Hacklet 51 – Crowdfunding Projects

Ah crowdfunding. You might say we have a love/hate relationship with it here at Hackaday. We’ve seen some great projects funded through sites like Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and the like. We’ve also seen projects where the creators were promising more than they could deliver. While the missed deliveries and outright scams do get a lot of press, we believe that crowdfunding in general is a viable platform for getting a project funded.

Closer to home, Hackaday.io hosts thousands of projects. It’s no surprise that some of these have had crowdfunding campaigns. This week’s Hacklet focuses on those projects which have taken the leap into the crowdfunding arena.

matrixWe start with [Louis Beaudoin] and SmartMatrix. [Louis] has created an awesome Teensy 3.1 based system for displaying images, animated graphics, and random patterns on a 32×32 RGB LED panel. The LED panel is the same type used in commercial LED billboards. SmartMatrix is open source, and includes extra pins for hacking. Our own [Mike Szczys] hacked the SmartMatrix to create a 1-pixel PacMan clone. [Louis’] Kickstarter is almost over, and needs a huge boost for fully-assembled SmartMatrix to make its goal. Even if the campaign isn’t successful, we think its a great project and you can always get a solder-it-yourself kit from The Hackaday Store!

psdrNext up is [Michael R Colton] with PortableSDR. PortableSDR was one of the five finalists in The 2014 Hackaday Prize. This pocket-sized software defined radio transceiver started as a ham radio project: a radio system which would be easy for hams to take with them on backpacking trips. It’s grown into so much more now, with software defined radio reception and transmission, vector network analysis, antenna analysis, GPS, and a host of other features. [Michael] raised a whopping $66,197 in his Kickstarter campaign, and he’s already delivered the hand assembled prototypes to their respective backers! Even the lower level rewards are awesome – [Michael’s] PSDR key chains are actually PCBs which can be turned into maple compatible ARM devboards with just about $10 of additional parts.

chip whisperNext we have The ChipWhisperer, [Colin Flynn’s] embedded security testing system, which won second place in the 2014 Hackaday Prize. We’ve covered both [Colin] and the ChipWhisperer  several times on the Blog. You can always buy the full ChipWhisperer from [Colin’s] company, NewAE Technology Inc. At $1500 USD, the ChipWhisperer is incredibly affordable for a hardware security tool. That price is still a bit high for the average hacker though. [Colin] created a Kickstarter campaign for a light version of the ChipWhisperer. This version is a great platform for learning hardware security, as well as an instrument for testing embedded systems. The campaign was a huge success, raising $72,079.

wingboardNot every crowdfunding project has to be a massive megabuck effort though. [ZeptoBit] just wanted to solve a problem, he needed a WiFi shield for Arduino using an ESP8266 module. ESP8266 WiFi modules have been all the rage for months now, but they can be a bit of a pain to wire up to an Arduino Uno. The dual row .100 headers are not bread board friendly. The ESP8266’s 3.3 V power and interface requirements mean that a regulator and level shifters are needed to get the two boards working together. [ZeptoBit] put all that and more on his wingboard. It worked so well that he launched a Kickstarter campaign for a small run of boards – his initial goal was kr3,500, or $425 USD. He ended up raising kr13,705, or $1665 USD. Not bad at all for a hobby project!

If this isn’t enough crowdfunding goodness for you, check out our Crowdfunding list! That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Olimex Claims the World’s First $9 Computer Costs $39

The C.H.I.P. from Next Thing Co. bills itself as the world’s first nine dollar computer. That’s not a lie; their Kickstarter took in over two million dollars for a tiny single board computer with composite Video, WiFi, Bluetooth 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage, and a 1GHz CPU. That’s a complete computer, sans keyboard, mouse, and monitor. You won’t get that with the $35 Raspberry Pi – you’ll need to add a WiFi adapter and an SD card for the same functionality – and you won’t get that with any other single board computer.

Understandably, the C.H.I.P. is already extremely successful. The company behind it has about 50,000 pre-orders, and people lined up to wait until well into next year for this computer. Exactly how Next Thing Co. managed to build a single board computer and send it out the door for nine dollars is a question that has yet to be answered, and is leaving more than a few people puzzled.

The Olimex blog has given their opinion of the C.H.I.P, and if that’s to be believed, the news isn’t good. The guys at Olimex know their stuff when it comes to making cheap single board computers; they have more than a few for sale, and they know what the Flash and DRAM market is like. To them, it’s impossible to sell a computer like the C.H.I.P. at $9. A quote from Allwinner for a similar module is $16 at the quantity Next Thing Co. would be looking at. That’s just the module with RAM and Flash – no Wifi, no board, no connectors. How could it be possible to sell this computer for only $9?

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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

Crowdfunding Follies: Debunking The Batteriser

It’s not on Kickstarter yet, but this product is already making its media debut, with features in all the tech blogs, an astonishing amount of print outlets, and spouted from the gaping maws of easily impressed rubes the world over. What is it? It’s the Batteriser, a tiny metal contraption that clips over AA, C, and D cells that reclaims the power trapped inside every dead battery. Yes, every dead battery you’ve ever thrown away still has up to 80% of its power remaining. Sounds like complete hogwash, right? That’s because it is.

[Dave Jones] put together a great video on the how comes and why nots of the Batteriser, and while doing so gives a great tutorial for debunking a product, heavily inspired by [Carl Sagan]’s Baloney Detection Kit. The real  debunking starts by verifying any assumptions, and the biggest fault of the Batteriser campaign is claiming 80% of a battery’s power is unused. Lucky for us, [Dave] has tons of tools and graphs to demonstrate this is not the case.

To verify the assumption that battery-powered devices will brown out after using only 20% of a battery’s available power, [Dave] does the most logical thing and looks at the data sheets for a battery. After using 20% of available power, these datasheets claim these batteries should be around 1.3V. Do devices brown out at 1.3V? Hook it up to a programmable power supply and find out.

It turns out every battery-powered device [Dave] could find worked perfectly until around 1.1V. Yes, that’s only 0.3V difference from 1.4V claimed by the patent for the Batteriser, but because of the battery discharge curve, that means 80% of the power in a normal device is already being used up. The premise of the Batteriser is invalid, and [Dave] demonstrates it’s a complete scam.

If a through debunking of the Batteriser’s claims wasn’t enough, [Dave] goes on to explain how it may actually be dangerous. The positive terminal of a battery is also the metal can, while the negative terminal is just a tiny nib of metal seperated from the rest of the battery by a gasket. Since the Batteriser is made of metal and serves as the ground for the boost converter circuit, it’s very, very close to shorting through the branding and logo emblazoned on a mylar wrapping each battery is shrouded with. One tiny nick in this insulator, and you have a direct short across the battery. That’s going to turn to heat, and there’s a lot of energy in a D cell; a failure mode for the Batteriser is a fire. That’s just terrible product design.

Video below.

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Programmable Pump Keeps Its Stick On The Ice

Need to water your plants? Pump some coolant on a mill? Fill a watermelon with booze? Never fear, because the third greatest Canadian behind [Alan Thicke] and [Bryan Adams] is here with the solution to all your problems! It’s a cordless pump for desktop CNC, repair, and horticulture that automates daily chores and pumps out exact amounts of liquid.

[Chris], [AvE], Bright Idea Workshop, or, ‘that guy that records videos in his shop’ is rather well-known around these parts; we’ve seen him make an $80,000 gold-plated cutting fluid pot, a copper laminate desk, and recharge his cell phone with a car and a pencil. He’s very, very good at futzing around in his shop and the dialog is the closest YouTube will ever get to Click and Clack the Tappet Brothers, albeit without wheezing laughter.

The Kickstarter is for a rechargeable cordless pump, controlled by a microcontroller, that dispenses liquids of varying viscosity onto the item of your choice. It’s perfect for adding cooling to a drill press, watering plants, or something or everything involving beer.

Details on the pump are a little sparse, but given the liquid never touches the pump we’re putting money on some type of peristaltic pump. Add volume measurement, programmable flow rate adjustment, a timer, and dispensing programmable volumes of liquid, and you’ve got something useful.

Thanks [Scott] for the tip.

Finally, VR For Four Eyes

In the next few years, VR headsets will be everywhere, and everyone will slowly recede into their own little reality that is presented on high-resolution displays right in front of their eyes. One specific group will be left out: eyeglass wearers. VR just doesn’t work with eyeglasses, and a few people in Germany are fixing this problem. They’re creating custom prescription lenses for Google Cardboard, giving anyone with glasses the opportunity to look just a little more hipster.

The folks behind this Indiegogo already run a specialty optics shop in Germany. They have the tools to make custom lenses for spectacles, and they’re the first company so far that has identified a problem with the current crop of VR headsets and has created a solution. The campaign is for a set of lenses that can be attached to Google Cardboard with double stick tape. There are limitations on how strong of a prescription they can make, but it should work for most four eyes.

It should be noted this Indiegogo isn’t the only way to get custom lenses for a VR headset. If you have your prescription, there are a few places to buy glasses online for $30 or so. Do that, remove the lenses from the frame, and affix them to Cardboard.

FUBAR Labs Gets A New Space

FUBAR Labs in New Jersey is one of the finest and most productive hackerspaces in the US. They have homebrew rocket engines, the eternal gratitude of semiconductor companies, and a broken Makerbot nailed to the wall: everything a hackerspace should have. Now they’re moving to a new space, and they’re looking for a little funding to turn their lab into what it should be.

There have been a lot of cool builds that have come out of FUBAR Labs including a Power Wheels racer, [Rick]’s Minecraft Circuits In Real Life, the now-obviously named Fubarino, a 3D printed balance bot. a gaseous oxygen and ethanol rocket engine.

Their 890 square foot space was already fantastic, but with a new space that’s 2300 square feet, they’ll be able to expand New Jersey’s finest hackerspace into what it should already be.

The guys at FUBAR put up a gallery of pics of the new space. You can check those out here. Next time Hackaday is in Jersey – or when we forget how to pump our own gas, whatever comes first – we’ll do a hackerspace tour of the new space.