Live Steam… chugga chugga

At Maker Faire this weekend. tucked in between a building full of homegrown foodstuffs and a rock polishing booth is the Bay Area Garden Railway Society (BAGRS). They’re running a few live steam locomotives, and they’re beautiful works of engineering and modeling. None of these trains are electric; they all move by boiling water with either coal or butane. It’s a true, proper locomotive running on 45mm gauge track.

[David Cole] of BAGRS gave me the walkthrough of their booth. It’s a simple oval track that took a solid day to level out. There are technically three sets of tracks, two G-scale, and another O scale sharing a rail with a G-scale track. Each and every one of these locomotives is powered by steam produced when water is heated by either coal or butane. Butane is the fuel of choice because of its ease of acquisition, but BAGRS had a few coal-fired locomotives with tiny shovels shoveling anthracite into tiny fireboxes. After loading up with water and getting the firebox nice and hot, these locomotives will cruise around the oval track for about half an hour, with the speed of the locomotive controlled by a servos and RC gear.

Maker Faire isn’t the headline event for BAGRS; in July 2016 they’ll be hosting the National Garden Railway Convention in San Francisco. If you’re local to the Faire, it will be a cool event to check out.

Setup Day at the Faire is a Glorious Time!

The Bay Area Maker Faire starts today, but the Hackaday crew rolled in early for something new this year. Friday has traditionally been just for exhibitor setup but this year a few extra groups were on site to see everything come together. Most notably, school field trips. How awesome is it to skip the normal class schedule and hang out at the fair? Also able to get in are media and industry.

I had a great time. Watching everything get setup is often more interesting that seeing the finished display. It’s also much quieter, many fewer bodies (Saturday afternoon is usually a mad press of people) and people haven’t yet lost their voices or the fallen into the monotony of voicing the same explanation over and over again.

Above you can see a few of the friends I ran into. [Windell Oskay] is one of the 2015 Hackaday Prize Judges. He had a freshly minted copy of his new book which I first heard about when visiting Evil Mad Scientist Labs last fall. I also ran into [Kevin] who is the creator of the Arduboy. I first met him at BAMF last year and this year he makes a triumphant return with the new version of Arduboy which overshot it’s Kickstarter by an order of magnitude in just a few days. And who else should I bump into but [Brian Benchoff]. He lives in Pennsylvania and I in Wisconsin so we look forward to hanging out when Hackaday hits the road. I also said a quick hello to [Caleb Kraft] who was slinging veggie paella all evening.

[Brian], [Sophi], [Matt], [Jasmine], [Rich], and I will all be at tonight’s Hackaday Meetup. Anyone in the area won’t want to miss this one. There are a ton of awesome hackers already planning to clink glasses starting at 7pm. All you need to do to join in is RSVP.

Back to the action; I made a quick Friday first pass which still took about three hours. The setup changes just a bit each year… generally things are in the same places but of course returning exhibitors have made a year of upgrades and there’s always a lot of fresh and new on hand. I don’t remember seeing the probability machine last year. It has reservoir of marbles at the top which are being steadily dropped into the “Plinko” style peg-board showing a distribution which has a higher probability toward the center.

Here are just a few more favorites. The Kijani Grows booth has a couple of full aquaponics setups that are worth checking out. I spent some time with the Firepick Delta guys. Sand plotters are always fun and there’s a giant one in one of the booths. I may try my hand at lock picking in The OPen Organization of Lockpickers tent today. And [Louis] of SmartMatrix is launching his Kickstarter to bring fully-assembled versions to people who don’t want to solder the one available in our store.

That’s all for now, I’m off to see as much as is humanly possible. If you’re at the Faire today or tomorrow track us down for some stickers and other swag, and don’t forget tonight’s meetup that I mentioned above!

Hamvention Just Getting Started

For one weekend in May, the landscape of Dayton, Ohio is dominated by ham radio operators. The Dayton Hamvention (“ham-convention”), sponsored by the Dayton Amateur Radio Association, is the preeminent gathering of hams from around the world. This is where industry rolls out new products, friends gather to catch-up, and old equipment is “re-distributed” amongst willing parties in the sprawling swap meet which subsumes the entire Hara Arena parking lot where you can find almost anything and meet some of the most interesting people.

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Chill with Hackaday this Saturday after BAMF

It’s that time of year again, the pilgrimage to see and be seen in the Bay Area for Maker Faire. We’re excited to explore what people have been feverishly trying to finish up over the last weeks and months. But all that rubbernecking is tiring, and it makes us thirsty. It is with great joy that we officially announce Hackaday’s Second Annual BAMF Meetup.

Last year we closed our eyes and landed a finger on the Google Map. Further inspection revealed our digit had landed on O’Neil’s Irish Pub. It’s just our kind of place, nice with a comforting hint of dive-bar, plenty of seating, and a great drink selection. So we’re doing it again this year.

We’ll be there on Saturday starting at 7pm. Be so kind as to RSVP just to tell us know you’re coming. We love seeing what hardware people bring; last year we oohed and aahed over a top-secret smartphone prototype shown off alongside all the home-builds people were pulling out of pockets and backpacks.

You have to do something with your Saturday nights… This decision is an easy one to make. See you in a few days!

PicoRico Hacks String Encoder for Bike Suspension Telemetry

It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it works really really well. The PicoRico team built a telemetry system for a downhill bike. Off the top of your head how would you do this? Well, telemetry is easy… just add an IMU board and you’re golden. They went beyond that and have plans to go much further. In fact, the IMU was an afterthought. The gem of this build is a sensor that may go by several names: string encoder, draw wire sensor, stringpot, etc. But two things are for sure, they planned well for their hackathon build and they executed on that plan. This landed them as first-runners-up for the top award at the 2015 Disrupt Hackathon in New York, and the winners of the top Hackaday award at the event.

picorico-thumb[Chris], [Marek], and [Dorian] wanted to log all the telemetry data from [Chris’] downhill bike. One of the biggest challenges is to measure the force absorbed by the suspension on the front fork. The three had seen a few attempts at this before. Those used a retractable wire like what holds keys to a custodian’s belt, mated with a potentiometer to measure the change. This is where the term stringpot comes from. The problem is that your resolution and sensitivity aren’t very reliable with this setup.

That is a sensor problem, not a mechanical problem so they kept the retractable reel and replaced the pot with a much more reliable part. In its place an AMT203 absolute position sensor provides an epic level of sensing. According to the datasheet (PDF) this SPI device senses 12 bits of rotation data, can be zeroed over the SPI bus, and is accurate to 0.2 degrees. Unfortunately we didn’t get a good up-close shot of the installation but it is shown in the video. The encoder and retractor mount above the shocks, with the string stretching down to the skewer. When the shocks actuate, the string extends and retracts, turning the absolute encoder. Combine this with the IMU (and two other IMUs they plan to add) and you’ve got a mountain of data to plot and analyze. The videos after the break show a demo of the string encoder and an interview with the team.

picorico-packing-heavyThey came to play

It’s worth noting that the PicoRico team were in this to win it. They packed heavy for the 20-hour hackathon. Here’s a picture of all the gear they brought along with them to the event… in addition to the bike itself.

We see a solder station, Dremel (with drill press), impact driver, tap and die set, extension cords, boxes full of electronics, and more. This type of planning breaks down barriers often faced at hardware hackathons. You can download a software library; you can’t download a tool or building material that nobody has with them. This is the same lesson we learned from [Kenji Larsen] who, as part of his mentoring at the event, brought a mobile fabrication facility in a roller bag.

If you start getting into hackathons, and we hope you will, keep this in mind. Brainstorm as much as you can leading up to the event, and bring your trusted gear along for the ride.

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How To Make Hardware, With Examples And An Electric Pickle

Right now we’re throwing a two-day hackathon in Pasadena. As with all hackathons, people are going to build something, but that’s only going to happen today. Yesterday was an incredible Zero to Product talk that goes over PCB layout techniques, manufacturing, and schematic capture. In a seven hour talk, our own [Matt Berggren] took the audience through building a product, in this case a little ESP8266 breakout board. We livestreamed this; the video (and electric pickles) are below.

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Live Now: 2015 Hackaday Prize Worldwide: LA

Right now we’re throwing a huge workshop, meetup, and hackathon in Pasadena.

Events include a ‘Zero to Product’ workshop that will take everyone through PCB design, manufacturing techniques, CAM, soldering, testing, and blowing up caps and releasing blue smoke. You can check out the live stream of that here (or below).

Later on this evening, we’ll be having a few short talks from some LA-area hackers, builders and engineers.

Tomorrow is Open Hack Day, where the Hackaday Design Lab will have tables filled with components, dev boards, soldering irons, and enough blinkey stuff to blind someone. Live stream below.

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