Hackaday’s Open Hardware Summit Experience

Last week was the Open Hardware Summit in Denver Colorado. This yearly gathering brings together the people and businesses that hold Open Hardware as an ideal to encourage, grow, and live by. There was a night-before party, the summit itself which is a day full of talks, and this year a tour of a couple very familiar open hardware companies in the area.

I thought this year’s conference was quite delightful and am happy to share with you some of the highlights.

Talks I Enjoyed: Textiles and Password Case Law

I really had fun with the keynote that kicked off the summit. Pamela Liou spoke about her work developing Doti, an open source table top Jacquard Loom. Ask yourself, what do you know about textiles? Do you know how the fabric you’re wearing was woven and what type of machine did the weaving? Pamela drove home the point that there used to be a huge number of people working in the textiles industry who embodied this type of knowledge, but that it is being lost. This doesn’t stop at fabrics, the knowledge is used elsewhere in technology and manufacturing. One interesting example is the textile know-how that went into magnetic core memory manufacturing during the space race.

I’m going to limit myself to raving about two talks. The other was from Stephanie Lacambra who is an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Admittedly, this talk strays a bit from Open Hardware, but who doesn’t want to hear about whether you have the right to refuse handing over passwords to law enforcement? It’s not so much the answer to that question that I enjoyed, but Stephanie’s dive into the past case-law that helps to answer the question. Currently there is a lot of precedent that your passwords are not protected by free speech. But there are a few cases out there, and the EFF is working toward establishing precedent of passwords as a form of free speech that you cannot be compelled to hand over.

There are live feeds of the talks. Sound is a bit rough, and unfortunately cuts out during the first ten minutes of Stephanie’s talk, but if you really want it you can relive what was presented at the summit.

Vendor Tables

Likely the most crowded table was the Autodesk EAGLE table. They did the badge for Open Hardware Summit which was — wait for it — a fidget spinner in the shape of the Open Hardware logo. Everyone got a badge along with two stacks of solder paste stencils to take home. If you wanted to do some spinning, assembly was up to you.

Many of our favorites were on hand. Jason Kridner was showing off all of the hardware prototypes leading up to the PocketBeagle (he’s hosting a Hack Chat on the topic this Friday). Michael Ossmann was there with HackRF, live streaming what can be heard on the spectrum. He and Dominic Spill are speaking at Supercon next month. The OSH Park table was not only showing off a PCB panel as their signage, but had our favorite SMD solder challenge boards on hand. And Form Labs brought along some 3D printed molds used to cast complex cable-controlled robot fingers. Neat!

Here’s Jasmine and Brian at the Tindie table. Tindie’s sponsor swag was a Tindie hardware badge in every goodie bag. Supplyframe also sponsored with FindChipsPro. Here’s Shulie and Katie at that table talking about Hackaday Prize and the open hardware accounts FindChipsPro has for anyone who’s entered this year’s Hackaday Prize. Sophi and I are behind the camera in these shots and all six of us managed to get around and experience the summit while still keeping the tables active.

Sparkfun Tour

The day after the summit, Sparkfun and Lulzbot organized buses to tour their facilities. The Sparkfun tour was enjoyable to the point that I didn’t realize it had ended and was sad. There were enough people on the tour that we split into three groups and I started out first in the classroom area with a wall-mounted audio player using conductive-paint, a giant NES controller and RC sumo bots (not pictured). The next move was the shop where obstacles for the 2017 Autonomous Vehicles Competition are being fabricated. AVC will be part of Denver Maker Faire this coming weekend.

The tour of the production floor was a real treat. Sparkfun has two lines set up. They start with a solder paste machine which stencils paste onto the PCBs. The crowd ogled the huge pick and place machine that comes next. The boards then go on the conveyor belt through the oven — it had a humorous sign for the operator which can be seen above. Not pictured here is a selective soldering machine which is used for through-hole components. Almost all of the products are then finished by going through the washing machine to remove flux.

The racks of component reels stand adjacent to the assembly lines. I believe this gentleman was doing inventory while we were there. After finished boards are washed they are tested. Check out the racks of test jigs shown above! After testing, products are stocked until ordered at which point they’re placed in a red box and sent out to happy hackers everywhere.

Lulzbot Tour

For me the most interesting part of the Lulzbot tour is this 155-node 3D printer room. Right now all of the plastic parts on Lulzbot’s printer are printed by Lulzbot printers in this room. It’s kept around 80 degrees and each printer also has its own enclosure in the rack. As new printers are developed they rotate into this cluster which helps test their performance over time.

The assembly floor has numerous printers in many states of completion. As each is completed, a test print of the Lulzbot octopus is printed. If this calibration print isn’t up to standards the problem is fixed and another print is made for shipping to the customer. Here you can see Brian Benchoff inspecting some of the failed octopus prints which are kept to help train employees to spot and remedy print problems.

The tour took us through the 3D print showroom which had a huge number of prints on display. My eye was immediately drawn to a light fixture which showed off some art that doesn’t look like much until light is shined through it and then it takes on amazing shading and depth. Very cool!

I did shoot a quick and dirty video walking around two sides of this room. All of the different models Lulzbot has made through the years are shown off in various states of advancement. If you’re an aficionado of their equipment you may find it quite interesting.

Thank You Open Source Hardware Association

The summit itself, as well as meetups at night and the tours the day after made for an incredible visit to Denver. Congratulations and thank yous go out to the Open Source Hardware Association who plan and host the event, and help act as stewards of the Open Hardware world.

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