Inventors Chasing Their Dreams; What It’s Like to Quit Your Job and Hack

The phrase “Hindsight is 20/20” is one of those things that we all say from time to time, but rarely have a chance to truly appreciate to the fullest. Taken in the most literal context, it means that once you know the end result of a particular scenario, you can look back and clearly see the progression towards that now inescapable endgame. For example, if you’re stuck on the couch with a bad case of food poisoning, you might employ the phrase “Hindsight is 20/20” to describe the decision a few days prior to eat that food truck sushi.

Then again, it’s usually not that hard to identify a questionable decision, with or without the benefit of foreknowledge. But what about the good ones? How can one tell if a seemingly unimportant choice can end up putting you on track for a lifetime of success and opportunity? If there’s one thing Michael Rigsby hopes you’ll take away from the fascinating retrospective of his life that he presented at the 2018 Hackaday Superconference, it’s that you should grab hold of every opportunity and run with it. Some of your ideas and projects will be little more than dim memory when you look back on them 50 years later, but others might just end up changing your life.

Michael Rigsby’s electric car in 1971

Of course, it also helps if you’re the sort of person who was able to build an electric car at the age of nineteen, using technology which to modern eyes seems not very far ahead of stone knives and bear skins. The life story Michael tells the audience, complete with newspaper cuttings and images from local news broadcasts, is one that we could all be so lucky to look back on in the Autumn of our years. It’s a story of a person who, through either incredible good luck or extraordinary intuition, was able to be on the forefront of some of the technology we take for granted today before most people even knew what to call it.

From controlling his TRS-80 with his voice to building a robotic vacuum cleaner years before the Roomba was a twinkle in the eye of even the most forward thinking technofetishist, Michael was there. But he doesn’t hold a grudge towards the companies who ended up building billion dollar industries around these ideas. That was never what it was about for him. He simply loves technology, and wanted to show his experiments to others. Decades before “open source” was even a term, he was sharing his designs and ideas with anyone who’d care to take a look.

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Hackaday Superconference: Estefannie’s Daft Punk Helmet

There’s no single formula for success, but if we’ve learned anything over the years of covering cons, contests, and hackathons, it’s that, just like in geology, pressure can create diamonds. Give yourself an impossible deadline with high stakes, and chances are good that something interesting will result. That’s what Estefannie from the YouTube channel “Estefannie Explains It All” did when Bay Area Maker Faire was rolling around last year, and she stopped by the 2018 Hackaday Superconference to talk about the interactive Daft Punk helmet that came out of it.

It’s a rapid-fire tour of Estefannie’s remarkably polished replica of the helmet worn by Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo, one half of the French electronic music duo Daft Punk. Her quick talk, video of which is below, gives an overview of its features, but we miss the interesting backstory. For that, the second video serves as a kickoff to a whirlwind month of hacking that literally started from nothing.

You’ll Learn it Along the Way

Before deciding to make the helmet, Estefannie had zero experience in the usual tools of the trade. With only 28 days to complete everything, she had to: convert her living room into a workshop; learn how to 3D print; print 58 separate helmet parts, including a mold for thermoforming the visor; teach herself how to thermoform after building the tools to do so; assemble and finish all the parts; and finally, install the electronics that are the hallmark of Daft Punk’s headgear.

The three videos in her series are worth watching to see what she put herself through. Estefannie’s learning curve was considerable, and there were times when nothing seemed to work. The thermoforming was particularly troublesome — first too much heat, then not enough, then not enough vacuum (pretty common hurdles from other thermoforming projects we’ve seen). But the finished visor was nearly perfect, even if it took two attempts to tint.

We have to say that at first, some of her wounds seemed self-inflicted, especially seeing the amount of work she put into the helmet’s finish. But she wanted it to be perfect, and the extra care in filling, sanding, priming, and painting the printed parts really paid off in the end. It was down to the wire when BAMF rolled around, with last minute assembly left to the morning of the Faire in the hotel room, but that always seems to be the way with these kinds of projects.

In the end, the helmet came out great, and we’re glad the run-up to the Superconference wasn’t nearly as stressful for Estefannie — or so we assume. And now that she has all these great new skills and tools, we’re looking forward to her next build.

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3D Printing An Entire Rocket

If you’re ever flying into LAX and have the left side window seat, just a few minutes before landing, look out the window. You’ll see a small airport just below you and what appears at first glance to be a smokestack. That’s not a smokestack, though: that’s a rocket, and that’s where SpaceX is building all their rockets. Already SpaceX has revolutionized the aerospace industry, but just down the street there’s another company that’s pushing the manufacturing of rocket engines a bit further. Relativity Space is building rockets. They’re 3D printing rocket engines, and they’re designing what could be the first rocket engine made on Mars.

Bryce Salmi is an avionics hardware engineer at Relatively Space, and he made it out to the 2018 Hackaday Superconference to tell us all about manufacturing rockets. It’s an entirely new approach to manufacturing rockets and rocket engines with a clean-slate design that could eventually be manufactured on Mars.

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Adventures in Automating a Candle Factory

Have you ever considered the manufacture of candles? Not necessarily manufacturing them yourself, but how they are manufactured in a small-scale industrial setting? It’s something that has been of great concern to Michael Schuldt as he grappled with the task of automating a simple manual candle production process.

It’s not just an interesting subject, but the topic of manufacturing automation is something we can all learn from. This was the subject of his Adventures in Manufacturing Automation talk at the recent Hackaday Superconference which you’ll find below the break. Let’s dive in and see what this is all about!

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35C3: Biggest Communication Congress, Yet Little Chaos

Every year for the past 35 years, the German Chaos Computer Club has met just after Christmas for a few days of “Spaß am Gerät” — having fun with the machines. And that’s everything from trying to bring an old PDP-8 back into running condition to forging new software to replace the old and busted social media platforms that permeate our lives. The sum total of around 17,000 people doing the nerdy stuff that they love, and sharing it together, is both amazing and inspiring. Four days of little sleep and much socializing later, I bet there was still another four days’ worth of stuff to see.

The official theme this year was “Refreshing Memories” which honestly sounds a bit too much like a cola slogan, but was a great opportunity to think back on the hacks of the past that got us where we are. Assemblies put up shrines to their hacker heroes of the past. Retro computers were everywhere, in the talks and on the floor. This year’s Congress was a great time to look back and remember, but also to create new memories for the future. On that front, it was a total success.

But the unofficial theme this year was “Smooth Running”. Everything went very well, which is no small feat considering that the infrastructure, decoration, security, and even the medical response teams are from the Chaos community. It’s the depth of engagement that makes this work: of the 17,000 people who showed up, just over 4,000 of them volunteered for “angel” shifts — meaning they helped guard the doors, staff the info desks, or build up or tear down. It was the largest ever CCC, and you could feel it, but they pulled it off, and then some.

The angels are geeks just like you and me, and since everything went so smoothly, they had time to play. For instance, the phone operations people offer DECT phone service so that attendees can bring in their home phones and use them at Congress. In years past, the lines to register and enroll phones were painfully long. This year, it all happened online, and the result is that the phone ops crew got bored. That explains how they had time to establish roaming home-phone wireless service in some of the normal Leipzig city trams. Wait, what?

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Towards Low Cost Biomedical Imaging

Medical imaging is one of the very best applications of technology — it allows us to peer inside of the human body without actually performing surgery. It’s non-destructive testing to the extreme, and one of the more interesting projects we’ve seen over the past year uses AC currents and an infinite grid of resistors to image the inside of a living organism. It’s called Spectra and it is the brainchild of [Jean Rintoul]. Her talk at the Hackaday Superconference is all about low cost and open source biomedical imaging.

We’ve seen some interesting medical imaging hacks in the Hackaday Prize over the years. There have been vein finders and even a CT scanner, but when it comes to biomedical imaging, the Spectra project is something different. Right now, it’s just good enough to image organs while they’re still inside your body, and there’s still a lot of potential to do more. Let’s take a closer look a how this works.

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Designing Tiny Motors Right Into The Robot’s Circuit Board

Motors are not overly complex, but this one is downright simple. Carl Bujega has been working on a motor design that heavily relies on the capabilities of the printed circuit board (PCB) fabrication processes. His talk at the 2018 Hackaday Superconference covers how he built a brushless DC motor and speed controller into a PCB. You can watch the newly published video after the break.

There are two main parts of an electric motor; the stator is stationary while the rotor spins on bearings. Electromagnetic forces are used to cause that spinning action. In this case, Carl has built the electromagnets as coils on a 4-layer circuit board (six coils on each layer). When electrified, a magnetic field is generated that pushes against the rare-earth magnets housed in the rotor.

A couple of things are really interesting here. First, those coils are usually made of “magnet wire” (enamel covered wire that is very thin) wrapped around an iron core. Using the circuit board instead saves both physical space, and the time and expense of wrapping coils of wire in the traditional way. Second, Carl has been designing with manufacture in mind; you can see in the image show that his motor design is dead-simple to assemble by inserting a 3mm bearing in the PCB, inserting magnets into the plastic rotor and snapping it into place. The end goal is to make robot actuators that are part of the circuit board itself.

The genesis of this idea came from Carl’s interest in drone design, in fact, he jumped right into a drone startup immediately after finishing his EE. The company didn’t last, but his thirst for interesting designs is ongoing. When looking at reducing the total parts necessary to build a quadcopter he happened on the idea of PCB-based coils and he’s followed it to this motor design, and beyond to some very interesting flexible-PCB robot design work which you can check out on his Hackaday.io page, YouTube, and Twitter.

There are of course some trade-offs to this. The motor is low torque since it uses an air core and not an iron core. And he’s had trouble implementing a sensor-less Electronic Speed Controller (ESC) as the back-EMF from the coils appears to be too weak. Not to fret, he added a hall sensor and has succeeded in designing an ESC that measures just 14mm by 8mm. In fact, he’s holding up the ESC and motor in the image at the top of this article!

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