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.

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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.

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The Hema-Imager: Accessible Thermal Imaging for Smart Devices

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[Erik] began working on this project a few years back to help him improve his electronics skills. Now, after meeting an electronic’s manufacturer through LinkedIn, he is ready to get his device out into the market through a Kickstarter campaign. If successful, the technology will be shipped out and deployed in areas of construction, manufacturing, hospitals and emergency services; all of which could utilize the heat-mapping potential of this affordable device.

In addition to commercial uses, this product can assist in the reduction of household energy consumption by locating areas of heat loss. Without thermal imaging, the initial source of these types of drafts and airflows can be extremely hard to pinpoint. Abnormal equipment heating can also be found as well. For instance, electrical panels can overheat with loose or poorly attached connections.

Now, Hema-Imager is not the only product that is surfacing through crowd funding campaigns. MuOptics, for example, has raised over $280,000 through Indiegogo in 2013 without having to show an actual working product, barely even showing a 3D modeled prototype. Yet, they still achieved their goal, opening up the door for another device like the Hema-Imager to come in and raise a similar amount of money. The differences between the two can be seen on the Hema-Imager’s Kickstarter page.

[Thanks for the tip Enn!]

After the break is a video of [Erik] describing the Hema-Imager project along with a fire fighter’s point of view:

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Circuit Printer Doubles as a Pick and Place

Squink PCB printer and Pick and Place

Prototyping circuits is still a pain. The typical process is to order your PCBs, await their arrival, hand assemble a board, and start testing. It’s time consuming, and typically takes at least a week to go from design to prototype.

The folks at BotFactory are working on fixing that with the Squink (Kickstarter warning). This device not only prints PCBs, but also functions as a pick and place. Rather than using solder, the device uses conductive glue to affix components to the substrate.

This process also allows for a wide range of substrates. Traditional FR4 works, but glass and flexible substrates can work too. They’re also working on using an insulating ink for multilayer boards.

While there are PCB printers out there, and the home etching process always works, building the board is only half the battle. Hand assembly using smaller components is slow, and is prone to mistakes. If this device is sufficiently accurate, it could let us easily prototype complex packages such as BGAs, which are usually a pain.

Of course it has its limitations. The minimum trace width is 10 mils, which is a bit large. Also at $2600, this is an expensive device to buy sight unseen. While it is a Kickstarter, it’d be nice to see an all in one device that can prototype circuits quickly and cheaply.

Scribble: Wait, Kickstarter Is Vetting Projects Now?

PenFirst rule of reading anything: if a headline is an interrogative, the answer is a resounding ‘no’. This might be the one exception to that rule.

This Kickstarter is actually fairly interesting. Not because it’s an obvious scam, mind you, as there’s very, very little to actually call a scam. It’s noteworthy because it was on track to be a highly successful campaign but it was shut down by the creators just days after its launch.

Before getting to the unsavoriness of this Kickstarter campaign, a little bit of history is in order. Several years ago and before crowd funding was a thing, a designer came up with a rather clever if completely improbable idea: a color picking pen. Simply hold the end of a pen up to an object, press a button, and using technology and/or magic the pen now writes in that color. There are obvious shortcomings in the design like using red, green, and blue ink cartridges for color mixing – a classic case of confusing additive and subtractive color models. Still, this is just a design concept and over the years the idea of a color sensing pen that mixes ink has bounced around the Internet. With enough people willing to throw money at their screens in the hopes of actually getting a product as interesting as this, you just know it’s going to be on Kickstarter sooner or later.

Enter the Scribble Pen. Yes, it’s the same idea as the 5+ year-old color picking pen, with a few of the technical challenges already addressed. They’re using a CMYK (plus White) color model that can theoretically reproduce just about any color, and do so on any color paper. How are they doing this? I have no idea, but the whole campaign is super, super sketchy.

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LittleRP, The Latest Of The Resin Printers

LitleRP Over the last few years, a few resin / stereolithography printers have been made a few headlines due to print quality that cannot be matched by the usual RepRap style filament printers. These used to be extremely expensive machines, but lately there have been a few newcomers to the field. The latest is the LittleRP, an affordable DLP projector-based resin printer that can be put together for under a kilobuck.

Instead of proprietary resins, the LittleRP is designed to use as many different formulations of UV curing resin as possible, including those from MadeSolid and MakerJuice. These resins are cured with a DLP projector, providing a print area of 60x40x100mm with the recommended 1024×768 projector, or 72x40x100mm with the alternative 1080p projector.

This isn’t the only resin printer that’s come out recently; SeeMeCNC recently announced their cleverly named DropLit resin printer kit, going with the same ‘bring your own projector’ idea as the LittleRP. With the price of the printer, both of these kits should cost less than $1000 USD. With the price of UV resin dropping over the last few years, it might be just the time to get in the resin printer game.

A Mechanically Scanned LIDAR For Autonomous Robots

LIDAR[Patrick] has spent a lot of time around ground and aerial based autonomous robots, and over the last few years, he’s noticed a particular need for teams in robotics competitions to break through the ‘sensory bottleneck’ and get good data of the surrounding environment for navigational algorithms. The most well-funded teams in autonomous robotics competitions use LIDARs to scan the environment, but these are astonishingly expensive. With that, [Patrick] set out to create a cheaper solution.

Early this year, [Patrick] learned of an extremely cheap LIDAR sensor. Now [Patrick] is building a robotics distance measurement unit based on this sensor.

Early experiments with mechanically scanned LIDAR sensors centered around the XV-11 LIDAR, the distance sensor found in the Neato Robotics robot vacuum cleaner. [Patrick] became convinced a mechanically scanned LIDAR was the way forward when it came to distance measurement of autonomous robots. Now he’s making his own with an astonishingly inexpensive LIDAR sensor.

The basic idea of [Patrick]‘s project is to take the PulsedLight LIDAR-Lite module, add a motor and processing board, and sell a complete unit that will output 360° of distance data to a robot’s main control system. The entire system should cost under $150 when finished; a boon to any students, teams, or hobbyists building an autonomous vehicle.

[Patrick]‘s system is based on the PulsedLight LIDAR – a device that’s not shipping yet – but the team behind the LIDAR-Lite says they should have everything ready by the end of the month, all the better, because between these two devices, there’s a lot of cool stuff to be done in the area of autonomous robots.

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