Hands-On the Shaper Origin: A Tool That Changes How We Build

I bet the hand saw really changed some things. One day you’re hacking away at a log with an ax. It’s sweaty, awful work, and the results are never what you’d expect. The next day the clever new apprentice down at the blacksmith’s shop is demoing his beta of his new Saw invention and looking for testers, investors, and a girlfriend. From that day onward the work is never the same again. It’s not an incremental change, it’s a change. Pure and simple.

This is one of those moments. The world of tools is seeing a new change, and I think this is the first of many tools that will change the way we build.

Like most things that are a big change, the components to build them have been around for a while. In fact, most of the time, the actual object in question has existed in some form or another for years. Like a crack in a dam, eventually someone comes up with the variation on the idea that is just right. That actually does what everything else has been promising to do. It’s not new, but it’s the difference between crude and gasoline.

My poetic rasping aside, the Shaper Origin is the future of making things. It’s tempting to boil it down and say that it’s a CNC machine, or a router. It’s just, more than that. It makes us more. Suddenly complex cuts on any flat surface are easy. Really easy. There’s no endless hours with the bandsaw and sander. There’s no need for a 25,000 dollar gantry router to take up half a garage. No need for layout tools. No need to stress about alignment. There’s not even a real need to jump between the tool and a computer. It can be both the design tool and the production tool. It’s like a magic pencil that summons whatever it draws. But even I had to see it to believe it.

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Stealthy Mortar Board Unleashes Bling at Graduation Ceremony

Decorating graduation caps is often frowned upon by the administration but [Dan Barkus] is challenging his school authorities to keep from smiling when they see what he has in store. His build will dazzle the audience by mounting 1024 RGB LEDs in a 32×32 matrix on top of his cap, but hidden under the cap’s black cloth. When the LEDs are off he’s indistinguishable, and when he fires up the LEDs, shine through and put on a heck of a show. He can type messages on his phone to be displayed on the cap. He can even display images and animated GIFs.

LED array control components
LED array control components

The LED display is an Adafruit 32×32 RGB LED matrix panel.  To control the display, [Dan] uses a Teensy, a 32 bit ARM Cortex-M4 microcontroller board. Wireless communication is done via a JBtek HC-06 Bluetooth board.

The LED display can draw up to 4 amps at full white brightness so he picked up a USB battery with two output ports, one capable of 2.1 amps and the other 2.4 amps. He then hacked together a cable that has two USB connectors on one end, connected in parallel, and a DC jack on the other end. Altogether the battery bank is capable of up to 4.5 amps output combined out those two ports, meeting the LED display’s needs. The DC jack is plugged into the Teensy and all power goes through there.

One problem [Dan] had was that the Bluetooth module was booting up before the Teensy. It didn’t see the Teensy in time, causing the Bluetooth not to work. The solution he found is shown in the 2nd video embedded below. The fix powers the Bluetooth module separately, using a current limiting resistor and a capacitor to build up the voltage, delaying just long enough for the Teensy to win.

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Oh, the People You’ll Meet! (at Maker Faire)


I might argue that the best thing about Maker Faire isn’t the booths at all, but the people you’ll run into. To that end, I spliced together a series of these impromptu run-ins that I thoroughly enjoyed. What’s remarkable to me is that these people of not weren’t themselves attracting a crowd. If you want to meet the hackers who you respect in the hacking world, you can still have a casual and friendly conversation with them!

First up is [Jeremy Blum] who is a long-time friend of Hackaday, author Exploring Arduino, and one-year member of the Google[x] team. We ran into him along with [Marcus Schappi], CEO of Little Bird Electronics in Australia. [Marcus’] crew recently saw a successful crowd-funding run with the Micro-view.

Next up is [Ben Heck] of The Ben Heck Show. He talks a bit about his recent hack of a pair of texting radios using the eRIC radio modules and he riffed on his past robotic luggage project as well.

The rest of the video is devoted to Hackaday alum. I ran into [Caleb Kraft] who recently started as Community Editor over at MAKE, and [Phil Burgess] who now builds gnarly projects for Adafruit. The clip wraps up with [Ian] from Dangerous Prototypes. He’s fresh off of his Hacker Camp in Shenzhen which covered everything from reballing BGA components by hand, to finding good deals on custom wardrobe, and making sound gastronomic choices while in China.

We talked to a horde of people over two days. Perhaps it was the foam Jolly Wrencher that I wore around? But the point is that everyone at an event like this is interesting to talk to, approachable, and well worth the cost of entry. If you haven’t been to a hacking convention it’s time to start looking around for the one nearest you!

From ePaper Badge to Weather Station

ePaper Weather Station

[Jeremy Blum] converted his 2013 Open Hardware Summit badge, also known as the BADGEr, into an ePaper weather station. We’ve looked at the 2013 OHS badge in the past, and the included open source RePaper display makes it an interesting platform to hack.

To fetch weather data, the badge is connected to a Raspberry Pi using an FTDI cable. A Python script uses the Python Weather API to poll for weather data. It then sends a series of commands to the BADGEr using pySerial which selects the correct image, and inserts the current weather data. Finally, a cronjob is used to run the script periodically, providing regular weather updates.

If you happen to have one of the badges, [Jeremy] has provided all of the files you’ll need to build your own weather station on Github. Otherwise, you can take a look at the RePaper project and WyoLum’s eReader Arduino Library to build your own ePaper project.

Machine Metabolism: Structure-Reconfiguring Robots

truss reconfiguring robot

It might be difficult to tell from the picture, but you’re looking at a robot that is capable of building and disassembling simple truss structures. We’ll let that sink in for a moment.

[Jeremy Blum] finished his metabolic machine research back in 2011, but just this month has had his journal paper published in the IEEE Robotics and Automation Magazine on Structure-Reconfiguring Robots.

The concept behind this robot is biological metabolism – the ability to break down nutrients into building blocks, and then to use them to build new things. What if we could build a robot to emulate this most basic aspect of biology? Well, they have. Take a moment to imagine the implications in space: a fully automated deployment (or repair) of large structures. Or back on earth, large radio towers that are automatically assembled, welded, and even repaired if need be. The possibilities are amazing.

To see the Structure-Reconfiguring Robot in action and to learn a bit more about how it works, check out the video after the break.

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Fail of the Week: GPS module design

GPS is really fun to play with in your projects. But when [Trax] decided to build a GPS chip into his design the fun ended abruptly. Above you can see the section of the board devoted to the hardware. Unfortunately this PCB fails to provide any GPS location data whatsoever.

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24-hour hackathon project adds object-based automation to hackerspace


[Jeremy Blum], [Jason Wright], and [Sam Sinensky] combined forces for twenty-four hours to automate how the entertainment and lighting works at their hackerspace. They commandeered the whiteboard and used an already present webcam as part of their project. You can see the black tokens which can be moved around the blue tape outline to actuate the controls.

MATLAB is fed an image from the webcam which monitors the space. Frames are received once every second and parsed for changes in the tokens. There are small black squares which either skip to the next track of music or affect pause/play. Simply move them off of their designated spot and the image processing does the rest. This goes for the volume slider as well. We think the huge token for the lights is to ensure that the camera can sense a change in a darkened room.

If image processing isn’t your thing you can still control your audio entertainment with a frickin’ laser.

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