Hackaday 10th Anniversary: Demoscenes and Blink(1)

There were two LA hackerspaces represented at our 10th anniversary party, and members from both of them were able to give a talk on the projects coming out of their labs. [Arko] from null space labs showed up with a few of his creations including CUBEX, his high altitude balloon payload and a demoscene board he’s been working on. [Tod] from Crashspace showed up with the rest of the Crash crew and helped out with the morning build-offs and labs.

A Demoscene Board

Demoscenes, for one reason or another, aren’t extremely popular in the US. In Europe, you can find teams working on programatically generated music videos year-round, coded for Commodore 64s, Amigas, even stranger computers, and x86 assembly. There’s an art to the whole thing, but for those of us on this side of the pond, there aren’t many venues to demonstrate impeccable graphics programming skill.

[Arko] wants to change this. He’s designed a demoscene board around a PIC micro with hardware graphics acceleration, USB OTG, VGA out at 640×480, and an audio out port. It’s meant to be a platform to create demos on, and already [Arko] has ported the famous Craft demo from [lft] to his platform. Edit: the Craft demo was playing on the older ATmega88 version of the board. The PIC board is a little more capable.

Being that there are so few Demo parties in the US, only building a board to play demos would be just a bit shortsighted. [Arko]’s main reason for giving this talk was to tell everyone about the LayerOne Demoparty next year just a few miles from the Hackaday Hackaspace. It coincides with the LayerOne conference, and the board itself will soon be available for sale in the Hackaday store.

Blink(1) and How To Kickstarter

When it comes to electronics and tech Kickstarters, Blink(1) defines what it means to have a minimum viable product. It’s a USB plug, a small microcontroller, and an RGB LED. That’s it. [Tod] wanted to take this simple project and learn how to turn it into a product. [Tod] emphasised the ‘learn’ part of his plan; the alternate title for this talk was, “How to Fail Multiple Times and Still Ship 20,000 Units.”

The Blink(1) started as a standard My First Arduino Sketch, blinking three LEDs, quickly moving over to a USB LED device. This rather large USB dongle sat there for a few years until he decided to turn this into a product. It turned out building a product is a lot more involved than building a kit, with considerations to the enclosure, the packaging, and the inevitable CNC mold fails. Assembly – and the success of his first Kickstarter – was also an issue. [Tod]’s friends ended up assembling most of the kits.

Despite these problems, [Tod] was still able to ship a few thousand units and is now working on another production run with SeeedStudio. It’s a remarkable story, with the Blink(1) used by Google, Disney, Microsoft, Facebook, and a whole bunch of other huge companies. The Blink(1) is also in the mainline Linux kernel, something you can’t say about a lot of Kickstarters out there.

Scribble and the Failings of Tech Journalism

The Scribble Pen, you may remember, is a project by bay area startup Scribble Technology that puts a color sensor and multiple ink reservoirs in a pen. We’ve talked about it before, right after they cancelled their Kickstarter campaign after netting 366% of their original goal.

Yes, they cancelled their campaign after being successfully funded. To Kickstarter’s credit, the Scribble team was asked to provide a better video of the pen demonstrating its capabilities. The team pulled the plug on the campaign, saying they’ll be back soon.

Here is the new campaign. The attentive reader will notice the new campaign is not a Kickstarter project; instead, it is a Tilt campaign. What is Tilt? It’s a platform that allows for crowdfunding, fundraising, pooling, and other ‘many wallets into one’ Internet-based projects. It’s actually not a bad idea if you’re raising funds for a charity or the Jamaican bobsled team. For crowdfunded product development, caveat emptor doesn’t quite cover it.

With more than $200,000 in the bank, you would think the questions asked in many comments on the old Kickstarter would be answered. They were. Scribble put up a new video showing the pen drawing different colors of ink on a piece of paper. This video was faked. [Ch00f] at Drop Kicker took apart the new video frame by frame and found these – ahem – scribbles were inserted in post production. The video has since been replaced on the Tilt campaign page, but evidence of Scribble deleting comments questioning this exists.

Any idea of the Scribble pen being real has been put to bed. Kickstarter threatened to remove the campaign if a better video could not be produced within 24 hours. The Scribble team cancelled their campaign to regroup and put together a better video. In two weeks, the team was only able to produce a faked video. The Scribble pen does not exist.

Case closed, you might think. Digging into videos frame by frame will tell you a lot, but it won’t give you the full picture. We know what happened with the Scribble pen, but very little about the who, why, and how this huge, glaringly obvious fraud occurred. Before we get to that, hold on to your hats – it only gets shadier from here on out.

Continue reading “Scribble and the Failings of Tech Journalism”

Sparkfun Ships 2000 MicroViews Without Bootloaders

microview-fail

Everyone has a bad day right? Monday was a particularly bad day for the folks at Sparkfun. Customer support tickets started piling up, leading to the discovery that they had shipped out as many as 1,934 MicroViews without bootloaders.

MicroView is the tiny OLED enabled, Arduino based, microcontroller system which had a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign earlier this year. [Marcus Schappi], the project creator, partnered up with SparkFun to get the MicroViews manufactured and shipped out to backers. This wasn’t a decision made on a whim, Sparkfun had proven themselves by fulfilling over 11,000 Makey Makey boards to backers of that campaign.

Rather than downplay the issue, Sparkfun CEO [Nathan Seidle] has taken to the company blog to explain what happened, how it happened, and what they’re going to do to make it right for their customers. This positions them as the subject of our Fail of the Week column where we commiserate instead of criticize.

First things first, anyone who receives an affected MicroView is getting a second working unit shipped out by the beginning of November. Furthermore, the bootloaderless units can be brought to life relatively easily. [Nate] provided a hex file with the correct bootloader. Anyone with an Atmel AVR In-System Programming (ISP) programmer and a steady hand can bring their MicroView to life. Several users have already done just that. The bootloader only has to be flashed via ISP once. After that, the MicroView will communicate via USB to a host PC. Sparkfun will publish a full tutorial in a few weeks.

Click past the break to read the rest of the story.

Continue reading “Sparkfun Ships 2000 MicroViews Without Bootloaders”

The Hema-Imager: Accessible Thermal Imaging for Smart Devices

cb889cb579f945863e6dc7e9ec67b07e_large

[Erik] began working on this project a few years back to help him improve his electronics skills. Now, after meeting an electronic’s manufacturer through LinkedIn, he is ready to get his device out into the market through a Kickstarter campaign. If successful, the technology will be shipped out and deployed in areas of construction, manufacturing, hospitals and emergency services; all of which could utilize the heat-mapping potential of this affordable device.

In addition to commercial uses, this product can assist in the reduction of household energy consumption by locating areas of heat loss. Without thermal imaging, the initial source of these types of drafts and airflows can be extremely hard to pinpoint. Abnormal equipment heating can also be found as well. For instance, electrical panels can overheat with loose or poorly attached connections.

Now, Hema-Imager is not the only product that is surfacing through crowd funding campaigns. MuOptics, for example, has raised over $280,000 through Indiegogo in 2013 without having to show an actual working product, barely even showing a 3D modeled prototype. Yet, they still achieved their goal, opening up the door for another device like the Hema-Imager to come in and raise a similar amount of money. The differences between the two can be seen on the Hema-Imager’s Kickstarter page.

[Thanks for the tip Enn!]

After the break is a video of [Erik] describing the Hema-Imager project along with a fire fighter’s point of view:

Continue reading “The Hema-Imager: Accessible Thermal Imaging for Smart Devices”

Circuit Printer Doubles as a Pick and Place

Squink PCB printer and Pick and Place

Prototyping circuits is still a pain. The typical process is to order your PCBs, await their arrival, hand assemble a board, and start testing. It’s time consuming, and typically takes at least a week to go from design to prototype.

The folks at BotFactory are working on fixing that with the Squink (Kickstarter warning). This device not only prints PCBs, but also functions as a pick and place. Rather than using solder, the device uses conductive glue to affix components to the substrate.

This process also allows for a wide range of substrates. Traditional FR4 works, but glass and flexible substrates can work too. They’re also working on using an insulating ink for multilayer boards.

While there are PCB printers out there, and the home etching process always works, building the board is only half the battle. Hand assembly using smaller components is slow, and is prone to mistakes. If this device is sufficiently accurate, it could let us easily prototype complex packages such as BGAs, which are usually a pain.

Of course it has its limitations. The minimum trace width is 10 mils, which is a bit large. Also at $2600, this is an expensive device to buy sight unseen. While it is a Kickstarter, it’d be nice to see an all in one device that can prototype circuits quickly and cheaply.

Scribble: Wait, Kickstarter Is Vetting Projects Now?

PenFirst rule of reading anything: if a headline is an interrogative, the answer is a resounding ‘no’. This might be the one exception to that rule.

This Kickstarter is actually fairly interesting. Not because it’s an obvious scam, mind you, as there’s very, very little to actually call a scam. It’s noteworthy because it was on track to be a highly successful campaign but it was shut down by the creators just days after its launch.

Before getting to the unsavoriness of this Kickstarter campaign, a little bit of history is in order. Several years ago and before crowd funding was a thing, a designer came up with a rather clever if completely improbable idea: a color picking pen. Simply hold the end of a pen up to an object, press a button, and using technology and/or magic the pen now writes in that color. There are obvious shortcomings in the design like using red, green, and blue ink cartridges for color mixing – a classic case of confusing additive and subtractive color models. Still, this is just a design concept and over the years the idea of a color sensing pen that mixes ink has bounced around the Internet. With enough people willing to throw money at their screens in the hopes of actually getting a product as interesting as this, you just know it’s going to be on Kickstarter sooner or later.

Enter the Scribble Pen. Yes, it’s the same idea as the 5+ year-old color picking pen, with a few of the technical challenges already addressed. They’re using a CMYK (plus White) color model that can theoretically reproduce just about any color, and do so on any color paper. How are they doing this? I have no idea, but the whole campaign is super, super sketchy.

Continue reading “Scribble: Wait, Kickstarter Is Vetting Projects Now?”

VRcade’s The Nightmare Machine (Kickstarter Campaign)

vrcade2

Aiming to be the leader in Virtual Reality horror experiences is the immersive VR haunted house in Seattle called ‘The Nightmare Machine’ which promises to be one of the most terrifying events this Halloween. But they need some assistance raising money to achieve the type of scale on a large public level that the project is attempting. The goal is $70,000 within a 30 day period which is quite the challenge, and the team will need to hustle every single day in order to accomplish it.

Yet the focus of the project looks good though, which is to lower the massive barriers of entry in VR that are associated with high hardware costs and provide people with a terrifying 5 minutes of nightmare-inducing experiences. This type of fidelity and range is usually only seen in military research facilities and university labs, like the MxR Lab at USC. And, their custom-built head mounted displays bring out this technology into the reach of the public ready to scare the pants off of anyone willing to put on the VR goggles.

The headsets are completely wireless, multi-player and contain immersive binaural audio inside. A motion sensing system has also been integrated that can track movements of the users within hundreds of square feet. Their platform is a combination of custom in-house and 3rd party hardware along with a slick software framework. The technology looks amazing, and the prizes given out through the Kickstarter are cool too! For example, anyone who puts in $175 or more gets to have their head 3D scanned and inserted into the Nightmare Machine. The rest of the prices include tickets to the October showcase where demos of the VR experience will be shown.

Continue reading “VRcade’s The Nightmare Machine (Kickstarter Campaign)”