Hackaday Links: December 1, 2019

We can recall a book from our youth that cataloged some of the most interesting airplanes in the world. One particularly interesting beast was dubbed “The Super Guppy”, a hilariously distended cargo plane purpose-built for ferrying Saturn rocket sections around the US in the 1960s. We though the Guppies were long gone, victims like so many other fascinating machines of the demise of the Apollo program. It turns out we were only 4/5 right about that, since one of the original five Super Guppies is still in service, and was spotted hauling an Orion capsule from Florida to Ohio for vacuum testing. The almost 60-year-old plane, a highly modified C-97 Stratofreighter, still has a big enough fan-base to attract 1500 people to brave the Ohio cold and watch it land.

The news this week was filled with reports from Texas of a massive chemical plant explosion that forced the evacuation of 50,000 people from their homes the day before Thanksgiving. The explosion and ensuing fire at the TPC Group petrochemical plant were spectacular; thankfully, there were no deaths and only two injuries reported from the incident. The tie-in to the hacker community lies in what this plant made: butadiene, or synthetic rubber. The plant produced about 16% of the North American market’s supply of butadiene, which we know from previous coverage is one of the polymers in acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS. It remains to be seen if this will put a crimp in ABS printer filament supplies, or any of the hundreds of products that butadiene is in, including automotive tires and hoses.

Remember when “Cyber Monday” became a thing? We sure do; in the USA, it was supposed to be the first workday back from the Thanksgiving break which would afford those lacking a fast Internet connection at home the opportunity to do online shopping on company time. The idea seems so year 2000 now, but the name stuck, and all kinds of sales and bargains are now competing for your virtual attention and cyber dollars. That includes Tindie, of course, where the Cyber Monday Sale is running through December 6. There’s tons to chose from, including products that got started as Hackaday.io projects and certified open-source hardware products. Be sure to check out the Tindie Twitter feed and blog for extra discount codes, too.

Speaking of gift-giving, we got an interesting tip about a product we never knew we needed. Called “WorkBench”, it’s a modular development system that takes care of an oft-neglected side of prototyping: the physical and mechanical layout. Too often we just start with a breadboard on the bench, and while that’ll do for lots of smaller projects, as the build keeps growing and the breadboards keep coming, things can get out of hand. WorkBench aims to tidy things up by providing a basal platen onto which breadboards, microcontrollers, perfboards, or just about anything else can be snapped. Handles make the whole thing portable, and a clear acrylic cover protects your hard work.

We love to hear stories about citizen science, especially when the amateurs scoop the professionals. Astronomy seems to be a hotbed for this brand of discovery, usually as a lone astronomer peering into the night sky to see a comet or asteroid nobody has seen before. Catching a glitching pulsar in the act is an entirely different level of discovery, though. Back in February, Steve Olney detected a 2.5 parts-per-million increase in the 89-millisecond period of emissions for the Vela pulsar using his RTL-SDR-based observatory. Steve has some fascinating information about pulsars and his observatory on his website. Color us impressed that he was able to pull off this observation without the benefit of millions of dollars in equipment and a giant parabolic dish antenna.

Open Hardware Month Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, October 23 at noon Pacific for the Open Hardware Month Hack Chat with Michael Weinberg!

It seems like everything and everyone has a special day set aside on the calendar. You know the drill – a headline declaring it National Grilled Cheese Day (sorry, you missed it – April 12) or National Bundt Pan Day (not even kidding, November 15). It seems only fair with all these silly recognition days floating around that we in the hacking community should have a day of our own, too, or even a whole month. That’s why the Open Source Hardware Association declared the entire month of October to be Open Hardware Month.

Open hardware is all about accessible, collaborative processes that let everyone see and understand the hardware they’re using. The technological underpinnings of our lives are increasingly hidden from us, locked away as corporate secrets. Open hardware tries to turn that on its head and open up devices to everyone, giving them the freedom to not only use their devices but to truly understand what’s happening in them, and perhaps repair, extend, and even modify them to do something new and useful. Celebrating that and getting the message out to the general public is certainly something worth doing.

Michael Weinberg is a board member at OSHWA, and he’ll be joining the Hack Chat on October 23 (National Boston Cream Pie Day) to discuss Open Hardware Month and open-source hardware in general. We’ll learn about some of the events planned for Open Hardware Month, how open hardware is perceived beyond the hacker community, and what’s on tap for the 10th anniversary Open Hardware Summit in 2020.

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, October 23 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.

The New, Improved Open Hardware Certification Program

Today at the Open Hardware Summit at MIT, OSHWA, the Open Source Hardware Association has announced a huge revision to the Open Hardware certification process. The goal here is to design a better platform for creating Open Hardware.

While all hardware already certified as Open Hardware will remain Open Hardware, this revamp of the ‘hub’ of the certification process is greatly improved. There’s a new website. There are learning modules telling everyone what it means to be Open Source hardware. There are community examples — real-life walk-throughs of projects that have already been created. There’s a streamlined certification process, and an improved listing of Open Hardware projects.

But Why A Certification Program?

While Open Source in the world of software is easily defined, it is effectively a hack of copyright law; all software is closed by default, and an Open Source software license is merely that; a license for anyone to use it, with the various restrictions and philosophical battles. Hardware, on the other hand, is big-O Open by default. The code used to program an FPGA is covered by copyright, but the circuit itself isn’t. The firmware on your Arduino project is covered by Open Source software licenses, but the physical implementation of your Fritzing picture isn’t.

In the absence of a legal framework to truly make an Open Hardware license work, the only other option is a certification program. The current Open Source Hardware certification program launched in 2016, and has since seen hundreds of projects certified from dozens of countries. It is, by any measure, a remarkable success. The people who make hardware are certifying that their work complies with community-set standards, and all of these projects are registered.

The New, Improved Interface for the Certification Program

While the core of the Open Hardware Certification program hasn’t changed, the user interface — the ‘killer app’ of a directory of Open Hardware projects — has. According to the press release put out by OSHWA ahead of the announcement, “The revamped website consolidates a broad range of information about open source hardware onto a single site. To maximize comprehension for people pursuing certification for their own hardware, important documentation and licensing concepts are illustrated with specific existing examples from the registry. An improved directory and search function makes it easy to find hardware that matches a broad range of criteria.”

Compared to last week’s version of OSHWA’s website, this is a huge improvement. Now, you can easily find information about what it means to make Open Hardware. The complete directory of Open Hardware projects isn’t just a spreadsheet on a webpage anymore, you can actually search for projects now. This is a huge improvement to the Open Hardware certification program, and we can’t wait to see how this new platform will be used.

You can check out the rest of the Open Hardware Summit over on the livestream.

The Exquisite Badges Of Open Hardware Summit

The past few years have been all about electronic conference badges and this year is no different. Right now, we’re setting up at the Open Hardware Summit at MIT, and this year’s badge is nothing short of extraordinary. It’s a WiFi and Bluetooth-enabled e-paper badge, individually programmed for every attendee. The 2018 Open Hardware Summit badge is a work of art, and it was all created over on hackaday.io.

This board is based on the ESP trINKet designed by [Mike Rankin] with additional hardware design from [Alex Camilo]. The badge is based around the ESP32-wroom-32 module with a 2.13 inch e-paper display with a resolution of 250 x 122 pixels. To this, the badge adds an I2C accelerometer and support for add-ons. There’s also pads for an SD card holder — a soldering challenge, if you will — and few additional pads for bits and bobs.

But a badge is nothing without software, and that’s where this really gets good. The ESP32 module is a powerhouse, capable of emulating NES games or serving as a file server. Here, the stock configuration of the badge is rather simplistic: you can start a WiFi AP, log onto a web page, and change the name displayed on the badge. You can also start an FTP server, which is where things get really fun. Drop an application on that FTP server, and you can run Micro Python.

The badge is great, but the programming jig is awesome

The boards were made through OSH Park, and Screaming Circuits took care of the assembly. Anyone who has ever built a badge will tell you it isn’t the assembly that gets you — it’s the programming and provisioning. This is especially true since the Open Hardware Summit badge is distributed with the attendee’s names already preloaded. That’s a few hundred badges, all with unique firmware. This is a nightmare by any definition.

However, there’s always a good solution to a problem, and [Drew] from OSH Park showed me the best programming jig I’ve ever seen during the Summit pre-game at Artisan’s Asylum.

What you’re looking at is a 3D printed box loaded up with a touch-screen display, a Raspberry Pi Zero W, and a few pogo pins. This Raspberry Pi does all the heavy lifting by connecting to the Internet, pulling down the current version of the firmware, and loading that firmware onto the badge. There are a few more options thanks to the touch-screen interface, including provisioning all the badges with the names of the attendees — this can be done by reading a list of attendees and uploading the next one to the badge in the jig. All of this is wrapped up with a nice laser-cut cover that securely holds each badge exactly where it needs to be for the pogo pins to make contact.

This is, without question, the best programming jig I’ve seen. Any badge makers out there should take note: this is how you program a few hundred badges. The badge, itself, is great and just as this post is published there will be hundreds of eager hackers futzing about with this remarkable piece of hardware. If you want to check out the current progress of the badge hacking, check out the updates on Twitter

Join Hackaday And Tindie This Thursday At Open Hardware Summit

This weekend Hackaday and Tindie will be trekking out to beautiful Cambridge, Massachusetts, for the greatest congregation of Open Source hardware enthusiasts on the planet. This is the Open Hardware Summit. It’s every year, most of the time in different places, and this year it’s back in the hallowed halls of MIT. Somebody put a car on the roof before we do.

The schedule for this year’s Open Hardware Summit is stuffed to the gills with interesting presentations sure to satiate every hardware nerd. We’ve got talks on Open Source Software Defined Radio, and the people behind the Hackaday Prize entry Programmable Air will be there talking about controlling soft robotics.

Really, though, this is an extravaganza filled with the people who make things, and here you’re not going to find a better crew. At every Open Hardware Summit we’ve attended, you can’t turn your head without locking eyes with someone with an interesting story of hardware heroics to tell.

This is, without a doubt, the greatest gathering of the people behind all your favorite hardware designs. The greats of 3D printing will be there, we’re going to get an update on the now two-year-old Open Hardware Certification program (hint: great success!), and there’s an awesome badge, as always. There will be some extra-special Hackaday swag in the goodie bags, sure to be a collectable. We’re going to be there with boots on the ground, but it’s still not too late to get tickets if you’re in the Boston area.

Hackaday Links: April 29, 2018

Amazon has released the Echo Dot Kids Edition, an always-on, Internet-connected microphone. According to Amazon’s Children’s Privacy Disclosure, the Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition collects data such as, ‘name, birthdate, contact information (including phone numbers and email addresses), voice, photos, videos, location, and certain activity and device information. The Amazon Echo Dot Kids Edition is able to read audiobooks for bedtime reading and teaches your children to live in a dystopian panopticon of Orwellian proportions. It comes in green, red, and blue.

Kim Possible! The biggest news headline this week is the coming end of the Korean War. The peninsula has been in a state of war since 1950, but leaders from both countries have agreed to negotiate a treaty to replace the 60-year-old truce. There is also an agreement between the two countries for complete denuclearization. This is great news for Hackaday. Every day, we’re eyeing our North Korean readership. Some days we get a view, some days we don’t, but year over year we’re always getting more views. Will this treaty result in even more Hackaday readers in North Korea? Only time will tell. Here’s some music. It wasn’t a chicken.

The East Coast RepRap Festival is on. Inspired by the Midwest RepRap Festival, the ERRF is happening north of Baltimore on June 23rd and 24th. What’s it going to be like? Nobody knows! This is the first time ERRF is happening, but judging by MRRF standards, it should be awesome. Also, crab season.

One of the most interesting hacks of this year is [Steve Markgraf]’s tool to allow transmit-only SDR through cheap USB 3.0 to VGA adapters. The hack relies on the Fresco Logic FL2000 chip and gives you the ability to transmit FM, TVB-T, and create your own GSM cell site. You can also spoof GPS to get something besides a rattata in Pokemon Go or hack your ankle bracelet to keep your parole officer off your back. The open question, though, is which USB to VGA adapter has the FL2000 chipset. I can confirm this one on Amazon has the relevant chipset. It’s a bit expensive at $15 (the same chipset is available from the usual eBay and AliExpress suppliers for $6), but if you’re looking for something that is available with Prime, there you go. Now we’re looking for shared OSH Park projects with a VGA input on one end and some antennas on the other. Make it happen, people.

Supercapacitors are awesome, but is it possible to fly a drone with a bank of them? Sure, for about 10 seconds. [dronelab] built a 7-cell, 200F supercap and managed to fly a little racing quad for about ten seconds. Not terribly great, but this is going to be awesome when we get multi-thousand Farad superultramegacaps.

Like Open Hardware? The Open Source Hardware Association is opening up the Ada Lovelace Fellowship for women, LGTBA+ and other minorities to attend the Open Hardware Summit. The deadline is tomorrow, so do it soon.

M3D has announced a new 3D printer that can print with four filaments. The Crane Quad is your basic i3 ripoff with an interesting extruder. It looks like it uses four tiny motors to feed filament into the main extruder motor. This isn’t really anything new; the Prusa i3 multimaterial upgrade does the same thing. However, M3D claims they have mastered color mixing. The Prusa upgrade doesn’t do mixing, and this is most likely the reason it works so well. Can M3D pull it off? This is a very, very, very hard problem.

Applications Open: Ada Lovelace Fellowships For 2018 Open Hardware Summit

The Open Source Hardware Association is now accepting applications for the Ada Lovelace fellowship which provides free admission to the Open Hardware Summit and a $500 travel stipend. One of OSHWA’s goals is to foster a more diverse community within open source. As part of this, Ada Lovelace Fellowships are open to women, LGBTA+, and people of color. There are a total of 10 fellowships available and applications are due by April 30th. The Open Hardware Summit will be held on September 27th at MIT.

The fellowship program, founded by Addie Wagenknecht and Alicia Gibb in 2013, builds on the ideal that Open Hardware is one way to reduce the barriers associated in access to technology. Removing some of the financial barriers associated with attending the Summit will help to ensure more people of diverse backgrounds are involved in shaping the Open Hardware world. In addition to the talks shared at the gathering, over the last several year OSWHA has been evolving the Open Hardware definition and an Open Hardware certification.

Disclaimer: [Christopher Wang] is a board member of the Open Source Hardware Association