REMOTICON 2021 // Jay Doscher Proves Tinkercad Isn’t Just For Kids

We invited [Jay Doscher] to give us a view into his process designing 3D printed parts for the impressive array of cyberdecks we’ve covered since 2019.

[Jay] got his start as a maker through woodworking in high school, getting satisfaction from bringing something from idea to reality. After a more recent class in blacksmithing and ax-making showed him what he could do when really focused, his hardware hacking really took off and his line of cyberdecks and other portable computers was born.

If you’ve heard of Tinkercad, you probably think it’s just for kids. While designed as an educational tool, [Jay] found that Autodesk’s younger sibling to the professionally powered (and priced) Fusion 360 had everything needed for making cyberdecks. If you’re willing to work around a few limitations, at the low-low price of free, Tinkercad might be right for you too.

What limitations? To start, Tinkercad is only available in a browser and online. There’s also no guarantee that it will remain free, but [Jay] notes that with its educational focus that is likely to remain the case. There is no library of common components to import while modeling. And, when your model is complete the options for exporting are limited to 2D SVGs and 3D STL, OBJ, and gaming-focused GBL formats. [Jay] has converted those to other formats for laser cutting and the STEP file a machine shop is expecting but admits that it’s something that adds complexity and is an annoyance.


In the talk, [Jay] discusses moving from his initial “cringy” explorations with Tinkercad, to his first cyberdeck, a little history on that term, and the evolution of his craft. It’s mostly a hands-on demo of how to work with Tinkercad, full of tips and tricks for the software itself and implications for 3D printing yourself, assembly, and machining by others.

While quite limited, Tinkercad still allows for boolean operations to join two volumes or the subtraction of one from another. [Jay] does a wonderful job of unpeeling the layers of operations, showing how combinations of “solids” and “holes” generated a complex assembly with pockets, stepped holes for fasteners, and multiple aligned parts for his next cyberdeck. Even if you already have a favorite CAD tool, another approach could expand your mind just like writing software in Strange Programming Languages can.

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Parametric Design With Tinkercad

Tinkercad is like the hamburger helper of 3D design. You hate to admit you use it, and you know you should put in more effort, but — darn it — it’s easy, and it tastes pretty good. While I use a number of CAD programs for serious work, sometimes, when I just want a little widget like a flange for my laser cutter’s exhaust, it is just easier to do it in a few minutes with Tinkercad. However, I heard someone complaining the other day that it wasn’t of any use anymore because they took away custom shape generators. That statement is only partially true. Codeblocks allow you to easily create custom parametric items for use in Tinkercad.

A Tinkercad-designed flange

There was a time when you could write Javascript to create custom shapes, and it is true that they removed that feature. However, they replaced it with Codeblocks which is much easier to use for their target audience — young students — and still very powerful.

If you’ve used parametric design in a professional package or even used something like OpenSCAD, you probably don’t need to be sold on the benefit. This is, of course, a simple form of it, but the idea is to define things as mathematical relationships. As an example, suppose you have a front panel with two rows of four holes for switches evenly spaced and centered. That would be easy to draw. But if you later decide the top row needs five holes and the bottom only needs three, it will be a fair amount of work. But if you have the math defining it right, you change a few variables, and the computer does the rest. Continue reading “Parametric Design With Tinkercad”

Announcing The Next Round Of Remoticon Talks

It’s coming up fast — Hackaday Remoticon 2021 is just a few weeks away, and we’re working around the clock to load up the weekend with awesome and inspiring talks that are bound to get the creative juices racing through your crazy straw brain.

Come and practice your neuroplasticity with us on November 19th and 20th. Remoticon is free-as-in-beer this year, unless you want a t-shirt. Even then, $25 is peanuts, because we’re sure that you’ll find a few talks that are priceless, and you’ll have a cool shirt to remember them by. Grab your ticket right now! We’ll wait.

A few days ago we announced mechanical engineering marvel Jeremy Fielding as our second keynote speaker. Passion is paramount to all projects, and Jeremy’s passion is making things move. He’s a renaissance man with a quiver full of self-taught skills, and is sure to bring enthusiasm to his keynote talk, which focuses on building hardware that moves, and how to handle the mechatronic mysteries that arise when trying to scale things up.

For now, let us indulge you with a preview of the second round of talks and speakers that we’ll be showcasing on November 19th and 20th. There’s plenty more where these came from, and we’ll be serving up fresh samples all the way until Remoticon weekend.

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This Stackable Pi Portable Is Ready To Rumble

The proliferation of desktop 3D printing and powerful single-board computers like the Raspberry Pi has given rise to an absolute explosion of small bespoke computing devices. Whether or not you think these cobbled together devices are close enough to Gibson’s original vision to call them cyberdecks, it’s a remarkable shift from the norm that brings us closer to the “High Tech, Low Life”  philosophy so prevalent in cyberpunk literature and films.

[Jay Doscher] has been on the front lines of this movement for some time now, producing several very popular designs. His latest creation leans hard into the more utilitarian aspects of the cyberpunk ethos, inspired more by the grit of The Expanse than the lusciously upholstered interiors of Star Trek’s Enterprise-D. The culmination of lessons learned over the last several years, the new Kuiper Deck is cheaper and easier to build than his previous designs, thanks at least in part to the fact that you no longer need to go out and get an expensive Pelican case.

Like his previous designs, the Kuiper Deck makes extensive use of 3D printed components. But this time around, [Jay] is using an array of smaller pieces that are bolted together on an acrylic front panel. This not only means the project is compatible with a wider array of machines, such as the Prusa Mini, but it’s also easier to print as larger parts have an annoying tendency to warp. The downside is that you’ll need some way to get the acrylic panel cut to shape, though you can buy one through him if you don’t have any way to get it made locally.

In place of the Pelican case his previous designs used as an enclosure, [Jay] has found a heavy-duty stackable plastic tote available from McMaster Carr for $12 USD. It’s not particularly nice looking, nor is it waterproof. But that’s also sort of the point. If you’re just trying to put together a small computer that you can toss around the shop and not have to worry about breaking, the Pelican case was always a bit overkill.

The electronics bill of materials is similarly sparse, comprising mainly of the Raspberry Pi 4, a cooling fan, and a 10 inch LCD from Pimoroni. Everything gets screwed to the rear of the panel and connected with pre-made cables, making assembly very simple. That said, there’s still plenty of room inside the case for custom hardware should you want to put something custom together such as a mobile software defined radio rig.

[Jay] created the original Raspberry Pi Field Unit in 2015, but it wasn’t until he unveiled the revised Raspberry Pi Recovery Kit in 2019 that the idea of sticking a Raspberry Pi into a Pelican case became something of hacker meme. It sounds like the Kuiper Deck is going to be his final word on the subject for now, but it’s a safe bet we’ll be seeing folks putting together similar builds for years to come.

VESA Arm Turned Low-Cost Overhead Camera Rig

Whether you’re live streaming builds or just want to take your project photography to the next level, you can’t beat an overhead camera setup. Unfortunately, they tend to be cumbersome and more often than not quite pricey. Looking for an affordable solution that could easily be moved out of the way when not in use, [Jay Doscher] had the clever idea of adapting a common VESA monitor arm to give his camera a bird’s eye view of the action.

If you think about it, one of these monitor arms is a nearly perfect base for a camera rig. They’re easily mounted to a desk or work bench, can be quickly repositioned by design, and perhaps best of all, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a decent one. A camera is also a far lighter and less awkward payload than the arm was designed to hold, so you don’t have to worry about it potentially dropping your expensive gear. Or cheap webcam, as the case may be.

All [Jay] had to do was come up with a way to securely mount his Sony A7R3 on the end of one. While there’s certainly a few ways you could solve this particular problem, he went the extruded plastic route and 3D printed a beefy adapter plate with the standard VESA bolt pattern. His Smallrig camera cage attaches to the plate, and thanks to a pair of press-fit bubble levels from McMaster Carr, he’s able to get everything lined up properly over the bench.

Of course, there’s an excellent chance you don’t have the same camera as [Jay]. But that doesn’t mean you can’t modify the design of his adapter to fit your own gear. To that end, he’s not only shared the final STLs, but he’s provided a link to the TinkerCAD project that you can actually edit right in the browser.

If you’ve got a light enough camera, you could put something similar together with PVC pipes or even an articulated arm intended for a desk lamp. But if you’ve got a DSLR or other full-sized camera, we think it’s more than worth the $30 USD one of these will cost you on Amazon to make sure your gear doesn’t end up smashing into the deck during a live stream.

2020: As The Hardware World Turns

By pretty much any metric you care to use, 2020 has been an unforgettable year. Usually that would be a positive thing, but this time around it’s a bit more complicated. The global pandemic, unprecedented in modern times, impacted the way we work, learn, and gather. Some will look back on their time in lockdown as productive, if a bit lonely. Other’s have had their entire way of life uprooted, with no indication as to when or if things will ever return to normal. Whatever “normal” is at this point.

But even in the face of such adversity, there have been bright spots for our community. With traditional gatherings out of the question, many long-running tech conferences moved over to a virtual format that allowed a larger and more diverse array of presenters and attendees than would have been possible in the past. We also saw hackers and makers all over the planet devote their skills and tools to the production of personal protective equipment (PPE). In a turn of events few could have predicted, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic helped demonstrate the validity of hyperlocal manufacturing in a way that’s never happened before.

For better or for worse, most of us will associate 2020 with COVID-19 for the rest of our lives. Really, how could we not? But over these last twelve months we’ve borne witness to plenty of stories that are just as deserving of a spot in our collective memories. As we approach the twilight hours of this most ponderous year, let’s take a look back at some of the most interesting themes that touched our little corner of the tech world this year.

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Cluster Deck Packs Four Pis Into One Portable Package

Parallel computing is a fair complex subject, and something many of us only have limited hands-on experience with. But breaking up tasks into smaller chunks and shuffling them around between different processors, or even entirely different computers, is arguably the future of software development. Looking to get ahead of the game, many people put together their own affordable home clusters to help them learn the ropes.

As part of his work with decentralized cryptocurrency, [Jay Doscher] recently found himself in need of a small research cluster. He determined that the Raspberry Pi 4 would give him the best bang for his buck, so he started work on a small self-contained cluster that could handle four of the single board computers. As we’ve come to expect given his existing body of work, the final result is compact, elegant, and well documented for anyone wishing to follow in his footsteps.

The core unit would make a great desktop cluster.

Outwardly the cluster looks quite a bit like the Mil-Plastic that he developed a few months back, complete with the same ten inch Pimoroni IPS LCD. But the internal design of the 3D printed case has been adjusted to fit four Pis with a unique staggered mounting arrangement that makes a unit considerably more compact than others we’ve seen in the past. In fact, even if you didn’t want to build the whole Cluster Deck as [Jay] calls it, just printing out the “core” itself would be a great way to put together a tidy Pi cluster for your own experimentation.

Thanks to the Power over Ethernet HAT, [Jay] only needed to run a short Ethernet cable between each Pi and the TP-Link five port switch. This largely eliminates the tangle of wires we usually associate with these little Pi clusters, which not only looks a lot cleaner, but makes it easier for the dual Noctua 80 mm to get cool air circulated inside the enclosure. Ultimately, the final product doesn’t really look like a cluster of Raspberry Pis at all. But then, we imagine that was sort of the point.

Of course, a couple of Pis and a network switch is all you really need to play around with parallel computing on everyone’s favorite Linux board. How far you take the concept after that is entirely up to you.