SparkFun Ponders Women in STEM Fields


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


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


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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SparkFun gets a Subpoena for all orders; says nah

It’s no secret that we’re fans of open source, and open hardware. And we have to applaud companies like SparkFun who also keep their customers in the loop about what’s going on with the business end of the company. For instance, they were recently contacted by a Sheriff’s office and asked for customer information and are sharing the story. One of their products had been used in a series of credit card skimmers and the officers wanted to get purchase information to track down the bad guys. SparkFun doesn’t just give out customer data and so was subsequently served with a subpoena.

The thing is, the document asks for all customer orders shipped to Georgia during a six month period. This seemed like it covered way too many orders, since the majority of them didn’t include the part in question. But the officials were willing to work with the company and narrowed the request to just the 20 or so orders that had the item in them.

It’s an interesting read, and we agree with SparkFun’s point about white hats and black hats. Often when posting about projects here we wonder about the potential to use the knowledge for no-good. But restricting the availability of knowledge (or hardware in this case) because of a few bad-actors is a concept we oppose. It’s like being a hacking super hero, with great skill comes great responsibility.

Sparkfun Electronics launches an educational site

Sparkfun Electronics has launched an educational web site with a full curriculum of classes being held at Sparkfun Headquarters. If you don’t live nearby, no problem. You can download the entire curriculum as well. It appears that they will have a tutorial section for those who prefer a per-project approach, but that area is still “coming soon”. We love to see people educating others. Good job Sparkfun, looking forward to seeing more content on there.