We Have a Problem: Mass Versus Local Production

Hackaday, we have a problem. We’re trying to engineer a brighter future; a task that calls for a huge mental leap. This week, instead of discussing a concrete problem, let’s gather around the digital campfire to gnaw on a thought exercise. In thinking abstractly I hope we’ll trigger a slew of ideas you can use as your entry in the 2015 Hackaday Prize in which you can win a Trip to Space or hundreds of other prizes.

Shipping Mass Produced vs. Producing Locally

This morning I was reading an interesting story about an email server that couldn’t deliver message to any ISP physically located more than 500 miles away. In that case it turns out that the limiting factor was misconfiguration and the speed of light. But it got me thinking about things we transport in bulk versus things being transported individually. I often think about the transport of finished goods and compare where we are now to the fabrication visions [Neal Stephenson] talked about in his novel The Diamond Age. In that picture of the future, it is common building blocks of matter that are delivered to every home and business and not finished goods. Interesting.

What kind of resources are consumed in local production versus centralized mass production? Is there merit in using technology to change the way we’ve always done some things? Certainly there will not be one answer for everything so let’s talk about a few examples that might be done differently.

Scenario #1: You send a greeting card with your hand-written message to your mother for her Birthday.

handwritten-message-cardThe way things work right now, you go to the store and pick out a card. You write a personal message inside, lick, stamp, and send it through the mail. The thing is, this card is probably already in a store down the street from your mother. What if you could digitize your handwritten message and have it printed on the card and delivered from a local repository? Take it a step further, assuming that these cards are bulk-printed in one central location and distributed widely, does it save any resources to decentralize the production of the cards and make production local so that the finished goods are not being transported more than 500 miles? And for those skeptics saying that you can’t add a check or cash to the card when done this way… yes you can!

Scenario #2: The meal is finished and just as you close the door to the dishwasher you hear a horrible crack as the plastic latch that holds the door closed breaks.

Recycled household appliancesStandard practice is that the part be ordered from a parts supplier (either by you or by a serviceman). These suppliers keep a stock of common parts which are well documented in a huge library of service manuals for the myriad of home appliances out there. But when you get right down to it, it’s just a little plastic bauble. Let’s assume all of these are made in a single factory in huge production runs that supply both the manufacturer and the legacy parts houses. What if instead of this you could have these parts 3D printed by a business within 500 miles of where they are needed. There are industrial-grade 3D printing techniques that produce parts strong enough to act as a replacement. Where do you come down on resource saving between the two methods?

Scenario #∞: It’s your turn to come up with an example.

We want to hear your ideas on local production versus centralized mass production. Don’t be afraid to share half-baked ideas. The entire point of We Have a Problem is to spark civil debate on issue which could lead to world-changing solutions. Help us start the idea mill and jump on to see where it takes us. Don’t forget to carry the inspiration you find into your entry for the Hackaday Prize.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Nocturnal Solar Light Bulb Saves Your Lungs

India has a bit of a problem with electricity. In fact, over 74 million rural households live without power altogether. Instead they rely on burning fuel for light — and coincidentally, inhaling harmful smoke. Not to mention fuel isn’t cheap. [Debasish Dutta] wants to change this — so he came up with yet another solar powered light that is a low-cost alternative.

It’s a very simple light made out of a cheap Tupperware container, a 2V solar panel, a white LED, a rechargeable AA or AAA battery, a photo diode and a Joule thief (voltage boosting IC). One day of charging can provide approximately 20-22 lumens for the entire night of operation. While it doesn’t seem like much, a typical kerosene lamp puts out less than half that brightness.

And with the photo diode, it automatically turns on at night, and off during the day. A coat hanger doubles as both a stand for charging, and a hook for hanging it at night.

[Dabasish] says this is just the beginning and has a website dedicated to creating green energy and sharing it with the world. Video below.

Continue reading “Nocturnal Solar Light Bulb Saves Your Lungs”

2015 THP Inspiration: Renewable Energy

Most of our energy comes from dead algae or dead ferns right now, and we all know that can’t continue forever. The future is by definition sustainable, and if you’re looking for a project to change the world for this year’s Hackaday Prize, you can’t do better than something to get the world off carbon-based fuels.

mhqyqz7The simplest solar builds can be as fun as a redneck hot tub – a solar thermal water heater repurposed into a heated swimming pool with the help of a pump and JB Weld. You can even build a hose-based version for $100. They can be as useful as a Maximum Power Point Tracking charger for a solar setup – a few bits of electronics that ensure you’re getting the most out of your solar cells. You can, of course, access solar power in a roundabout way with a wind generator built from a washing machine and a 555 timer.

carben-mainGetting energy from the sun is one thing, and putting it to use is another thing entirely. We spend a lot of energy on transportation, and for that there’s a solar power bike, an electric scooter, or a completely open source electric car.

Building the machines that make sustainable energy possible or even just the tools that will let us use all that energy are just a few ideas that would make great entries for The Hackaday Prize. You could go another direction and build the tools that will build and maintain these devices, like figuring out a way to keep these batteries and generators out of the landfill. Any way you look at it, anything that actually matters  would make a great entry to The Hackaday Prize.

2015 THP Inspiration: The Environment

It’s not as flashy as Tesla coils or electric vehicles going 200 mph, but the environment is more important than a bunch of cool baubles and sparks flying everywhere. When it comes to this year’s Hackaday Prize, you’re going to need a project that matters, and what’s a better way to do it than with something to help the environment?

While not traditionally a domain that rocks people’s socks, there are a lot of cool builds that can help the environment like this hyperspectral imager that’s a mashup of a spectrometer and a camera, or something that takes an image of an object, complete with the spectral data of each pixel. It’s useful for everything from farming, to forestry, to medicine.

aquaponicsPerhaps you want to get your hands messy by mucking about in the dirt. You’ll probably find something interesting to build for this year’s Hackaday Prize, like the modular farmer’s market we saw in Detroit last year. How about an urban farming and aquaponics setup? Tilapia do well in giant buckets, you know.

If robots are more your speed, then how about an RC tractor or an entire robotic farm? You could always eradicate invasive plants with a quadcopter if flying around is more suited to your expertise. There are plenty of ways to do something that matters for this year’s Hackaday prize, but we’d be lying if we had all the answers. That’s where you come in with your entry for The Hackaday Prize.

2015 THP: Judges and Sponsors

And now it’s time to recognize a big part what makes the Hackaday Prize possible: our Judges and our Sponsors. First up are the Judges. We are fortunate again this year to be joined by top experts from around the world. We are going to briefly touch on each in this post, but you really should hit the Judge’s page for bios and links on everyone.

New Judges in 2015

We have seven judges new to the panel this year:

We love seeing a project pic used as an avatar and [Akiba] of freaklabs didn’t disappoint; we covered that project in 2013. [Pete Dokter], known well for According to Pete, joins us from Sparkfun. [Lenore Edman] and [Windell Oskay] are the force behind Evil Mad Scientist Labs. [Heather Knight] of Marilyn Monrobot is finishing her PhD in Robots at Carnegie Mellon. [Ben Krasnow] should need no introduction; formerly of Valve, currently of Google[x], and always of Applied Science. [Micah Scott] is artist/engineer/hacker and her Blu-Ray drive RE work is among our most favorite of 2014 hacks.

Returning Judges

Five of our friends from the 2014 Hackaday Prize are returning this year:

We have a hard time calling the founder of Adafruit anything other than [Ladyada] but you may know her as [Limor Fried]. The hardware design site The Ganssle Group is spearheaded by [Jack Ganssle]. You know [Dave Jones] from his electronics design and reverse engineering videos on EEVblog and also from the Amp Hour podcast. [Ian Lesnet] is a Hackaday alum, creator of Dangerous Prototypes, and expert regarding manufacturing in China. And finally, [Elecia White] is an extraordinary embedded engineer, founder of Logical Elegance, and the Embedded podcast.

Welcome back, and so happy to have the new Judges this year!

2015 Hackaday Prize Sponsors


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is presented by Supplyframe (parent company of Hackaday). This year we have added five giants of the hardware world as sponsors. We don’t recall having seen so many major players come together for a single initiative. We’re excited that they share our vision of supporting design initiatives. Please thank them by following their Hackaday.io pages: Atmel, Freescale Semiconductor, Microchip, Mouser Electronics, and Texas Instruments. Thank you sponsors!

The Making Of The Hackaday Prize Video

As you’re probably aware, there’s a video announcing the launch of The Hackaday Prize blocking the front page of Hackaday right now. This is by design, and surprisingly we haven’t gotten any complaints saying, ‘not a hack’ yet. I’m proud of you. Yes, all of you.

Making this video wasn’t easy. The initial plans for it were something along the lines of the new Star Wars trailer. Then we realized we could do something cooler. The idea still had Star Wars in it, but we were going for the classics, and not the prequels. As much as we love spending two hours watching a movie about trade disputes, we needed to go to Tatooine.

QV4A4035I just wanted to go to Toshi station

This meant building a prop. We decided on the moisture vaporators from Uncle Owen’s farm. It’s a simple enough structure to build at the Hackaspace in a weekend, and could be broken down relatively easily for transport to the shooting site. I’ve created a hackaday.io project for the actual build, but the basic idea is a few pieces of plywood, an iron pipe for the structural support, and some Coroplast and spray paint to make everything look like it’s been sitting underneath two suns for several decades.

Oh, I was the only person at the hackaspace that knew what greebles were. That’s not pertinent in any way, I’d just like to point that out.

The Suit

The vaporator is the star of the show, but we also rented a space suit. No one expected teflon-covered beta cloth when we were calling up costume rental places, but the suit can really only be described as a space-suit shaped piece of clothing. The inlet and outlet ports are resin, and the backpack is a block of foam. If anyone knows where we can get an Orlan spacesuit, or even a NASA IVA or Air Force high altitude suit, let us know.


[Matt Berggren] led the prop build and starred in the assembly footage. [Aleksandar Braic] and [Rich Hogben] rented a ridiculous amount of camera equipment. On set for the hijinks was [Aleksandar “Bilke” Bilanovic], [Brian Benchoff] (me), [Jasmine Bracket], [Sophi Kravitz], and [Mike Szczys].

Hacklet 34 – Satellite Projects

Space. The final frontier. Every tinkerer, hacker, and maker has dreamed of flying out of Earth’s atmosphere and into the heavens. Last year one hard-working team got a chance to fly a member to space by winning the Hackaday prize. For the rest of us, we can still experience some of that excitement by contacting satellites in orbit, or even sending a bit of our own hardware into space. This week’s Hacklet focuses on the best satellite projects on Hackaday.io!

basicSatWe start with [movax] and Your satellite devkit and launch. Chipsat is a tiny satellite which runs BASIC code. Yes, BASIC in space! Chipsats will be stacked into a launcher and sent off into space in groups. The idea is to eventually have them launched from the International Space Station. Power is provided by a small solar cell which charges up a pair of super capacitors. When the capacitors are charged, the satellite will run for a few seconds. Connectivity with the ground is via a 433 MHz link. Chipsat doesn’t just float in space, three coils give it the ability to control its attitude and rotation. Chipsat will sense the space around it with a magnetometer and a light sensor.



No satellite-themed Hacklet would be complete without [Pierros Papadeas] and his team’s work on SatNOGS – Global Network of Ground Stations. SatNOGS aims to create a global network of connected satellite ground stations. Think of it as a grass-roots version of NASA’s deep space network for satellites in earth orbit. This is more than just a great idea, as SatNOGS won the 2014 Hackaday Prize. You can check out our coverage of the project back in November, 2014. Since then, the SatNOGS team has been busy! They’ve just deployed the first SatNOGS V2 system above their hackerspace in Athens, Greece.

trsiNext up is TRSI PocketQub Satellite, another project by [movax]. TRSI is a satellite that sends data via images which can be viewed with a simple RTL-SDR stick using Hellschreiber mode. Hell mode means that images can be directly viewed in the waterfall display of whichever SDR application is running the receiver. Numbers or entire images snapped with TRSI’s cell phone style camera module can be encoded and displayed. Power is of course provided by solar cells, and the communications link will be on the coordinated 433 MHz band. The original TRSI hardware has actually morphed into a deployment machine for ChipSat, [morvax’s] other satellite project. He’s put the main TRSI program on hold until after the ChipSat campaign is complete.

pocketquRounding out our satellite special is [OzQube] with his project QubeCast Max. QubeCast is the first Australian version of the PocketQube PQ60 satellite form factor. After watching the success of $50Sat project, [OzQube] wanted to design a satellite of his own. Since he wanted to add sensors and send more data back to Earth than previous efforts, he needed a higher data rate than the current crop of satellites. This meant going to a high-powered radio. To achieve this, he’s using a  NiceRF RF4463F30 radio module. The module is based upon a Silicon Labs Si4463 RF ISM band chip, coupled with a power amplifier. The module outputs 1 watt, which is quite a bit of power for a tiny satellite!

Want more satellite goodness? Check out Hackaday.io’s freshly minted Satellite List.

The countdown is almost at 0, so that’s just about all the time we have for this episode of the Hacklet. See you next week.  Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!