Premier Farnell Sold to Swiss Firm

According to this article in the Guardian, Premier Farnell, the electronics parts distributor who is also a UK manufacturer of the Raspberry Pi, is going to be sold to Dätwyler. Their share price immediately rose 50%, closing at just under the Swiss firm’s offer price.

Farnell itself had been on a binge, according to Wikipedia anyway, buying up electronics distributorships in Poland, India, and the US. In 2009, they bought Cadsoft, the makers of Eagle CAD software. Now they’re being sold to another distributor.

Bloomberg writes this up as being just more consolidation in an already consolidating market. What any of this will mean for the hacker on the street is anyone’s guess, but we’re putting our money on it amounting to nearly nothing. But still, now’s the time to stock up on your genuine UK-owned, made-in-UK Pis before they become Swiss-owned and made who knows where.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Project Man-Cam

With cameras, robotics, VR-headsets, and wireless broadband becoming commodities, the ultimate, mobile telepresence system – “Surrogates” if you will – is just one footstep away. And this technology may one day solve a very severe problem for many disabled people: Mobility. [chris jones] sees great potential in remote experiences for disabled people who happen to not be able to just walk outside. His Hackaday Prize Entry Project Man-Cam, a clever implementation of “the second self”, is already indistinguishable from real humans.

Instead of relying on Boston Dynamic’s wonky hydraulics or buzzing FPV drones, [chris] figured that he could just strap a pan and tiltable camera to a real person’s chest or – for his prototyping setup shown above – onto a utility cart. This Man-Cam-Unit (MCU) then captures the live-experience and sends it back home for the disabled person to enjoy through a VR headset in real time. A text-based chat would allow the communication between the borrowed body’s owner and the borrower while movements of the head are mapped onto the pan and tilt mechanism of the camera.

Right now, [chris] is still working on getting everything just right, and even if telepresence robots are already there, it’s charming to see how available technology lets one borrow the abilities of the other.

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Radio Shack Returns

In February 2015, Radio Shack–an icon in American malls and towns–filed for bankruptcy. You could say a lot of critical things about Radio Shack, but in many parts of the country, it was the only place you were going to go find electronic components on short notice. A lot of people of a certain age got their exposure to electronics via Radio Shack kits and parts.

Radio Shack did close a lot of stores. In fact, from 4,000 stores they are down to about 1,700. A New York hedge fund named Standard General bought all the Radio Shack assets and formed a new company (also called, oddly enough, Radio Shack). They just named [Dene Rogers] as CEO. He’s a veteran at retail sales, having been with Target in Australia and Sears in Canada.

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OpenThread, A Solution To The WiFi Of Things

The term ‘Internet of Things’ was coined in 1999, long before every laptop had WiFi and every Starbucks provided Internet for the latte-sucking masses. Over time, the Internet of Things meant all these devices would connect over WiFi. Why, no one has any idea. WiFi is terrible for a network of Things – it requires too much power, the range isn’t great, it’s beyond overkill, and there’s already too many machines and routers on WiFi networks, anyway.

There have been a number of solutions to this problem of a WiFi of Things over the years, but none have caught on. Now, finally, there may be a solution. Nest, in cooperation with ARM, Atmel, dialog, Qualcomm, and TI have released OpenThread, an Open Source implementation of the Thread networking protocol.

The physical layer for OpenThread is 802.15.4, the same layer ZigBee is based on. Unlike ZigBee, the fourth, fifth, and sixth layers of OpenThread look much more like the rest of the Internet. OpenThread features IPv6 and 6LoWPAN, true mesh networking, and requires only a software update to existing 802.15.4 radios.

OpenThread is OS and platform agnostic, and interfacing different radios should be relatively easy with an abstraction layer. Radios and networking were always the problem with the Internet of Things, and with OpenThread – and especially the companies supporting it – these problems might not be much longer.

Painting the Sky with Shooting Stars

Japanese company ALE has been working on a new type of sky show, artificial shooting stars, literally creating an artificial meteor shower at a height of 40 to 50 miles (60 to 80km). The show will be visible to anyone within a 125 mile diameter area (200km), meaning that people in New York city and Philadelphia or Los Angeles and San Diego can watch the same show. Aptly named, they’re calling the project “Sky Canvas”.

The plan is to have a satellite, containing around 500 to 1000 source particles, discharge the particles with a specially designed device. As the video below shows, by ejecting the particles in a continuous manner, rather than all at once, they’ll create the equivalent of a meteor shower. The particles will travel around 1/3rd the way around the Earth before entering the atmosphere, creating the shower of shooting stars. Different colors will be possible by using different materials for the particles, something this fireball cannon illustrates.

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Waste Not, No Lights

Alchemists tried in vain to transmute lead into gold. What if you could turn waste products into energy? That’s what [chemicum] did in a recent video–he and some friends built microbial fuel cells that convert excrement into electricity (you can see the video, below).

The video doesn’t give you all the details of the build, but it seems easy enough. You need some stainless steel mesh, some activated charcoal, some epoxy, plastic containers, and some assorted metal plates and hardware. Of course, you also need excrement and–if the video is any indication–some clothespins to clamp your nose shut as you work.

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Nanowire Batteries Never Need Replacing

In this day and age we’re consistently surrounded with portable electronic devices. In order for them to be called “portable”, they must run on batteries. Most, if not all, use rechargeable batteries. These batteries have a finite lifespan, and will eventually need to be replaced. UCI chemist [Reginald Penner] and doctoral candidate [Mya Le Thai] have been hard at work on making rechargeable batteries that last forever.

Nanowires are great candidates for rechargeable battery technology because the wires, thousands of times thinner than a human hair, are great conductors of electricity. The problem is repeated charging and discharging makes them brittle, which causes them to eventually fail. Typically, the researchers at UCI could get 5000 to 7000 cycles in before they failed. After some trial and error, they found that if they coat a gold nanowire with an acrylic-like gel, they can get up to 200,000 charge/discharge cycles through it before failure.

We’ve seen rechargeable battery hacks before, but making a battery that never needs replacing is sure to get everyone excited.