Superconference Interview: Alan Yates

In 2015, virtual reality was the future, which means we should all have it right now. One of the most technologically impressive VR sets is the HTC Vive, an amazing piece of kit that’s jam-packed with sensors and has some really cool tech going on inside it.

One of the developers of the HTC Vive and the ever-important ‘Lighthouse’ position sensors is [Alan Yates]. He’s of Valve and gave a talk at last year’s Superconference on Why the Lighthouse Can’t Work. Being able to determine the absolute position of the Valve’s headset is hard, but absolutely necessary for VR. Anything else would be an incomplete VR experience at best, and give you nausea at worst.

We sat down with [Alan] after his talk last year, and now that interview is up. You can check that out below.

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Superconference Interview: Ben Krasnow

Ben Krasnow is a consummate prototyper. He’s built a machine that makes the perfect chocolate chip cookie, he has a ruby laser, and he produces his own liquid nitrogen in-house because simply filling up a dewar is too easy. If you need a prototype, Ben is the guy to talk to.

Ben gave a talk at last year’s Hackaday Superconference on prototyping quickly and verifying technical hypotheses. The philosophy can be summed up simply as, ‘Build First, and Ask Questions Later’. This philosophy served him well when he wanted to see if backscatter x-ray machines were actually more effective than metal detectors at TSA checkpoints. The usual bean-counter protocol for answering this question would be to find an x-ray expert, wait weeks, pay tens of thousands of dollars, and eventually get an answer. Ben simply built his own backscatter x-ray machine from parts sourced on eBay.

After the talk, we asked Ben about the limits of this philosophy of building first and asking questions later. With the physical and mental toolset Ben has, it’s actually easy to build something that can get in the ballpark of answering a question. The problem comes when Ben needs to prove something won’t work.

Answering this question is all a matter of mindset. In Ben’s view, if a prototype works, a hypothesis is verified. Even if it’s a complete accident, he’s totally okay with the results. Some of his other colleagues have an opposite mindset — if a quick and dirty prototype doesn’t work, a research hypothesis is verified.

This rapid-proof-of-concept mindset is something we see a lot in the Hackaday audience, and we know there are some of you out there who have a mind and garage that is at least as impressive as Ben’s. We’ve extended the Call for Proposals for the 2017 Hackaday Superconference. If you have a story about rapid prototyping or just making the perfect chocolate chip cookie with robots, we want to hear about it. Tickets are still available for the Superconference in Pasadena, California on November 11th and 12th.

Superconference Interview: Akiba

Akiba sits at a very interesting intersection of technology and culture. He is well known for his experience with manufacturing in Shenzhen — but he has a few other unique dimension I’ll get to in a minute. His experience manufacturing in China goes far beyond the electronics you might expect and covers, well, everything that could possibly be made. His talk, Shenzhen in 30 Minutes, at last year’s Hackaday Superconference is a crash course in the area, the culture, and the business side of things.

After his talk Sophi Kravtiz caught up with Akiba for an interview and it is surprising to learn that he was a bit nervous for the talk. Obviously he pulled it off without a hitch and we hope this inspires you to give a talk at the 2017 Hackaday Superconference in Pasadena on Nov 11 and 12. The call for proposals closes this Monday so spend some time this weekend and submit your proposal.

Now about those other dimensions. In the interview, Akiba and Sophi discuss two other areas where he has an incredibly unique viewpoint. The first is his founding of a hacker collective in the rural areas outside of Tokyo. Hacker Farm has been growing like crazy of the last three or four years. It seems that people come to visit and realize renting in the area is so cheap they can’t leave. This led to a culture boom around the camp; a self-feeding engine that attracts more visitors (and often visiting chefs who literally feed the group handsomely) and grows the collective.

They’re working on new applications of technology for farming in the area. One aspect of this is water level sensors for the rice farmers in the area which he wrote about at length for Hackaday. Wildlife turns out to be a huge challenge here — apparently spiders will exploit any hole or crevice to build a web which usually renders the sensor worthless. The group is also beginning experiments with the “three sisters” of gardening: corn, beans, and squash and plan to use this as a test bed for all kinds of agricultural automation.

Although touched on only briefly at the end of the interview, Akiba also works with wearable technology at an extreme level. He builds lighting and other interactivity into suits for the Wrecking Crew Orchestra. It’s always a treat to hear his experience dealing with wear and tear, communications latency, and a user interface for the dancers themselves.

Superconference Interview: SpriteTM

SpriteTM, or [Jeroen Domburg], has a bit of a following around these parts. He’s installed Linux on a hard drive the hard way. He can play Snake on his keyboard. He’s cared for several generations of Tamagotchis. In short, there are very few people who have both the technical ability and sense of humor to pull off what [Sprite] does.

At last year’s Supercon, we pulled Sprite aside to talk about his work and his latest hack, the tiniest Game Boy ever. He talked about his Supercon keynote, and how to hack the crypto challenge in last year’s Superconference badge in an hour without solving any of the puzzles. Now, we’re happy to present that interview today, available below.

While we very much doubt many people could — or would — take four conference badges and rick roll the entire Superconference for the badge hacking session, we’re still looking for eager and capable presenters. The Call for Proposals is now open for the 2017 Hackaday Superconference. If you have a story of hardware heroics, creativity in CPLDs, a passion for prototyping, or an ambition for technological art, we want you to share your story. Even if you don’t, that’s fine, too: tickets are still available for the Superconference in Pasadena, California on November 11th and 12th.

Superconference Interview: Samy Kamkar

Samy Kamkar has an incredible arsenal of self-taught skills that have grown into a remarkable career as a security researcher. He dropped out of high school to found a company based on Open Source Software and became infamous for releasing the Samy worm on the MySpace platform. But in our minds Samy has far outpaced that notoriety with the hardware-based security exploits he’s uncovered over the last decade. And he’s got a great gift for explaining these hacks — from his credit card magstripe spoofing experiments to hacking keyless entry systems and garage door opener remotes — in great depth during his talk at the 2016 Hackaday Superconference.

We pulled Samy aside after his talk to discuss how the security scene has grown up over the years and asked him to share his advice for people just coming up now. We’re happy to publish it for the first time today, it can be seen below.

Now it’s your turn. The Call for Proposals is now open for the 2017 Hackaday Superconference. You don’t need to be Samy Kamkar to qualify for a talk. You just need an interesting story of hardware engineering, creativity in technical design, an adventure with product design, or a sordid tale of your prototyping experiences. We hope everyone with a story will submit their proposal, but for those who don’t tickets are now available. The Hackaday Superconference will take place in Pasadena, California on November 11th and 12th.

Mini Delta 3D Printer in Action at the Monoprice Booth

When I was at Bay Area Maker Faire a few weekends ago I stopped by the Monoprice booth to chat with [Chris Apland], their head of 3D Printing. Earlier in the week, the company had just announced preorders for their new $169 delta-style 3D printer called the MP Mini Delta.

[Brian Benchoff] covered that launch and I don’t have a lot of details about the machine itself to add. I saw it in action, printing tiny waving cat models. The stock printer can use ABS or PLA and has a build volume of 110mm in diameter and 120mm tall and these preorder units (being sold through Indegogo) will begin shipping in August.

What was of interest is to hear the shipping estimates the Monoprice team is throwing around. Chris told me that their conservative estimate is that 20,000 of these printers will ship through this preorder, but he is optimistic that by the end of the fourth quarter they’ll be closer to 100,000 units. That is incredible.

Part of the promise here is the out of the box functionality; [Chris] mentioned having a printed cat in your hands within 5 minutes. If it can actually do that without the need for setup and calibration that’s impressive. But I know that even seasoned printing veterans are interested in seeing how fast they can run this tiny delta and still turn out quality prints.

You’ll find the video interview after the break.

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Interview: Francesco de Comité Makes Math Visually Awesome

Francesco de Comité is an Associate Professor in Computer Science at the University of Sciences in Lille, France, where he researches the 2D and 3D representation of mathematical concepts and objects. He’s presented papers on a variety of topics including anamorphoses, experiments in circle packing, and Dupin cyclides. His current project involves modeling and 3D printing sea shells. He’ll be presenting a paper on the topic at Bridges Conference in July. You can find his projects on Flickr as well as on Shapeways.

Hackaday: One of your recent projects involves creating fractal patterns and warping them into biologically-correct sea shell shapes, which you then print.

FdC: Modeling seashell shapes is an old topic–Moseley, 1838, D’Arcy Thompson beginning of 20th century. A seashell can be defined as a curve turning around an axis, while translating in the direction of this axis (i.e. on a helicoidal trajectory), and growing in size at the same time. This was modeled for computers in the ’60s by David Raup.

Drawing patterns on seashells was described by Hans Meinhardt using a model of chemical reactions (activator-inhibitor), in the same spirit as Turing’s work on morphogenesis. Combining these two works, and using 3D printers instead of 2D renderers, we can build realistic seashells, either by copying existing shells, or inventing new ones. A 3D model is not just a juxtaposition of a huge number of 2D views: manipulating 3D models can help you understand the object, find details, and so on.

I was curious to see if making a 3D seashell was possible. Moreover, I show that this can be done with simple tools — well, except the 3D printer.
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