Design For Hackers

Near the end of the lifecycle of mass-market commercial product development, an engineering team may come in and make a design for manufacturability (DFM) pass. The goal is to make the device easy, cheap, and reliable to build and actually improve reliability at the same time. We hackers don’t usually take this last step, because when you’re producing just a couple of any given device, it hardly makes sense. But when you release an open-source hardware design to the world, if a lot of people re-build your widget, it might be worth it to consider DFM, or at least a hardware hacker’s version of DFM.

If you want people to make their own versions of your project, make it easy and cheap for them to do so and don’t forget to also make it hackable. This isn’t the same as industrial DFM: rather than designing for 100,000s of boards to be put together by robot assembly machines, you are designing for an audience of penny-pinching hackers, each building your project only once. But thinking about how buildable your design is will still be worthwhile.

In this article, I’m going to touch on a couple of Design for Hackers (DFH) best practices. I really want to hear your experience and desires in the comments. What would you like to see in someone else’s open designs? What drives you nuts when replicating a project? What tricks do you know to make a project easily and cheaply buildable by the average hacker?

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Oscillating Pneumatic Mechanism Doesn’t Need A Purpose

It’s true that a lot of the projects we feature here (and build ourselves) are created to accomplish some sort of goal. But, many times┬áthe project itself is the goal. That’s the case with [Proto_G’s] self-oscillating pneumatic machine, which he built with no particular use in mind.

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Robo Hobo Bamboozles Passers-By

Robots are increasingly seeing the world outside of laboratories and factories, and most of us think we would be able to spot one relatively quickly. What if you walked past one on the street — would you recognize it for what it was? How long would it take for you to realize that homeless organ grinder was a robot?

The brainchild of [Fred Ables], Dirk the homeless robot will meander through a crowd, nodding at passers-by and occasionally — with a tilt of his hand — ask for change, churning out a few notes on his organ for those who oblige him. [Ables] controls Dirk’s interactions with others remotely from nearby, blending into the crowds that flock to see the lifelike automaton, selling the illusion that Dirk is a real human. This is often effective since — as with most homeless people — pedestrians won’t spare Dirk a second glance; the reactions of those who don’t pass him over range from confusion to anger or mirth over being so completely duped before looking for the puppeteer.

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