The release of the Ringing Bells Freedom 251 means exciting things for India, and if it goes well possibly the hacker community, too. This $3 device comes with all the things you’d expect from your standard smartphone. Considering any of the individual components alone (4″ IPS screen, cell modem, 1450 mAh battery, 1.3 GHz quad-core processor, 3.2 MP front and 0.3 MP rear cameras) could cost more than the whole thing put together, some skepticism is warranted.
There is speculation about how this is possible given Ringing Bells’ claims of no government subsidies. Considering the prototype presented to the media was from Chinese company Adcom, this may be a big scam in the making. The BBC does an examination of the many ways this seems sketchy, including the lack of appropriate government approvals (like the Indian equivalent of the FCC), and the experience of the company selling it (established in 2015).
Still, consider us curious and hopeful that we may have a new tool as useful and cheap as the ESP8266 has been. That said, it will be interesting to see if the company can maintain stock and limit hardware sales to their intended market or will a curious world electronics ecosystem make them a scarce stock item.
A large part of the world still educates their kids using a system that’s completely antiquated. Personal choices and interests don’t matter, and learning by rote is the norm. Government schooling is woefully inadequate and the teachers are just not equipped, or trained, to be able to impart useful education. [Arvind Gupta], a science educator, is trying to change this by teaching kids how to build toys. His YouTube channel on Toys for Science and Math Education has almost 100,000 subscribers and over 44 million views. It’s awesome.
[Arvind] graduated from one of the finest engineering schools in India, the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur, and joined the TATA conglomerate at their heavy-vehicles plant helping build trucks. It didn’t take him long to realize that he wasn’t cut out to be building trucks. So he took a year off and enrolled in a village science program which was working towards changing the education system. At the weekly village bazaar, he came across interesting pieces of arts and crafts that the villagers were selling. A piece of rubber tubing, used as the core of the valve in bicycle tubes, caught his eye. He bought a length and a couple of matchboxes, and created what he calls “matchstick Meccano”.
This was in the 1970’s. Since then, he has been travelling all over India getting children to learn by building fun toys. The toys he designs are made from commonly available raw material and can be easily built with minimum resources. These ingenious DIY toys and activities help make maths and science education fun and interesting for children at all levels of schooling. All of his work is shared in the spirit of open source and available via his website and YouTube channels. A large body of his work has been translated in to almost 20 languages and you are welcome to help add to that list by dubbing the videos.
Check out the INK Conference video below where he shares his passion for education and shows simple yet entertaining and well-designed toys built from trash and recycled materials.
This is an Education hack, and it’s pretty awesome. [Abhijit Sinha] received an Engineering degree and took up a run-of-the mill IT job in Bangalore, considered India’s IT hub. 7 months down the line on Dec 31st, he gave notice to the company and quit his “boring” job. He ended up in Banjarpalya, a village just 30 kms out of Bangalore. But it could well have been 30 years back in time. The people there had never come across computers, and there wasn’t much sign of other modern technology. So he set up Project DEFY – Design Education for You.
He bought a few refurbished laptops, took a room, and put kids and computers together. Except, these kids just knew a smattering of English. They went to the village school, run by the government and staffed by teachers whose training was basic, at best. He told the kids there are games in those boxes for them to play, but they’d have to figure it out on their own, without help from him. Pretty soon, all of them were playing games like they were pros. That’s when [Abhijit] stepped in and told them that they’d created a base line for having fun. Everything else they did from now on had to be more fun than what they had just done. If they were interested, he would show them how.
He had a gaggle of kids waiting to hear him with rapt attention. He showed them how to look online for information. He showed them how they could learn how to build fun projects by looking up websites like Instructables, and then use locally available materials and their own ingenuity to build and modify. Once a project was done, he showed them how to post details about what they had done and learnt so others around the world could learn from them. The kids took to all this like fish to water. They couldn’t wait to get through 5 hours of school each day, and then head over to their makerspace to spend hours tinkering. Check out their Instructable channel – and see if you can give them some guidance and advice.
A year onwards, on Dec 31st again, [Abhijit] gathered the kids, and several adults who had joined in during the year, telling them he had news. He had figured they were independent enough to run the space on their own now, without any help from him. He would still get them the 500 odd Dollars they needed each month to keep it operational. Other than that, they were on their own. He’s been monitoring their progress, and from the looks of it, the hack seems to have worked. More power to [Abhijit] and others like him around the world who are trying to bring the spirit of making to those who probably stand to benefit from it the most. Check out the videos below where they show off their work.
PS : Here’s the latest update from [Abhijit] : “Got back to the Banjarapalya Makerspace after quite a while, and this is what they show me – they built a little plane. Of course it crash lands, and needs a better programming, but I am super impressed that they are ready to fly.
Anyone who wants to help them technically? Financially? With parts and components ?”
Hacker spaces are on the rise in India, a development that really excites me. When I helped co-found India’s first, community Hacker Space – Maker’s Asylum – in Mumbai, things were pretty lonely. And this was less than 2 years back in 2013 November. Last month, we opened New Delhi’s latest, and the Maker’s Asylum’s second space. There’s already a couple of other hacker spaces in New Delhi, and you can now find hacker spaces in Mumbai, New Delhi, Pune, Bangalore, Chennai, Cochin, Meerut, Kolkatta, Surat, Ahmedabad, Dharamsala, Hyderabad, Ramachandrapuram – and the list continues to grow.
To help build the community, and to bring the opportunity presented by the Hackaday Prize to local hackers, I hosted Hackaday Prize Worldwide events at the Maker’s Asylum in Mumbai and at Workbench Projects in Bangalore. This month, on July 18th, I’ll do another Hackaday Prize Worldwide event at the Maker’s Asylum in New Delhi. I love talking about, and supporting, Open Source Hardware at every opportunity. So for this event, I’ll be doing a fairly long and detailed workshop on KiCad – the awesome, open source EDA tool – lasting several hours. At the end of the day long workshop, I hope to get fellow hackers to complete a design that can be sent off for PCB fabrication. After a short break in the evening, we will have a Show-n-Tell, getting the assembled folks to show off the projects they are working on. There are a number of them who have submitted entires for the Hackaday Prize, so it will be interesting to hear them talk about their experience and share tips and ideas.
We can hold only a limited number of folks at the event, and slots are quickly filling up. So, if you’re in New Delhi or somewhere close by, do RSVP at this link quickly. Looking forward to an interesting event. Check out some pictures from the opening party of the New Delhi Maker’s Asylum after the break.
Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) is a town full of awesome hackers. So when Workbench Projects, a local maker space there, asked if I’d like to come down and talk about the Hackaday Prize, I immediately set things in motion. We decided to arrange a “Bring-a-Hack” event, asking local makers to turn up with their hacks and give a talk or drop by and discuss ideas that matter. To reach out to a larger audience, we also partnered with IoT-BLR, a pretty large group of IoT enthusiasts in Bengaluru. 10,000 Startups (NASSCOM for Startups) helped ensure that all the hackers were well fed with sandwiches and cookies while Paper Boat chipped in with a cooler full of beverages. A freak hail storm meant that we had to delay the start a bit. But that turned into a blessing of sorts, as it allowed those already at the space to check out the hacks that had been set up at demo tables and generally network with each other.
[Anupama], who set up Workbench Projects with [Pavan], set the ball rolling by telling us about how it all started off a year ago. She and [Pavan] had ideas buzzing in their heads, but no means to prototype them. “You can either continue cribbing about the lack of maker spaces, or jump right in and start one on your own”.
We then had [Pavan] tell us about the various “studios” that they have set up. He was also excited to announce their addition to the world-wide MIT FabLab network. Their space is located right under the escalator that goes to the Halasuru Metro Station. The use of that space, which would other wise have been wasted and empty, itself is brilliant.
I stepped up and talked about the Hackaday Prize and our call to makers this year to “Build something that matters”. I showed off last years winners, this years prizes and gave out other details asking the assembled hackers to jump in and submit their hacks to the Hackaday Prize. Next up we had [Nihal], who founded IoT-BLR and talked to us about their projects, events and initiatives. IoT-BLR is the 3rd largest IoT-focused Meetup community in the world.
Pavan talking about the facilities at Workbench Projects
Anupama talking about how Workbench Projects started
Anool talking about the Hackaday Prize
With that done, we opened up the floor for the assembled hackers to come forth and talk about their hacks. First up was [Anmol Agrawal] who showed off his earthquake early warning system which was prototyped using Littlebits, PubNub and Ruby.
I was glad that at short notice, my friend [Mohammed Khasim], who works at Linnaro, agreed to drop by to talk about and show off the modular phone being developed by Google as part of Project Ara.
Project Ara – front
Project Ara – back
The all-girls team of [Kruti], [Chitra] and [Archana] showed off their intelligent cane for the blind. Five ultrasonic ping sensors, one light sensor and a camera are all hooked up to a Raspberry Pi running off a battery pack. The cane communicates with a paired smart phone and the app provides audio cues. There’s also a pager motor for haptic feedback.
[Rahul] and his team showed up with what looked like the Iron-Man Arc Reactor on a T-shirt. It turned out to be an HID device that could be used to send key presses back to a paired computer. Their next iteration was less flashy and unobtrusive. They are now working on using this to provide safety for school kids by allowing them to send alerts in case of an emergency.
[Chetan] and his team from EdgeVerve showed off the work they are doing with putting various sensors on drones – CO2, temperature, humidity, multi-spectral camera – to enable them to be used for some real world applications. They have also integrated collision avoidance using cheap ultrasonic sensors and a ballistic parachute which deploys during an emergency.
The IoT-BLR connected cars project team talked about their project to tap into on-board diagnostics on vehicles and use the various sensor data to control pollution.
[Kumar Abhishek] came down just in time to show us his BeagleLogic. I had written about this project on the blog earlier, and it was nice to be able to see it in action.
There were some more projects up for display. [Osho Bajpai] had a demo of his “Smart Driving alert system” which detects if driver is falling sleep and wakes him up. [Sanju Mathew] demo’ed his prosthetic arm while [Supreet Joshi] showed off his “Smart Robotic Arm” which replicates the movements of a human arm using a smart glove. On display was also a remote controlled skate board driven by a BLDC motor controlled via the ESC. It was also interesting to see a bunch of school kids wheel in their chopper-inspired bicycle which is still work in progress. Those kids are learning a lot in the process such as ergonomics and welding. [Abdul] showed off a couple of devices he is working on to help harness tidal energy from coastal areas. The team from WiSense showed off some network connected environmental sensors. One measures soil moisture and temperature and transmits data via text message over GSM. This is aimed for use by Farmers and alerts them to water their farms at the right time. Another sensor worked as a tank level detector and controlled flow rate to prevent over flow.
Chopper inspired Bicycle, built by school kids
Remote controlled Skate Board
Drone gets some attention
Supreet Joshi’s Smart Robotic Arm
11 year old Nihar Thakker’s solar powered fan Cap
Smart Driving alert system
By this time, it was quite late in the evening, so folks spent the next hour looking up the various projects, talking and getting selfies taken using the OpenSelfie photobooth that I had set up. [Rishi Bhatnagar] from Workbench Projects, who set the whole event in motion, managed to archive the evening’s proceedings and you can watch the (long) video after the break.
My wife Samata, with her LED necklace
We ran out of chairs – standing room in a packed house
Bangalore, India evokes different responses depending on whom you ask. Old timer’s remember it as the Pension/Retirement City (not any more though). For other’s, it’s the Silicon Valley of India. And some call it the start up capital of India. For me, though, it brings back fond old memories. This was the city where I got my first job after finishing College in Mumbai, at the princely sum of $20 a month way back in 1986.
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, and next month will find me back there at another awesome Maker Space called Workbench Projects, talking about the Hackaday Prize and how we can get hackers here to solve some of our big issues. We have huge problems in all sorts of areas – Pollution, Water resources, Energy, Climate, Agriculture, Transportation, Education – the list is long.
On Saturday, May 2nd, at Workbench Projects hackerspace we will gather for “Bring-A-Hack @ Workbench Projects” to talk about our passion for making and hacking. We’ll discuss the 2015 Hackaday Prize which offers $500,000 in prizes for hackers who can build solutions to problems faced by a wide-range of people. What does that really mean? That’s one of the topics of the evening. Of course there will be plenty of time to show off your own hacks, ask for advice on difficult projects, and to socialize with everyone that attends. Please visit the event page for all the details.
By utilizing parts easily sourced from scrapped TV sets, the BITX can be built for less than 300 Indian Rupee – or about $4.70 USD. In [Bill]’s own words, “Five bucks and some sweat equity gets you a device capable of worldwide communication.” He’s not kidding either. [Bill’s] first QSO was with a ham in the Azores Islands of Portugal.
[Bill] built his radio using the “Manhattan” building style, which we’ve seen before. Manhattan style uses rectangular pads glued down onto a copper ground plane. It makes for a more flexible design than regular old dead bug style building. Looking at all those components may be a bit daunting at first, but plenty of support is available. [Bill] has an 18 part build log on the soldersmoke website. There also is an active yahoo group dedicated to the BITX.