FlowPaw, the Bear Paw of Electronics Education

FlowPaw-Rev-1.01

If the astonishing success of littleBits is any indication, there’s a huge market for ‘intro to electronics’ products that are much more capable than the classic Radio Shack ‘springs and components stuck to cardboard’ kits or even the very successful littleBits. FlowPaw is the latest entry in this space, combining the sensor module paradigm of littleBits with a largish microcontroller, digital and analog pins, and a great programming interface.

The big innovation in the FlowPaw is the FlowStone programming language. It’s a graphical programming language that allows young creators to connect blocks, modules, and functions together with virtual wires, but also allows the editing of different modules with Ruby. Best of both worlds, there.

The FlowPaw kickstarter includes rewards for just the FlowStone software, or the FlowPaw electronics board with a bunch of modules. Already, the team has LED, relay, accelerometer, buzzer, and capacitive touch sensors, along with a Bluetooth and speech recognition module. They’re working on a few more advanced modules for GPS, pressure, DC motor control, and RFID as well.

Another Internet of Things Board (But This One Has Lisp))

lisp

Using routers as dev boards has been a long and cherished tradition in the circles we frequent, and finally design houses in China are taking notice. There have been a few ‘Internet of Things’ boards in recent months that have taken the SoC found in low-end routers, packaged the on a board with USB, some GPIOs, and a fair bit of memory and called it a dev board. The ZERO Plus is not an exception to this trend, but it does include a very interesting feature when it comes to the development environment: this one uses Lisp as its native language.

The Zero Plus is pretty much what you would expect from a router SoC being transplanted to an Internet of Things board: it uses the Ralink RT5350 SoC, giving it 802.11b/g/n, has 32MB of RAM, 8 or 16 M of Flash, I2C, I2S, SPI, USB, two UARTs, and 14 GPIOs. There is support for a webcam, temperature and humidity sensor, displays, and Arduino via a breakout board that appears to contain a standard, DIP-sized ATMega328,

All of that could be found in dozens of other boards, though. What really sets this one apart is the Lisp development environment. Programming the Zero is exactly as elegant as you would expect, with a ‘toggle a LED according to what time it is’ program looking something like this:

(define LED_On (lambda ()(dev.gpio 11 “out” 1)))
(define LED_Off (lambda ()(dev.gpio 11 “out” 0)))
(define CurrentTime? (lambda ()
      (int (time.strftime “%H” (time.localtime (time.time))))))
(define Night?
      (lambda ()
            (and
                  (> ( CurrentTime? ) 16) (< ( CurrentTime? ) 23)
            )
      )
)
(if (Night?) (LED_On) (LED_Off)

Dev boards built around somewhat more esoteric programming language isn’t anything new; The Espruino brings Javascript to ARM microcontrollers, and the MicroPython project is an astonishing undertaking and successful Kickstarter that brings the BASIC for the 21st century to the embedded world. Lisp, though… I don’t think anyone expected that. It’s a great way to differentiate your product, though.

The Hoverboard You Can Build At Home

hoverboard

Press embargoes lifted today, heralding the announcement of the world’s first hoverboard. Yes, the hovering skateboard from Back to the Future. It’s called the Hendo hoverboard, it’s apparently real, and you can buy one for $10,000. If that’s too rich for your blood, you can spend $900 for a ‘technology demonstrator’ – a remote-controlled hovering box powered by the same technology.

Of course the world’s first hoverboard is announced to the world as a crowd funding campaign, so before we get to how this thing is supposed to work, we’ll have to do our due diligence. The company behind this campaign, Arx Pax Labs, Inc, exists, as does the founder. All the relevant business registration, biographical information, and experience of the founder and employees of Arx Pax check out to my satisfaction. In fact, at least one employee has work experience with the innards of electric motors. At first glance, the company itself is actually legit.

The campaign is for a BttF-style hoverboard, but this is really only a marketing strategy for Arx Pax; the hoverboards themselves are admittedly loss leaders even at $10,000 – the main goal of this Kickstarter is simply to get media attention to the magnetic levitation technology found in the hoverboard. All of this was carefully orchestrated, with a ‘huge event’ to be held exactly one year from today demonstrating a real, working hoverboard. What’s so special about demoing a hoverboard on October 21, 2015?

next year

I defy anyone to come up with a better marketing campaign than this.

The meat of the story comes from what has until now been a scientific curiosity. Everyone reading this has no doubt seen superconductors levitated off a bed of magnets, and demonstrations of eddy currents are really just something cool you can do with a rare earth magnet and a copper pipe. What [Greg Henderson] and Arx Pax have done is take these phenomena and turned them into a platform for magnetic levitation.

According to the patent, the magnetic levitation system found in the Hendo hoverboard works like this:

  • One or more electric motors spin a series of rotors consisting of an arrangement of strong permanent magnets.
  • The magnets are arranged in a Halbach array that enhances the magnetic field on one side of the array, and cancels it on the other.
  • By placing the rotors over a conductive, non-ferrous surface – a sheet of copper or aluminum, for example – eddy currents are induced in the conductive surface.
  • These eddy currents create a magnetic field that opposes the magnetic field that created it, causing the entire device to levitate.

That’s it. That’s how you create a real, working hoverboard. Arx Pax has also developed a method to control a vehicle equipped with a few of these hover disks; the $900 ‘Whitebox’ technology demonstrator includes a smart phone app as a remote control.

If you’re still sitting in a steaming pile of incredulity concerning this invention, you’re in good company. It’s a fine line between being blinded by brilliance and baffled by bullshit, so we’re leaving this one up to you: build one of these devices, put it up on hackaday.io, and we’ll make it worth your while. We’re giving away some gift cards to the Hackaday store for the first person to build one of these hoverboards, preferably with a cool body kit. The Star Wars landspeeder has already been done, but the snowspeeder hasn’t. Surprise us.

Carvey, the CNC Machine for Everyone

Carvey

Over the past few years, [Bart Dring] has contributed immensely to the homebrew CNC machine scene, with the creation of MakerSlide linear rail, the buildlog.net open source laser cutters and CNC machines, and a host of other builds that have brought the power of digital fabrication to garages and workshops the world over. After a year of work, he, along with Inventables, is releasing Carvey, the CNC machine for everyone else.

Carvey is heavily inspired by Inventables other CNC machine, the Shapeoko, but built to be the Makerbot to the Shapeoko’s RepRap, without all the baggage that goes along with that analogy, of course. The machine has a 300W spindle capable of cutting wood, plastic, foam, carbon fiber, and linoleum, as well as aluminum and brass. There are a few interesting features like a color-coded bit system, and this time the machine has an enclosure for containing MDF dust.

CiebwEA13yxYp576g_7HRNUx06KmzO3QEqGCLfs4kRoCAD programs might be a little too foreboding for someone just getting into the world of CNC, so Inventables has created their own design program called Easel. It’s a web app that allows you to design all your parts for the Carvey and send them all to the machine without worrying about speeds, feeds and all the other intimidating machinist terminology. You can, of course, output GCode from Easel, so those of us with slightly more complex toolchains can still use the Carvey.

Inventables is Kickstarting their production, with the non-early bird Carveys going for $2400. That’s a bit cheaper than some extremely similar machines we’ve seen on Kickstarter before.

Anonabox: How To Fail Horribly at Kickstarter

fail

Late last week, Anonabox hit Kickstarter, glomming on to concerns over security, privacy, and censorship. The project was picked up on the usual tech blogs, lauding this project as the pinnacle of the Open Source, Open Hardware movement and a great investment for the privacy-minded technocrat in a post-Snowden world.

Then, the creator of Anonabox did an AMA on reddit. It was quickly discovered that the entire project was an off the shelf router found on AliExpress with reflashed firmware. The router sells for $20 in quantity one, and the Anonabox Kickstarter is giving them away with a minimum $51 pledge. The new firmware is basically a standard OpenWrt installation with a few changes to the config files. The project claims to solve the problem of hardware backdoors, but ships with a backdoor root password (the password is ‘developer!’), open WiFi, and ssh open by default. The Anonabox also claims to be a plug and play solution to security and privacy on the Internet, meaning if this project ever ships, there will be a lot of people who won’t change the default configuration. That’s rather hilarious in its implications.

According to the Kickstarter campaign, the Anonabox has gone through four years of development and four generations of hardware. [August] even has a great graphic demonstrating that each successive generation has reduced the size in half and doubled the system resources:

Unscaled

Image taken from Kickstarter campaign

Anyone with the slightest eye for detail will quickly realize that components, like Ethernet jacks, SD cards, and CF cards are always the same size. I wonder what this graphic would look like if all the boards were scaled so they were in proportion to each other?

Rescaled

Image rescaled so all boards are proportional to each other

Oh. That’s not fishy at all.

As with most Kickstarters that have seen this much negative attention, the project was suspended just a few hours ago, but not before gathering more than $600,000 in pledges at its peak.

suspended

Although the Anonabox failed, there is a market for a Tor-enabled router, and luckily we have one on hackaday.io. It’s so great that some of the copy for the Kickstarter campaign was lifted directly from this project. With a wealth of market research available, we can only hope that [CaptainStouf] runs his own campaign for the UnJailPi.

THP Semifinalist: Farmbot

Farmbot Progress

The FarmBot team has been pretty busy with their CNC Farming and Gathering machine. The idea is to automate the farming process with precise deployment of tools: plows, seed injection, watering, sensors, etc. An Arduino with an added RAMPS handles the movement, and a Raspi provides internet connectivity. Their prototype has already experienced four major iterations: the first revision addressed bigger issues such as frame/track stability and simplification of parts. Now they’re locking down the specifics on internet-of-things integration and coding for advanced movement functions.

The most recent upgrade provides a significant improvement by overhauling the implementation of the tools. Originally, the team envisioned a single, multi-function tool head design that carried everything around all the time. Problem is, the tool that’s in-use probably works best if it’s lower than the others, and piling them all onto one piece spells trouble. The solution? a universal tool mounting system, of course. You can see them testing their design in a video after the break.

If the FarmBot progress isn’t impressive enough—and admittedly we’d have called project lead [Rory Aronson] crazy for attempting to pull this off…but he did it—the FarmBot crew started and successfully funded an entire sub-project through Kickstarter. OpenFarm is an open-source database set to become the go-to wiki for all things farming and gardening. It’s the result of [Rory] encountering an overwhelming amount of generic, poorly written advice on plant growing, so he just crowdsourced a solution. You know, no sweat.


SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is a semifinalist in The Hackaday Prize.

[Read more...]

Scribble and the Failings of Tech Journalism

Pen

The Scribble Pen, you may remember, is a project by bay area startup Scribble Technology that puts a color sensor and multiple ink reservoirs in a pen. We’ve talked about it before, right after they cancelled their Kickstarter campaign after netting 366% of their original goal.

Yes, they cancelled their campaign after being successfully funded. To Kickstarter’s credit, the Scribble team was asked to provide a better video of the pen demonstrating its capabilities. The team pulled the plug on the campaign, saying they’ll be back soon.

Here is the new campaign. The attentive reader will notice the new campaign is not a Kickstarter project; instead, it is a Tilt campaign. What is Tilt? It’s a platform that allows for crowdfunding, fundraising, pooling, and other ‘many wallets into one’ Internet-based projects. It’s actually not a bad idea if you’re raising funds for a charity or the Jamaican bobsled team. For crowdfunded product development, caveat emptor doesn’t quite cover it.

With more than $200,000 in the bank, you would think the questions asked in many comments on the old Kickstarter would be answered. They were. Scribble put up a new video showing the pen drawing different colors of ink on a piece of paper. This video was faked. [Ch00f] at Drop Kicker took apart the new video frame by frame and found these – ahem – scribbles were inserted in post production. The video has since been replaced on the Tilt campaign page, but evidence of Scribble deleting comments questioning this exists.

Any idea of the Scribble pen being real has been put to bed. Kickstarter threatened to remove the campaign if a better video could not be produced within 24 hours. The Scribble team cancelled their campaign to regroup and put together a better video. In two weeks, the team was only able to produce a faked video. The Scribble pen does not exist.

Case closed, you might think. Digging into videos frame by frame will tell you a lot, but it won’t give you the full picture. We know what happened with the Scribble pen, but very little about the who, why, and how this huge, glaringly obvious fraud occurred. Before we get to that, hold on to your hats – it only gets shadier from here on out.

[Read more...]

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