Kickstarter Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, August 7th at noon Pacific for the Kickstarter Hack Chat with Beau Ambur and Clarissa Redwine!

For many of us, magic things happen on our benches. We mix a little of this, one of those, and a couple of the other things, and suddenly the world has the Next Big Thing. Or does it? Will it ever see the light of day? Will you ever build a community around your project so that the magic can escape the shop and survive the harsh light of the marketplace? And perhaps most importantly, will you be able to afford to bring your project to market?

Crowdfunding is often the answer to these questions and more, and Kickstarter is one of the places where hackers can turn their project into a product. Beau and Clarissa, both outreach leads for the crowdfunding company, will stop by the Hack Chat to answer all your questions about getting your project off the bench and into the marketplace. Join us as we discuss everything from building a community that’s passionate enough about your idea to fund it, to the right way to share your design story.

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, August 7 at 12:00 PM 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.

Hackaday Prize Mentor Session: Beau Ambur

Beau Ambur can often be found hosting hardware events and offering help all around the Bay Area. Now he’s turned it into a career and travels the west coast helping hackers and creators effectively leverage Kickstarter’s platform. Beau’s mentor session covers everything from, “is this project a good fit for venture capital?” to, “is open source a good fit for my project?”.

For this year’s Hackaday Prize we’ve found experts in a wide range of fields so you can take your entries to the next level regardless of the stage the project is in. The sessions are on a first come basis so sign up now for a chance to get some valuable feedback on your entry.

Your Robot Language Coach

The first project is a Personal English Trainer by the lonely programmer. As a student he noticed a need for a more interactive and portable language learning aid. Solutions do exist on the market but they are along the lines of a pocket dictionary, instructional phone app, or a full on translator. These break the flow of thought and conversation. The lonely programmer envisioned something that you can conversationally ask for help as you’re using a new language.

As many have discovered, the best way to see if there’s a need for something is to build a minimum viable product (MVP). The snips.ai platform offered the perfect foundation to quickly test out the idea. It’s working on a few words and he wants to get it ready for more people to play with the idea. The majority of the lonely programmer’s questions centered around making the project interesting for other hackers so that it could one day turn into a product.

Bolt-On Bike Assist

Rob and Shushanik are developing a project called BikeOn. It bolts to any bicycle and converts it to an electric assist bike without tools or replacing any components. BikeOn has already won some accolades such as Editors Choice at the last 2019 Makerfaire Bay Area. Rob had a few questions on how to transition a project from the proof of concept stage to the product stage. The discussion went over using open source as a tool for product promotion as well as getting funding for taking a hardware product to market.

He also wanted to know if there was anything the team could do to have a better shot at winning the prize. There were a few good tips such as directly focusing on the five categories the judges would be looking at: Concept, Design, Production, Benchmark, and Communication. It is also important to cover the development journey. Why did you make the choices you made when designing the project?

No-Spill Trash Can Concept

Rounding out this mentor session, Jeannie and her team of highschool students demonstrate SEAL. In the area around the Granada Hills Charter High School there are winds mighty enough to blow over full trashcans. This trash travels to the ocean and disrupts local ecosystems. The team is working on a device which can detect a tipping trashcan and keep the lid from opening.

Prototyping started with Arduinos, but they’ve already escalated to designing their own PCBs. Their hope is to produce a run of fifty devices and try them out with a local commercial partner. Beau recommended they look into the Micropython ecosystem. Not only would the students get the advantage of using the STM32 chips in their board layouts (reducing the number of support components they would need), micropython would make it easier for students to jump in and help rather than having to learn the nuances of C first.

The Hackaday Prize mentoring sessions continue through the summer so don’t forget to sign up and check out the list of mentors who are here to share their knowledge and experience.

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Marketing And Selling Hardware Hack Chat

Join us Wednesday at noon Pacific time for the Marketing and Selling Hardware Hack Chat with Shawn Hymel!

It may not be every hardware hacker’s dream, but a fair number of us harbor fantasies of thinking up the Next Big Thing and kissing the day job goodbye forever. It’s an understandable dream and a laudable goal, but as they say, a goal is a dream with a plan and a deadline. What’s your plan for turning your project into a marketable product? Chances are good you don’t have one, and if you ever expect to get to your goal you’re going to need one.

Shawn Hymel is an engineer who led several marketing campaigns for Spark Fun and recently shared his thoughts on marketing with attendees of the first-ever KiCon conference in Chicago. He’ll be dropping by the Hack Chat to talk about everything you ever wanted to know about marketing your hardware projects but were afraid to ask.

join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, May 8 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.

The Coolest Electronic Toys You’ll See At NAMM

Winter NAMM is the world’s largest trade show for musical instrument makers. It is a gear head’s paradise, filled to the brim with guitars, synths, amps, MIDI controllers, an impossibly loud section filled with drums, ukuleles, and all sorts of electronic noisemakers that generate bleeps and bloops. Think of it as CES, only with products people want to buy. We’re reporting no one has yet stuffed Alexa into a guitar pedal, by the way.

As with all trade shows, the newest gear is out, and it’s full of tech that will make your head spin. NAMM is the expression of an entire industry, and with that comes technical innovation. What was the coolest, newest stuff at NAMM? And what can hackers learn from big industry? There’s some cool stuff here, and a surprising amount we can use.

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The Megapixel Race And Its Clear Winner

Like any Moore’s Law-inspired race, the megapixel race in digital cameras in the late 1990s and into the 2000s was a harsh battleground for every manufacturer. With the development of the smartphone, it became a war on two fronts, with Samsung eventually cramming twenty megapixels into a handheld. Although no clear winner of consumer-grade cameras was ever announced (and Samsung ended up reducing their flagship phone’s cameras to sixteen megapixels for reasons we’ll discuss) it seems as though this race is over, fizzling out into a void where even marketing and advertising groups don’t readily venture. What happened?

The Technology

A brief overview of Moore’s Law predicts that transistor density on a given computer chip should double about every two years. A digital camera’s sensor is remarkably similar, using the same silicon to form charge-coupled devices or CMOS sensors (the same CMOS technology used in some RAM and other digital logic technology) to detect photons that hit it. It’s not too far of a leap to realize how Moore’s Law would apply to the number of photo detectors on a digital camera’s image sensor. Like transistor density, however, there’s also a limit to how many photo detectors will fit in a given area before undesirable effects start to appear.

cmos_image_sensor_mechanism_illustration
CMOS Image Sensor Mechanism Illustration, By User:たまなるたみ – drawing created myself, GPL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=371238. Note that each pixel has its own amplifier.

Image sensors have come a long way since video camera tubes. In the ’70s, the charge-coupled device (CCD) replaced the cathode ray tube as the dominant video capturing technology. A CCD works by arranging capacitors into an array and biasing them with a small voltage. When a photon hits one of the capacitors, it is converted into an electrical charge which can then be stored as digital information. While there are still specialty CCD sensors for some niche applications, most image sensors are now of the CMOS variety. CMOS uses photodiodes, rather than capacitors, along with a few other transistors for every pixel. CMOS sensors perform better than CCD sensors because each pixel has an amplifier which results in more accurate capturing of data. They are also faster, scale more readily, use fewer components in general, and use less power than a comparably sized CCD. Despite all of these advantages, however, there are still many limitations to modern sensors when more and more of them get packed onto a single piece of silicon.

While transistor density tends to be limited by quantum effects, image sensor density is limited by what is effectively a “noisy” picture. Noise can be introduced in an image as a result of thermal fluctuations within the material, so if the voltage threshold for a single pixel is so low that it falsely registers a photon when it shouldn’t, the image quality will be greatly reduced. This is more noticeable in CCD sensors (one effect is called “blooming“) but similar defects can happen in CMOS sensors as well. There are a few ways to solve these problems, though.

cockfield-minco
A sunrise picture taken with an entry-level DSLR at 1600 ISO. At this sensitivity, noise in the clouds can be seen in the form of random fluctuations of some pixels. This effect would be mitigated by a camera with a larger sensor, a lower sensor sensitivity with a longer shutter speed (which would blur the turbine blades) or a scene with more light. Photo  © 2016 by Bryan Cockfield

 

First, the voltage threshold can be raised so that random thermal fluctuations don’t rise above the threshold to trigger the pixels. In a DSLR, this typically means changing the ISO setting of a camera, where a lower ISO setting means more light is required to trigger a pixel, but that random fluctuations are less likely to happen. From a camera designer’s point-of-view, however, a higher voltage generally implies greater power consumption and some speed considerations, so there are some tradeoffs to make in this area.

Another reason that thermal fluctuations cause noise in image sensors is that the pixels themselves are so close together that they influence their neighbors. The answer here seems obvious: simply increase the area of the sensor, make the pixels of the sensor bigger, or both. This is a good solution if you have unlimited area, but in something like a cell phone this isn’t practical. This gets to the core of the reason that most modern cell phones seem to be practically limited somewhere in the sixteen-to-twenty megapixel range. If the pixels are made too small to increase megapixel count, the noise will start to ruin the images. If the pixels are too big, the picture will have a low resolution.

There are some non-technological ways of increasing megapixel count for an image as well. For example, a panoramic image will have a megapixel count much higher than that of the camera that took the picture simply because each part of the panorama has the full mexapixel count. It’s also possible to reduce noise in a single frame of any picture by using lenses that collect more light (lenses with a lower f-number) which allows the photographer to use a lower ISO setting to reduce the camera’s sensitivity.

Gigapixels!

Of course, if you have unlimited area you can make image sensors of virtually any size. There are some extremely large, expensive cameras called gigapixel cameras that can take pictures of unimaginable detail. Their size and cost is a limiting factor for consumer devices, though, and as such are generally used for specialty purposes only. The largest image sensor ever built has a surface of almost five square meters and is the size of a car. The camera will be put to use in 2019 in the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in South America where it will capture images of the night sky with its 8.4 meter primary mirror. If this was part of the megapixel race in consumer goods, it would certainly be the winner.

design_of_the_lsst_camera
LSST Image Sensor, By Todd Mason, Mason Productions Inc. / LSST Corporation – https://www.lsst.org/sites/default/files/photogallery/Camera_CU-full.jpg, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52230238

With all of this being said, it becomes obvious that there are many more considerations in a digital camera than just the megapixel count. With so many facets of a camera such as physical sensor size, lenses, camera settings, post-processing capabilities, filters, etc., the megapixel number was essentially an easy way for marketers to advertise the claimed superiority of their products until the practical limits of image sensors was reached. Beyond a certain limit, more megapixels doesn’t automatically translate into a better picture. As already mentioned, however, the megapixel count can be important, but there are so many ways to make up for a lower megapixel count if you have to. For example, images with high dynamic range are becoming the norm even in cell phones, which also helps eliminate the need for a flash. Whatever you decide, though, if you want to start taking great pictures don’t worry about specs; just go out and take some photographs!

(Title image: VISTA gigapixel mosaic of the central parts of the Milky Way, produced by European Southern Observatory (ESO) and released under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. This is a scaled version of the original 108,500 x 81,500, 9-gigapixel image.)

From Project To Kit: After The Sale

However you sell your kits online, you’ll have to find a means of shipping them to the customer. For an online operation this unseen part of the offering is more important than any other when it comes to customer satisfaction, yet so many large players get it so wrong.

This is the final article in a series looking on the process of creating and selling a commercial kit from a personal electronic project (read all the posts in this series). We’ve looked at the market, assembling the kit and its instructions, and how to set up an online sales channel. In this part we’ll look at what happens when you’ve made the sale, how to get it safely to the customer and how to keep the customer happy after the sale by offering support for your products. We’ll also give a nod to marketing your site, ensuring a fresh supply of customers.

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Cyberpunking Home Alone

[Macaulay Culkin] err… [Kevin McCallister] pulled off some epic 1990 hacks to scare off a couple of bumbling burglars in the classic film Home Alone. Now celebrating its 25th Anniversary, it’s fun to see the tricks [Kevin] used to spoof a house party brought into this age of high-technology.

The trick in the original movie was all about silhouettes in the windows that made the house look full of people. [Michael Jordan’s] cardboard cutout taped to a model train is fairly believable. But really, who has a half-dozen mannequins just sitting in their attic? Creepy.

The marketing company RedPepper are behind the facelift of this pop culture icon. They outfitted their offices with some window dressings that are perfect for the silhouettes. In a delightful cyberpunk twist they went with projects and digital silhouettes. Embracing our current tech-heavy lives is the mobile aspect of it all. Of course there’s an app for that. It means [Kevin] doesn’t have to pull the strings. He can hide outside the building and decide which animations are played by the projectors within. Check it out after the break.

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