Sex and Blinky LEDs At Burning Man

[Bunnie] was at Burning Man this year, and to illuminate his camp members in the dark and dusty nights of the playa, he created a blinky badge. This isn’t just any badge stuffed with RGB LEDs; each of the badges were unique by the end of Burning Man. These badges were made unique not by twiddling dials or pressing buttons; all the color patterns were bred with badge sex.

This social experiment to replicate nature’s most popular means of creating more nature is built around a peer to peer radio. Each badge is equipped with a radio, a circle of RGB LEDs, and a bit of code that expresses the pattern of lights on the badge as a sequence of genes. When one badge gives consent to another badge, they ‘breed’, creating a new pattern of lights. If you’re wondering about the specifics of the act, each badge is a hermaphrodite, and each badge transmits a ‘sperm’ to fertilize the other plant’s ‘egg’. There’s even a rare trait included in the genome of the badge; each badge has a 3% chance of having a white pixel that moves around the circle of LEDs. [Bunnie] found this trait was more common after a few days, suggesting that people were selectively breeding their badges.

Of course, finding potential mates is a paramount concern for any sexual organism, and the sex badge has this covered, too. The 900MHz radio listens for other badges in close proximity, and when any are found their owners are displayed on an OLED display. This came in handy for [Bunnie] more than a few times – there’s no phones out there, and simply knowing your friends are within a hundred meters or so is a big help.

The entire badge platform is documented online, along with the code and spec for badge genes. Badges with some sort of wireless communication have been around for a while, but this is the first time that communication has been used for something more than sharing contact information or implementing a chat room. It’s a great idea, and something we hope to see more of in future con badges.

Open Source Hardware Certification Announced

Last weekend was the Open Hardware Summit in Philadelphia, and the attendees were nearly entirely people who build Open Source Hardware. The definition of Open Source Hardware has been around for a while, but without a certification process, the Open Hardware movement has lacked the social proof required of such a movement; there is no official process to go through that will certify hardware as open hardware, and there technically isn’t a logo you can slap on a silkscreen layer that says your project is open hardware.

Now, the time has come for an Open Hardware Certification. At OHSummit this weekend, the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) announced the creation of a certification process for Open Source Hardware.

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Where Are They Now: Terrible Kickstarters

Kickstarter started out as a platform for group buys, low-volume manufacturing, and a place to fund projects that would otherwise go unfinished. It would be naive of anyone to think this would last forever, and since these humble beginnings, we’re well into Peak Kickstarter. Now, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and every other crowdfunding platform is just another mouthpiece for product launches, and just another strategy for anyone who needs or wants money, but has never heard of a business loan.

Of course there will be some shady businesses trying to cash in on the Kickstarter craze, and over the last few years we’ve done our best to point out the bad ones. Finding every terrible Kickstarter is several full-time jobs, but we’ve done our best to weed out these shining examples of the worst. Following up on these failed projects is something we have been neglecting, but no longer.

Below are some of the most outrageous Kickstarters and crowdfunding campaigns we’ve run across, and the current status of these failed entrepreneurial endeavors.

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The Spirit of Hackaday Shines in Shenzhen

Hackaday loves to spread the message of the hardware hacking lifestyle. That’s only possible where there are hardware hackers willing to spend their time getting together to talk the future of the hardware industry, and to celebrate where we are now. We’re honored that you came out en masse for our Shenzhen Workshop and Meetup!

Zero to Product

[Matt Berggren] has presented his Zero to Product  workshop a few times now as part of our Hackaday Prize Worldwide series. This spring that included Los Angeles, San Francisco, and ten days ago it was Shezhen, China.

We partnered with MakerCamp, a week-long initiative that pulled in people from all over China to build a Makerspace inside of a shipping container. Successful in their work, the program then hosted workshops. The one caveat, Shenzhen in June is a hot and sticky affair. Luckly our friends at Seeed Studio were kind enough to open their climate-controlled doors to us. The day-long workshop explored circuit board design, using Cadsoft Eagle as the EDA software to lay out a development board for the popular ESP8266 module.

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Reverse-Engineering a Superior Chinese Product

It makes an Arduino look like a 555.  A 364 Mhz, 32 bit processor. 8 MB RAM. GSM. Bluetooth. LCD controller. PWM. USB and dozens more. Smaller than a Zippo and thinner than corrugated cardboard. And here is the kicker: $3. So why isn’t everyone using it? They can’t.

Adoption would mandate tier after tier of hacks just to figure out what exact hardware is there. Try to buy one and find that suppliers close their doors to foreigners. Try to use one, and only hints of incomplete documentation will be found. Is the problem patents? No, not really.

[Bunnie] has dubbed the phenomenon “Gongkai”, a type of institutionalized, collaborative, infringementesque knowledge-exchange that occupies an IP equivalent of bartering. Not quite open source, not quite proprietary. Legally, this sharing is only grey-market on paper, but widespread and quasi-accepted in practice – even among the rights holders. [Bunnie] figures it is just the way business is done in the East and it is a way that is encouraging innovation by knocking down barriers to entry. Chinese startups can churn out gimmicky trash almost on whim, using hardware most of us could only dream about for a serious project.

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RISC, Tagged Memory, and Minion Cores

Buy a computing device nowadays, and you’re probably getting something that knows x86 or an ARM. There’s more than one architecture out there for general purpose computing with dual-core MIPS boards available and some very strange silicon that’s making its way into dev boards. lowRISC is the latest endeavour from a few notable silicon designers, able to run Linux ‘well’ and adding a few novel security features that haven’t yet been put together this way before.

There are two interesting features that make the lowRISC notable. The first is tagged memory. This has been used before in older, weirder computers as a sort of metadata for memory. Basically, a few bits of each memory address tag each memory address as executable/non-executable, serve as memory watchpoints, garbage collection, and a lock on every word. New instructions are added to the ISA, allowing these tags to be manipulated, watched, and monitored to prevent the most common single security problem: buffer overflows. It’s an extremely interesting application of tagged memory, and something that isn’t really found in a modern architecture.

The second neat feature of the lowRISC are the minions. These are programmable devices tied to the processor’s I/O that work a lot like a Zynq SOC or the PRU inside the BeagleBone. Basically, they’re used for programmable I/O, implementing SPI/I2C/I2S/SDIO in software, offloading work from the main core, and devices that require very precise timing.

The current goal of the lowRISC team is to develop the hardware on an FPGA, releasing some beta silicon in a year’s time. The first complete chip will be an embedded SOC, hopefully release sometime around late 2016 or early 2017. The ultimate goal is an SOC with a GPU that would be used in mobile phones, set-top boxes, and Raspi and BeagleBone-like dev boards. There are enough people on the team, including [Robert Mullins] and [Alex Bradbury] of the University of Cambridge and the Raspberry Pi, researchers at UC Berkeley, and [Bunnie Huang].

It’s a project still in its infancy, but the features these people are going after are very interesting, and something that just isn’t being done with other platforms.

[Alex Bardbury] gave a talk on lowRISC at ORConf last October. You can check out the presentation here.

Hacklet 24 – Raspberry Pi Projects

Experimenting with embedded Linux used to mean reformatting an old PC, or buying an expensive dev board. In February of 2012, the Raspberry Pi was released, and it has proven to be a game changing platform. According to the Raspberry Pi Foundation, over 3.8 million boards have been sold. 3.8 million translates into a lot of great projects. This week’s Hacklet focuses on some of the best Raspberry Pi projects on!

rpfpvWe start with [richardginus] and the RpiFPV (aka Raspberry Pi First Person View) project. [Richardginus]  is trying to build a low latency WiFi streaming camera system for radio-controlled models using a Raspberry Pi and camera. He’s gotten the system down into a respectable 160 milliseconds on the bench, but in the field interference from the 2.4GHz R/C transmitter drives latency way up. To fix this, [Richardginus] is attempting to control the plane over the same WiFi link as the video stream. We’d also recommend checking out some of those “outdated” 72 MHz R/C systems on the used market.

piholgaNext up is [James McDuffie] and his RPi Holga. Inspired by [Peter’s] Holga camera project, [James] has stuffed a Raspberry Pi model A, a camera module, and a WiFi adapter into a Holga camera body. The result looks like a stock Holga.  We saw this camera up close at the Hackaday 10th Anniversary event, and it fooled us – we thought [James] was just a lomography buff. It was only after seeing his pictures that we realized there was a Pi hiding inside that white plastic body! Definitely check out [James’] instructions as he walks through everything from hardware mods to software installation.

cluster2No Raspberry Pi list would be complete without a cluster or two, so we have [Tobias W.] and his 3 Node Raspberry Pi Cluster. The Raspberry Pi makes for a cheap and efficient platform to experiment with cluster computing. [Tobias] did a bit more than just slap a few Pis on a board and call it a day though. He custom machined an aluminum plate to hold his 3 node cluster. This makes wire management a snap. The Pi’s communicate through a four port Ethernet hub and all run from a single power supply. He even added a key switch, just like on the “old iron” mainframes. [Tobias] has been a bit quiet lately, so if you run into him, tell him we’re looking for an update on that cluster!

pivenaFrom [Tim] comes the PIvena, a Raspberry Pi laptop which takes its styling cues from [Bunnie Huang’s] Novena computer.  Pivena is a bit smaller though, with a 7” HDMI LCD connected to the Pi. The case is made from laser cut wood and a few 3D printed parts. Everything else is just standard hardware. [Tim] kept the PIvena’s costs down by using a wooden kickstand to hold up the screen rather than Novena’s pneumatic spring system. The base plate of the PIvena includes a grid of mounting holes just like the Novena. There is also plenty of room for batteries to make this a truly portable machine.  The end result is a slick setup that would look great at any Hackerspace. We hope [Tim] creates an update to support the new Raspberry Pi B+ boards!

Our Raspberry Pi-based alarm clock is chiming the hour, so that’s about it for this episode of the Hacklet! As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!