Learning About Wearable Engineering While Trying To Un-Taboo A Topic

When you build a machine you can usually count on having precise dimensions for an organized and orderly set of parts, one fitting into the next exactly as you have designed them. You can count on cause and effect — when the user pushes a button or flips a switch a specific behavior will take place. But the She Bon project shows that adding the human body to the mix quickly turns an easy design into a challenging one.

During her Hackaday Superconference talk Sarah Petkus discusses her latest project that uses wearable technology to sense and react to her own body. She Bon is reminiscent of the French for “so good” and is a project whose aim transcends the technical challenges. Sarah uses engineering as a way to facilitate adults having healthy dialogs with one another about sex.

Depending on your profession, this discussion is likely not appropriate for work — it’s not sexual, but it’s fundamentally about sex — so don’t click through the video without thinking twice. But we respect Sarah’s courage for leading a project that wants to make sure there actually are places where it is possible to have these conversations and a way to get them started.

How Do You Begin an Intelligent Conversation?

Mixing an engineering challenge with a somewhat taboo topic works surprisingly well, as you can see in the video below. It’s a technical talk about sensing body temperature, heart rate, galvanic response, blush response, facial expression, and muscle tension. But it’s also a story of her attempt at creating a Suit of Amour, her tongue-in-cheek “Sexual Gundam”. Don’t be fooled, this is no gimmick. The discussions quickly leads to the real life challenges facing prosthetics designers and those developing wearable products. There’s a ton to be learned here.

Join me below for more on the hardware covered in Sarah’s talk. This out-of-the-ordinary hardware creation adventure made it a great entry in the 2018 Hackaday Prize and a particularly delightful talk at the 2018 Hackaday Superconference. We’re once again on the hunt for hardware creators to present at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference — and we can’t do it without you. Submit a talk proposal, or just grab a ticket and join us in Pasadena this November. Bonus points for those who have also entered their projects in the 2019 Hackaday Prize. Okay, now onto the hardware talk.

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Brett Smith Makes Your Life Easier With Hidden Microcontroller Features

There was a time when microprocessors were slow and expensive devices that needed piles of support chips to run, so engineers came up with ingenious tricks using extra hardware preprocessing inputs to avoid having to create more code. It would be common to find a few logic gates, a comparator, or even the ubiquitous 555 timer doing a little bit of work to take some load away from the computer, and engineers learned to use these components as a matter of course.

The nice thing is that many of these great hardware hacks have been built into modern microcontrollers through the years. The problem is you know to know about them. Brett Smith’s newly published Hackaday Superconference talk, “Why Do It The Hard Way?”, aims to demystify the helpful hardware lurking in microcontrollers.

Join us below for a deeper dive and the embedded video of this talk. Supercon is the Ultimate Hardware con — don’t miss your chance to attend this year, November 15-17 in Pasadena, CA.

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Hackaday Superconference: Rob Ryan Silva On Designing For Developing Environments

Throughout the six years of the Hackaday Prize we have seen a stream of projects tackling all manner of applications and challenges. Many of them have a goal of addressing issues faced by people in developing countries, and this was the topic upon which Rob Ryan Silva spoke at the Hackaday Superconference.

Rob’s perspective is an interesting one: he runs the maker lab at Development Alternatives Incorporated, or DAI, who are best described as a specialist contractor in the international development sector. Thus while many of the Prize entrants are hardware hackers who have become involved in development related projects, he is a development specialist who has made the opposite journey to becoming a hardware hacker.

Join me below for the video of Rob’s talk and a deep dive into it. Also of note, tickets for the 2019 Hackaday Superconference are now available, the Call for Proposals is now open, and of course, the 2019 Hackaday Prize is ready for your entry! Okay, now onto Rob’s talk.

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Hackaday Superconference: Pushing The Boundaries Of PCB Artwork With Brian Benchoff

The artistic elite exists in a stratum above we hoi polloi, a world of achingly trendy galleries, well-heeled collectors, and art critics who act as gatekeepers to what is considered the pinnacle du jour of culture. Artistic movements that evolve outside this bubble may be derided or ignored as naive and unsophisticated, even in complete denial of their raw creative edge. When they are discovered by the establishment a few of their artists are selected and anointed, while inevitably the crucible in which they were formed is forgotten. On the streets of Bristol the incredible work of far more graffiti artists can be seen than just that of Banksy.

Our community has an art form all of its own, in the guise of PCB artwork and the #BadgeLife community. One day you will see electronic badges from darlings of the art world behind glass in those trendy galleries, but for now they live in glorious abundance in the wild. Here at Hackaday we are lucky enough to have in Brian Benchoff a colleague who is pushing the boundaries of PCB art, and at the Hackaday Superconference he took us through one of his more recent pieces of work.

Brian's pad printer.
Brian’s pad printer.

The colour palette of a typical printed circuit board is limited by the combination of fibreglass, copper, soldermask, plating, and silkscreen its designer selects. Thus while the variety of soldermask colours and plating materials can make for an eye-catching work, they have remained a colour-tinted near monochrome. The Holy Grail of the PCB artist has been to step into the world of full colour, and Brian has been pursuing that goal by exploring pad printing to produce extra colours beyond the sodermask..

It’s a subject he’s written about here in the past, and he introduces it in the talk with a look at existing badge artwork and a mention of an expensive commercial inkjet process before considering the type of printing you see daily on the sides of promotional pens. Those company titles are deposited on pens using pad printing, an offset process in which ink is first deposited upon a photo-etched metal plate before being picked up on a silicone rubber pad for transfer to the object to be printed. It’s not the panacea for all coloured-PCB tasks, but for adding relatively small blocks of pigment to an otherwise monochromatic board it can be very successful.

The eye-catching Kiss -themed Tindie badges.
The eye-catching Kiss -themed Tindie badges.

Brian’s examples are a panelised set of Tindie badges as a homage to the rock band Kiss, and his Tide pod addon containing a serial number in an EEPROM that was part of a Blockchain-inspired game. The Kiss Tindie badges use black soldermask with extensive white silkscreen and a modest area of red pad printing for the stage makeup, while the Tide addon makes clever use of the same swoosh printed in alternate colours at 180 degrees to each other.

In both cases there is some labour involved in creating the prints, and as his detailed write-up of printing the Tide pods reminds us, the process of creating the printing plate is not exactly an easy one. But it remains the best way yet to add extra colours to a board without paying a small fortune for the inkjet process, and if you’d like to put your own designs at the bleeding edge of PCB art you might wish to read his writeups and watch the video below the break.

This is just one example of the kind of manufacturing techniques, and electronic design principles on display at the Hackaday Superconference. There’s another Supercon just around the corner, so grab your ticket and send in your own talk proposal right away!

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Jaromir Sukuba: The Supercon 2018 Badge Firmware

If you missed it, the Hackaday Supercon 2018 badge was a complete retro-minicomputer with a screen, keyboard, memory, speaker, and expansion ports that would make a TRS-80 blush. Only instead of taking up half of your desk, everyone at the conference had one around their neck, when they weren’t soldering to it, that is.

The killer feature of the badge was its accessibility and hackability — and a large part of that was due to the onboard BASIC interpreter. And that’s where Jaromir comes in. Once Voja Antonic had finalized the design of the badge hardware for our conference in Belgrade in the spring of 2018, as Jaromir puts it, “all we needed was a little bit of programming”. That would of course take three months. The badge was battle-tested in Belgrade, and various feature requests, speed ups, and bugfixes were implemented (during the con!) by Jaromir and others.

Firmware work proceeded over the summer. Ziggurat29 helped out greatly by finding ways to speed up the badge’s BASIC interpreter (that story is told on his UBASIC and the Need for Speed project page) and rolled into the code base by Jaromir. More bugs were fixed, keywords were added, and the three-month project grew to more like nine.┬áThe result: the badge was in great shape for the Supercon in the fall.

Jaromir’s talk about the badge is supremely short, so if you’re interested in hacking a retrocomputer into a PIC, or if you’ve got a badge and you still want to dig deeper into it, you should really give it a look. We don’t think that anyone fully exploited the CP/M machine emulator that lies inside — there’s tons of software written for that machine that is just begging to be run after all these years — but we’re pretty sure nearly everyone got at least into the basement in Zork. Dive in!

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Justin McAllister’s Simple, Post-Apocalypse-Friendly Antennas

Watch Justin McAllister’s presentation on simple antennas suitable for a zombie apocalypse and two things will happen: you’ll be reminded that everything antennas do is amazing, and their reputation for being a black magic art will fade dramatically. Justin really knows his stuff; there is no dangle-a-wire-and-hope-for-the-best in his examples. He demonstrates that it’s possible to communicate over remarkable distances with nothing more than an off-the-shelf radio, battery pack, and an antenna of simple design.

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Leigh Johnson’s Guide To Machine Vision On Raspberry Pi

We salute hackers who make technology useful for people in emerging markets. Leigh Johnson joined that select group when she accepted the challenge to build portable machine vision units that work offline and can be deployed for under $100 each. For hardware, a Raspberry Pi with camera plus screen can fit under that cost ceiling, and the software to give it sight is the focus of her 2018 Hackaday Superconference presentation. (Video also embedded below.)

The talk is a very concise 13 minutes, so Leigh flies through definitions of basic terms, before quickly naming TensorFlow and Keras as the tools she used. The time she saved here was spent on explaining what convolutional neural networks are and how they work, just enough to prepare the audience. But all of that is really just background, the meat of the talk is self-contained examples that Leigh has put together and made available online. I love to see that since it means you go beyond just watching and try it out for yourself. Continue reading “Leigh Johnson’s Guide To Machine Vision On Raspberry Pi”