Hackaday Links: June 13, 2021

When someone offers to write you a check for $5 billion for your company, it seems like a good idea to take it. But in the world of corporate acquisitions and mergers, that’s not always the case, as Altium proved this week when they rebuffed a A$38.50 per share offer from Autodesk. Altium Ltd., the Australian company whose flagship Altium Designer suite is used by PCB and electronic designers around the world, said that the Autodesk offer “significantly undervalues” Altium, despite the fact that it represents a 42% premium of the company’s share price at the end of last week. Altium’s rejection doesn’t close the door on ha deal with Autodesk, or any other comers who present a better offer, which means that whatever happens, changes are likely in the EDA world soon.

There were reports this week of a massive explosion and fire at a Chinese polysilicon plant — sort of. A number of cell phone videos have popped up on YouTube and elsewhere that purport to show the dramatic events unfolding at a plant in Xinjiang province, with one trade publication for the photovoltaic industry reporting that it happened at the Hoshine Silicon “997 siloxane” packing facility. They further reported that the fire was brought under control after about ten hours of effort by firefighters, and that the cause is under investigation. The odd thing is that we can’t find a single mention of the incident in any of the mainstream media outlets, even five full days after it purportedly happened. We’d have figured the media would have been all over this, and linking it to the ongoing semiconductor shortage, perhaps erroneously since the damage appears to be limited to organic silicone production as opposed to metallic silicon. But the company does supply something like 17% of the world’s supply of silicon metal, so anything that could potentially disrupt that should be pretty big news.

It’s always fun to see “one of our own” take a project from idea to product, and we like to celebrate such successes when they come along. And so it was great to see the battery-free bicycle tire pressure sensor that Hackaday.io user CaptMcAllister has been working on make it to the crowdfunding stage. The sensor is dubbed the PSIcle, and it attaches directly to the valve stem on a bike tire. The 5-gram sensor has an NFC chip, a MEMS pressure sensor, and a loop antenna. The neat thing about this is the injection molding process, which basically pots the electronics in EDPM while leaving a cavity for the air to reach the sensor. The whole thing is powered by the NFC radio in a smartphone, so you just hold your phone up to the sensor to get a reading. Check out the Kickstarter for more details, and congratulations to CaptMcAllister!

We’re saddened to learn of the passing of Dale Heatherington last week. While the name might not ring a bell, the name of his business partner Dennis Hayes probably does, as together they founded Hayes Microcomputer Products, makers of the world’s first modems specifically for the personal computer market. Dale was the technical guru of the partnership, and it’s said that he’s the one who came up with the famous “AT-command set”. Heatherington only stayed with Hayes for seven years or so before taking his a $20 million share of the company and retiring, which of course meant more time and resources to devote to tinkering with everything from ham radio to battle bots. ATH0, Dale.

Autodesk Blinks, Keeps STEP File Export In Free Version Of Fusion 360

Good news, Fusion 360 fans — Autodesk just announced that they won’t be removing support for STEP file exports for personal use licensees of the popular CAD/CAM platform after all.

As we noted last week, Autodesk had announced major changes to the free-to-use license for Fusion 360. Most of the changes, like the elimination of simulations, rolling back of some CAM features, and removal of generative design tools didn’t amount to major workflow disruptions for many hobbyists who have embraced the platform. But the loss of certain export formats, most notably STEP files, was a bone of contention and the topic of heated discussion in the makerverse. Autodesk summed up the situation succinctly in their announcement, stating that the reversal was due to “unintended consequences for the hobbyist community.”

While this is great news, bear in mind that the other changes to the personal use license are still scheduled to go into effect on October 1, while the planned change to limit the number of active projects will go into effect in January 2021. So while Fusion 360 personal use licensees will still have STEP files, the loss of other export file formats like IGES and SAT are still planned.

Hackaday Links: September 20, 2020

The announcement of Autodesk’s changes to the Fusion 360 personal use license terms this week caused quite a dustup. Our article on the announcement garnered a lot of discussion and not a few heated comments. At the end of the day, though, Autodesk is going to do what it’s going to do, and the Fusion 360 user community is just going to have to figure out how to deal with the changes. One person who decided to do something other than complain is Justin Nesselrotte, who came up with a quick and easy bulk export tool for Fusion 360. This gets to the heart of the issue since the removal of export to STEP, IGES, and SAT files is perhaps the most painful change for our community. Justin’s script automatically opens every design and exports it to the file type of your choice. Since the license changes go into effect on October 1, you’d better get cracking if you want to export your designs.

Over on Twitter, Hackaday superfriend Timon gives us a valuable lesson in “you get what you pay for.” He found that a bunch of his header pin jumper cables weren’t even remotely assembled properly. The conductors of the jumper wire were only loosely inserted into the terminal’s crimp, where apparently no crimping pressure had been applied. The wires were just rattling around inside the crimp, rather than making sold contact. We’ve covered the art and science of crimping before, and it’s pretty safe to say that these jumpers are garbage. So if you’re seeing weird results with a circuit, you might want to take a good, close look at your jumpers. And as always, caveat emptor.

The GNU Radio Conference wrapped up this week, in virtual format as so many other conferences have been this year, and it generated a load of interesting talks. They’ve got each day’s proceedings over on their YouTube channel, so the videos are pretty long; luckily, each day’s stream is indexed on the playbar, so along with the full schedule you can quickly find the talks you’re interested in. One that caught our eye was a talk on the Radio Resilience Competition, a hardware challenge where participants compete head-to-head using SDRs to get signals through in an adversarial environment. It sounds like a fascinating challenge for the RF inclined. More details about registering for the competition can be had on the Radio Resilience website.

You know those recipe sites that give you a few choices on what to make for dinner based on the ingredients you have on hand? We always thought that was a clever idea, and now something like it has come to our world. It’s called DIY Hub, and it aims to guide makers toward projects they can build based on the parts they have on hand. Users create projects on the site, either hosting the project directly on the site or providing a link to projects on another site. Either way, the project’s BOM is cataloged so that users can find something to build based on parts stored in their “Garage”. Granted, most of us suffer from the exact opposite problem of not knowing what to build next, but this could be an interesting tool for stimulating the creative process, especially for teachers and parents. It’s currently in beta, and we’d love to see a few Hackaday.io projects added to the site.

And finally, we got a tip to an oldie but a goodie: How to Build a Castle. No, we don’t expect to see a rash of 13th-century castle builds gracing our pages anytime soon — although we certainly wouldn’t be opposed to the idea. Rather, this is a little something for your binge-watching pleasure. The BBC series, which was actually called Secrets of the Castle, was a five-part 2014 offering that went into great detail on the construction of Guédelon Castle, an experimental archaeology project in France that seeks to build a castle using only the materials and methods available in the 1200s. The series is hosted by historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Peter Ginn and Tom Pinfold, and it’s great fun for anyone interested in history and technology.

Autodesk Announces Major Changes To Fusion 360 Personal Use License Terms

Change is inevitable, and a part of life. But we’re told that nobody likes change. So logically, it seems we’ve proved nobody likes life. QED.

That may be a reach, but judging by the reaction of the Fusion 360 community to the announced changes to the personal use license, they’re pretty much hating life right now. The clear message from Autodesk is that Fusion 360 — the widely used suite of CAD and CAM software — will still offer a free-to-use non-commercial license for design and manufacturing work, with the inclusion of a few very big “buts” that may be deal-breakers for some people. The changes include:

  • Project storage is limited to 10 active and editable documents
  • Exports are now limited to a small number of file types. Thankfully this still includes STL files but alas, DXF, DWG, PDF exports are all gone
  • Perhaps most importantly to the makerverse, STEP, SAT, and IGES file types can no longer be exported, the most common files for those who want to edit a design using different software.
  • 2D drawings can now only be single sheet, and can only be printed or plotted
  • Rendering can now only be done locally, so leveraging cloud-based rendering is no longer possible
  • CAM support has been drastically cut back: no more multi-axis milling, probing, automatic tool changes, or rapid feeds, but support for 2, 2.5, and 3 axis remains
  • All support for simulation, generative design, and custom extensions has been removed

Most of these changes go into effect October 1, with the exception of the limit on active project files which goes into effect in January of 2021. We’d say that users of Fusion 360’s free personal use license would best be advised to export everything they might ever think they need design files for immediately — if you discover you need to export them in the future, you’ll need one of the other licenses to do so.

To be fair, it was pretty clear that changes to the personal use license were coming a while ago with the consolidation of paid-tier licenses almost a year ago, and the cloud-credit system that monetized rendering/simulation/generative design services happening on the Autodesk servers. Features removed from the free license in this week’s announcement remain in place for paid subscriptions as well as the educational and start-up license options.

The problem with these personal use licenses is that it’s easy to get used to them and think of them as de facto open-source licenses; changing the terms then ends up leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. To their credit, Autodesk is offering a steep discount on the commercial license right now, which might take some of the sting out of the changes.

Update 09-25-2020: Autodesk has announced that STEP file export will remain in the free version of Fusion 360

Autodesk Fusion 360 Hack Chat

Join us Wednesday at noon Pacific time for the Autodesk Fusion 360 Hack Chat!

Most of us have a collection of tools that we use for the various mechanical, electronic, and manufacturing tasks we face daily. But if you were asked to name one tool that stretches across all these spaces, Autodesk Fusion 360 would certainly spring to mind. Everyone from casual designers of 3D-printed widgets to commercial CNC machine shops use it as an end to end design solution, and anyone who has used it over the last year or so knows that the feature set in Fusion is expanding rapidly.

Matt, who goes by technolomaniac on Hackaday.io, is Director of Product Development for EAGLE, Tinkercad, and Fusion 360 at Autodesk. He’ll drop by the Hack Chat this week to discuss your questions about:

  • All the Autodesk design software components, from EAGLE to Fusion and beyond
  • Future plans for an EAGLE-Fusion integration
  • Support for manufacturing, including additive, CNC, and even mold making
  • Will there ever be “one design tool to rule them all?”

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Autodesk Fusion 360 Hack Chat page and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, April 10, at noon, Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Generative Design Algorithms Prepare For Space

NASA is famously risk-averse, taking cautious approaches because billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake and each failure receives far more political attention than their many successes. So while moving the final frontier outward requires adopting new ideas, those ideas must first prove themselves through a lengthy process of risk-reduction. Autodesk’s research into generative design algorithms has just taken a significant step on this long journey with a planetary lander concept.

It was built jointly with a research division of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the birthplace of many successful interplanetary space probes. This project got a foot in the door by promising 30% weight savings over conventional design techniques. Large reduction in launch mass is always a good way to get a space engineer’s attention! Mimicking mother nature’s evolutionary process, these algorithms output very organic looking shapes. This is a relatively new approach to design optimization under exploration by multiple engineering software vendors. Not just Autodesk’s “Generative Design” but also “Topology Optimization” in SolidWorks, plus others. Though these shapes appear ideally suited to 3D printing, Autodesk also had to prove their algorithm could work with more traditional fabrication techniques like 5-axis CNC mills.

This is leading-edge research technology though some less specialized, customer-ready versions are starting to trickle out of research labs. Starting with an exclusive circle: People with right tiers of SolidWorks license, the paid (not free) tier of Autodesk Fusion 360, etc. We’ve looked at another recent project with nontraditional organic shapes, and we’ve looked at generative designs used for their form as well as their function. This category of CAD tools hold a lot of promise, and we’re optimistic they’ll soon become widely accessible so we can all put them to good use in our earthbound projects.

Possibly even before they fly to another planet.

[via Engadget]

Autodesk Introduces Serpentine Router For Eagle

Since Autodesk acquired Eagle a few years ago, they’ve been throwing out all the stops. There is now a button in Eagle that flips your board from the front to the back — a feature that should have been there twenty years ago. There’s parametric part generation, push and shove routing, integration with Fusion 360, and a host of other features that makes Eagle one of the best PCB layout tools available.

Today, Autodesk is introducing something revolutionary. The latest version of Eagle (version 8.7.1) comes with a manual serpentine routing mode, giving anyone the same tools as the geniuses at Nokia twenty years ago.

An exclusive first look at Eagle’s new serpentine routing mode

The new serpentine routing mode is invoked via the SNAKE command. This brings up serpentine routing interface, where you can add nets and place your serpentine router. Click anywhere on the screen, and you can route around pads and traces to collect all the vias, hopefully netting a high score.

There are some tricks to this new mode. Control and Shift change the speed of serpentine routing, and the current zoom level changes the initial speed. As you route between vias, the serpentine router grows longer, making routing significantly more difficult, but if you’re up to the task you’ll eventually get a ‘You’re Winner’ screen.

This is just the innovation we’ve been looking for from Autodesk since their acquisition of Eagle. It’s not push and shove routing, and it’s not parametric part generation. Serpentine routing is the next big thing in EDA tools, and already this routing mode is on the upcoming feature list for KiCad. The KiCad version of serpentine routing will be pronounced, ‘sneak’.