Ask Hackaday: Open Fire Suppression and Safety Standards

We posted about a 3D printer fire a while back. An attendee of the Midwest RepRap Fest had left his printer alone only to find its immolated remains on his return. In the spirit of open source, naturally, he shared his experience with the rest of us. It occurred to me that hackers are never powerless and there are active things to be done and avenues to explore.

An animation of a commercial fires suppression system, fire trace's, operation.
An animation of a commercial fires suppression system, fire trace’s, operation. Firetrace‘s website has more.

There are really fantastic commercial fire extinguishing systems out there. One implementation, which is commonly deployed in cabinets and machining centers, is a plastic tube pressurized with an extinguishing agent by a connected tank. When a fire breaks out the tube melts at the hottest locations, automatically spraying the area with a suppressant. Variations of this involve a metal nozzle filled with a wax or plastic blended to melt at a certain temperature, much like the overhead fire sprinklers.

This system is also used inside engine compartments with success. For example, this item on amazon, is nothing but a pressurized plastic tube with a gauge on one end. Since the inside of an engine compartment can be treated as an enclosed space, very little fire suppressant is needed to extinguish an unexpected flame. It is important to note that this system works in a high temperature environment like an engine compartment, which bodes well for enclosed build envelopes on 3D printers.

BlazeCut Automatic Fire Suppression System 6' TV200FA, Automotive Extinguisher
BlazeCut Automatic Fire Suppression System 6′ TV200FA, Automotive Extinguisher Installed under Car Hood.

Another option is to construct a suppressant mine. A Japanese and a Thai company have both come out with a throwable fire extinguisher. In the Japanese device, the outside of the extinguisher is a breakable glass vial which shatters upon impact; releasing the agent. The Thai device looks like a volley ball, and releases the agent upon the application of heat. This device seems like a better candidate for 3D printing or home projects. Imagine a small rectangular pack with adhesive on one side that sits near the possible fire points of the printer, such as under the bed or above the nozzle. In the event of a fire, the casing will melt and the system will automatically deploy a spray of extinguishing agent.

Most of the chemicals used in these constructions are benign and readily available. High pressure tubing and waxes can all be purchased and the desired melt points can be aligned with their datasheets by need. Plastic sheets are not hard to procure. These offer a nice solution due to their entirely passive nature. They don’t need power to operate and rely entirely on the properties of the materials they are constructed out of.

There are other options in active systems. Hackaday readers suggested things such as flame sensors for adding automatic cut-offs in case of a fire. Thermal fuses can also be considered in some cases. There are other tricks too, which are less kosher but will work nonetheless. For example, placing a critical wire, fuse, or component in the likely path of a fire so that it is destroyed first, stopping the operation of the device quickly. These avenues should be explored. At minimum there should be at least one project that uses a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino to tweet that fire suppression failed and the house is on fire.

The Thai invention is a volleyball that melts upon contact with flame and releases a pressurized extinguishing agent.

Some of the big questions to ask are on the legal and ethical side. If someone started selling kits for a DIY fire suppression system and a fire ends up destroying someone’s property despite the device, who is responsible? Is it even safe to post instructions? What if a kit prematurely sets off and injures someone. I imagine a big part of the cost of these professional systems is some sort of liability insurance and certification. Still, putting a six hundred dollar fire suppression system on a six hundred dollar printer seems silly, and something is better than nothing.

Lastly, the comments directed a ton of flak towards the certification systems. There should be no reason that open source projects can’t produce their own specification for safety. An open source specification without an agency naturally couldn’t provide a legal defense against property damage, but a thought-out test program would provide piece of mind. For example, in the case of 3D printers, one could have a set of basic fail-safe tests. One example would be bringing the printer up to temperature and rapidly disconnecting the thermistor, does the printer erupt into fire? No? Good, it meets the spec. I wouldn’t mind knowing that the latest version of Marlin was tested on the popular boards and still met the community specification for fire safety.

As far as I can tell, there’s been very little work in open sourcing safety systems or in providing a testing framework for ensuring open hardware meets basic safety conditions. Many of you have experience with these systems. Some of you have gone through the entirely un-enjoyable process of getting a UL certification. What does Hackaday think?

Hackaday at SXSW

It’s that time of year again. In March, Austin Texas transforms itself into a nexus of art and technology and holds a celebration of Music, Film, and something called Interactive. It turns out that we’re Interactive: Hackaday will once again be at SXSW and we want you to join us there — Austin is excellent at showing everyone a fun time (as long as you don’t need to drive anywhere).

We’ll be on site starting this Friday (3/11/16) and we want you to come party with us at the Hardware House starting at 6pm. This is the third year that Hardware House has hosted, and last year the party was packed with a ton of interesting people, including some Hackaday alums who were there by coincidence. This year you can expect the same, but the fun doesn’t stop on Friday. [Sophi Kravitz] will be hosting a panel on Sunday at 5pm about Technology and Social Change.

Our main event is on Monday (3/14) at noon: Lunch with Hackaday as we launch the world premier of the 2016 Hackaday Prize film. On hand for the SXSW events are [Sophi Kravitz], [Chris Gammell], [Aleksandar Bradic], [Amber Cunningham], [Michael Guilfoil], and [Ivan Lazarevic].

But even after SXSW, we’re not done with the Lone Star State. [Brandon Dunson] and [Mike Szczys] will be at Hackaday Prize Worldwide: Dallas the following weekend at the Dallas Makerspace. Get excited Texas, we certainly are!

Blacksmith Forge Made From the Bathroom Sink

The sweltering heat had finally moved on and Giant Tick season was coming to a close (not kidding, they are HUGE here), when I decided to fire up my hacked together blacksmith forge made out of an old bathroom sink and aquarium stand.

In the age-old formula I needed to supply an air source to a fuel to create enough heat to make iron malleable. I got the idea that this particular bathroom sink might be a good candidate for a fire bowl after I banged my shin with it and then cursed at it. It was clearly made of cast iron and as proof it was clearly unfazed by my tirade of words which I hope my son has learned from the Internet and not from listening to me remodel the bathroom.

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Tindie Becomes A Part Of The Hackaday Family

A little over two years ago, we announced that Hackaday became a part of Supplyframe. This was a natural fit: both sides are comprised of hardware engineers, computer scientists and hackers alike. We immediately pooled forces and set out to make Hackaday bigger, with a broader mission. So far, it has been an amazing journey: is approaching 100,000 registered users, The Hackaday Prize is in its second year, and the Hackaday Store is about to fulfill its 5,000th order.

The main theme behind all of this is fostering collaboration, learning, and providing incentives for everyone in the community to stop procrastinating and try to build something amazing. is here to inspire, to help develop projects in the open, and the Hackaday Store is to provide a way to turn passion projects into a self-sustainable lifestyle. While the road to community-powered innovation might not be easy, it’s something we’re all incredibly passionate about, and will continue investing in to further this goal.

With that in mind, we’re very excited to announce that everyone’s favorite hardware marketplace – Tindie, has been acquired by Supplyframe and will be joining the Hackaday family! Apart from the fact that most of us are personal fans of the website, we believe that Tindie fills an important gap in helping projects cross the chasm between prototype and initial production. Crowdfunding provides access to capital for some (and access to laughs for others), but it’s not always the way to go. You might not be ready to quit your day job or take on a project full-time. You might be working on rev1 of the project and want to try the “lean manufacturing” thing. Or maybe you’re building something for your own purposes and have some extras lying around. Tindie is a platform that has helped launch many such projects, and we’re incredibly lucky to have it be a part of Hackaday.

Now what?

Naturally, the question that’s on everyone’s mind is, what happens next? Are we going to mess things up? Paint Tindie in black? Change the fee structure? While we have ideas on things that we could help with, our main goal will be making sure that the Tindie community continues to thrive. The only changes we’re interested in are the ones that make the community stronger. We are fascinated with the challenges surrounding the supply chain and will be looking into tools to help sellers improve margins and ship better products. and Tindie combined represent the world’s largest repository of (working) Open Hardware products, so we will be looking into more closely integrating the two. We will also make efforts to grow the overall Tindie audience, as every new buyer helps move the community forward.

All of these are some of the ideas, but we’re ultimately looking at you for guidance: things we should do, problems we should attack, dreams of future capabilities.

Wish us luck in this new adventure.

Aleksandar Bradic

From Gates to FPGA’s – Part 1: Basic Logic

It’s time to do a series on logic including things such as programmable logic, state machines, and the lesser known demons such as switching hazards. It is best to start at the beginning — but even experts will enjoy this refresher and might even learn a trick or two. I’ll start with logic symbols, alternate symbols, small Boolean truth tables and some oddball things that we can do with basic logic. The narrative version is found in the video, with a full reference laid out in the rest of this post.


1The most simple piece of logic is inversion; making a high change to low or a low change to high. Shown are a couple of ways to write an inversion including the ubiquitous “bubble” that we can apply almost anywhere to imply an inversion or a “True Low”. If it was a one it is now a zero, where it was a low it is now a high, and where it was true it is now untrue.


2Moving on to the AND gate we see a simple truth table, also known as a Boolean Table, where it describes the function of “A AND B”. This is also our first opportunity to see the application of an alternate symbol. In this case a “low OR a low yields a low”


3Most if not all of the standard logic blocks come in an inverted form also such as the NAND gate shown here. The ability to invert logic functions is so useful in real life that I probably used at least three times the number of NAND gates as regular AND gates when doing medium or larger system design. The useful inversion can occur as spares or in line with the logic.

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Live Now: 2015 Hackaday Prize Worldwide: LA

Right now we’re throwing a huge workshop, meetup, and hackathon in Pasadena.

Events include a ‘Zero to Product’ workshop that will take everyone through PCB design, manufacturing techniques, CAM, soldering, testing, and blowing up caps and releasing blue smoke. You can check out the live stream of that here (or below).

Later on this evening, we’ll be having a few short talks from some LA-area hackers, builders and engineers.

Tomorrow is Open Hack Day, where the Hackaday Design Lab will have tables filled with components, dev boards, soldering irons, and enough blinkey stuff to blind someone. Live stream below.

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Hardware You Might See in a Bar in New York

Our New York City trip for the TechCrunch hackathon is just about wrapped up, and this weekend we’re hosting a hardware hackathon at the Hackaday Design Lab in Pasadena, but there’s still one more event from NYC left to cover: our drink-up in the city.

Our drink-up took over about 90% of the Antler Beer and Wine Dispensary, with the usual, not electronically enabled patrons sufficiently annoyed.

datarecorderWhile this meetup was really just a meet-and-greet pregame for the TechCrunch hackathon, and not a proper ‘bring a hack’, that didn’t stop a few people from toting out some very cool hardware. [Katie Fortunato] trucked out a flight data recorder (or an airplane’s black box, painted orange for visibility) that is supposedly from a 747.

This flight data recorder keeps relevant data on a loop of mylar tape. We didn’t crack into that part of the black box, but we did manage to dig into the electronics. Very weird stuff in there; the control electronics have a backplane design, where each card has a connector that’s basically 2 rows of 50 or 75 female pin sockets. These cards aren’t keyed in any way, and they must be placed in the backplane in a certain order. The circuits are extremely simple; just a mix of op-amps, 74- and 54-series logic (no, we can’t figure that one out, either), buffers, and inverters. The latest date code was some time in the early 80s, and all the boards had a conformal coating on them. There’s a weird connector on the outside of the black box [Katie] promises to document on her profile.

Also at the event were a few folks from NYC Resistor, a few people from the IoTGotham meetup, some of the crew from littleBits. Somewhere in the pictures below is a Ms. PacMan/Galaga cabinet. Yes, I tested the bee overflow cheat, it works, but the high score was above 500,000.

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