At long last I had the opportunity to try out the CastAR, a glasses-based Augmented Reality system developed by Technical Illusions. The hardware has been in the works now for a couple of years, but every time we have come across a demo we were thwarted by the long lines that accompany them. This time I was really lucky. [Jeri] gave us a private demo in a suite at the Palazzo during CES 2015. Reflecting on the experience, CastAR is exactly the type of Virtual Reality hardware I’ve been longing for.
This year’s CES has dredged up some memories. I had assumed that as one becomes old they are supposed to become used to memories of a young vigorous person that shared their body and memories leaving little else except some scars and some old stale socks lying around plus 2 or 3 pictures to prove it was in fact not a series of hallucinations. Turns out you don’t get used to it, you just endure.
30 Years ago was our CES: Commodore had the reputation of showing something new every CES and this was a time when a Home Computer meant a Consumer Computer. I have written before about how we endeavored to make sure other’s failures didn’t become ours and we did in fact make it, just in time, to the ’85 CES with what became our flagship computer, at least for the next 4 days.
To the Very Last Minute
When I say made it just in time I am counting people hand carrying the last ten or so homebrewed and MOS cooked 80 column chips either the night before or that very morning. The C128 computers where waiting lined up and open in the room seen below; cases agape much like a row of baby birds waiting on whatever engorgement MOS had come up with for us as the seconds counted down.
And then finally we stood on the second floor of our booth (yes they built a 2 story structure for us in a couple of hours the night before) surveying the now working computers; C128’s and the never released LCD machine, when the last “issue” before the doors opened arrived; a Marketing person (panting) telling us of “yet another C128 failure” though she couldn’t actually point to any previous computers that had failed. We wouldn’t let her continue with her complaint until she retracted the previous general statement of failure, more on principle than actual meanness.
As with most highly technical in-the-field fixes this one was something to remember. My last act of “the ’85 CES show” became the simple motion of walking up to the “failed” computer station and pressing the key changing the C128 back to 40 column mode, especially important since it only had a 40 column monitor attached to it.
End of Line
Then something happened: We were done. I felt sub-processes actually end that had been consuming both CPU and I/O for months, I was suddenly unencumbered by the next “must fix”. I didn’t have a next task to pop from the stack… the phrase “End of Line” came to mind.
I was 24, in Las Vegas and had just delivered one of the major products for the best computer company in the world to the only show that mattered to us. I started walking towards the door with the uncommonly bright Las Vegas sun streaming through the windows. There were lines of people around the block waiting to enter, but the exit was completely unobstructed.
I buried myself in Las Vegas in a way that only youth, testosterone, and adrenaline can enable.
Making the Rounds
I won’t report here much of what all was done over the next days as I understand that for some things the statute of limitations never truly runs out, but inspired by [Mike’s] reporting of visiting the suites of the companies I will relate one small tale here: I had grabbed my best friend and fellow hardware designer who was the father of the 1581 disk drive, also successfully released on this day, and headed out. With the 6’8” [Greg Berlin] (grandson of the designer of the Curtis Wright P-40 Warhawk) in tow we started hitting the floors of the local hotels looking for the suites of the “important” companies that never managed to personally invite us. We had a secret weapon that opened doors as if bribed; not in Greg’s towering presence but in the simple phrase: “we’re from Commodore”.
Doors fully opened that had previously opened only 12-14 inches only to stop on the shoe of the doorman, and 5.25” floppies were stuffed in our pockets like the $20 bills of a VIP trying to impress his date. The suite that comes to mind was that of Electronic Arts (EA). With backslaps and copies of this year’s (and a few of last year’s) C64 game floppies shoved in our pockets we were welcomed like old friends; appointments were made and more than a couple of chugging contests were held. They lost or at least didn’t better us as we were young and full of testosterone.
As we made ready to leave the good folk of EA, after making sure that we would swing by their booth the next day (we did), they asked if there was anything they could get for us. This may sound like a strange or gratuitous question but I had already spied the case of Michelob (a beer from the early days of 1 micron silicon) and was pointing to it before the question was fully uttered. EA grabbed the case with no hesitation as I turned to face the door so he could set the case of teardrop shaped bottles on my shoulder for me.
Back out into Las Vegas we went with Electronic Art’s beer on my shoulder… It was a good CES.
There are two printers being shown off at the 2015 Consumer Electronics shows which really spark our interest. They are the Voltera and the Voxel8. Each is taking on the challenge of printing circuits. They use similar techniques but approach the problem in very different ways.
The Voxel8 marries the idea of a 3D printer with a silver conductive ink dispenser. You start by modeling your entire design, hardware and electronics, all in one. The printer will then begin the 3D print, pausing when necessary for you to add electronics and mechanicals. With the parts — and their pins — in place it lays out the conductive ink to connect the components and then continues with the 3D printing to finish the object.
The Voltera is a PCB printer that uses silver conductive ink. It prints the ink onto a substrate. Pads made of the ink are used to solder the components in place after the printing is finished. The trick added to this design is the ability to print two layers, both on the same side of the board. There is a second ink material which is an insulator. It is laid over the first conductive layer before the second is printed, allowing traces to cross over each other.
Congratulations to the Voltera team who won $50k from the 2015 Hardware Battlefield at CES.
We didn’t see enough to shake our skepticism about the viability of silver conductive ink to take the place of copper on prototype boards. But if anyone is going to make the case that it is plausible these two offerings will.
One interesting thing about the Voxel8 is the ability to specify point-to-point wiring as a “part”. If you do so, the machine will pause while you solder the wires in place before it encapsulates them with the rest of the print. Of course if you’re going to do this manually it shouldn’t really matter which printer you use for it.
What do think about the future of conductive ink for prototyping? Lets us know in the comments.
Hackaday started off Thursday of the Consumer Electronics Show with an impromptu breakfast meetup. This turns out to be a wonderful thing as it lets you ease into a 16 hour day of standing, walking, talking, and getting lost trying to find your way from conference hall to conference hall. We had a great turnout and many brought their hacks and demos to show off. A big thanks to the Sambalatte staff who are awesome people and top tier baristas.
Before leaving for CES I was talking to [Ben Krasnow] about what we should try to see and he suggested looking for private showings that are given in the suites of the hotels at the conference. Turns out our friends at Technical Illusions are doing just that. [Jeri] and [Rick] were showing off CastAR in a suite during the week and were nice enough to make room in their booked schedule for a private Demo.
What you see above are the guts of the version they are currently shipping as part of their Kickstarter fulfillment. I also got a look at a rev2 prototype and will write a follow-up post with more information on the whole experience when I have more time.
There is a loop of aisles in the Sands that has startup booths and most of the interesting things I saw on Wednesday and Thursday are there. Here we have a jamming gripper robot arm. It’s designed for things like moving oddly shaped goods on a manufacturing line. Empire Robotics hit a homerun with their demo for the booth, a take on beer-bong: robot versus human. The scoreboard showed the robot winning an order of magnitude more than the humans.
[Todd] was at was at the Tinkerines booth showing off 3D printers aimed to augmented the STEM curriculum. We couldn’t help but notice his TIE fighter right and inquired about it. He modeled the design himself, send it off to be cast in silver, and inlaid the stone when the ring came back from the casting service. Sweet!
[Sarah Petkus] clued me in and gave me a ride to the Pololu CES open house. The night coincided with the LVBots meetup which they support by providing space for the meetings. There were lots of cool robots being shown off. What you see here was just the pre-meeting warmup of line-followers and sumo robots. I shot some video of the show-and-tell which we’ll post once we’ve had a chance to edit the content.
Closing out CES
Today is the last day of the conference. I stopped by the Voltera PCB printer booth yesterday but they were nowhere to be found. Turns out they were being handed a $50k check by TechCrunch for winning the Battleground. I suppose we’ll give them a pass for not being at the table during that!
I’ll be headed over this afternoon to catch up with them. I’m also hoping to get a look at the Voxel8 printer. If you have any other “can’t-miss” suggestions let me know in the comments and I’ll try to add them to my CES dance card.
My first day on the ground at CES started with a somewhat amusing wait at the Taxi Stand of the McCarran International Airport. Actually I’m getting ahead of myself… it started with a surprisingly efficient badge-pickup booth in the baggage claim of the airport. Wait in line for about three minutes, and show them the QR code emailed to you from online registration and you’re ready to move to the 1/4 mile-long, six-switchback deep line for cabs. Yeah, there’s a lot of people here for this conference.
It’s striking just how huge this thing is. Every hotel on the strip is crawling with badge-wearing CES attendees. Many of the conference halls in the hotels are filled with booths, meaning the thing is spread out over a huge geographic area. We bought three-day monorail passes and headed to the convention center to get started.
Building the Booths
[Sophi] knows [Ben Unsworth] who put his heart and soul into this year’s IEEE booth. His company, Globacore, builds booths for conferences and this one sounds like it was an exceptional amount of fun to work on. He was part of a tiny team that built a mind-controlled drag strip based on Emotive Insight brainwave measuring hardware shipped directly from the first factory production run. This ties in with the display screens above the track to form a leader board. We’ll have a keen eye out for hacks this week, but the story behind building these booths may be the best hack to be found.
[Ben] told us hands-down the thing to see is the new Oculus hardware called Crescent Bay. He emphatically mentioned The Holodeck which is a comparison we don’t throw around lightly. Seems like a lot of people feel that way because the line to try it out is wicked long. We downloaded their app which allows you to schedule a demo but all appointments are already taken. Hopefully our Twitter plea will be seen by their crew.
In the meantime we tried out the Oculus Gear VR. It uses a Galaxy Note 4 as the screen along with lenses and a variety of motion tracking and user controls. The demo was a Zelda-like game where you view the scene from overhead. This used a handheld controller to command the in-game character with the headset’s motion tracking used to look around the playing area. It was a neat demo, I’m not quite sold on long gaming sessions with the hardware but maybe I just need to get used full-immersion first.
Window to another Dimension
The midways close at six o’clock and we made our way to the Occipital booth just as they were winding done. I’ve been 3D scanned a few times before but those systems used turntables and depth cameras on motorized tracks to do the work. This uses a depth-camera add-on for an iPad which they call Structure Sensor.
It is striking how quickly the rig can capture a model. This high-speed performance is parlayed into other uses, like creating a virtual world inside the iPad which the user navigates by using the screen as if it were a magic window into another dimension. Their demo was something along the lines of the game Portal and has us thinking that the Wii U controller has the right idea for entertainment, but it needs the performance that Occipital offers. I liked this experience more than the Oculus demo because you are not shut off from the real world as you make your way through the virtual.
We shot some video of the hardware and plan to post more about it as soon as we get the time to edit the footage.
Find Us or Follow Us
We’re wearing our Hackaday shirts and that stopped [Josh] in his tracks. He’s here on business with his company Evermind, but like any good hacker he is carrying around one of his passion projects in his pocket. What he’s showing off are a couple of prototypes for a CANbus sniffer and interface device that he’s build.
We’ll be at CES all week. You can follow our progress through the following Twitter accounts: @Hackaday, @HackadayPrize, @Szczys, and @SophiKravitz. If you’re here in person you can Tweet us to find where we are. We’re also planning a 9am Thursday Breakfast meetup at SambaLatte in the Monte Carlo. We hope you’ll stop by and say hi. Don’t forget to bring your own hardware!
The 31st annual Chaos Communications Congress (31C3) kicked off today and you’ve already missed some great talks. If you’re not in Hamburg, Germany right now, you can watch the talks as they happen on the live stream. So stop reading this blog post right now, and check out the list of presentations. (But don’t fret if you’ve already missed something that you’d like to see. All the talks are also available after the fact.)
For those of you whose worldview is centered firmly on the You Ess of Ay, you’ll be surprised to learn that the Congresses are essentially the great-grandaddy of the US hacker conventions. If you’re one of the many (old?) US hackers who misses the early days of yore before DEFCON got too slick and professional, you’ll definitely like the CCC. Perhaps it’s the German mindset — there’s more emphasis on the community, communication, and the DIY aesthetic than on “the industry”. It’s more HOPE than DEFCON.
This is not to say that there won’t be some great hacking showcased at 31C3. It is the annual centerpiece of the European hacker scene, after all. Hardware, firmware, or software; it’s all exploited here.
Some of the talks are in German, naturally, but most are in English. If you haven’t attended before, you at least owe it to yourself to check out the live stream. Better yet, if you’re a member of an American hackerspace, you can at least set up local remote viewing for next year. Or maybe you’ll find yourself visiting Germany next Christmas.
[Image: Wikipedia / Tobias Klenze / CC-BY-SA 3.0]
Like some of our grouchier readers, [PodeCoet]’s Digital Sub-Systems professor loathes everyone strapping an Arduino onto a project when something less powerful and ten times as complicated will do. One student asked if they could just replace the whole breadboarded “up counter” circuit mess with an Arduino, but, since the class is centered around basic logic gates the prof shot him down. Undeterred, our troll smuggled an MCU into a chip and used it to spell out crude messages.
No Arduino? No problem. It took him 4 tries but [PodeCoet] hollowed out the SN74LS47N display driver from the required circuit and made it the puppet of a PIC16F1503 controller. The PIC emulated the driver chip in every way – as ordered it showed the count up and down – except when left unattended for 15 seconds. Then instead of digits the PIC writes out “HELLO”, followed by three things normally covered by swimsuits and lastly a bodily function.
For such a simple hack it is wonderfully and humorously documented. There are annotated progress/failure pictures and video of the hack working.
It is not as elaborate as the microscopic deception in the infamously impossible 3 LED circuit, but it gets to the point sooner.