Hacker Abroad: Vietnam’s Hardware Hackers

One of the unfortunate things about Hackaday’s globe-spanning empire is that you often don’t get to meet the people you work with in person. Since I was in China and it’s right next door, I really wanted to pop over to Vietnam and meet Sean Boyce, who has been writing for Hackaday for a couple of years, yet we’ve never met. I suggested we could make this happen if we put together a meetup or unconference. Sean was immediately confident that the Ho Chi Minh City hardware hackers would turn out in force and boy was he right! On Sunday night we had a full house for the first ever Hackaday Vietnam Meetup.

A big thanks goes out to Fablab Saigon, who immediately championed the idea of this event to get the word out right away. Sean lined up the speakers, and booked an excellent venue: the third floor of a coffee shop with delicious drinks and desserts, but more importantly a great presentation space.

I started off the evening with a talk on some analog circuits I have been playing with, but the project that stole the show for the evening was this LED-enhanced backpack that Mạnh Quân built. There’s a vertical opening in the smaller pocket of the bag which hides a 10-inch length of WS2812 LED strip. It flashes patterns thanks to an STM32 dev board, one of those “blue pill” Maple mini clones. The funny thing is that everyone thought the bag was designed with a slit in it, but it turns out that Mạnh added the slit himself and made it look like it was always part of the design.

Next up, Mai Nguyen presented about her block printing. She got onto the project after being inspired by the amazing art work of block prints from a time when they were the cutting edge technology used for art — that’s what’s pictured here… I stared too long at her prints and forgot to snap photos of them. She has a process that utilizes a CNC machine to mill the block, with the rest of the process following the original technique.

Sean Boyce gave a talk about two robot projects he built. The big one has a standalone controller hacked together from parts left over from another project. The small one is controlled by your cellphone. The neat part of the talk is that Sean did a great job explaining how to set up a communications scheme for remote control systems so you don’t drive the robot off the table or into someone’s shin accidentally. He’s using UDP and sends out packets on a timing loop that is about every 75 milliseconds. Invalid commands throw execution to a failsafe mode.

We closed out the meetup with a trio of talks. Alex spoke about his company’s efforts to get a creative space called Dream Factory up and running which will serve as something between a hardware accelerator and an education-focused technology hub. Nguyễn Quốc Bảo made a presentation about the upcoming Arduino Day in HCMC, and the final talk was on adding a Raspberry Pi, speaker, camera, and other bits to create a smart doll.

There Should Always Be an Afterparty

As with most of our events, everyone  wanted to stay and geek out about hardware — which we got to do for about 45-minutes after the talks had finished. But the venue was closing and they had to kick us out, so it was on to the next spot. Heart of Darkness has great craft beer and they even ordered some pizzas for us from a place down the street.

I really don’t have a good way of expressing how crazy the scooter traffic is in HCMC. On foot, you wade slowly out into a raging current of motorbikes and hope the waters part in your favor. Driving in traffic is a different story. You can hit up Vimeo for some pretty good examples, but until you hop on the back of a scooter at night and drive down the street you can’t understand. Luckily Sean is a great driver, he has a second helmet, and I only thought about how stupid it was, rather than actually having a incident to regret.

As for interesting food, here’s a very thin, very well done egg that serves as the bowl for pork, shrimp, mung beans, and bean sprouts. Just wrap it in the lettuce shells and dip it in the sauce. I also had to try a beverage from a street cart. The mechanized wonder squeezes liquid from sugarcane. They pour it over ice, juice a couple of kumquats for flavor and send you on your way. Yum!

This was a short day to get started in Vietnam, but we made up for it by trying to do all the things on Monday. The topic of the next installment of Hacker Abroad includes visits to the hardware markets and electronics markets of Ho Chi Minh City, drinking three types of coffee, and eating our way through the city. See you soon!

4 thoughts on “Hacker Abroad: Vietnam’s Hardware Hackers

  1. Vietnam was great. I can recommend having a look at Hanoi as well. Not much electronics but tons of cool little hardware shops that are weirdly specialized in all kinds of things. One street was just full with shops that do nothing but signs that all had the same cnc in their shop. Others were only doing picture frames.

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