When The Right Tool Is Wrong

I’m a firm believer in using the right tool for the job. And one of the most fantastic things about open-source software tools is that nothing stops you from trying them all. For instance, I’ve been going back and forth between a couple, maybe three, CAD/CAM tools over the past few weeks. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, and so if I’m doing a simpler job, I use the simpler software, because it’s quicker and, well, simpler. But I’ve got to cut it out, at least for a while, and I’ll tell you why.

The first of the packages is FreeCAD, and it’s an extremely capable piece of CAD/CAM software. It can do everything, or so it seems. But it’s got a long shallow learning curve, and I’m only about halfway up. I’m at the stage where I should be hammering out simple “hello world” parts for practice. I say, I should be.

Fortunately/unfortunately, some Hackaday readers introduced me to KrabzCAM through the comments. It’s significantly less feature-full than FreeCAD, but it gets the job of turning your wife’s sketches of bunnies into Easter decorations done in a jiffy. For simple stuff like that, it’s a nice simple tool, and is the perfect fit for 2D CAM jobs. It’s got some other nice features, and it handles laser engraving nicely as well. And that’s the problem.

Doing the simple stuff with KrabzCAM means that when I do finally turn back to FreeCAD, I’m working on a more challenging project — using techniques that I’m not necessarily up to speed on. So I’ll put the time in, but find myself still stumbling over the introductory “hello world” stuff like navigation and project setup.

I know — #first-world-hacker-problems. “Poor Elliot has access to too many useful tools, with strengths that make them fit different jobs!” And honestly, I’m stoked to have so many good options — that wasn’t the case five years ago. But in this case, using the right tool for the job is wrong for me learning the other tool.

On reflection, this is related to the never-try-anything-new-because-your-current-tools-work-just-fine problem. And the solution to that one is to simply bite the bullet and stick it out with FreeCAD until I get proficient. But KrabzCAM works so well for those small 2D jobs…

A hacker’s life is hard.

OAK Vision Modules Help You See The Forest And The Trees

OpenCV is an open source library of computer vision algorithms, its power and flexibility made many machine vision projects possible. But even with code highly optimized for maximum performance, we always wish for more. Which is why our ears perk up whenever we hear about a hardware accelerated vision module, and the latest buzz is coming out of the OpenCV AI Kit (OAK) Kickstarter campaign.

There are two vision modules launched with this campaign. The OAK-1 with a single color camera for two dimensional vision applications, and the OAK-D which adds stereo cameras for that third dimension. The onboard brain is a Movidius Myriad X processor which, according to team members who have dug through its datasheet, have been massively underutilized in other products. They believe OAK modules will help the chip fulfill its potential for vision applications, delivering high performance while consuming low power in a small form factor. Reading over the spec sheet, we think it’s fair to call these “Ultimate Myriad X Dev Boards” but we must concede “OpenCV AI Kit” sounds better. It does not provide hardware acceleration for the entire OpenCV library (likely an impossible task) but it does cover the highly demanding subset suitable for Myriad X acceleration.

Since the campaign launched a few weeks ago, some additional information have been released to help assure backers that this project has real substance. It turns out OAK is an evolution of a project we’ve covered almost exactly one year ago that became a real product DepthAI, so at least this is not their first rodeo. It is also encouraging that their invitation to the open hardware community has already borne fruit. Check out this thread discussing OAK for robot vision, where a question was met with an honest “we don’t have expertise there” from the OAK team, but then ArduCam pitched in with their camera module experience to help.

We wish them success for their planned December 2020 delivery. They have already far surpassed their funding goals, they’ve shipped hardware before, and we see a good start to a development community. We look forward to the OAK-1 and OAK-D joining the ranks of other hacking friendly vision modules like OpenMV, JeVois, StereoPi, and AIY Vision.

CNC Router On The Way

We love CNC hacks, so when [Jonny] sent in his nearly complete CNC router we were ecstatic. There are only a couple of posts thus far, and it takes some digging, but its pretty easy to understand his mindset and overall plan while making the CNC. It currently has full 3 axis movement and he replaced the previously dinky Harbor Freight Dremel with a much more powerful DeWalt that even Tim Taylor would be proud of. Software side of things he uses a combination of EMC2 and their collection of open source CAM codes. The project is coming along nicely and more updates are promised. Check out some more videos after the break. Continue reading “CNC Router On The Way”