flow IO module options

Get Your Flex On With The FlowIO Platform

Hackaday Prize 2021 entry FlowIO Platform promises to be to pneumatics what Arduino is to Electronics. The modular platform comprises a common controller/valve block, a selection of differently sized pumps, and a few optional connectivity and sensing blocks. With Arduino software support as well as as Javascript and web-GUI, there’s a way to program this no matter what the level of experience the user has.

flowIO exploded view
flowIO exploded view from http://www.softrobotics.io/flowio

This last point is a critical one for the mission [Ali Shtarbanov] from the MIT Media Lab is setting out for this project. He reminds us that in decades gone by, there was a significant barrier to entry for anyone building electronics prototypes. Information about how to get started was also much harder to by before the internet really got into gear.

It’s a similar story for software, with tools like Scratch and Python lowering the barrier to entry and allowing more people to get their toes wet and build some confidence.

But despite some earlier work by projects like the Soft Robotics Toolkit and Programmable-Air, making a start on lowering the bar for pneumatics support for soft robotics, and related applications, the project author still finds areas for further improvement. FlowIO was designed from the ground-up to be wearable. It appears to be much smaller, more portable and supports more air ports and a greater array of sensing and connectivity than previous Open Source work to date.

Creative Commons Hardware

Whilst you can take all the plans (free account signup required) and build yourself a FlowIO rig of your very own, the project author offers another solution. Following on from the Wikipedia model of free sharing and distribution of information, FlowIO offers its hardware for free, for the common good. Supported by donations to the project, more hardware is produced and distributed to those who need it. The only ask is that redundant kits are passed on or returned to base for upgrade, rather than landfill.

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3D Printering: The Search For Better Search

There’s no question that a desktop 3D printer is at its most useful when it’s producing parts of your own design. After all, if you’ve got a machine that can produce physical objects to your exacting specifications, why not give it some? But even the most diligent CAD maven will occasionally defer to an existing design, as there’s no sense spending the time and effort creating their own model if a perfectly serviceable one is already available under an open source license.

But there’s a problem: finding these open source models is often more difficult than it should be. The fact of the matter is, the ecosystem for sharing 3D printable models is in a very sorry state. Thingiverse, the community’s de facto model repository, is antiquated and plagued with technical issues. Competitors such as Pinshape and YouMagine are certainly improvements on a technical level, but without the sheer number of models and designers that Thingiverse has, they’ve been unable to earn much mindshare. When people are looking to download 3D models, it stands to reason that the site with the most models will be the most popular.

It’s a situation that the community is going to have to address eventually. As it stands, it’s something of a minor miracle that Thingiverse still exists. Owned and operated by Makerbot, the company that once defined the desktop 3D printer but is today all but completely unknown in a market dominated by low-cost printers from the likes of Monoprice and Creality, it seems only a matter of time before the site finally goes dark. They say it’s unwise to put all of your eggs in one basket, and doubly so if the basket happens to be on fire.

So what will it take to get people to consider alternatives to Thingiverse before it’s too late? Obviously, snazzy modern web design isn’t enough to do it. Not if the underlying service operates on the same formula. To really make a dent in this space, you need a killer feature. Something that measurably improves the user experience of finding the 3D model you need in a sea of hundreds of thousands. You need to solve the search problem.

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This Billboard Kills Zika Mosquitoes

Once in a great while, effective advertising doesn’t require any human engagement at all. This billboard, designed and built by a pair of Brazilian ad agencies and set free under the Creative Commons license offers a reproducible solution for trapping Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, the primary carrier of the Zika virus.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

The design seems pretty simple, although the plans leave a bit of explanation to be desired. Inside the billboard are canisters of Lurex 3, a lactic acid-based mosquito attractant that is available pretty cheaply on Amazon. The lactic acid mimics the scent of human sweat and is released outward to distances up to 4km (2.5 miles) in a fine mist along with CO₂. Together, the Lurex and CO₂ act like a sweaty, mouth-breathing human beacon to lure mosquitoes into the billboard, where they become trapped and are doomed to die of dehydration.
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Is The Arduino Yun Open Hardware?

According to [Squonk42], nope. And we think he’s probably right.

The Yun is an Arduino Leonardo with an Atheros AR9331 WiFi SoC built in. It’s a great idea, pairing the Arduino with a tiny WiFi router that’s capable of running OpenWRT.  But how is this no longer Open Source Hardware? Try getting an editable board layout. You can’t.

Or at least [Squonk42] couldn’t. In Sept. 2013, [Squonk42] posted up on the Arduino forums requesting the schematics and editable design files for the Arduino Yun, and he still hasn’t received them or even a response.

Now this dude’s no slouch. He’s responsible for the most complete reverse-engineering of the TP-Link TL-WR703N pocket router, which is, not coincidentally, an Atheros AR9331-based reference design. And this is where the Arduini ran into trouble, [Squonk42] contends.

[Squonk42]’s hypothesis is that Arduino must have done what any “sane” engineer would do in this case when presented with a super-complex piece of hardware and a potentially tricky radio layout: just use the reference design (Atheros AP-121). That’s what everyone else in the industry did. And that’s smart, only the rest of the consumer electronics industry isn’t claiming to be Open Source Hardware while the reference design is protected by an NDA.

So it looks like Arduino’s hands are tied. They, or their partner Dog Hunter, either signed the NDA or downloaded the PDF of the reference design that’s floating around on the Interwebs. Either way, it’s going to be tough to publish the design files under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license.

Is this a change of strategy for the Arduino folks or did they just make a mistake? We won’t know until they respond, and that answer’s a year and a half in coming. Let’s see what we can do about that. And who knows, maybe Arduino can lean on Atheros to open up their reference design? It’s already an open secret at best.

But before you go out lighting up your righteous Open Source Hardware pitchforks and sharpening up your torches, read through [Squonk42]’s case and then dig through the primary sources that he’s linked to make up your own mind. You’ll make your case more eloquently if you’re making it yourself.

Good luck, [Squonk42]! We hope you at least get your answer. Even if you already know it.

Laser-cut Album Released

In some alternate universe, where laser cutters and phonographs are more common than MP3 players, it makes a ton of sense to release laser-cutter files for your band’s new album (Translated). In this universe, it’s wacky and awesome.

The new EP from ASIC, alias [Patric] from Fablab Zürich, is out as PDF before it’s out in other forms of digital download, and the trailer video (embedded below the break) looks fantastic.

The release draws on this Instructable by Amanda Ghassaei to turn the music into PDFs suitable for feeding into a laser cutter, and we think it’s classy that she gets a shout-out on the label’s release page.  Everything else about the album will be released under a Creative Commons license to boot.

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Tiny Chess Playing Computer

We have covered many chess computers in the past, but we think this might just be the smallest. Enter the PIC Blitz: A tiny low-cost low-power computer that can play lightning chess.

It’s based on a PIC16F628A microcontroller, which only has 3.5kbytes of flash and a mere 224 bytes of RAM. For comparison, Boris (one of the first consumer chess computers), utilized an 8-bit microprocessor with 2.5 kbytes of ROM and 256 bytes of RAM.

PIC Blitz has a full fledged chess library: it knows all the moves, all the basic openings and even changes its evaluation function weights as the game progresses to keep the game interesting. The creator [Mark Owen] quips about some of the additional techniques he utilized to make up for the limited processing power; including “pondering time”, a difficult and slow user interface, and of course, a barely-comprehensible LCD.

If you’re interested he has released the files under Creative Commons, and has a link to the PCB layout on the project page – we won’t link it directly though, since it goes straight to a download.

[Thanks Martin!]

IFixit Licenses Manuals Under Creative Commons

Yesterday, iFixit.com announced that they are releasing all of their manuals under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license. The site has long been an abundant source of tear-down photos for hardware and has been gaining momentum as the go-to source for Apple hardware repair information. With the move to Creative Commons, the gates are open to distribute and improve upon the site’s content. There are even plans in the works to host user-submitted improvements (something akin to a wiki?) to the guides but there are not yet any details. The news also includes mention of forthcoming support for translated guides around the end of 2010.

The Hackaday crowd would rather fix things than throw them away. As iFixit moves past Apple products to a wider range of repair manuals and starts working collaboratively with users, we hope to see an explosion of detailed tips, tricks, and guides to keep our stuff working better, longer.