Friday Hack Chat: Crowd Supply

Crowdfunding is a mixed bag, at best. On one hand, you have fantastically successful products like Pebble, Oculus, and the Kano personal computer that managed to take in money, turn out a product, and become a successful company. (If even just for a while, the Pebble was great.) On the other hand, you have obvious scams like a color-picking pen that are run by a literal Nigerian scammer.

Crowd Supply is different. Unlike other crowdfunding platforms, to get on Crowd Supply you’ll need a working prototype. Where other platforms can measure their success by how many campaigns were successfully funded, and how many of those campaigns successfully delivered rewards to backers, I’m not aware of any Crowd Supply campaigns that have ever failed completely.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’ll be talking with [Josh Lifton], CEO of Crowd Supply. Topics will include determining if there’s a market for your product, the ins and outs of fulfillment, to shipping your product. We’re taking questions from the community, and there’s a question sheet we’ll be reading from.

Josh has a PhD from the MIT Media Lab and holds a BA in physics and mathematics from Swarthmore College. Prior to Crowd Supply, Josh worked in a variety of technology settings, from instrumenting thousands of audience members with custom wearable computers for a Cirque du Soleil performance to, most recently, serving as head of engineering at Puppet Labs.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will take place at noon Pacific time on Friday, July 28th. Confused about where and when ‘noon’ is? Here’s a time and date converter!

Log into Hackaday.io, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Hackaday Links: May 28, 2017

Boeing and DARPA are building a spaceplane. Right now it’s only a press release and a few concept images, but it looks like this is an air-launched system kind of like a Tristar/Pegasus, only much higher and completely unmanned. It’s a ton and a half to low earth orbit, with a goal of 10 flights in 10 days.

Up in Albany? There’s a new hacker con happening in a few weeks. Anycon is a hacking, infosec, and cyber security conference happening June 16 & 17th in Albany, NY. The organizers of this con ([Chris], and his company Leet Cybersecurity) are loosely modeling this con after Derbycon. [Dave Kennedy] of TrustedSec will be attending as the keynote speaker.

GOOD NEWS! [Casey Neistat] is under investigation by the FAA. [Casey Neistat] is the YouTuber that flies drones right in the middle of the Hudson River corridor, and is a menace to general aviation around NYC.

This is neat. The Supplyframe Design Lab is the Hackaday Mothership right in the middle of Pasadena where we host our designers in residence, host a few meetups, and slowly fill every cubic inch of space with either dust or tools. The Design Lab just won a design award. You can check out the ‘design’ part of the Design Lab here, but keep in mind it will never be that clean ever again.

Here’s an interesting Twitter to follow. Alitronik is a curator of the weird and wonderful cheap crap that can be found on AliExpress. Need an Altera Cyclone dev board? Here you go. A desk-mountable OLED inspection microscope? Done. A seven dollar Tesla coil? Dude, you can totally fit this inside a hat.

[Drygol] had a nice old Commodore C16 with a broken TED chip. A shame, really. He did what anyone would do: put a C64 motherboard in the case for a fancy stealth upgrade.

Is the great crowdfunded 3D printer boom over? Some would say that ship sailed after dozens of 3D printer crowdfunding projects failed to deliver, or delivered very low-quality machines. These people were wrong. This Polaroid-branded 3D printing pen might not get funding. A year ago, this project would have been funded on day one. There would have been writeups in The Verge on how Polaroid is turning the corner after decades of wasted opportunities. Now, the Crowdfunded 3D printer boom is finally over.

The Hackaday crew was at the Bay Area Maker Faire last weekend and holy crap did we have a blast. Everyone came to the meetup on Saturday except for the fire marshall. The secret OSHPark bringahack on Sunday was even more impressive. We also saw a Donkey Car capable of driving around a track autonomously, but the team behind it didn’t have their work up on the Internet at the time.

A Simple, Easy To Use ESP32 Dev Board

The ESP32 is Espressif’s follow-up to their extraordinarily popular ESP8266 WiFi chip. It has a dual-core, 32-bit processor, WiFi, Bluetooth, ADCs, DACs, CAN, a Hall effect sensor, an Ethernet MAC, and a whole bunch of other goodies that make this chip the brains for the Internet of Everything. Everyone has been able to simply buy an ESP32 for a few months now, but the Hackaday tip line isn’t exactly overflowing with projects and products built around this wonderchip. Perhaps we need an ESP32 dev board or something.

The Hornbill is the latest crowdfunding campaign from CrowdSupply. It’s an ESP32 dev board, packed with the latest goodies, a single cell LiPo charger, and a USB to serial chip that will probably work with most operating systems. The Hornbill comes in two varieties, a breadboardable module, with a breakout board that includes an SD card slot, sensors, an RGB LED, and a bunch of prototyping space. The second version is something like an Adafruit Flora with big pads for alligator clips.

While this isn’t the first ESP32 breakout we’ve seen — Adafruit, Sparkfun, and a hundred factories in China are pumping boards with this chip out — it is a very easy and inexpensive way to get into the ESP32 ecosystem.

A Wireless Oscilloscope Isn’t As Dumb As It Sounds

The latest CrowdSupply campaign is a wireless, Bluetooth oscilloscope that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense until you really think about it. Once you get it, the Aeroscope wireless oscilloscope is actually a pretty neat idea.

If the idea of battery-powered, Bluetooth-enabled test and measurement gear sounds familiar, you’re not dreaming. The Mooshimeter, also a project on CrowdSupply, is a multichannel multimeter with no buttons, no dial, and no display. You use the Mooshimeter through an app on your phone. This sounds like a dumb idea initially, but if you want to measure the current consumption of a drone, or under the hood of your car while you’re driving, it’s a really, really great idea.

The specs of the Aeroscope aren’t bad for the price. It is, of course, a one-channel scope with 20 MHz bandwidth and 100Msps. Connection to the device under test is through pokey bits or grabby bits that screw into an SMA connector, and connection to a display is over Bluetooth 4.0. You’re not getting a scope that costs as much as a car here, but you wouldn’t want to put that scope in the engine bay of your car, either.

The Aeroscope is currently on CrowdSupply for $200. Compared to the alternatives, that’s a bit more than the no-name, USB scopes. Then again, those are USB scopes, not a wireless, Bluetooth-enabled tool, and we can’t wait to see what kind of work this thing enables.

Hackaday Links: February 26, 2017

The MeArm Pi is a fantastic little robot kit that was the first place winner of the Enlightened Pi contest here on Hackaday. It’s crushing the Shitty Robots subreddit, and compared to the old MeArm kit, it’s much, much simpler to assemble. Ask me how I know. Now the MeArm Pi is a Kickstarter. This tiny robot arm is programmable in everything from Scratch to Perl. It’s highly recommended for children ages 8 to those wanting to recreate the opening scene of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

Almost a year ago, Lulzbot unveiled their latest 3D printer at the Midwest RepRap Festival. The Taz 6 is a great printer, but it’s a bit of a departure from their previous designs. The biggest change was the ‘brain box’, the controller box that encases the power supply, stepper drivers, and other associated electronics. Last year, Lulzbot said they would be selling this brain box by itself. It’s out now, ready for integration into your own self-built Taz, or a 3D printer of your own design.

Speaking of the Midwest RepRap Festival, it’s only a month away. It’s scheduled for March 25-26th at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds in Goshen, Indiana. Why the middle of nowhere? It ensures only the cool kids make it. For one weekend a year, Goshen, Indiana turns into the nexus of all things 3D printing. Don’t ask questions, just come. It’s free, although it would be cool if you kicked a few bucks over to the organizers.

[Clickspring] — the guy who built a fantastic clock in his home shop – is working on his second project. It’s an Antikythera Mechanism, and the latest episode is about building a gigantic gear. This is a unique approach to building an Antikythera Mechanism. [Clickspring] is still using modern tools, but he’s figuring out how this machine was built with tools available 2000 years ago.

Ogopogo, defeated by the Travelling Hacker Box.
Ogopogo, defeated by the Travelling Hacker Box.

Ogopogo. Champ is a picture of a log and Nessie is a toy submarine with a head made out of plastic wood. Ogopogo is a plesiosaur. Are you going to tell me a log – or at best a beaver – can kick the ass of a plesiosaur? Ogo. Pogo. Plesiosaur. The Travelling Hacker Box has conquered Ogopogo.

The ESP32 is quickly becoming the coolest microcontroller platform out there. You know what that means – Kickstarters! The FluoWiFi is Arduino-derived dev board featuring the ESP32 for WiFi, Bluetooth, and all the cool wireless goodies. This board also features an ATMega644p — basically the little sister to the ATMega1284p – for all your standard microcontroller Arduino stuff. It’s £25 for a board, which makes it pretty inexpensive for what you’re getting.

This Vacuum Former Sucks

Vacuum formers are useful tools to have around the shop and also an incredibly simple technology. All you need is a plastic sheet, a heater of some kind, a table with a bunch of holes in it, and a vacuum. The simplicity and usefulness of a vacuum former mean they’re perfect for a homebrew build. That said, we haven’t seen many DIY vacuum formers around the Interwebs. Now, there’s a Kickstarter that brings vacuum forming to the desktop. If nothing else, it’s an inspiration to build your own vacuum forming machine.

The Vaquform is pretty much what you would expect from a desktop vacuum forming machine. A 9 x 12 inch forming area is equipped with ceramic heaters to soften the plastic sheet, and interestingly, an infrared probe (think a non-contact digital thermometer) to ensure you’re pulling molds when the plastic is ready, not before.

You can’t push a Kickstarter without some new and novel technology, and the highlight of this product pitch is the Vaquform hybrid system vacuum pump. This vacuum pump, “combines high airflow and high vacuum” and looks like someone slapped a brushless motor on a turbo.

This is a Kickstarter campaign, and so far it appears Vaquform, the company behind this vacuum former, appears to only have prototypes. There’s a big difference between building one of something and building a hundred. As with all Kickstarter campaigns, ‘caveat emptor’ doesn’t apply because ēmptor means ‘buyer’. If you contribute to this Kickstarter campaign, you are not buying anything.

Even though this is a Kickstarter campaign, it is an interesting tool to have around the workshop. Of course, there’s not much to a vacuum former, and we’d be very interested in seeing what kind of vacuum former builds the Hackaday community has already made. Send those in on the tip line.

Counting Laps and Testing Products with OpenCV

It’s been about a year and a half since the Batteroo, formally known as Batteriser, was announced as a crowdfunding project. The premise is a small sleeve that goes around AA and AAA batteries, boosting the voltage to extract more life out of them. [Dave Jones] at EEVblog was one of many people to question the product, which claimed to boost battery life by 800%.

Batteroo did manage to do something many crowdfunding projects can’t: deliver a product. Now that the sleeves are arriving to backers, people are starting to test them in the wild. In fact, there’s an entire thread of tests happening over on EEVblog.

One test being run is a battery powered train, running around a track until the battery dies completely. [Frank Buss] wanted to run this test, but didn’t want to manually count the laps the train made. He whipped up a script in Python and OpenCV to automate the counting.

The script measures laps by setting two zones on the track. When the train enters the first zone, the counter is armed. When it passes through the second zone, the lap is recorded. Each lap time is kept, ensuring good data for comparing the Batteroo against a normal battery.

The script gives a good example for people wanting to play with computer vision. The source is available on Github. As for the Batteroo, we’ll await further test results before passing judgement, but we’re not holding our breath. After all, the train ran half as long when using a Batteroo.