Have you ever seen something and instantly knew it was something you wanted, even though you weren’t aware it existed a few seconds ago? That’s how we felt when we received a tip about Zynthian, a fully open source (hardware and software) synthesizer. You can buy the kit online directly from the developers, or build your own from scratch using their documentation and source code. With a multitude of filters, effects, engines, and essentially unlimited upgrade potential, they’re calling it a “Swiss Army Knife of Synthesis”. We’re inclined to agree.
At the most basic level, the Zynthian is a Raspberry Pi 3 with a touch screen, a few rotary encoders, a dedicated sound card, and MIDI support. Software wise the biggest feature is arguably the real-time Linux kernel for the lowest latency possible. There’s also a custom web interface so you can control the Zynthian from another machine on the network if you want. As a matter of course, it also includes a wide array of pre-installed audio packages to experiment and create with.
Kits are offered at various prices from $420 USD for the top of the line model down to unpopulated PCBs for a few bucks. We like that they broke things down this way; allowing users of various skill (and or patience) to pay what they want. If you just want to buy the custom boards and roll your own case and Pi solution, you can do that.
If you want to go all in, you can build one entirely from scratch as well. Everything from the CAD files for the case to their custom rotary encoder library is completely open (most licensed under GPL v3) for anyone to use however they see fit. There’s even a page in the wiki for listing hardware which isn’t officially supported by the project, but remain as options for those looking to cut their own path.
Scientific equipment is expensive. It can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to set up a lab. Simply the cost of machines, like data acquisition units or even a simple load cell, can cost hundreds of dollars. This makes research cost prohibitive, and that’s the case even if you do spend a dozen hours a week writing grant proposals. Citizen science is right out, because the cost of the tools to do science is so high.
For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking about Open Hardware for science. This is the chat that’s all about Open Source equipment, hardware modular electronics, and Open designs to make the tools that make science.
Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat is [Dr. Alexxai Kravitz]. He has a PhD in Neuroscience from UPenn and completed a postdoc at the Gladstone Institutes in San Fransisco. [Lex]’s research focuses on understanding the reward circuitry in the brain, and his publications use a variety of experiments to examine this, including behavioral testing, in vivo electrophysiology, and optogenetics.
For this Hack Chat, we’re going to about how Open Source has made more science possible. Of note, we’ll be discussing:
What Open Source science equipment is being used today
The initiatives behind Open Source Hardware for science applications
Scientific application that could benefit from Open Hardware
You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Hack Chat Event Page and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.
Right now, we’re running the greatest hardware competition on the planet. The Hackaday Prize is the Academy Awards of Open Hardware, and we’re opening the gates to thousands of hardware hackers, makers, and artist to create the next big thing.
Last week, we wrapped up the first challenge in this year’s Hackaday Prize. We’re now happy to announce twenty of those entries that have been selected to move to the final round and have been awarded a $1000 cash prize. Congratulations to the winners for the Open Hardware Design Challenge portion of the Hackaday Prize. Here are winners, in no particular order:
Open Hardware Design Challenge Hackaday Prize Finalists:
Just take a look at these projects. They are the best of the best, and there’s still more to come. We enjoyed seeing projects that repurpose off-the-shelf technology to vastly extend the capabilities of home manufacturing with the Oasis 3DP. This project from [Yvo de Haas] takes ink cartridges from HP printers and uses it to build a powder-based 3D printer. That’s something that really hasn’t been done in the world of homebuilt 3D printers, and the Oasis 3DP already has working hardware. It truly is one of the more interesting projects we’ve ever seen, and not just because [Yvo] is dealing with dozens of tiny micro pumps squirting binder out of microscopic nozzles.
But that’s not all. There were hundreds of projects entered in the Hackaday Prize for this round, and our only regret is that we could only pick twenty winners for the Open Hardware Design Challenge. Just check out Semiconductors @ Home, a project from [Nixie] — it’s a project trying to make sand blink. [Nixie] is building all the tools to make semiconductors at home. Being able to build a simple FET is amazing, and to do that you need a fume hood to contain the dangerous hydrofluoric acid, a vacuum chamber for sputtering deposition, and a fancy oven with a controlled atmosphere. These tools are [Nixie’s] entry in the design challenge. This isn’t your garden variety hardware hacking; this is advanced hardware hacking.
Not impressed with DIY semiconductors? You’re a terrible person, but okay. How about an easy way to read rotary encoders? [fattore.saimon] and [Atikaimu] are building an I2C Encoder, an easy way to read multiple rotary encoders with just two microcontroller pins. Reading rotary encoders is one of the deceptively difficult tasks in electrical engineering; you really need some interrupts to do it right, and a microcontroller really only has a few of those to spare. [fattore] and [atikaimu]’s project does away with that problem, and puts rotary encoders on a board that can be read with a normal I2C bus. This means anyone can add a dozen rotary encoders to any project easily. Did anyone say MIDI controllers? Yes, that is possible. Everything from musical instruments to impressive control panels is possible with the I2C encoder, and it’s all Open Hardware.
Are you still not entertained? [Carl Bugeja] built a motor out of a PCB. Over the last decade, the price of custom fabricated printed circuit boards has dropped precipitously, and that means anyone can experiment with copper foil and fiberglass. [Carl] figured that since you can put coils on a PCB, you could also make a motor. While we’re only looking at a 1 Watt motor here, this is a brushless motor made out of printed circuit boards. It’s amazing, you’ve never seen it before, and we have absolutely no idea how many uses people will find a use for this amazing technology.
These are the winners of the Open Hardware Design Challenge in the Hackaday Prize, and we have a fondness for Open tools that are capable of building even more open hardware. If you want an example of that, you need only look at the Arcus-3D-P1 from [Daren Schwenke]. This is a project to add a lightweight pick and place head to any 3D printer. Below a certain size, a pick and place machine is necessary to create electronics, and almost everyone has a 3D printer these days. The Arcus-3D-P1 is an attachment for any 3D printer to turn it from a CNC hot glue gun into a machine that builds electronics. It’s Open Hardware, and hardware that creates hardware. It’s astonishing, and it’s happening on Hackaday.io.
Congratulations to all who entered the first challenge, and the twenty excellent entries that are moving to the finals. We can’t wait to see what other projects will make it to the finals in the Hackaday Prize, the greatest hardware competition on the planet.
Who will win the 2018 Hackaday Prize?
Who will win the Hackaday Prize? These finalists in the Open Hardware design challenge are now in the running for the final round of the Hackaday Prize where they will have the chance to win the Grand Prize $50,000 USD. That doesn’t mean you still can’t get in on the action; there are four more challenges left in the Hackaday Prize.
Right now, we’re in the middle of the Robotics Module Challenge, and after that, we’ll launch into the Power Harvesting Challenge, the Human Computer Interface Challenge, and finally the Musical Instrument challenge. There’s still time to win your place among the hardware greats, so start your Hackaday Prize entry now.
You’ve just finished your project. Well, not finished, but it works and you’ve solved all the problems worth solving, and you have a thing that works for you. Then you think about sharing your creation with the world. “This is cool” you think. “Other people might think it’s cool, too.” So you have to take pictures and video, and you wish you had documented some more of the assembly steps, and you have to do a writeup, and comment your code, and create a repository for it, maybe think about licensing. All of a sudden, the actual project was only the beginning, and now you’re stressing out about all the other things involved in telling other people about your project, because you know from past experience that there are a lot of haters out there who are going to tear it down unless it’s perfect, or even if it is, and even if people like it they are going to ask you for help or to make one for them, and now it’s 7 years later and people are STILL asking you for the source code for some quick little thing you did and threw up on YouTube when you were just out of college, and of course it won’t work anymore because that was on Windows XP when people still used Java.
Take a deep breath. We’ve all been there. This is an article about finding a good solution to sharing your work without dealing with the hassle. If you read the previous paragraph and finished with a heart rate twice what you started, you know the problem. You just want to share something with the world, but you don’t want to support that project for the rest of your life; you want to move on to new and better and more interesting projects. Here are some tips.
Self-described “Inventor Dad” [pepelepoisson]’s project is called Stecchino (English translation link here) and it’s an Arduino-based physical balancing game that aims to be intuitive to use and play for all ages. Using the Stecchino (‘toothpick’ in Italian) consists of balancing the device on your hand and trying to keep it upright for as long as possible. The LED strip fills up as time passes, and it keeps records of high scores. It was specifically designed to be instantly understood and simple to use by people of all ages, and we think it has succeeded in this brilliantly.
To sense orientation and movement, Stecchino uses an MPU-6050 gyro and accelerometer board. An RGB LED strip gives feedback, and it includes a small li-po cell and charger board for easy recharging via USB. The enclosure is made from a few layers of laser-cut and laser-engraved material that also holds the components in place. The WS2828B WS2812B LED strip used is technically a 5 V unit, but [pepelepoisson] found that feeding them direct from the 3.7 V cell works just fine; it’s not until the cell drops to about three volts that things start to glitch out. All source code and design files are on GitHub.
The world of Open Source software is built on collaboration. In one corner of the world, someone can fix a bug in a piece of software, and push it up to the gits. In another part of the world, someone else can put that fix into the next release, and soon everyone has newer, better software. The Internet, or the ability to rapidly transmit text and binary files, has made this all possible.
Hardware is another story. There’s a financial barrier to entry. Not only do you need a meter and a good iron, you’re probably going to need oscilloscopes, logic analyzers, and a bunch of other expensive tools. You’ll need to buy your BOM. If you’re using a PIC, it might be a good idea to buy the good compiler. Hardware is hard and expensive, and all those software devs who complain don’t know what they’re talking about. Collaborating on hardware is much more difficult than pushing some code up to the cloud.
For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking about collaborating on hardware projects. This is a deep dive on how to make collaboration with physical objects work, and this week we’re going to be learning from some of the best.
Our guests for this week’s Hack Chat are Pete Dokter and Toni Klopfenstein of SparkFun Electronics. Pete is formerly the Director of Engineering at SparkFun and now the Brand Ambassador for SparkFun Electronics. He hosts the According to Pete video series expounding on various engineering principles and seriously needs a silverburst Les Paul and a Sunn Model T. Toni is currently the product development manager at SparkFun. She’s served on the Open Source Hardware Association Board and participates in the Open Hardware Summit yearly. In her free time, she spends fifty weeks out of the year finding dust in her art and electronics projects.
During this chat, we’re going to be discussing what makes a collaborative hardware project, how to make distributed development work for your team, and the limits of what you can do with several hardware engineers separated by thousands of miles. This is a hard problem, much harder than a distributed team of software engineers, and a fantastic discussion for all.
Engineering for medical, automotive, and aerospace is highly regulated. It’s not difficult to see why: lives are often at stake when devices in these fields fail. The cost of certifying and working within established regulations is not insignificant and this is likely the main reason we don’t see a lot of work on Open Hardware in these areas.
Ashwin K. Whitchurch wants to change this and see the introduction of simple but important Open Source medical devices for those who will benefit the most from them. His talk at the Hackaday Superconference explores the possible benefits of Open Medical devices and the challenges that need to be solved for success.