[Paul Breed] participated in this year’s Autonomous Vehicles Contest put on by SparkFun Electronics. As with most projects, the deadline really snuck up on him and he ended up cramming a bunch of code development into the waning days before the competition. His experiences are shared in this recent blog post.
One big part of the hardware is a laser range finder used for wall following. This is explained well in the video after the break, but you can see the side-pointing blue box in the image above. [Paul] also spent a lot of time preparing for the checkpoint portion of the course where the vehicle would need to pass through a red hoop. He worked long and hard on an image processing setup to find and navigate those hoops before learning that they would be positioned at known locations and it would be much easier to use a path following technique to complete the challenge.
He had a few follies along the way. At one point during debugging the car — which was connected to his laptop via Ethernet — it got away from him. This ripped the NIC right out of the back of his computer. And on the day of the event he had some low battery issues that zapped his laser calibrations. But [Paul] rolled with the punches and ended having what sounds like a really exciting experience participating in the contest.
Continue reading “Cramming for Sparkfun’s Autonomous Vehicle Competition”
It’s no secret that we’re fans of open source, and open hardware. And we have to applaud companies like SparkFun who also keep their customers in the loop about what’s going on with the business end of the company. For instance, they were recently contacted by a Sheriff’s office and asked for customer information and are sharing the story. One of their products had been used in a series of credit card skimmers and the officers wanted to get purchase information to track down the bad guys. SparkFun doesn’t just give out customer data and so was subsequently served with a subpoena.
The thing is, the document asks for all customer orders shipped to Georgia during a six month period. This seemed like it covered way too many orders, since the majority of them didn’t include the part in question. But the officials were willing to work with the company and narrowed the request to just the 20 or so orders that had the item in them.
It’s an interesting read, and we agree with SparkFun’s point about white hats and black hats. Often when posting about projects here we wonder about the potential to use the knowledge for no-good. But restricting the availability of knowledge (or hardware in this case) because of a few bad-actors is a concept we oppose. It’s like being a hacking super hero, with great skill comes great responsibility.
Sparkfun Electronics has launched an educational web site with a full curriculum of classes being held at Sparkfun Headquarters. If you don’t live nearby, no problem. You can download the entire curriculum as well. It appears that they will have a tutorial section for those who prefer a per-project approach, but that area is still “coming soon”. We love to see people educating others. Good job Sparkfun, looking forward to seeing more content on there.
We got word that it was coming, and now SparkFun has just announced that Free Day 2012 will take place on January 11th. This is the third time around for the purveyor of goodies for electronic enthusiasts. Each year the offer is a little different, but like in the past you stand to get $100 of free stuff!
The first Free Day back in 2010 saw a lot of hammering which left the SparkFun servers a steaming pile of slag. In 2011 they bolstered their bandwidth handling and tried a quiz-based system for the giveaway. This time around they’re not asking questions but leaving the awards up to chance. Each person has the opportunity to win a $100 credit during the contest window (not specifically announced yet, but definitely starting at 9AM MST on 1/11/2012). There will be some type of bot monitoring, but other than that you can try to claim your credit as many times as you want, with the awards being randomly assigned to a pool of entrants. We recommend you keep an eye on their announcements for more details, but we’ll try to keep this thread updated as we hear more.
Not wanting to wait that long for your components? Don’t miss some of the sales that are going on over this Holiday weekend.
If you happen to live near a Micro Center retail store, you are now lucky enough to have another choice when it comes to purchasing DIY electronics components – SparkFun is selling their products at all Micro Center retail outlets.
While it seems SparkFun announced this change in June, we’re seeing quite a bit of buzz on the topic today. We’re pretty sure their entire catalog won’t be available in store, but they are promising a “wide-range of SparkFun products at all 23 Micro Center locations across the country.”
Known for being very DIY-friendly when it comes to building your own PC, Micro Center was a logical choice for SparkFun. There are definitely times when you need/want a part right away rather than waiting for it to ship, so this seems to be an ideal situation for hackers and makers within range of a Micro Center retail store.
This announcement definitely has us wondering if this will be one of the final nails in the Radio Shack coffin. While Micro Center doesn’t have nearly the market penetration Radio Shack does, a wider selection of components and a friendly, knowledgeable staff makes the SparkFun/Micro Center combination is a compelling one.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments.
[Guilherme] picked up a SparkFun Button Pad and was taking a closer look at the device when he noticed that it was based off the ATMega328 microcontroller. Since he loves working with MIDI, he thought that the Button Pad would make a slick yet compact standalone MIDI controller.
Since his ultimate goal was to create a completely standalone controller aside from the power plug and MIDI interface, it forced him to work quite closely with the ATMega chip. He and his partners spent a good deal of time working through some serial communications issues so as not to block the LEDs or MIDI block timer during operation. Ensuring that the Arduino doesn’t block any other functions is obviously important when you are building a MIDI timer, and it seems [Guilherme] was successful in his quest.
The MIDI controller works quite nicely as you can see in the videos below, great job!
Continue reading “Beat707 LE: A Button Pad-based Standalone MIDI sequencer”
[Paul] wrote in to share a project he recently helped assemble, a huge rolling light sculpture with a ton of computer-controlled EL wire circuits. The sculpture recently featured as a float at the Starlight Parade held in Portland, Oregon.
Working alongside the folks from Hand Eye Supply, [Paul] helped design and build all 114 of the float’s electronic circuits. Almost 1000 feet of EL wire was used to light the massive float, all of which was controlled by 15 Sparkfun sequencer boards. The boards ran custom firmware he created in order to communicate with the lighting software that was chosen to run the show.
In the end, the float came out quite nicely, but it was not without its problems during the construction phase. [Paul] ran into tons of issues when using Sparkfun’s EL wire sequencers, and has put together a detailed list of corrections he made to the boards in order to get them working properly.
If you are interested in learning more about the project, you can check out this behind-the-scenes look at the float’s construction.