Hackaday in Shanghai: Electronica and a Gathering

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Whether you live in Shanghai, are at Electronics China representing your company, or by dumb luck just happen to be in town this week you can meet some of the Hackaday crew and score yourself some sweet swag.

Anyone in town on Thursday night will want to get a ticket to Hackaday: The Gathering. Right now it’s all sold out, but we hope anyone with a ticket who is unable to use it will cancel so that another may take your place. Free food, drink, t-shirts, stickers, and other swag await… no wonder the tickets are already gone!

The Electronica China conference started Tuesday at Shanghai New International Expo Centre, but it runs through Wednesday and Thursday as well. We’re attending, but we don’t actually have a dedicated booth. Hackaday is piggybacking with EEFocus, the Chinese contingent of our parent company. Both [Matt] and [Alek] will be hanging around the EEFocus booth (#W3.3686) shucking out hackaday T-shirts if you ask for one. Before he left, [Matt] mentioned that he’s excited to attend lectures on connected medical devices, the Automotive and EV boards, as well as the embedded systems forum.

 

MRRF: Repables, The Nonprofit 3D Object Repository

Repables

There’s a problem with online repositories of 3D printable objects: The largest repo, Thingiverse, is generally looked down upon by the 3D printing community. Thingiverse, owned by Makerbot, has seen protests, and calls for a an alternative repository. A few people have stepped up to provide a better Thingiverse, but these alternatives are either connected to specific 3D printer manufacturers like Ultimaker’s YouMagine, or have done some shady things with open source licenses; Defense Distributed’s DEFCAD, for example.

Repables, launched at the Midwest RepRap Festival this last weekend, hopes to change that. They are the only repository of printable objects and design files out there that’s backed by its own nonprofit LLC. It’s free for anyone to upload their parts and share, without the baggage that comes with an ‘official [company name] .STL repo’.

Just about everything can be hosted on Repables – .STL files for printable objects, .DXF files for laser cutter files, and even PCB files and Gerbers for circuit boards. Now, .STL files are able to be rendered in the browser, with support for viewing other formats coming soon.

It’s a really great idea that solves the problem of printer manufactures building their own hosting sites and the segmentation that ensues. It’s also headed up by a Hackaday alumnus, []. We’re everywhere, it seems.

MRRF: Stuff From Lulzbot

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A lot of the big names in 3D printers were at the Midwest RepRap festival showing off their wares, and one of the biggest was Lulzbot with their fabulous Taz 3 printer. This year, they were showing off a new filament, a new extruder, and tipping us off to a very cool project they’re working on.

The new products Lulzbot is carrying are Ninjaflex filament and the extruder to go with it. Ninjaflex is the stretchiest filament we’ve ever seen, with the feel of a slightly hard silicone rubber. Straight off the spool, the filament will stretch to a little less than twice its original length, and in solid, printed form its a hard yet squishy material that would be perfect for remote control tank treads, toys, and 3D printed resin molds. With all the abuse the sample parts received over the weekend, we’re going to call Ninjaflex effectively indestructible, so long as you don’t try to pull the layers apart.

Also from Lulzbot is word on the new 3D scanner they’re working on. The hardware isn’t finalized yet, but the future device will use a webcam, laser, and turntable to scan an object and turn it directly into an .STL file. Yes, that means there won’t be any point clouds or messing about with Meshlab. Lulzperson [Aeva] is working on the software that subtracts an object from its background and turns it into voxels. The scanner will be low-cost and open source, meaning no matter what the volume of the scanner will be, someone will eventually build a person-sized 3D scanner with the same software.

Videos of [Aeva] below showing off the new stuff and talking about the scanner.

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Your Weekend Plans: Hardware Freedom Day

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Hardware Freedom Day is tomorrow: Saturday, March 15th 2014. This is the third year for the event, which seeks to raise awareness about what Open Hardware is, and to encourage hackers and makers to share their own work with the world.

This is a concept that we believe in strongly here at Hackaday. There are a multitude of reasons to support open hardware. We usually look at it from two angles: education and user freedom. If the design for your projects are available, others can learn from your successes and produce even cooler things that in turn should be made open. At the same time, if you have a device that’s nearly-awesome, a skilled hacker will have a much easier time getting it there if the original design can be used as a reference.

If you want to see what’s going on near you there are events on every continent (except Antarctica… lame!). If continental adjacency isn’t close enough consider pulling together an adhoc event, or just going through that project you finished last year and publishing the files for others to use.

 

SOAP Drama: An Interview With The SOAP Creators

SOAP

A few days ago, we caught wind of SOAP, a Kickstarter project for an Android-based home automation router. With a quad-core ARM, quad gigabit Ethernet ports, 802.11ac, SATA, and every radio under the sun – all for $100 (sans display, $170 with display), it seemed too good to be true. At the time, it probably was: the images from the PCB prototype were taken from [Bunnie Huang]‘s open source laptop, there weren’t enough Ethernet ports for a router, and the hardware just seemed all wrong.

The guys behind SOAP have decided to respond to these accusations by posting a huge update on their Kickstarter page and answering a few questions from me. Interview follows below.


HaD: There’s a BOM/cost analysis breakdown for the Essentials package (the SOAP sans display) that puts the total cost at about $130. This is the reward for pledging at the $100 level. How accurate is this cost analysis, and how do you plan on meeting that reward level?

SOAP: This cost analysis that you mention is very accurate. We will not profit on the early release pricing of $60.00 we have taken the loss leader pricing to attract backers and press (and we think we have done a good job). We are working with a large router manufacturer and this is really the link that makes the pricing possible without them we couldn’t do this.

HaD: You’re using a Quad Core Freescale i.MX processor for SOAP, and putting a four port Gigabit router in there. The Quad core i.MX chips only have one Gigabit port, and that’s limited to 470 Mbps. How are you solving this problem, and what are you using as a MAC/PHY?

SOAP: First off let me state that we are very aware of the CPU limitations and we have done a lot of work on finding a solution and we do have a unique solution. We have support from a big player in the router industry that has offered us a unique solution that we have been working on to bypass this issue. We will post more on this after our trip to San Jose. This is our fallback method and yes its benchmarks are not as pretty as we want them but they are getting there and we feel with enough tweaks we can get this to decent level.

This is from our layout guy: We are planning I.mx processor’s gigabit port will be connected to external IC working as a switch. 1Gb ethernet -> 1 to 4 switch -> 4x Gb Ethernet ports. Possible  http://www.ti.com/lit/ds/symlink/tnetx4090.pdf. Use 4 ports from there plus put RGMII Ethernet transceiver from Marvell  for each ETH port and we will have on board Ethernet switch.

HaD: What WiFi chipset/chipsets are you using? Will that/they be able to do 802.11ac at full speed, and how are you doing this with (I think) only one antenna on the updated board images?

SOAP: The speeds have varied greatly on the chipset and how buggy the software was for the day but we have clocked speeds over 1 gigabyte per second and we will continue to develop this further to achieve maximize speeds this is where our new Union with the guys over at Droidifi will help.

In our prototype we tested Avastar 88W8864, Broadcom 4360 , and a couple more that failed to actually work.  We didn’t get those all functioning like we would have wanted as there is little support for android and router chipsets to date. We demo with a Broadcom chipset.

We want to use Quantenna QAC2300 but at current funding we will be using the Broadcom we have received a lot of suggestions from our backers and a new big player behind us that thinks they have the right match we are waiting to announce this after our meeting in San Jose.

We have one antenna on the most current design but we are planning on adding two more for the final design. We didn’t place them on the most recent design because we are waiting to see how much funding we get to finalize the wifi chipset. We didn’t want antenna design that worked best with a Broadcom when we switch to Marvel or Quantenna.

HaD: What is the status of the software? Do you have a repo somewhere that people could look over?

SOAP: We have been working with a new player from the older kickstarter project called Droidifi. We will be working with them on the software. This is a something we haven’t been able to announce till we lock it down but you are the first to know about this union. Check out our update later today.

HaD: Finally, do you have a functional prototype with the quad-core i.MX, four Ethernet ports, and WiFi? Can we see a video?

SOAP:  If you mean a mass production ready device that can be used by an end user then no. We have a solid functioning proof of concept prototype. We have a lot of Demo videos of our POC that show  what we have developed so far.  We  have to have the current PCB design manufactured to get down to the more rigorous testing and qualifying. All the specs listed on our kickstarter are what we currently are planning and we hope to fulfill the tech specs.

HaD: There are some other questions in the Kickstarter comments section, but honestly I don’t care about how many Twitter followers you have.

SOAP: Twitter was our marketing company. We thought people actually were following us but we have  since found out that half of them are not real. Check this out though.

All in all we understand how ambitious this project looks and we also know that it technology development can run into roadblocks and things but we want to be clear we are not a scam and we are quite aware where these attacks have originated. We will continue to work hard on this project, we will not be running off to Costa Rica and we plan on seeing everyone at CES next year.


The TL;DR for everyone without an attention span:

Yes, the $100/$170 price is too good to be true. It’s called a loss leader to generate interest. This part was a success. The SOAP guys are partnering with the DroidFi guys for the operating system. The Gigabit Ethernet will probably work, and the WiFi is limited by *nix chipset support. No complete functional prototypes yet.

So there you go. It’s not the ideal update with the SOAP crew showing off a shipping container of units ready to be shipped, but the project isn’t in as bad a shape as I originally thought.

Welcome to Droning On

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Tesla_boat1Welcome to Droning On, Hackaday’s new column covering all things unmanned. In this column we will primarily focus on aerial vehicles, both fixed and rotary wing. Expect to see traditional R/C, as well as First Person View (FPV) models, computer controlled autopilot systems, as well as anything new that shows up on our radar.

First, a little bit of history. The earliest radio control vehicle in history was designed by a man known well to Hackaday, Nikola Tesla. Tesla presented a radio controlled boat at an electrical exhibition in New York in 1898. Tesla called the system “Teleautomaton” and said the craft utilized a borrowed mind. In addition to cruising around a man made pond, the boat could solve equations by blinking lights atop two of its masts. Tesla would encourage viewers to call out math equations, then flash the lights from the boat’s control panel.

For many years R/C as well as its cousins Free Flight and control line were hobbies occupied solely by hackers. One needed to have metal machining skills to build engine parts, draftsman skills to read plans, and carpentry skills to build airframes. Radios were built from tubes. Control, if it may be called such, was all or nothing – so-called “bang-bang” systems. Much like their model railroad compatriots, R/C plane modelers built with the parts they had on hand. Several early DIY R/C planes were controlled by rotary telephone dials. Dial 1 to pull up, 2 to turn left, etc. Control surfaces were moved by rubber powered escapements rather than the servos we’ve come to know and love. Aerodynamics also came into play. With such rudimentary control systems, planes were designed to be inherently stable. Thankfully there were numerous proven air frame designs available from the free flight arena. Slow flight, high dihedral, and docile stall behavior were the rule of the day. Early R/C planes could be thought of as free flight vehicles with occasional suggestions via radio control. Click past the break to find out more about drone history, and to read about the recent FAA judgement.

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Web Controlled Servo from a BeagleBone Black

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[Babak] created an in-depth tutorial on how he got his BeagleBone Black to control a servo from a web browser.

[Babak] configured a pin on his BeagleBone Black (BBB) as a PWM line and connected it to the control line on a micro hobby servo. The BBB is running a Node.js web server that displays a simple web page to control the servo. The browser sends a WebSocket request to a small WebSocket node server also running on the BBB that then writes the appropriate PWM value to the pin connected to the servo.

The code for node WebSocket server and web server can be found on his GitHub page. There is also a small node library to control PWM lines on the BBB. Though the end result is simple, controlling the servo can be done from any browser that can make a network connection to the BeagleBone Black. Check out the video after the jump for a description and demonstration.

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