Design for Hackers

Near the end of the lifecycle of mass-market commercial product development, an engineering team may come in and make a design for manufacturability (DFM) pass. The goal is to make the device easy, cheap, and reliable to build and actually improve reliability at the same time. We hackers don’t usually take this last step, because when you’re producing just a couple of any given device, it hardly makes sense. But when you release an open-source hardware design to the world, if a lot of people re-build your widget, it might be worth it to consider DFM, or at least a hardware hacker’s version of DFM.

If you want people to make their own versions of your project, make it easy and cheap for them to do so and don’t forget to also make it hackable. This isn’t the same as industrial DFM: rather than designing for 100,000s of boards to be put together by robot assembly machines, you are designing for an audience of penny-pinching hackers, each building your project only once. But thinking about how buildable your design is will still be worthwhile.

In this article, I’m going to touch on a couple of Design for Hackers (DFH) best practices. I really want to hear your experience and desires in the comments. What would you like to see in someone else’s open designs? What drives you nuts when replicating a project? What tricks do you know to make a project easily and cheaply buildable by the average hacker?

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Build A Circular Aerofoil Kite

[Waalcko] fell in love with kites when he was 13 years old. He saw a NASA Para Wing kite fly and couldn’t get it out of his head. Now, years later, he shares how to build a circular foil kite design he came up with.

We’re all particular about our chosen hobbies. Some of us like one design direction and hate another. For [Waalcko], he really hates internal supports in kites. When he spied a single line kite in a circular foil configuration he was enraptured, but the design had those hideous spars. So, he got to work and pushed himself to the limit coming up with a kite that was a circular foil, flew with one line, and had no internal supports.

His instructable is a great read and goes into deep detail about the basics of kite construction. (After reading it we’re certain that even the shallows have depths when it comes kites.) It goes through the terminology used when talking about kits, the techniques used to assemble them, the common problems, and more.

Many hours later, if all goes well, one should end up with a really cool kite.

How to Design, Manufacture, and Document a Hardware Product

It’s pretty awesome to have a hardware design hero jump at the chance to work on a Hackaday conference badge. I am of course talking about Voja Antonic.

I’ve gotten to know him over the last two years when we were introduced and he agreed to work on some original articles. He’s long been a hacker and shared his story of technology despite politics and society changing around him. His Galaksija computer was the first personal computer available in Yugoslavia with over 8,000 kits sold. Since those days he never stopped refining his design and fabrication skills. For instance, his method of making cases from FR4 is beyond compare, and reading some of his wisdom from hardware design in the casino industry is the kind of fascinating stuff that rarely makes it out for others to enjoy.

But I digress — the point is Voja’s been around the block, he knows what he’s doing, and he does it at an amazingly high level. He did an incredible job with the Hackaday | Belgrade conference badge. It features a 16×8 LED display, IR comms hardware, 5 user buttons, USB programming, an option for an accelerometer module, and has spectacular life running on two AAA batteries. It was a hit at the conference, and so was his talk discussing the design and fabrication. Check it out below and then join me below the fold.

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Six Years of Work and Rationale In A DIY Book Scanner Documented

[Daniel Reetz] spent six years working as a Disney engineer during the day and on his book scanner, the archivist at night. Some time last year, [Daniel] decided enough is enough, got married, and retired from the book scanner business. There’s a bit more to it than that, but before leaving he decided to dump, not just the design, but the entire rationale behind the design into a twenty-two thousand word document.

One of his big theses in this document, is his perceived failure of the open hardware movement. The licenses aren’t adequate, as they are based on copyright law that only applies to software. This makes it impossible to enforce in practice, which is why he released the entire design as public domain. He also feels that open hardware shares design, but not rationale. In his mind this is useless when encouraging improvement, and we tend to agree. In the end rationale is the useful thing, or the source code, behind a design that truly matters. So, putting his money time where his mouth is, he wrote down the rationale behind his scanner.

The rationale contains a lot of interesting things. At a first glance the book scanner almost seems a simple design, not the culmination of so much work. Though, once we began to read through his document, we began to understand why he made the choices he did. There’s so much to getting a good scan without destroying the book. For example, one needs a light that doesn’t lose any color information. It doesn’t have to be perfect, as the software can correct the white balance. However, it can’t lean too far away from the natural spectrum, it can’t be too bright, and it can’t be uneven, and it can’t be prohibitively expensive. A lot of thought went into the tent light design.

[Daniel]’s book scanners are immensely popular, and are being used all over the world. He’s certainly made an impact, and the community that formed around his project continues to grow without him. He made some interesting points, and if anything wrote a really good build and design log for the rest of us to learn from.

Michael Ossmann Makes You an RF Design Hero

To a lot of people, radio-frequency (RF) design is black magic. Even if you’ve built a number of RF projects, and worked your way through the low-lying gotchas, you’ve probably still got a healthy respect for the gremlins lying in wait around every dimly-lit corner. Well, [Michael Ossmann] gave a super workshop at the Hackaday Superconference to give you a guided tour of the better-illuminated spaces in RF design.

five_rules[Michael] is a hacker-designer, and his insights into RF circuit design are hard-won, by making stuff. The HackRF One is probably his most famous (and complex) project, but he’s also designed and built a number of simpler RF devices. And the main point of his talk is that there’s a large range of interesting projects that are possible without getting yourself into the fringes of RF design (which require expensive test equipment, serious modelling, or a Ph.D. in electro-wavey-things).

You should watch [Mike]’s workshop which is embedded below. That said, here’s the spoilers. [Mike] suggests five rules that’ll keep your RF design on the green, rather than off in the rough.

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Design Analysis: Core XY vs H-Bot

Hackaday writer [Joshua Vasquez] wrote about the mechanical difference between the Core-XY and H-Bot movements commonly used in 3D printers on his personal website. There are so many things a beginning mechanical designer can overlook when setting out to make a movement. Sometimes,in the case of these movements, they aren’t readily apparent, and like finding a troublesome pattern in code; have to be shown before the mind picks them up in future designs.

[Joshua] starts by describing how each movement works. At first glance, the H-Bot movement seems simpler and more effective than the Core-XY.  The Core-XY uses more belting, and some of the pulleys are out of plane with each other. However, this is done to eliminate a moment put on the frame in the H-Bot design. This moment can throw off the accuracy of the movement in unpredictable ways.

The Core-XY movement is one of our favorites. It keeps the motors stationary. It’s compact, precise, repeatable, and linear. It’s good to understand the mechanical reasons for this. Just like learning the SQL database calls a library has been obfuscating for you lets you write better code.

Hackaday Links: December 6, 2015

[Camus] had it all wrong. After a few hundred years of rolling a stone up a mountain, Sisyphus would do what all humans would do: become engrossed in novelty. The stone would never reach the summit, but it could roll off some pretty sweet ramps. That mountain goat that ticked him off a few decades ago? If Sisyphus let go right now, the stone would probably take that goat out. Sisyphus, like all of us, would be consumed in meaningless novelty. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

The pumpkin spice must flow. It’s the holidays and for a lot of us that means copious amounts of baked goods. How about an edible sandworm? It looks like something close to a cinnamon roll.

This December’s Marie Claire – whatever that is, I have no idea – features haute circuits. These circuit boards are the work of [Saar Drimer] and Boldport, makers of fine circuit board art. We’ve seen his work a number of times featuring squiggly traces and backlit panels. This seems to be the first time Boldport and the entire idea of PCB art has infiltrated the design world. He also does puzzles.

Raspberry Pi cases simply do not look cool. There’s ports coming out everywhere, and plastic really doesn’t look that great. You know what does look great? Walnut. [Karl] made a few of these out of walnut, MDF and solid aluminum. He’s thinking he might bring this to market, you can check out his webzone here.

Self-driving cars being sold right now! That’s an eBay link for a DARPA Grand Challenge vehicle, a heavily modified Isuzu VehiCross loaded up with computers, a laser scanner, camera, and connected to actuators for steering, brake, pedals, and shifter.

A few years ago, a snowboarding company realized they could use YouTube as a marketing device. They made some really cool projects, like a snowboard with battery-powered heaters embedded in the core of the board (yes, it works). There’s only so many different snowboards you can build, so they turned to surfboards. In fact, they turned to cardboard surfboards, and last week they made a cardboard electric guitar in the Fender custom shop. It’s a completely understandable linear progression from A to B to I don’t know what kind of glue they’re using.