Levitating Objects In Paramagnetic Liquids

Two weekends ago was the Bay Area Maker Faire, and lacking a venue to talk to people who actually make things, we had a meetup at a pub. This brought out a ton of interesting people, and tons of interesting demos of what these people were building. By either proclivity or necessity, most of these demos were very blinkey. The demo [Grant McGregor] from Monterey Community College brought was not blinkey, but it was exceptionally cool. He’s levitating objects in paramagnetic liquids with permanent magnets.

Levitating objects in a paramagnetic solution around a magnetic field has been an intense area of research for the Whitesides Research Group for a few years now, with papers that demonstrate methods of measuring the density of objects in a paramagnetic solution and fixing diamagnetic objects inside a magnetic field. [Grant] is replicating this research with things that can be brought to a bar in a small metal box – vials of manganese chlorate with bits of plastic and very strong neodymium magnets. The bits of plastic in these vials usually float or sink, depending on exactly what plastic they’re made of. When the paramagnetic solution is exposed to a magnetic field, the density of the solution changes, making the bits of plastic sink or float.

It’s a bizarre effect, but [Grant] mentioned a nurd rage video that shows the effect very clearly. [Grant]’s further experiments will be to replicate the Whitesides Research Group’s experiment to fix a diamagnetic object inside a magnetic field. As for any practical uses for this effect, you might be able to differentiate between different types of plastic (think 3D printing filament) with just a vial of solution and a strong magnet.

[Grant] was heading out of the pub right when I ran into him, but he did stick around long enough to run into the alley behind the pub and record an interview/demo. You can check that out below.

Continue reading “Levitating Objects In Paramagnetic Liquids”

LayerOne Demoscene Demoboard Party

The LayerOne conference is over, and that means this last weekend saw one of the biggest demoscene parties in the USA. Who won? A European team. We should have seen this coming.

There were two categories for the LayerOne demo compo, the first using only the LayerOne Demoscene Board. It’s a board with a PIC24F microcontroller, VGA out, and a 1/8″ mono audio out. That’s it; everything that comes out of this board is hand coded on the PIC. A few months ago, [JKing] wrote a demo to demonstrate what this demoboard can do. According to him, it’s the only reason Hackaday sold a single Demoboard in the Hackaday store:

First place for the Demoscene Board competition went to a remote entry – a team called COINE. The video and initial reactions of everyone in the room:

No one in the idea had any idea how this was possible. The hardware should not be able to do that. The resolution and number of colors are too high. It was, by far, the most impressive demo at LayerOne. That doesn’t mean the other submissions to the Demoscene board competition were overlooked. [jamisnemo]’s entry was well received, even though he ran out of time writing it:

The second category for the LayerOne demo competition was the ‘Secret’ Board. There were only 10 or 12 of these boards ever made , but there were still some impressive entries. The board itself is built around an ATMega88 – 8k of Flash, 1K of RAM, and 512 Bytes of EEPROM. If using an ATMega88 as a demo platform sounds familiar, you’d be right. [lft] built the Craft demo way back in 2008 around this chip. The Secret Board is designed to run this demo, and serve as a platform for a demo that implemented a framebuffer on the ‘Mega88:

In all, an excellent competition. It was well received by all attendees, and next year’s compo is sure to be even bigger. If anyone has any idea on how the big European capture these demos to video, please leave a note in the comments. No one at LayerOne could figure it out.

LayerOne Hardware Hacking Village

Go to DEFCON and you’ll stand in line for five hours to get a fancy electronic badge you’ll be showing to your grandchildren some day. Yes, at DEFCON, you buy your hacker cred. LayerOne is not so kind to the technically inept. At LayerOne, you are given a PCB, bag of parts, and are told to earn your hacker cred by soldering tiny QFP and SOT-23 chips by hand. The Hardware Hacking Village at LayerOne was packed with people eagerly assembling their badge, or badges depending on how cool they are.

The badges are designed by [charlie x] of null space labs, one of the many local hackerspaces around the area. The design and construction of these badges were documented on the LayerOne Badge project on hackaday.io, and they’re probably best con badges we’ve ever seen.

There are two badges being distributed around LayerOne. The first is an extremely blinkey badge with a Cypress PSoC4 controlling 22 individually addressable RGB LEDs. Most conference attendees received a bare PCB and a bag of parts – the PCB will get you in the door, but if you want your nerd cred, you’ll have to assemble your own badge.

There are still a few interesting features for this badge, including an ESP8266 module that will listen to UDP packets and drive the LEDs. Yes, a random person on the same WiFi AP can control the LEDs of the entire conference event. The badges can also be chained together with just three wires, but so far no one has done this.

The Speaker and Staff badge, based on a VoCore

The second badge – for speakers and staff – is exceptionally more powerful. It’s a Linux box on a badge with two Ethernet connectors running OpenWRT. For a con badge, it’s incredibly powerful, but this isn’t the most computationally complex badge that has ever been at a LayerOne conference. For last year’s badge, [charlie] put together a badge with an FPGA, SAM7 microcontroller, SD card, and OLED display. They were mining Bitcons on these badges.

The Hardware Hacking Village was loaded up with a dozen or so Metcal soldering irons, binocular microscopes, and enough solder, wick, and flux to allow everyone to solder their badge together. Everyone who attempted it actually completed their badge, and stories of badge hacking competitions at other cons were filled with tales of people sprinkling components on random solder pads. Imagine: a conference where people are technically adept. Amazing.

See You at LayerOne this Weekend

LayerOne, the first level of security. [Brian Benchoff] and I are excited to take part in our first LayerOne conference this Saturday and Sunday in Monrovia California.

Anyone in the Los Angeles area this weekend needs to get out of whatever they have planned and try out this conference that has a soul. Get the idea of a mega-con out of your head and envision a concord of highly skilled and fascinating hackers gathering to talk all things computer security. Speakers will cover topics like researching 0day exploits, copying keys from pictures taken in public, ddos attacks, social engineering, and more.

It’s not just talks, there is a ton of hands-on at LayerOne as well. I plan to finally try my hand at lock picking. Yep, I’ve covered it multiple times and we’ve even had a session led by [Datagram] at the Hackaday 10th Anniversary but I’ve never found time to give it a roll. Of course electronics are my game and [Brian] and I will both be spending a fair amount of time in the hardware hacking village. We’ll have a bunch of dev boards along with us if you want to try out an architecture with which you’re unfamiliar. This year’s LayerOne badges are sponsored by Supplyframe; we’ll have something in store for the best badge hacks we see during the weekend.

See you there!

3D Printering: Maker Faire And Resin Printers

Of course Maker Faire was loaded up with 3D printers, but we’re no longer in the era of a 3D printer in every single booth. Filament-based printers are passé, but that doesn’t mean there’s no new technology to demonstrate. This year, it was stereolithography and other resin-based printers. Here’s the roundup of each and every one displayed at the faire, and the reason it’s still not prime time for resin-based printers.


Of course the Formlabs Form 1+ was presented at the Bay Area Maker Faire. They were one of the first SLA printers on the market, and they’ve jumped through enough legal hoops to be able to call themselves the current kings of low-cost laser and resin printing. There were a few new companies and products at the Faire vying for the top spot, and this is where things get interesting.

The folks at Formlabs displayed the only functional print of all the resin-based 3D printing companies – a tiny, tiny Philco Predicta stuffed with an LCD displaying composite video. The display is covered by a 3D printed lens/window. That’s the closest you’re going to get to an optically clear 3D printed part at the Faire.

XYZPrinting Nobel

The Eiffel tower, an architectural model, and a Bratz doll, all printed on the XYZPrinting Nobel
The Eiffel tower, an architectural model, and a Bratz doll, all printed on the XYZPrinting Nobel

XYZPrinting, the company famous for the $500 printer that follows the Gillette model: sell the printer cheap, sell expensive replacement filament cartridges, and laugh all the way to the bank. Resetting the DRM on the XYZPrinting Da Vinci printer is easy, the proprietary host software is done away with, and bricked devices are not. Time for a new market, huh?

Enter the XYZPrinting Nobel, a resin printer that uses lasers to solidify parts 25 microns at a time. The build volume is 125x125x200mm (5x5x7.9″), with an X and Y resolution of 300 microns. Everything prints out just as you would expect. As far as laser resin printers go, it’s incredibly cheap: $1500. It does, however, use XYZware, the proprietary toolchain forced upon Da Vinci users, although the Nobel is a stand-alone printer that can pull a .STL file from a USB drive and turn it into an object without a computer. There was no mention of how – or if – this printer is locked down.


This Shrek is the highest resolution 3D printed object I've ever seen.
This Shrek is the highest resolution 3D printed object I’ve ever seen.

You’ve seen the cheapest, now check out the most expensive. It’s the DWS Lab XFAB, an enormous and impressive machine that has incredible resolution, a huge build area, and when you take into account other resin printers, a price approaching insanity.

First, the price: $5000 officially, although I heard rumors of $6500 around the 3D printing tent. No, it’s not for sale yet – they’re still in beta testing. Compare that to the Formlabs Form 1+ at $3300, or the XYZPrinting Nobel at $1500, and you would expect this printer to be incredible. You would be right.

The minimum feature size of the XFAB is 80 microns, and can slice down to 10 microns. Compare that to the 300 micron feature size of the Form 1+ and Nobel, and even on paper, you can tell they really have something here. Looking at the sample prints, they do. These are simply the highest resolution 3D printed objects I’ve ever seen. The quality of the prints compares to the finest resin cast objects, machined plastic, or any other manufacturing process. If you’re looking for a printer for very, very high quality work, this is what you need.

Sharebot Voyager

SharebotAlso on display – but not in the 3D printing booth, for some reason – was the Sharebot Voyager. Unlike all the printers described above, this is a DLP printer; instead of lasers and galvos, the Voyager uses an off-the-shelf 3D DLP projector to harden layers of resin.

Strangely, the Sharebot Voyager was stuck in either the Atmel or the Arduino.cc (the [Massimo] one) booth. The printing area is a bit small – 56x96x100mm, but the resolution – on paper, mind you – goes beyond what the most expensive laser and galvo printers can manage: 50 microns in the X and Y axes, 20 to 100 microns in the Z. Compare that figure to the XFAB’s 80 micron minimum feature size, and you begin to see the genius of using a DLP projector.

The Sharebot Voyager is fully controllable over the web thanks to a 1.5GHz quad core, 1GB RAM computer that I believe is running 32 bit Windows. Yes, the spec sheet said OS: 32 bit Windows.

There were no sample prints, no price, and no expected release date. It is, for all intents and purposes, vaporware. I’ve seen it, I’ve taken pictures of it, but I’ve done that for a lot of products that never made it to market.

The Problem With Resin Printers

Taking a gander over all the resin-based 3D printers, you start to pick up on a few common themes. All the software is proprietary, and there is no open source solution for either moving galvos, lasers, or displaying images on a DLP projector correctly to run a resin-based machine. Yes, you heard it here first: it’s the first time in history Open Source hardware folk are ahead of the Open Source software folk. Honestly, open source resin printer hosts is something that should have been done years ago.

This will change in just a few months. A scary, tattooed little bird told me there will soon be an open source solution to printing in resin by the Detroit Maker Faire. Then, finally, the deluge of resin.

Interactive Robot: Project Naughty Ball

A month before the Bay Area Maker Faire, there were ominous predictions the entire faire would be filled with BB-8 droids, the cute astromech ball bot we’ll be seeing more of when The Force Awakens this December. This prediction proved to be premature. There were plenty of R2 units droiding around the faire, but not a single BB-8. Perhaps at the NYC Maker Faire this September.

skeletonRegarding ball bots, we did have one friendly rolling companion at Maker Faire this year. It was a project by UC Davis students [Henjiu Kang], [Yi Lu], and [Yunan Song] that rolls around, seeking out whoever is wearing an infrared ankle strap. They team is calling it Project Naughty Ball, but we’re going to call it the first step towards a miniature BB-8 droid.

The design of the Naughty Ball is somewhat ingenious; it’s set up as a two-wheel balancing bot inside a clear plasic sphere. A ton of batteries work well enough as the ballast, stepper motors and machined plastic wheels balance and steer the ball bot, and the structure on the top hemisphere of the ball houses all the interesting electronics.

There is a BeagleBone Black with WiFi adapter, a few motor drivers, an IMU, and a very interesting 3D printed mount that spins the robot’s eyes – infrared cameras that spin around inside the ball and track whoever is wearing that IR transmitting ankle band.

As far as robotics project go, you really can’t do better at Maker Faire than a semi-autonomous ball bot that follows its owner, and the amount of work these guys have put into this project sends it to the next level. You can check out a video description of their project below.

Hackaday BAMF Meetup Reaches Critical Mass and Overflows Awesome

I love the Hackaday crowd. Despite a long day standing at a booth or crawling the fairgrounds as a spectator, everyone still made it on Saturday night to the 2nd Annual Hackaday BAMF meetup and made it one for the annals of hacker history. Just look at that crowd… I see a couple of Hackaday Prize Judges, a friend I met in Germany (who I actually found out I first met at this same event last year), and many many more great people. I don’t want to spoil the fun so check out the full size over on [Rich Hogben’s] photo log and see how many you can identify.

We started this gathering last year as a come-as-you-are and bring-what-you’re-proud-of after party to Bay Area Maker Fair. We don’t rent out the bar — O’Neil’s Irish Pub in San Mateo — but we had a handshake agreement for drink tickets (thank you to Supplyframe for buying the first round for everyone) with the bartenders. The place feels like the perfect size, and before long we were packed into every available space. The ramp to the restroom area in the back was a gauntlet of conversation — enough room to walk by but you felt like you were interrupting people talking to those across from them.

The amount of hardware on hand was spectacular. Taking pictures of it was tough in the tight quarters. I got a look at the first prototype of the Pebble smart strap. I really enjoyed seeing OSHChip (pictured above) which is an ARM Cortex-M0 chip and BLE rolled into a DIP-16 form factor. [Sophi’s] HeartBeat Boombox was a big hit; it uses the heartrate and blood oxygen sensors seen above to drive a drumbeat. Those blinky glasses should look familiar. [Garrett Mace] and his colleague [Jason] were on hand. These Macetech glasses are from a couple of years back but don’t worry, they were sporting the newest RGB flavor which I’m told will have black solder mask and integrated controller among other tasty goodies.

Perhaps the best way to tell the success of the night is that there were a lot of friends in the room that I never realized were even there. The next day I met up with [Sarah Petkus] and [Mark Koch] and was surprised to find they had been at the Hackaday meetup and I missed them. The same thing happened when I looked at [Rich’s] album from the night and saw [Trey German] was there too. I wasn’t hiding and I wasn’t stuck in one conversation, it was just that kind of a party that makes the room feel like a TARDIS but somehow the night doesn’t last forever.

It’s hard to imagine BAMF without this Saturday gathering. If you missed it this year, add it to your calendar for next.