Open Hardware for Open Science – Interview with Charles Fracchia

Open Science has been a long-standing ideal for many researchers and practitioners around the world. It advocates the open sharing of scientific research, data, processes, and tools and encourages open collaboration. While not without challenges, this mode of scientific research has the potential to change the entire course of science, allowing for more rigorous peer-review and large-scale scientific projects, accelerating progress, and enabling otherwise unimaginable discoveries.

As with any great idea, there are a number of obstacles to such a thing going mainstream. The biggest one is certainly the existing incentive system that lies at the foundation of the academic world. A limited number of opportunities, relentless competition, and pressure to “publish or perish” usually end up incentivizing exactly the opposite – keeping results closed and doing everything to gain a competitive edge. Still, against all odds, a number of successful Open Science projects are out there in the wild, making profound impacts on their respective fields. HapMap Project, OpenWorm, Sloan Digital Sky Survey and Polymath Project are just a few to name. And the whole movement is just getting started.

While some of these challenges are universal, when it comes to Biology and Biomedical Engineering, the road to Open Science is paved with problems that will go beyond crafting proper incentives for researchers and academic institutions.

It will require building hardware.

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Mediated Matter at the MIT Media Lab

Few things have managed to capture the imagination of hackers and engineers around the world the way Synthetic Biology did over the last couple of years. The promise of “applying engineering principles to designing new biological devices and systems” just seemed way too sci-fi to missed out on, and everyone jumped on the bandwagon. All of a sudden, the field which used to be restricted to traditional research organizations and startups found itself crowded with all sorts of enthusiasts, biohackers, and weirdos alike. Competitions such as the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) paved the way, and the emergence of community spaces like GenSpace and BioCurious finally made DNA experimentation accessible to anyone who dares to try. As it often happens, the Sci-Fi itself did not go untouched, and a whole new genre called “Biopunk” emerged, further fueling people’s imagination and extrapolating worlds to come.

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Hackaday Interview: [Grant Imahara]

We had a chance to interview [Grant Imahara] at the 2014 Electronica conference in Munich, Germany. If you don’t recognize [Grant’s] name you’ll probably recognize his face. He’s been on the cast of the television show Mythbusters for about 10 years now. We heard recently that he was leaving the show and that’s how we crossed paths with him.

[Grant] has signed on with Mouser Electronics to promote their Empowering Innovation Together program. They hosted him on a press junket at their booth and since we have a good relationship with Mouser they offered Hackaday an interview slot.

We had a lot of fun talking to [Grant]. Unfortunately the wireless microphones the Mouser videographer was using were picking up a lot of interference. This didn’t directly affect our recording setup as we were using a handheld voice recorder, but we kept getting interrupted as they tried to figure out the problem. Still, as you can see from the video below, we managed to get all the way through a few questions about [Grant’s] introduction to electronics at a young age, his first job out of school working for Industrial Light and Magic, and his advice to others who want to get into electronics and specifically robots. He mentions his early learning was guided by the books of Forrest Mims and that these days learning about electronics is no more than a keyword search away.

Interview With A Printer

The Hackaday European tour continues, this time in Prague with Josef Průša (Google translate), core developer in the RepRap project, feature at all the Maker Faires and cons, and creator of his namesake, the Prusa Mendel and i3 printers.

[Prusa]’s involvement with the RepRap project started with a RepRap Mendel, the second iteration of RepRap hardware, but the first popular and easy to build version. [Jo] found the Mendel rather difficult to build, so he loaded OpenSCAD and started to design his own version of the hardware. This version became the de facto standard RepRap for a few years, with many inspired by and derivative printers making their way to hackerspaces and workshops around the world.

The first Prusa printer, derived from the RepRap Mendel.
The first Prusa printer, derived from the RepRap Mendel.

A few years ago, [Prusa] was one of the first to make a complete break with the traditional ‘threaded rod and nut’ construction of RepRaps with the introduction of the Prusa i3. This was the first model that had a metal plate as the frame, another feature that would be seen in dozens of other models. It’s not something that was without controversy, either; using a metal plate for the frame doesn’t allow for as much self-replication, something that’s a core value of the RepRap project. That didn’t matter to the community; the Prusa i3 or a similar design is the third most popular printer on 3Dhubs.

The first Prusa printer showing off its Makerbot heritage
The first Prusa printer showing off its Makerbot heritage

What’s the future of the Prusa name? There is an i4 in the works, and I’m pretty sure that’s all I can tell you. Someone already bought the Prusai4 domain, so there may be a name change.

In the interview below, [Prusa] goes over his involvement with the RepRap project, his business, what he considers to be the latest advances in 3D printing for the past year, what the worst things about the 3D printing scene is (it’s Kickstarter), the state of the RepRap project, and thoughts on SLS, DLP, and SLA printing technologies. Video below.

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Hackaday Prize Finalist: An Un-noodly Spectrometer

And so we come to the final finalist bio for The Hackaday Prize. In only three days, we’ll know whether [fl@C@]’s RamanPi Spectrometer or one of the four other projects to make it into the finals round will be making it to space, or only Japan.

There are a surprising number of spectrometer projects out there on the Intertubes, but most of these setups only measure the absorption spectrum – literally what wavelengths of light are absorbed by the material being measured. A Raman spectrometer is completely different, using a laser to illuminate the sample, and measuring the scattering of light from the material. It’s work that has won a Nobel prize, and [fl@C@] built one with a 3D printer.

Bio below, along with the final video that was sent around to the judges. If you’re wondering who the winner of The Hackaday Prize is, even I don’t know. [Mike] and a few Hackaday overlords do, but the rest of us will remain in ignorance until we announce the winner at the party we’re having in Munich next Thursday.

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Hackaday Prize Finalist: A Network of Satellite Ground Stations

There are astonishing things you can do with a network of sensors spread across the globe, all connected to the Internet. Thousands of people have already installed hardware to detect lightning and flightaware gives out subscriptions to their premium service to anyone who will listen in to airplane transponders and send data back to their servers. The folks behind SatNOGS, one of the five finalists for The Hackaday Prize are using this same crowdsourced data collection for something that is literally out of this world: listening to the ever-increasing number of amateur satellites orbiting the planet.

There are dozens of cubesats and other amateur satellites flying every year, and they have become an extremely popular way of experimenting in a space environment, giving some budding engineers an awesome project in school, and testing out some technologies that are just too weird for national space agencies. The problem with sending one of these birds up is getting the data back down; a satellite will pass above the horizon of a single location only a few times a day, and even then for only minutes at a time. The SatNOGS team hopes to change that by planting receivers all around the globe, connecting them to the Internet, and hopefully providing real-time telemetry from dozens of orbiting satellites.

[Pierros] from the SatNOGS team was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions for us about his entry to The Hackaday Prize. That’s below, right after their finalist video. Some of the SatNOGS team will also be at our Munich event where we announce the winner of the Prize.

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Hackaday Prize Finalist: A Portable SDR

No other project to make it to The Hackaday Prize has people throwing money at their computer screen hoping something would happen than [Michael Colton]’s PortableSDR. It’s a software defined radio designed for coverage up to 30MHz. Amateur radio operators across the world are interested in this project, going so far as to call this the first Baofeng UV-5R killer. That’s extremely high praise.

[Michael] was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions about how his entry to The Hackaday Prize has gone. You can check that out below, along with the final round video of the project. Anyone who wants their own PortableSDR could really help [Michael] out by taking this survey.

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