What We Are Doing Wrong. The Robot That’s Not in Our Pocket

I’m not saying that the magic pocket oracle we all carry around isn’t great, but I think there is a philosophical disconnect between what it is and what it could be for us. Right now our technology is still trying to improve every tool except the one we use the most, our brain.

At first this seems like a preposterous claim. Doesn’t Google Maps let me navigate in completely foreign locations with ease? Doesn’t Evernote let me off-load complicated knowledge into a magic box somewhere and recall it with photo precision whenever I need to? Well, yes, they do, but they do it wrong. What about ordering food apps? Siri? What about all of these. Don’t they dramatically extend my ability? They do, but they do it inefficiently, and they will always do it inefficiently unless there is a philosophical change in how we design our tools.

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The People, Talks, and Swag of Open Hardware Summit

Friday was the 2016 Open Hardware Summit, a yearly gathering of people who believe in the power of open design. The use of the term “summit” rather than “conference” is telling. This gathering brings together a critical mass of people running hardware companies that adhere to the ideal of “open”, but this isn’t at the exclusion of anyone — all are welcome to attend. Hackaday has built the world’s largest repository of Open Hardware projects. We didn’t just want to be there — We sponsored, sent a team of people, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in the process.

Join me after the break for a look at the talks, a walk through the swag bags, and a feel for what this wonderful day held.

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Using The FCC EAS For Fun And Profit

When a consumer electronics device is sold in the US, especially if it has a wireless aspect, it must be tested for compliance with FCC regulations and the test results filed with the FCC (see preparing your product for FCC testing). These documents are then made available online for all to see in the Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) Laboratory Equipment Authorization System (EAS). In fact, it’s this publishing in this and other FCC databases that has led to many leaks about new product releases, some of which we’ve covered, and others we’ve been privileged enough to know about before the filings but whose breaking was forced when the documents were filed, like the Raspberry Pi 3. It turns out that there are a lot of useful things that can be accomplished by poring over FCC filings, and we’ll explore some of them.

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Certification For Open Source Hardware Announced

Today at the Open Hardware Summit in Portland, Alicia Gibb and Michael Weinberg of the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) launched the Open Source Hardware Certification program. It’s live, and you can certify your own hardware as Open Hardware right now.

What Is Open Source Hardware?

Open Source Hardware can’t be defined without first discussing open source software. At its very core, open source software is just a copyright hack, enabled by a worldwide universal computer network. The rise of open source software is tied to the increasing ease of distributing said software, either through BBSes, Usenet, and the web. Likewise, Open Source Hardware is tied to the ease of distributing, modifying, and building hardware.

In the 1980s, there were no services that could deliver a custom circuit board to anywhere on the planet for a dollar per square inch. When open software began, CNC machines were expensive tools, now you can build a very good machine for just a week’s wages. We are currently living at the dawn of Open Source Hardware, enabled by the creation of Open Source design tools that have themselves been used to create physical tools. Inexpensive 3D printers, open source oscilloscopes, circuit board plotters, and the entire hackerspace movement are as revolutionary as the Internet. These devices and the Internet are the foundations for Open Hardware and software, respectively.  The objections to why hardware is incompatible with Open Source no longer apply and small-scale manufacturing techniques are only going to get better.

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BuildTak, PEI, and Early Adopter Syndrome

I’m guessing most of the members of the Hackaday community are what most people would consider early adopters. Sure, there’s variation among us, but compared to the general population we probably all qualify. I’ve spent many years being an early adopter. I owned a computer, a TiVO, a digital camera, a 3D printer, a drone, and many other gadgets before they became well known. I’ve avoided the self-balancing conveyance craze (I’ll stick with my motorcycle).

Of course, you know if you are an early adopter, you will overpay. New has a premium, after all. But there is another price: you often have the first, but not the optimum. My first digital camera took 3.5 inch floppies. My TiVO has an analog tuner.

I was reminded of this last week. A number of years ago, I built a 3D printer. A lot of printers back then didn’t have heated build plates, so printing ABS required rafts and ABS juice and frustration. I made sure to get a heated bed and, like most people in those days, I had a glass print surface covered in Kapton.

That works pretty well with ABS, but it isn’t perfect. Aqua Net hair spray makes it stick better, but large flat prints still take a little work. With a little practice, it isn’t bad. I eventually switched to an aluminum bed and didn’t have to level the head quite as often, but it didn’t really make things any better, just more repeatable.

The years pass and other gadgets beckon. I use the printer about like I use a drill press. I don’t use it every day, but when you need it it is handy. I have to admit, I’ve been getting partial to PLA since it doesn’t warp. But PLA in the hot Houston sun isn’t always a good mix, so I still print a fair amount of ABS.

The other day I noticed a product called BuildTak. I also heard some people are printing on PEI sheets. I decided to try the BuildTak. Wow! What a difference.

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Life On Contract: How To Have a Meeting

Meetings can actually be useful. It’s hard to believe, but they can actually save time if done right. While most of us are in a perpetual state of torture by Kevin in marketing holding another three-hour meeting during lunch hours, there are a few of us who know their hidden power when put in the right hands.

Working as a contractor, wasted meetings mean wasted billable hours. Even wasted meeting time is covered in the cost of the contract it runs the risk of giving the client the impression that you’re not as productive as originally thought. Organized, productive meetings show that you know what you’re doing and that the cost of your services as a whole is a good value. Yeah, some meetings suck but they are necessary and should be productive.

A meeting needs three things to be worth the time spent on it.

  1. A well prepared for, simple, and clear agenda.
  2. A time limit.
  3. Something needs to be written down at the end of it.

I’ll start with the third item as it shapes the rest. The point of a meeting is to have something to write down at the end of the meeting. Any meeting that ends up in anything requiring fallible human memory was a waste of everyone’s time. This includes, verbal agreements, handshake agreements, ideating (pronounced idioting), brainstorming, think tanking, and the like.

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Two-Stage Tentacle Mechanisms Part II: the Cable Controller

A few weeks back, we got a taste for two-stage tentacle mechanisms. It’s a look at how to make a seemily complicated mechanism a lot less mysterious. This week, we’ll take a close look at one (of many) methods for puppeteering these beasts by hand. Best of all, it’s a method you can assemble at home!

Without a control scheme, our homebrew tentacle can only “squirm around” about as much as an overcooked noodle. It’s pretty useless without some sort of control mechanism to keep all the cables in check at proper tension. Since the tentacle’s motion is driven by nothing more than four cable pairs, it’s not too difficult to start imagining a few hobby servos and pulleys doing the job. To get us started, though, I’ve opted for hand controllers just like the puppeteers of the film industry.

Enter Manual Control

Hand controllers? Of all the possibilities offered by electronics, why select such an electronics-devoid caveman approach? Fear not. Hand controllers offer us a unique set of opportunities that aren’t easy to achieve with most alternatives.

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