Mediated Matter at the MIT Media Lab

Few things have managed to capture the imagination of hackers and engineers around the world the way Synthetic Biology did over the last couple of years. The promise of “applying engineering principles to designing new biological devices and systems” just seemed way too sci-fi to missed out on, and everyone jumped on the bandwagon. All of a sudden, the field which used to be restricted to traditional research organizations and startups found itself crowded with all sorts of enthusiasts, biohackers, and weirdos alike. Competitions such as the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) paved the way, and the emergence of community spaces like GenSpace and BioCurious finally made DNA experimentation accessible to anyone who dares to try. As it often happens, the Sci-Fi itself did not go untouched, and a whole new genre called “Biopunk” emerged, further fueling people’s imagination and extrapolating worlds to come.

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MRRF: Hot Ends, Extruders, Extremely Posh Brits, and Stoic Swedes

As far as locations for the Midwest RepRap Festival go, it’s not exactly ideal. This is a feature, not a bug, and it means only the cool people come out to the event. There were a few people travelling thousands of miles across an ocean, just to show off some cool things they built.

Two Colors, One Nozzle

[Sanjay] and [Josh] from E3D came all the way from merry olde England to show off a few of their wares. The star of their show was the Cyclops extruder, a dual-extrusion hot end that’s two input, one output. Yes, two colors can come out of one nozzle.

cyclops

If you see a printer advertised as being dual extrusion, what you’re going to get is two extruders and two hot ends. This is the kludgy way to do things – the elegant solution is to make two colors come out of one nozzle.

The guys from E3D were showing off a few prints from their Cyclops nozzle that does just that, including a black and red poison dart frog, and a blue and white octopus. The prints looked amazing, and exactly what you would expect from a two-color print.

Rumor has it the development of the Cyclops involved extruding two colors, freezing the nozzle, and putting it in the mill just to see how the colors mixed. I didn’t see those pictures, but there’s a lot of work that went into this hot end.

The Power of Two Extruders

[Martin] of bondtech.se came to MRRF all the way from Sweden. He was there showing off his new extruder.

The extruder uses a normal stepper motor, but instead of the usual knurled or threaded feed wheel and bearing to push filament though, he’s using two counter-rotating feed wheels attached to a planetary gear system. That’s a lot of torque that doesn’t distort or strip the filament. When you consider all the weird filaments that are coming out – ninjaflex, and even 3D printable machinable wax filament, this is extremely interesting.

Even if your filament isn’t exactly 1.75 or 3mm in diameter, this setup will still reliably push plastic; there is a bolt that will move one of the feed wheels in and out 0.4mm.

[Martin] had a pair of his extruders hooked up to a strain gauge, and it’s strong enough to lift your printer off the table without stripping the filament. Here’s a video of that demo from the bondtech page.

MRRF: Flexible 3D Printing

The concession stand at the Midwest Rep Rap Festival did not disappoint when it came to the expected fare: hot dogs, walking tacos, and bananas for scale. But the yummiest things there could not be bought—the Nutella prints coming off the Ultimaker² at the structur3D booth.

3D printed gasket
Flexible gasket printed in silicone atop a rigid 3D printed engine block.

Hey, what? Yes, an Ultimaker² that can print in Nutella, icing sugar, silicone, latex, wood filler, conductive ink, polyurethane, peanut butter, and a growing list to which you should contribute. This is possible because of their Discov3ry Universal Paste Extruder add-on, which is compatible with most filament printers, especially those that use a RAMPs or Arduino control board.

A large syringe containing the substance of your choice is loaded business end up in the Discov3ry. It gets pushed through tubing that runs to the print head and out through one of many commonly available polypropylene or stainless steel tips. The structur3D team has found that printing on waxed paper works best for the materials they’ve proven out. Each syringe holds 60cc of stuff, and the Discov3ry comes with three of them. They are currently available for pre-order, with a shipping forecast of early summer.

Hackaday Prize Worldwide: Makers Asylum

Several weeks before we launched the Hackaday Prize 2015 officially, I was asked to set up a local event in Mumbai to help spread the word about the event to local Makers. Since I also help run a local maker space, Makers’ Asylum, we decided to have a Bring-a-Hack evening on March 21st at the Asylum.

It was a packed day at the Asylum. We had an Aeromodeling workshop in the morning. One bunch was building a quad bike from old bicycle frames, and another was doing something similar using PVC pipes. A third bunch was building a work table from a recycled wooden pallet. All this before we even hit lunch hour. I set up my OpenSelfie photobooth, and everyone quickly wolfed down a lunch of Biryani. We started off late in the afternoon with a quick round of introductions.

 

First up was Siji Sunny, who quickly setup his latest hack – an Intel Atom NUC running Ubuntu + a WiFi router and he had media streaming over the local network from his Phone. Something like AirPlay, but using open source software – ffmpeg, ffstream and ffserver.

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The Midwest RepRap Festival – Awesome Stuff in the Middle of Nowhere

It’s time once again to venture out to Goshen, Indiana for the Midwest RepRap Festival. It is the largest 3D printing con in the entire world where no one is trying to sell you anything. With a qualifier like that, it doesn’t have to be very big, but last year over 1,500 people showed up to the Elkhart county farm show complex and this year many more people are expected.

On the list of attendees is Taulman 3D, makers of fine, odd filament, Lulzbot, [Johnny] of Ultimachine, creator of the RAMBo board, MakerJuice, the FirePick Delta – the most skulled project on hackaday.io, and dozens of other people who make a living with 3D printing.

Of the expected attendees that are not specifically involved with 3D printing, I’m told [Ben Heck] will be there, along with someone from Adafruit and Make. The EFF might have a booth. A local radio station is doing a remote, and the servers at Wings, Etc. — one of the few area pubs — are going to clean up this weekend.

The event officially starts at 4:00pm today, Friday, March 20th. If you won’t be going the entire weekend, I’d suggest showing up on Saturday or Sunday. There will be far too many people there, and I’m slightly agoraphobic. We’ll be posting updates from the MRRF later on.

Hackaday Prize Worldwide: Maker’s Asylum Meetup in Mumbai

I am excited to announce Hackaday’s first ever event in India. We have a huge readership in the country and because I am based in Mumbai there is an opportunity to organize some events. On this Saturday, March 21st, at Maker’s Asylum hackerspace we will gather for “Bring-A-Hack Maker’s Asylum” to talk about our passion for making and hacking. We’ll discuss the 2015 Hackaday Prize which offers $500,000 in prizes for hackers who can build solutions to problems faced by a wide-range of people. What does that really mean? That’s one of the topics of the evening. Of course there will be plenty of time to show off your own hacks, ask for advice on difficult projects, and to socialize with everyone that attends. Please visit the event page for all the details.

For all of you who aren’t in the area, I’d like to share with you a little background about hackerspaces in India.

Hacking in India

Hack : “To use something in a way it was not originally intended”. This could sound very familiar when you say that “Hack is the English equivalent of Hindi-Urdu word Jugaad“. So Hacking has a very positive and useful connotation when used in such a context. Everybody does it some time or the other – sometimes unknowingly, but quite often on purpose. It follows that people who Hack be called Hackers – and again, that description is used in a very positive sense.

Sometime around the turn of the 21st century, individual Hackers who up until then used to work in isolation, started congregating together to form clubs and community spaces which came be called – no points for guessing – Hacker Spaces. The movement spread over Europe rapidly and then on to the United States, and slowly to other parts of the world. Hacker Spaces became the breeding grounds for individual innovation. People with bright ideas would seek guidance and peer reviews of their hacks, and if it was interesting enough for the wider community, they would launch themselves as enterprising startups. Hacker Spaces provided the environment, the tools, and a community for people to tinker away and build stuff. In a sense, it is like going back to our enterprising roots before the advent of wide spread industrialization stifled individual entrepreneurship.

Rise of our Hackerspace Culture

Around 2008, when my interest in hacking got revived, I could not find a single Hacker Space in India. It wasn’t until late 2013 that I found another hacker with similar interests who wanted to set up a Hacker Space. When [Vaibhav Chabbra] met me in Ahmedabad during Maker Fest and mentioned that he had set up such a space in Mumbai, I immediately jumped in to help him out. Thus was born Makers’ Asylum. Since then, within a span of just 1 1/2 years, Hacker Spaces have sprung up in Ahmedabad, Surat, Pune, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, New Delhi, Meerut, and I am sure we will hear about more of them soon in other Cities. The Hacker movement is very much here, and here to stay and grow.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

SXSW Create: Sparkfun Gives Kids Awesome Badges to Hack

By far the most desirable booth for the crowds at SXSW Create was the Sparkfun quadrant. We call it a quadrant because they had a huge footprint approaching 1/4 the tented area, but it was well used. They brought a number of staff down to Austin in order to give away a legit electronic badge project they call BadgerHack.

sxsw-sparkfun-badgerhack-kit-thumbWe love badge hacking. LOVE IT! But South-by isn’t purely a hardware conference so the badges aren’t made of PCBs (for shame). Add to that, free entry to Create scores you a wristband but no badge.

This is the answer to that, a badge giveaway and build-off aimed at kids but cool enough to make me feel only slightly awful for accepting one when I pretty much knew they were going to run out before the final day was done.

The USB stick PCB is, as you guessed it, an Arduino compatible loaded up with an FTDI chip and an ATmega328p which they call the BadgerStick. Accompanying this is a multiplexed 8×7 LED matrix board. Solder the three pin headers and the battery holder leads, connect to the plastic badge using the supplied double-stick tape, and you have a badge that scrolls a message in LEDs.

DSC_0508What an awesome giveaway. I really like it that they didn’t cut corners here. First off, the kids will value the badge much more because they had to actually assemble it rather than just being handed a finished widget. Secondly, there is the USB to serial chip and USB footprint that means they can reprogram it without any extra equipment. And an LED matrix… come on that’s just a gateway drug to learning Wiring. Bravo Sparkfun and Atmel for going this route with your marketing bucks.

The badge activity rounded out with some hardware interfacing. There’s a 3-pin socket that attendees could plug into 4 different stations around the booth. Once done they received a coupon code for Sparkfun that scrolls whenever the badge is booted up. For some at-home fun, the writeup (linked at the top) for the BadgerHack firmware is quite good. It offers advice on changing what is displayed on the badge and outlines how to build a game of Breakout with just a bit of added hardware.