The Best of Boston Hackers at Artisan’s Asylum

We were in Boston last week and Artistan’s Asylum welcomed us in to host a Hackaday Meetup. We usually pack the place when the Hackaday community turns out, but this was exceptional. This hackerspace has a sizeable open area that I’m told fits triple-digits and we were using all of it. In addition to food and beverage (courtesy of our parent company Supplyframe who also make trips like this one a possibility), we had lighting talks for people to show off their projects. One of the hits was a functional hoverboard shown above, but there were dozens of others.

Here is the quick gallery of images (from our Hackaday.io event page) to give you an overview. After the break you’ll find dozens more highlighting the builds which were being shown off.

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Dropping by the MIT Electronics Research Society

We’re in Boston this week and my first stop was at MITERS last night. This is the MIT Electronics Research Society, which started as a way to provide free access to computers for all students. Since those humble beginnings the organization has grown to include a slew of fabrication and test hardware, as well as a vibrant community that makes the group a great place to hang out.

Walking into the building you’re greeted with double doors strewn with interesting electronics and many examples of fabrication in the form of the word MITERS. The group, which is pushing 60-years of existence, feels immediately like a hackerspace where creativity and anarchy duke it out in a wild dance of experimentation. On this particular Wednesday evening we encountered a room of about 10 people working feverishly to fabricate electric racers for the PRS racing circuit in Detroit this Saturday.

Like a hackerspace, MITERS is completely member (read: student) run. There is a board that helps keep things on the rails. There is no membership fee; funding for the organization is sourced from Swapfest, a weekly flea market during the summer.

There is a strong slant toward machine shop at this hackerspace. In addition to a respectable Bridgeport CNC Mill, the machine tools and hand tools provide for almost all your fabrication needs.

What can be built in this space? How about a unibalancer? This is a single-wheeled, human-ridable vehicle that has a 7-mile cruise radius between charges. For me the most interesting feature is the deadman’s switch. You know those black rubber strips on public buses that you press for the next stop? This unibalancer has one that you need to stand on to make it go.

The hackers at MITERS excel when it comes to electric vehicles and this time of year that means the Power (Wheels) Racing Series. There are restrictions on size, and power output so the teams squeeze every bit that they can. For me, the most interesting build is based off of a pair of Ryobi electric chainsaws. The 40V batteries for these are themselves quite formidable but not used at all in the build. The team has reverse-engineered the driver circuits and written their own firmware for the STM8 microcontrollers on the boards. The chainsaws use chains to drive the two rear wheels. The entire system is monitored with XBEE-based wireless data which is displayed on a tablet.

This isn’t the only PRS build. The MITERS plan to take three different vehicles with them this weekend. The one they can’t bring is the huge electric shopping cart (with mandatory wheelie bar) which hangs from the ceiling of the space.

In addition to the formidable fabrication projects, there are a multitude of electronic projects to be seen. There is a musical tesla coil which is the best I’ve ever heard. It could easily be mistaken as a proper speaker. If you need more bass there’s a massive ceiling-mounted sub-woofer for that. And if you want a more formidable tesla coil, the parts are there.

Look hard enough and you’ll even find battle robots. This one had diamond plate that spins with a variety of nasty accoutrements intended for maximum damage of its foe. On the underside you’ll see a brushless motor used the opposite of how you might think. The shaft is attached to the locomotion frame of the bot. The underside of the spinning diamond plate has a ring of antistatic mat against which this brushless motor body spins.

Thanks to the MITERS for welcoming us in. It was a blast seeing all of the projects they’re working on!

Meetup at Artisan’s Asylum Tonight

If you’re in the Boston area, head on over to Artisan’s Asylum tonight starting at 6. They were gracious enough to open their doors for a Hackaday Meetup. Bring some hardware to show off if you can, if you can’t that’s fine as well. We’ll have a few lightning talks, some social time, and maybe an afterbar!

To wrap things up, we have covered a few projects from MITERS already, like this Power Wheels Racing build, and an electric go kart done the right way. Now that we’ve met them in person we’ll be on the lookout for a lot more awesome hacks from them.

[Thanks John for suggesting we stop by!]

Become a Mad Scientist, Build A Power Distribution Panel

One practical use of large switches and indicator lamps is to make a power distribution panel which can be useful when you want to control and monitor the power consumption of numerous devices such as your electronics work bench or amateur radio station. Old-school in appearance and using military surplus electronics, this power distribution panel allows for control of outlet on back. Did I mention I built it when I was 16?

Building it was easy, 120 VAC line enters through a main breaker. It is fed through an AC amp meter (with built-in shunt) then to a line filter. From the line filter it goes to a line voltage meter and filament transformer to power the indicator lamps. This AC line is then bussed out to the circuit breakers. Each breaker controls one outlet on the rear panel. As devices are switched on or off the current draw can be measured. This is well demonstrated in the video overview found after the break.

Be creative. Use military surplus switches, indicators, and other unique looking hardware. Customize to give your preferred mad scientist look while also providing valuable functionality.

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FREE 3D Printing in New York?

Looking to prototype some of your designs for the Hackaday Prize? Miss the Shapeways Gift Card Giveaway we did? Well if you happen to live in NYC, [John Tirelli] just wrote in to tell us about a FREE 3D printing lab!

That’s right — free. They don’t even charge for materials.

And we aren’t talking about a bunch of community rickety RepRaps falling apart in someone’s college dorm, nope, this place has CAD workstations with SolidWorks licenses, industrial Stratasys printers (Fortus 250mic, SST 1200 es, and a uPrint SE Plus) — not to mention a Roland LPX-1200 DS 3D laser scanner! Oh, and they’re getting a Fortus 400 and Connex 3 Objet soon!

It’s all thanks to a grant for Haverstraw Rockland Community College, which allowed them to open up this Smart Lab.

RCC’s 3D Printing Smart Lab offers manufacturers a proof-of-concept center where they can evaluate, customize, and expedite prototypes in a sandbox environment. The Smart Lab’s services are available to New York companies free of charge. Assistance is provided by RCC staff and CAD (Computer Assisted Design) students.

How awesome is that? Sounds like you do have to be a New York Company… but you filed that LLC paperwork, right?

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Rise of Hardware: A PCH Hackathon

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of helping out at the KW Hackathon in Waterloo, Ontario, sponsored by PCH Hardware, who hosts hackathons and meetups around the world to help inspire invention and entrepreneurship. This was the sixth hardware based hackathon they have hosted.

When they host a hackathon, they gather local sponsors and provide the tools and resources for the entrants to actually develop a working prototype in less than 54 hours, that they then can pitch to a panel of judges to win some awesome prizes. Did we mention it’s free to register? The next one is in London, England.

Personally, I provided some mentorship in product design and development, but more importantly, I opened up the use of my giant laser cutter to help the teams create real prototypes, and learn more about rapid prototyping using a laser cutter. Everyone wanted to 3D print their prototypes at first — but there was a limited number of printers available, and long wait times. We introduced them to sites like www.makercase.com, a site that will generate laser cutter plans for enclosures that you specify the dimensions of, and of course, the ability to search google for “laser cut arduino case” to find pre-designed laser designs for electronics.

Some teams more experienced in CAD got creative and made cool decahedrons which actually helped create a working prototype the way they envisioned it on paper.

PCH-Hackathon-for-Communitech-Day-2-496

In addition to the main event, they hosted keynote speakers and workshops to help take teams ideas even further — we think Communitech (the hosting venue) really summed up the purpose of having hackathons nicely:

“Useful stuff does really emerge from hackathons: some realized ideas, but more importantly, new human hacker connections and a deeper sense of capability and our capacity to create beyond the software realm.”

Overall, the event was fantastic, and it makes us wish there were more like it. You could feel the buzz of excitement in the room when creative people got together and started designing and making things. Oh and the free food was pretty awesome too — especially for students.

For more information about the event, check out the news piece by [Darin White] for Communitech News.

Hackerspace Happeninging: A Booc For C-Base

In the annals of hackerspace history, there’s one space that stands above the rest. It’s c-base, the crashed spaceship below Berlin that’s also one of the first hackerspaces in the world. Before NYC Resistor, Noisebridge, and every other building filled with tools and cool people, there was c-base.

Although the Hackerspace movement has only been around for a little less than a decade now, c-base itself is much, much older. It was founded way back in 1995, marking this year as the second decade of c-base’s existence. A few of the members of c-base are celebrating this occasion by publishing a book on the vast and storied history of their hackerspace.

The mythology of c-base includes a space station crashing in the middle of Berlin, with the giant, famous disco ball in Berlin being the station’s antenna. Yes, it’s weird, but all good hackerspaces have some sort of irreverent mythos surrounding them. The c-booc will document the twenty year long excavation of the space station, chronicling how this hackerspace came to be.

The booc is a Kickstarter project, and if funded, will be available for pickup at the Chaos Communication Camp this August

Prof Gershenfeld Speaks on Fab Labs and all-things Digital

Fab Labs have developed hand-in-hand with the all-too-familiar hackerspaces that we see today. If you’re curious to discover more about their past and future, [Prof Gershenfeld], founder of the Fab Lab, and director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms brings us a fresh perspective on both these fab labs and the digital world we live in.

In a casual one-hour chat on Edge, [Prof Gershenfeld] dives deeply into the concept of digital in our world. We might consider digital to be a binarized signal, an analog waveform discretized into a 0 and 1 from which all of computer architecture is built upon today. Digital doesn’t just exist in the computing sense, however; it’s a concept that has been applied to communication, computation, and, these days: personal fabrication.

[Prof Gershenfeld’s] talk may highlight coming changes in the future, but changes are already happening today. These days, fab labs and hackerspaces serve their communities in a very special way. They take “experts-of-the-field” away from universities and isolated labs, and they scatter them all over the world. With this shift, anyone can walk through their doors and build a solid foundation in fields like embedded programming and computer aided manufacturing by striking a conversation with these local experts. In a nutshell, both spaces found a culture for development of expertise far more accessible to the world community than their university counterparts.

If you can spare the hour, put on some headphones, tune in, and resume your CAD work, PCB layout, or that Arduino library. You may discover that your work is built on a number of digital principles, and that your contributions push the rest farther along the development chain towards building something awesome.

Finally, if you’re interested in taking notes on building your own fab lab, have a look at the inventorylayout, and guidelines at the CBA website.