical relays all in a line. He looked up the most likely pinout for the relay.

We’ve superimposed that pinout on the board to help illustrate the failure. High voltage comes in on the pin shown with the red trace leading away from it. On either side of that pin are the connections for the low voltage coil which switches from normally closed (the pin in the upper right that is not connected to anything) to the normally open pin (which has the wide trace leading away from it).

So there sat the high voltage pin in between the coil pins when, along came a spider. It shorted the pins and presumably all the way back to the power supply for the low voltage rail. [Fugly_Turnip] (the OP) share some additional detail about the system and this failure; in addition to this card it fried the control module as well.

Another comment on the same thread shares a different story of two boards mounted next to each other with a bug shorting a 1/4″ air gap between two boards and causing similar carnage. Have you encountered Arachno-fail-ia of your own? Let us know below.


2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which celebrates failure as a learning tool. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your own failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

Supplyframe Design Lab Opens Its Doors

Today marks the opening of the Supplyframe Design Lab in Pasadena, California. The Design Lab bills itself as the “leading edge creative center built to foster new ideas in technology and design”. Supplyframe had the vision to acquire Hackaday a few years ago, launched the Hackaday.io Community site which now has more than 150,000 members, and established The Hackaday Prize to spark engineering projects that benefit humanity. Pay attention to the Design Lab; looking back on this day you’re going to be able to say that you remember when it all started.

The equipment enshrined in the new space is spectacular. Name your material, and there are tools to work with it. Working with electronics? Mill your prototypes on a number of OtherMills available. Custom enclosure? Take your pick of milling it on the Tormach, PolyJet printing it on the Statasys, or FDM printing with a number of different high-end 3D printers. Need design software and beefy boxes to run it on? They have that too. Working in wood? A shopbot awaits you, as do traditional tools like a tablesaw, routers, sanders, etc. It’s a wonderland for making the imaginable real. If there ever was a time to quit your job and spend three months launching that dream product, this is it. The Design Lab has a residency program.

Supplyframe is all about enabling hardware creation. This is what sites like Parts.io and Findchips.com do: provide powerful tools for hardware engineers to better use their design skills. Founding a space like the Design Lab is a natural extension of this. Providing a work area, mentorships, and funding residencies breaks down the barriers that can prevent new hardware seeing the light of day. The Design Lab solves the issues of tools, materials, and hands-on experience that plague many a new hardware company.

Residencies will start on July 1st. Each runs for three months in which residents have unfettered access to the space and its tools, as well as financial support of $2000 per month. Each resident will self-identify into the product-track (you’re on your way to market with new hardware) or the art-track (you have a calling for an ambitious project and need to make it a reality). So far the Design Lab page lists three residents; a network of low-cost air quality sensors called Scintilla, a music synthesizer based around Teensy 3 called NanoEgg, and a mixed-reality public arts initiative called Perceptoscope. The Design Lab is still accepting applications for new residencies this summer and beyond — one of these residencies will also be offered to the Grand Prize winner of the 2016 Hackaday Prize.