Here at Hackaday we are willing to bet that in a universe free of all monetary constraints, many of our readers would leave their day jobs in order to pursue their hardware hobbies full time. Obviously this is only practical for a lucky minority of people (for a wide variety of reasons) but we’re willing to bet that a significant stumbling block is figuring how to do it in the first place. You quit your job, but then what? If more information about starting and sustaining small hardware business’ was available more people would take the plunge to start one. There are software companies with salary transparency but this is only part of the picture and we can’t think of many hardware companies that offer the same. What we really want is to get an image of the entire business end to end; from suppliers to COGS to salary. And we want to see it for hardware.
Years ago the first and second Hackaday Prizes captured an entrant named FarmBot whose goal was to build open source robotic farming equipment to make it easier for anyone to grow their own food. A few successful Kickstarters and years later they’ve been shipped multiple versions of the Genesis and Genesis XL robotic farming system and have a sustainable business! And now they’ve decided to open source their business operations too. Suffice to say, this provides quite an uncommon view into the guts of what makes a small open source hardware business tick. Let’s take a closer look!
There is a wealth of information exposed in the company documentation; it’s as though they took their internal wiki and made it public, which we suppose is exactly what happened. The most interesting part for our readers might be the statistics page that tracks costs and quantities for their products. This is where the magic lives. You can use to it see that so far they’ve sold 124 Genesis XL machines at an average selling price of $3,834.34 for $475,458.30 of revenue (it cost $187,200 to build their run of 200 machines). You can also see that each machine has 1,415 parts and takes about 25 hours to assemble. This page is where the true guts of the business live.
Everything else is here too. Here’s where you can learn about what vendors FarmBot uses use logistics, or power, or web infrastructure monitoring. And this is the page with the infamous salary calculation formulas if you want to guess what you’d make as an employee. Then there’s a bunch of boring but important stuff. Fulfillment processes live here, and the consumables they use to support that fulfillment are listed here (with costs!).
One reason we enjoy open source so much is that it affords a wonderful opportunity for people to learn instead of keeping the important parts of a product or process perpetually under wraps. We’re hoping that documentation like this becomes more prevalent and foster an explosion of small hardware companies to follow it.
Our five rounds of Hackaday Prize 2018 challenges have just wrapped up, and we’re looking forward to see where the chips fall in the final ranking. While we’re waiting for the winners to be announced at Hackaday Superconference, it’s fun to take a look back at one of our past winners. Watch [Reinier van der Lee] give the latest updates on his Vinduino project (video also embedded after the break) to a Hackaday Los Angeles meetup earlier this year.
Vinduino started with [Reinier]’s desire to better understand what happens to irrigation water under the surface, measuring soil moisture at different depths. This knowledge informs more efficient use of irrigation water, as we’ve previously covered in more detail. What [Reinier] has been focused on is improving usability of the system by networking the sensors wirelessly versus having to walk up and physically attach a reader unit.
His thought started the same as ours – put them on WiFi! But adding WiFi coverage across his entire vineyard was not going to be cost-effective. After experimenting with various communication schemes, he has settled on LoRa. Designed to trade raw bandwidth for long range with low power requirements, it is a perfect match for a network of soil moisture sensors.
In the video [Reinier] gives an overview of LoRa for those who might be unfamiliar. Followed by results of his experiments integrating LoRa functionality into Vinduino, and ending with a call to action for hackers to help grow the LoRa network. It sounds like he’s become quite the champion for the cause! He’s even giving a hands-on workshop at Supercon where you can build your own LoRa connected sensor. (Get tickets here.)
We’re always happy to see open-source hardware projects like Vinduino succeed, transitioning to a product that solve real world problems. We know there are even more promising ideas out there, which is why Hackaday’s sister company Tindie is funding a Project to Product program to help this year’s winners follow in Vinduino’s footsteps. We look forward to sharing more success stories yet to come.
Continue reading “Vinduino Water-Smart Farming – Now with LoRa!”
For the last seven months, we’ve been running the world’s greatest hardware competition. The Hackaday Prize is the Academy Awards of Open Hardware, and a competition where thousands of hardware hackers compete to build a better future. The results have already been phenomenal, but all good things must come to an end: we’re wrapping up the last challenge in the Hackaday Prize, after which the finalists of the five rounds will move on, with the ultimate winner being announced next month at the Hackaday Superconference.
We’re in the final hours of the Musical Instrument Challenge, where we’re asking everyone to build the next evolution of modern music instrumentation. We’re looking for the next electric guitar, theremin, synthesizer, violin, or an MPC. What we’ve seen so far is, quite simply, amazing. One of the finalists from the five challenges in this year’s Hackaday Prize will win $50,000 USD, but twenty projects from the Musical Instrument Challenge will each win $1000. We’ll be figuring out those winners on Monday, where they’ll move onto the final round, refereed by our fantastic judges.
It’s still not too late to get in on the action in this year’s Musical Instrument Challenge. We’re looking for the best musical projects out there, but time is of the essence. This round closes on October 8th at 07:00 PDT. There’s still time, though, so start your entry now.
Continue reading “This Is Your Last Chance To Enter The Hackaday Prize”
We just wrapped up the Human Computer Interface challenge in this year’s Hackaday Prize, and this project is pushing boundaries we’ve hardly seen before. [Giovanni Leal] is using a Leap Motion controller to move a robotic arm around in space.
The robot arm in question comes from Owi, and it is by every measure not a good robot arm. It is, however, an excellent toy filled with motors and plastic linkages that serves as a good stand-in for a proper robotic arm.
Control of this toy robot arm is done through a Leap Motion controller. While the Leap Motion is a few years old at this point, it is a very effective way to ‘measure’ the position and rotation of a hand in 3D space. The only thing that’s required is the Leap Motion controller itself and a tabletop.
The end result is a robot that can be controlled by a hand. While this robot arm is really just a toy, it was fun to assemble and a little bit of hardware hacking with an Arduino turned this into a working robot arm controlled by a human. Scale this up, establish an island lair, and you’re on your way to taking over the world.
It is probable that many of us have noticed a variety of very cheap CNC mills in the pages of Chinese tech websites and been sorely tempted. On paper or as pixels on your screen they look great, but certainly with the more inexpensive models there soon emerges a gap between the promise and the reality.
[Brandon Piner] hopes to address this problem, with his CNC Mod Pack, a series of upgrades to a cheap mill designed to make it into a much more useful tool. In particular he’s created a revised 3D-printed tool holder and a set of end stop switches. The tool holder boasts swappable mounts on a dovetail fitting with versions for both a laser diode and a rotary tool, allowing much better tool positioning. Meanwhile the end stops are a necessary addition that protects both tool and machine from mishaps.
The same arguments play out in the world of small CNC mills as do in that of inexpensive 3D printers, namely that the economy of buying the super-cheap machine that is nominally the same as the expensive one starts to take a knock when you consider the level of work and expense needed to make your purchase usable. But with projects like this one the barrier to achieving a quality result from an unpromising start is lowered, and the enticing prospect is raised of a decent CNC machine for not a lot.
Over the years there have been a variety of modular electronic systems allowing the creation of complex circuits by the interconnection of modules containing individual functions. Hexabitz, a selection of interlocking polygonal small PCBs, is just such a system. What can it bring to the table that others haven’t done already?
The problem facing designers of modular electronics is this: all devices have different requirements and interfaces. To allow connection between modules that preserves all these connections requires an ever-increasing complexity in the inter-module connectors, or the application of a little intelligence to the problem. The Hexabitz designers have opted for the latter angle, equipping each module with an STM32 microcontroller that allows it to identify both itself and its function, and to establish a mesh network with other modules in the same connected project. This also gives the system the ability to farm off computing tasks to individual modules rather than relying solely upon a single microcontroller or single-board computer.
An extremely comprehensive array of modules can be had for the system, which lends it some interesting possibilities, however, it suffers from the inherent problem of modular electronic systems, that it is less easy to incorporate non-standard functions. If they can crack a prototyping module coupled with an easy way to tell its microcontroller to identify whatever function is upon it, they might have a winner.
Somehow, walking robots at our level never really seem to deliver on the promise that should be delivered by all those legs. Articulation using hobby servos is simple enough to achieve, but cumbersome, slow, and not very powerful. [Paul Gould] has a plan to make a better, 3D-printed articulated robot actuator.
His solution is both novel and elegant, a fairly conventional arm geometry that has at its joints a set of brushless motors similar to but a little larger than the kind you might be more familiar with on multirotors, paired with 3D-printed cycloidal gearboxes. Magnetic encoders provide the necessary positional feedback, and the result is a unit that is both compact and powerful.
With such a range of small brushless motor controllers on the market, it’s at first sight unexpected that he’s designed his own controller board. But this gives him complete control over his software, plus the CAN bus that ties everything together. He’s given us a video which we’ve placed below the break, showing the build process, the impressive capabilities of his system, and a selection of builds including a robot dog complete with tail. This is definitely a project to watch.
Continue reading “A 3D-Printed Robot Actuator”