PicoRico Hacks String Encoder for Bike Suspension Telemetry

It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it works really really well. The PicoRico team built a telemetry system for a downhill bike. Off the top of your head how would you do this? Well, telemetry is easy… just add an IMU board and you’re golden. They went beyond that and have plans to go much further. In fact, the IMU was an afterthought. The gem of this build is a sensor that may go by several names: string encoder, draw wire sensor, stringpot, etc. But two things are for sure, they planned well for their hackathon build and they executed on that plan. This landed them as first-runners-up for the top award at the 2015 Disrupt Hackathon in New York, and the winners of the top Hackaday award at the event.

picorico-thumb[Chris], [Marek], and [Dorian] wanted to log all the telemetry data from [Chris’] downhill bike. One of the biggest challenges is to measure the force absorbed by the suspension on the front fork. The three had seen a few attempts at this before. Those used a retractable wire like what holds keys to a custodian’s belt, mated with a potentiometer to measure the change. This is where the term stringpot comes from. The problem is that your resolution and sensitivity aren’t very reliable with this setup.

That is a sensor problem, not a mechanical problem so they kept the retractable reel and replaced the pot with a much more reliable part. In its place an AMT203 absolute position sensor provides an epic level of sensing. According to the datasheet (PDF) this SPI device senses 12 bits of rotation data, can be zeroed over the SPI bus, and is accurate to 0.2 degrees. Unfortunately we didn’t get a good up-close shot of the installation but it is shown in the video. The encoder and retractor mount above the shocks, with the string stretching down to the skewer. When the shocks actuate, the string extends and retracts, turning the absolute encoder. Combine this with the IMU (and two other IMUs they plan to add) and you’ve got a mountain of data to plot and analyze. The videos after the break show a demo of the string encoder and an interview with the team.

picorico-packing-heavyThey came to play

It’s worth noting that the PicoRico team were in this to win it. They packed heavy for the 20-hour hackathon. Here’s a picture of all the gear they brought along with them to the event… in addition to the bike itself.

We see a solder station, Dremel (with drill press), impact driver, tap and die set, extension cords, boxes full of electronics, and more. This type of planning breaks down barriers often faced at hardware hackathons. You can download a software library; you can’t download a tool or building material that nobody has with them. This is the same lesson we learned from [Kenji Larsen] who, as part of his mentoring at the event, brought a mobile fabrication facility in a roller bag.

If you start getting into hackathons, and we hope you will, keep this in mind. Brainstorm as much as you can leading up to the event, and bring your trusted gear along for the ride.

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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 hackaday.io 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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Safety Belt Holds Up Pants and Passwords

[Dan Williams] built a belt that holds up your pants while remembering your passwords. This was his project while camped out at the Hackaday Hardware Villiage at the 2015 TC Disrupt Hackathon last weekend.

safety-belt-pcb-sandwichThe idea started with the concept of a dedicated device to carry a complicated password; something that you couldn’t remember yourself and would be difficult to type. [Dan] also decided it would be much better if the device didn’t need its own power source, and if the user interface was dead simple. The answer was a wrist-band made up of a USB cable and a microcontroller with just one button.

To the right you can see the guts of the prototype. He is using a Teensy 2.0 board, which is capable of enumerating as an HID keyboard. The only user input is the button seen at the top. Press it once and it fires off the stored password. Yes, very simple to implement, but programming is just one part of a competition. The rest of his time was spent refining it into what could reasonably be considered a product. He did such a good job of it that he received an Honorable Mention from Hackaday to recognize his execution on the build.

Fabrication

IMG_20150502_183207[Dan] came up with the idea to have a pair of mating boards for the Teensy 2.0. One on top hosts the button, the other on the bottom has a USB port which is used as the “clasp” of the belt buckle. One side of the USB cable plugs into the Teensy, the other into this dummy-port. Early testing showed that this was too bulky to work as a bracelet. But [Dan] simply pivoted and turned it into a belt.

safety-belt-built-at-hackathon-thumb[Kenji Larsen] helped [Dan] with the PCB-sandwich. Instead of mounting pin sockets on the extra boards, they heated up the solder joints on a few of the Teensy pins and pushed them through with some pliers. This left a few pins sticking up above the board to which the button add-on board could be soldered.

To finish out the build, [Dan] worked with [Chris Gammell] to model a 2-part case for the electronics. He also came up with a pandering belt buckle which is also a button-cap. It’s 3D printed with the TechCrunch logo slightly recessed. He then filled this recess with blue painter’s tape for a nice contrast.

[Dan] on-stage presentation shows off the high-level of refinement. There’s not a single wire (excluding the USB belt cable) or unfinished part showing! Since he didn’t get much into the guts of the build during the live presentation we made sure to seek him out afterward and record a hardware walk through which is embedded below.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

[Kenji Larsen] Shows off the Ultimate Hacking Kit

If you roll into a hardware hackathon empty-handed, you’re going to be at a disadvantage compared to those who bring equipment with which they’re already familiar. Pray that you never roll into one where [Kenji Larsen] is your competitor. Luckily, this weekend he came out to mentor for Hackaday’s hardware hacking village at the TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon and not as a competitor. In this video he shows off the huge rollerbag which he calls his “Hack Pack”. I’d say there’s a 50/50 chance his travel setup is better than your home lab.

Where do I begin (seriously, watch the video)? Perhaps best to note is how organized he is. For instance, the large plastic bag containing his battery-operated and plug-in Dremels also has conveniently sized stock like acrylic and metal. There are compartment boxes full of sensors, others contain things like passives, batteries, battery chargers, hundreds of Moteino modules, handfuls of BeagleBones Black, breakout and dev boards of every flavor. He has all the necessary tools like hemostat, x-acto blade, steel ruler, and magnifying glasses. There’s even a 3D printer in the bag — a Printrbot Simple which [Chris Gammell] played with all weekend err… learned to use as part of his role as a mentor.

We had a ton of hardware along with us, but time and again [Kenji] was there for the save on some of the less-common needs. He’s a expert when it comes to fabrication techniques and it showed. We also give him mad points for staying up overnight for all 20-hours of the build session. Thank you so much [Kenji], I think I speak for every one of the hardware hackers when I say you helped bring the event to the next level of exhilarating and exhausting fun. Please direct your own thanks, stories, and well-wishes, and follows to [Kenji’s] hacker profile.

If you weren’t able to make it to NYC this weekend, you definitely missed out. We’ll be telling the story of that all week. Those on the West Coast will have a chance next weekend at Hackaday Prize Worldwide: LA. The workshop is sold out but socializing on Saturday, and a Sunday free-build are both still available for RSVPs.

Weekend Proves Hardware Wins Hackathons

Teams hacking on hardware won big this weekend in New York. There were ten teams that answered Hackaday’s call as we hosted the first ever hardware hackathon at the Tech Crunch Disrupt NYC. These teams were thrown into the mix with all of the software hackers TC was hosting and rose to the top. Eight out of our ten teams won!

As we suspected, having something physical to show off is a huge bonus compared to those showing apps and webpages alone. Recipe for awesome: Mix in the huge talent pool brought by the hardware hackers participating, then season with a dash of experience from mentors like [Kenji Larson], [Johngineer], [Bil Herd], [Chris Gammell], and many more.

Out of over 100 teams, first runner-up went to PicoRico, which built a data collection system for the suspension of a mountain bike. The Twillio prize went to Stove Top Sensor for Paranoid, Stubburn Older Parents which adds cellphone and web connectivity to the stove, letting you check if you remembered to turn off the burns. The charismatic duo of fifteen-year-olds [Kristopher] and [Ilan] stole the show with their demonstration of Follow Plants which gives your produce a social media presence which you can then follow.

We recorded video and got the gritty details from everyone building hardware during the 20-hour frenzy. We’ll be sharing those stories throughout the week so make sure to check back!

More Hackathon Tickets Just Made Available

We had a number of people tell us they weren’t able to get tickets to our Hackathon in New York on Saturday. A block of tickets was just made available. Head on over and grab yours right now!

We’re bringing a mini-van-load of hardware along with us for this one. Our hope is to see a hardware hacker claim the top prize of $5000, but we do have other prizes just for the teams that create something with hardware. You can team up with other creative hackers from the area, all while being wined and dined (well, fed and hydrated anyway) through the entire thing. We can’t wait to see what you can get working with just twenty-hours of build time! You can find out a bit more about the hardware we’re supplying and what we have planned over on our event page.

That’s on Saturday, but the fun actually starts this evening. Join us at 7pm this evening at Antler Wine & Beer Dispensary. We’d appreciate a quick RSVP if you’re coming, and don’t forget to bring some hardware you been working on lately. See you there!

Robottermilk Pancakes

With a name like that how could we possibly pass up featuring this one? Truly a hack, this pancake making robot was built in under 24 hours. [Carter Hurd], [Ryan Niemo], and [David Frank] won the 2015 Ohio State University Makethon with the project.

The gantry runs on drawer sliders using belts from a RepRap. The motors themselves are DC with encoders. [Carter] tells us that since most 3D Printers are build on stepper motors this meant they had to scratch-build the control software but luckily were able to reuse PID software for the rest. Get this, the pump driving the pancake batter was pulled from a Keurig and a servo motor is used to kink the tubing, halting the flow. We are amused by the use of a Sriracha bottle as the nozzle.

It wasn’t just the printer being hacked together. The team also built an iPhone app that lets you draw your desired pattern and push it to the machine via WiFi.

Inspired yet? We are! If you’re anywhere near New York City you need to bring this kind of game to our Hackathon on May 2-3. One night, lots of fun, lots of food, and plenty of hardware. What can you accomplish?

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