As hackers approached the dramatic stone entrance of Portland’s Pacific Northwest College of Arts, a group of acolytes belonging to The Church of Robotron beckoned them over, inviting them to attempt to earn the title of Mutant Saviour. The church uses hazardous environments, religious indoctrination, a 1980s arcade game and some seriously funny low tech hacks to test your abilities to save humanity. This offbeat welcome was a pretty good way to set the tone for Teardown 2019: an annual Crowd Supply event for engineers and artists who love hardware. Teardown is halfway between a conference and a party, with plenty of weird adventures to be had over the course of the weekend. Praise the Mutant! Embrace Futility! Rejoice in Error!
For those of us who failed to become the Mutant Saviour, there were plenty of consolation prizes. Kate Temkin and Mikaela Szekely’s talk on accessible USB tools was spectacular, and I loved following Sophi Kravitz’s journey as she made a remote-controlled blimp. Upstairs in the demo room, we had great fun playing with a pneumatic donut sprinkle pick and place machine from tinkrmind and Russell Senior’s hacked IBM daisywheel typewriter that prints ASCII art and runs a text-based Star Trek adventure game.
It wouldn’t be much of a hardware party if the end of the talks, demos and workshops meant the end of each day’s activities, but the Teardown team organised dinner and an afterparty in a different locations every night: Portland’s hackerspace ^H PDX, the swishy AutoDesk offices, and the vintage arcade game bar Ground Kontrol. There also was a raucous and hotly-contested scavenger hunt across the city, with codes to crack, locks to pick and bartenders to sweet talk into giving you the next clue (tip: tip).
Join me below for my favorite highlights of this three day (and night) festival.
Continue reading “Teardown 2019: A Festival Of Hacking, Art, And FPGAs” →
The origin story of software takes us back past punch card computers and Babbage’s Difference Engine to a French weaver called Joseph Marie Jacquard. Jacquard created a way to automate mechanical looms, giving weavers the ability to change a loom’s pattern by simply switching punch cards. This invention not only made it possible to produce detailed fabrics in a vastly simplified way, it was an extremely important conceptual step in the development of computer programming, influencing Babbage’s development of the Analytical Engine amongst many other things.
So, when [Kurt] saw his son’s enthusiasm for weaving on a simple loom, he started thinking about how he could pay homage to the roots of software by designing and building an open source computer controlled loom. He knew this was going to be difficult: looms are complex machines with hundreds of small parts. [Kurt] wrestled with wonky carriage movements, cam jams, hook size disasters and plenty of magic smoke from motor control boards. After a year and a half of loom hacking he succeeded in making a 60 thread computer controlled loom, driven by an iPhone app using Bluetooth.
As well as writing up the story of this build on his blog, linked above, [Kurt] has also has made all of his design files, PCB layouts, firmware and code available on GitLab.
We’ve featured a few weaving hacks over the years, including this cheap, simple 3D printable loom and a Jacquard inspired bitmap display.
Fun, informative build video after the cut.
Continue reading “Open Source Computer Controlled Loom Weaves Pikachu For You” →
Soft robotics is an exciting field. Mastering the pneumatic control of pliable materials has enormous potential, from the handling of delicate objects to creating movement with no moving parts. However, pneumatics has long been overlooked by the hacker community as a mode of actuation. There are thousands of tutorials, tools and products that help us work with motor control and gears, but precious few for those of us who want to experiment with movement using air pressure, valves and pistons.
Physicist and engineer [tinkrmind] wants to change that. He has been developing an open source soft robotics tool called Programmable Air for the past year with the aim of creating an accessible way for the hacker community to work with pneumatic robotics. We first came across [tinkrmind]’s soft robotics modules at World Maker Faire in New York City in 2018 but fifty beta testers and a wide range of interesting projects later — from a beating silicone heart to an inflatable bra — they are now being made available on Crowd Supply.
We had the chance to play with some of the Programmable Air modules after this year’s Makerfaire Bay Area at Bring A Hack. We can’t wait to see what squishy, organic creations they will be used for now that they’re out in the wild.
If you need more soft robotics inspiration, take a look at this robotic skin that turns teddy bears into robots from Yale or these soft rotating actuators from Harvard.
See a video of the Programmable Air modules in action below the cut. Continue reading “Bringing Pneumatics To The Masses With Open Source Soft Robotics” →
Liner notes? Passé. In Berlin, the release of a special edition synth-wave record came with an accompanying experimental synthesizer called Wired Heart.
At the core of this adorable heart-shaped synth, designed by music technology enthusiast [tobi tubbutec], is the classic 74HCT14 chip with six Schmitt trigger oscillators. The bright red PCB has eight gold touch and humidity sensing pads that activate and modulate these oscillators. As well as changing the sounds by playing with pressure and conductive liquids you can use the six sets of header pins on board to plug in your own components for noisy experimentation. Wired Heart ships with LEDs, photoresistors and a potentiometer, but we’ve also plugged our own DIY fabric pressure sensors into this synth to make some excellent electronic sounds.
In the Hackaday.io post linked above, [tobi tubbutec] walks us through a number of the circuit design decisions he made while prototyping his “cardiotronic human-touch hexoscillatric stereo esoteric snythespacer”. We enjoyed his creative and sometimes unconventional designs, from his inclusion of non-functioning traces for aesthetic reasons to his chosen method of hard syncing — injecting a small pulse of one oscillator into the other. If you want to examine his layout in more detail, [tobi tubbutec] has helpfully included the KiCad schematic file in his write up.
This adorable, hackable synth caught our eye at this year’s SuperBooth — an annual indie electronic music conference in Berlin that’s well worth checking out if odd noises and handmade electronics are your thing — but it’s recently been listed on Tindie too. To listen to the upbeat synth-wave record Wired Heart originally shipped with, visit the artist Hyboid’s bandcamp.
If you’re interested in experimental musical instruments and synthy chip tune you’ll also love [jarek319]’s Sega Genesis synthesiser.
Check out a demo of the Wired Heart synth in the video after the break.
Continue reading “Hack My Wired Heart” →