Down the Rabbit Hole of Electronics Manufacturing

If you want to build hundreds of a thing (and let’s face it, you do) now is a magical time to do it. Scale manufacturing has never been more accessible to the hardware hacker, but that doesn’t mean it’s turn-key with no question marks along the way. The path is there, but it’s not well marked and is only now becoming well-traveled. The great news is that yes, you can get hundreds of a thing manufactured, and Kerry Scharfglass proves that it’s a viable process for the lone-wolf electronics designer. He’s shared tips and tricks of the manufacturing process in a prefect level of detail during his talk at the 2018 Hackaday Superconference.

Kerry is the person behind the Dragonfly badge that was sold at DEF CON over the last two years. Yes, this is #badgelife, but it’s also a mechanism for him to test the waters for launching his own medium-run electronics business. And let’s face it, badge making can be a business. Kerry treats it as such in his talk.

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Ben Krasnow at Supercon: Making Alien Technology in Your Own Shop

Ben Krasnow has a vision of future electronics: instead of the present PCB-screwed-into-a-plastic-box construction, flexible circuits will be deposited straight onto the plastic body of the device itself, merging the physical object and its electronics. There is existing copper-on-plastic technology, but Ben’s got something novel that he presents in this talk that you could implement yourself. You might also want a display, or at least something to blink, so he’s also working on some electroluminescent technology to complement it. If you were wondering why Ben is so interested in silkscreening photopolymers right now, watching this talk will pull a lot of interesting threads together. Continue reading “Ben Krasnow at Supercon: Making Alien Technology in Your Own Shop”

How To Deal With A Cheap Spectrum Analyzer

The Hackaday Superconference is all about showcasing the hardware heroics of the Hackaday community. We also have a peer-reviewed journal with the same goal, and for the 2018 Hackaday Superconference we got a taste of the first paper to make it into our fully Open Access Journal. It comes from Ted Yapo, it is indeed a tale of hardware heroics: what happens when you don’t want to spend sixty thousand dollars on a vector network analyzer?

Ted’s talk begins with a need for a network analyzer. These allow for RF measurements, but if you ever need one, be prepared: you can spend twenty thousand dollars on a used VNA. Around the time Ted’s project began, Rigol released their cheap spectrum analyzer, the DSA815. This thing only cost a thousand dollars. It was their first revision of the hardware, and it was only a scalar network analyzer. Being the first revision of the hardware, there were a few problems; there was leakage that would affect the measurement. The noise floor was higher than it should have been. These problems can be corrected, though, with a little bit of cunning from Ted:

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Hackaday Superconference: 3D Printing For Electronics

For her day job, Amie D Dansby works as a software simulation developer, creating simulations for video games. In her free time, she’s implanting the key to her Tesla in her arm, building cordwood jewelry and cosplay swords, and seeking out other adventures in electronics and 3D printing. Amie has made a name for herself in the 3D printing community, and she is surrounded by fans when she attends the RepRap meetups and Maker Faires.

She was also popular at this year’s Hackaday Superconference, where she gave a talk on the integration of 3D printing and electronics. Amie’s work concentrates on props and cosplay, which is a skill unto itself, and you only need to look at some of the old Mythbusters, the documentary footage from ILM, or even model makers to realize this is an arcane art that takes a lot of skill. Lucky for us, Amie was there to show us the tricks she’s picked up over the years to make building a one-off piece easier than you could imagine.

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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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