These Engineering Ed Projects are Our Kind of Hacks

Highly polished all-in-one gear for teaching STEM is one way to approach the problem. But for some, they can be intimidating and the up-front expenditure can be a barrier to just trying something before you’re certain you want to commit. [Miranda] is taking a different approach with the aim of making engineering education possible with junk you have around the house. The point is to play around with engineering concepts with having to worry about doing it exactly right, or with exactly the right materials. You know… hacking!

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LEGO Liquid Handler and Big Biology

A career as a lab biologist can take many forms, but the general public seems to see it as a lone, lab-coated researcher sitting at a bench, setting up a series of in vitro experiments by hand in small tubes or streaking out a little yeast on an agar plate. That’s not inaccurate at all – all of us lab rats have done time with a manual pipettor while trying to keep track of which tube in the ice bucket gets which solution. It’s tedious stuff.

But because biology experiments generally scale well, and because more data often leads to better conclusions, life science processes can quickly grow beyond what can be handled manually. I’ve seen this time and again in my 25 years in science, from my crude grad school attempts to miniaturize my assays and automate data collection to the multi-million dollar robotic systems I built in my career in the pharmaceutical industry. Biology can get pretty big in a hurry. Continue reading “LEGO Liquid Handler and Big Biology”

Lean Thinking Helps STEM Kids Build a Tiny Windfarm

When we see a new build by [Gord] from Gord’s Garage, we never know what to expect. He seems to be pretty skilled at whatever he puts his hand to, with a great design sense and impeccable craftsmanship. You might expect him to tone it down a little for a STEM-outreach wind turbine project then, but when you get a chance to impress 28 fifth and sixth graders, you might as well go for it.

98j6zpStarting with an idea from his daughter’s teacher for wind turbines each kid could make, [Gord] applied a little lean methodology so the kids would be able to complete the build in the allotted time. The design is simple – a couple of old CDs holding vertical sections of PVC tubing to catch the breeze and spin neodymium magnets over four flat coils of magnet wire. It’s enough to light a single LED and perhaps a kid’s imagination.

As simple as the turbine is, the process of building it needed to be stripped of as much unnecessary work as possible, and [Gord] really shines here. He built jigs and fixtures galore, pre-built some assemblies, and set up well-organized workstations for each step of the build. Everything was clearly labeled, adult volunteers were trained using the video after the break, and a good time was had by all.

Sometimes the hack isn’t in the product but in the process, and [Gord] managed to hack a success out a potential disaster of disappointed kids. If getting a taste of [Gord]’s style makes you want to see more, check out his guitar fretting jig or his brake rotor mancave clock.

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Mintomat: An Overcomplicated Gumball Machine

How do you get teenagers interested in science, technology, and engineering? [Erich]’s team at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences makes them operate three robots to get a gumball. The entire demonstration was whipped together in a few days, and has been field-repaired at least once; a green-wire fix was a little heavy on the solder and would short out to a neighboring trace when mechanical force was applied.

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Three of our Favorite Hackers

It’s one thing to pull off a hack, it’s another entirely to explain it so that everyone can understand. [Micah Elizabeth Scott] took a really complicated concept (power glitching attacks) and boiled a successful reverse engineering process into one incredible video. scanlime-power-smoothing-alterationsWe know, watching 30 minutes of video these days is a huge ask, just watch it and thank us later.

She explains the process of dumping firmware from a Wacom tablet by hacking what the USB descriptors share. This involves altering the power rail smoothing circuit, building her own clock control board to work with the target hardware and a ChipWhisperer, then iterating the glitch until she hones in on the perfect attack.

This, of course isn’t her first rodeo. Also known as [scanlime], she’s been on the scene in a big way for a while now. Check out more of her work, and perhaps congratulate her on recently being scooped up for a Principal Researcher role that we’d like to attribute in part to the hacks she’s been demoing online. You should also thank her for being a Hackaday Prize Judge in 2015 and 2016.

led-handbag-debra-ansel-geekmomprojects-closeupThis year we spotted [Debra Ansell] at Maker Faire, not as an exhibitor but an attendee taking her newest creation out in the wild. [Debra’s] LED matrix handbag is a marvel of fabrication — both design and execution are so great it is hard to believe this is not a commercially available product. But no, the one-of-a-kind bag uses woven leather strips spaced perfectly to leave room for WS2812 RGB LED modules to nestle perfectly. Look slike she even posted a tutorial since we last checked! If you don’t recognize her name, you might recognize her company: GeekMomProjects. She’s the person behind EtchABot, a robotic addendum to the diminutive pocket Etch a Sketch which [Debra] sells on Tindie.

troubleshooting-veronica-custom-6502-computer
The custom PCBs of Veronica (in troubleshoot mode)

Our fascination with [Quinn Dunki]’s work goes way way back. She has a software background but her hardware chops are to be admired. Recently we’ve delighted in her efforts to beef up the fabrication abilities of her shop. Want to know how to vet your new drill press — [Quinn] has you covered. We also enjoyed seeing her bring an inexpensive bandsaw up to snuff. There are too many other great hacks from [Quinn Dunki] to start naming them all. We’ll leave you with her amazing work on Veronica, the scratch-built 6502 computer that she brought with her for her Hackaday 10th Anniversary talk. Her avatar at the top is from one of her PCB etching tutorials.

Celebrating Ada Lovelace Day

Today is the second Tuesday in October — it’s Ada Lovelace day, a worldwide celebration of women in science and technology. The hackers above are some of our all-around favorites and we have featured all of their work frequently. Their impact on technology is undeniable, we give them much respect for their skills and accomplishments. We’d love to hear your own favorite examples of women who have incredible game when it comes to hardware hacking. Please let us know in the comments below.

Denver Mini Maker Faire Roundup

I had a great time at Denver’s 3rd annual Mini Maker Faire, which was held inside the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The official theme this year was “Building the Future” and looking back, I can tell you that they pulled the theme off well. There was a strong turnout in two categories that are crucial to building the future: the growth that comes from education at all ages and the physical places where learning becomes immersive.

The Really Fun Stuff

poison arrow[Casey] from Caustic Creations were showing off Poison Arrow just in time for season 2 of the BattleBots reboot. Poison Arrow is 250-lb. drum spinner that destroys things at 9,000 RPM. Here’s a nice introductory video shot by their sponsor, Arrow Electronics. [Casey] told me that Poison Arrow will be on the June 30th episode, so set your DVR.

Who knew that Colorado had so many maker- and hackerspaces? Colorado Makerhub, that’s who. They provide a portal to everything maker-related in Colorado, and they were in attendance along with most of the ‘spaces within a 50-mile radius of the city. Denver’s own Denhac brought a huge multiplayer rig that they had built for Comic Con last year. It runs Artemis, a spaceship bridge simulator game that divides up the tasks necessary for successful intergalactic travel. Here’s a video of Denhac member [Radio Shack] describing the game and giving a tour of one of the consoles. The group landed a space in one of the darker areas of the museum, which made the blinkenlights irresistible, especially to boys of a certain age range.

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Foster a Robot, Explore Your Home Planet

The robots we’ve sent to explore other worlds in our stead are impressive feats of engineering. But stuck at the bottom of our gravity well as we are, they are fantastically expensive ventures that are out of reach of the DIY community. There’s still plenty to explore right in your own backyard, though, and this robot needs your help to explore planet Earth.

The project is called RoboSpatium, and it’s the brainchild of [Norbert Heinz]. The idea is a little like HitchBot except it will be sent from host to host by mail. (And it’s an actual robot, and not just brains in a bucket.) Hopefully each host will have something interesting for the robot to do for the 24 hours allotted, like explore a local landmark, get a robot-eye view of the goings on in a hackerspace, or just watch the sunset in some beautiful spot. Project participants will get to drive the robot via a web interface and do a little virtual exploration of a part of the world they might never otherwise get to see.

We gather that the robot in the video below is only a prototype at this point, and that the sensor suite and mechanicals have yet to be sorted out. Hackaday regulars will no doubt know [Norbert] better as the excellently accented [HomoFaciens], creator of dumpster-sourced CNC machines, encoders made from tin can lids and wheels of resistors, and a potentially self-replicating CNC plotter. [Norbert] has the hacker chops to pull this off, and we think it’s a pretty neat idea with the potential to engage and educate a lot of people. We think it could do with a little support from the Hackaday community.

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