A Newbie Takes The SMD Challenge At Supercon

First-time visitors to Disneyworld often naively think they’re going to “do” the park in three days: one day for the Magic Kingdom, one day for Epcot, and one day for everything else. It’s easy to spot such people, collapsed on a bench or dragging exhausted kids around while trying to make their way to the next must-see attraction. Supercon is something like that — a Disney-esque theme park for hackers that will exhaust you if you don’t have a plan, and if you don’t set reasonable expectations. Which is why I was glad that I set only one real goal for my first Supercon: take the SMD Soldering Challenge.

Now, while I’m pretty handy with a soldering iron, I was under no illusion that I would be at all competitive. All my soldering experience has been with through-hole components, and while I also used to doing some production soldering on fine-pitch connectors, the whole surface-mount thing is new to me. I entered mainly because I wanted to see what was possible coming in raw. At best I’d learn what my limits are, and at worst I’d fail spectacularly and provide grist for a “Fail of the Supercon” post. It’s a win either way.

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Superconference Interview: Sam Zeloof

In less than four days, the fifth Hackaday Superconference kicks off in Pasadena, California, and it’s shaping up to be a hoot. With a cavalcade of exciting workshops and talks on offer, hackers and makers are pouring in from across the globe for this celebration of software, firmware, and hardware.

Of course, the real gift of Supercon is the personalities which make up this awesome community. [Sam Zeloof] is one such luminary, well known for producing his very own silicon integrated circuits in his parent’s garage. Not content to keep this knowledge to himself, [Sam] gave an amazing talk at the 2018 Supercon on just what goes into creating your own silicon fab on a budget.

Our very own [Mike Szczys] caught up with [Sam] for an interview, discussing being inspired by the work of [Jeri Ellsworth], as well as the finer points of getting into lithography at home. [Sam] will be in attendance at the 2019 Superconference, of course. While he won’t be on the speaking circuit this year, his brother [Adam] will be presenting a talk called Thermodynamics for Electrical Engineers: Why Did My Board Melt (And How Can I Prevent It)?, which is sure to be a must-see.

You really should be there, but alas tickets have been sold out for almost two months! Never fear, we’ll be livestreaming the event. Be sure to subscribe to Hackaday on Youtube to be notified when it all kicks off, around 10 AM Pacific Time on Saturday, November 16th. If you scored tickets and are heading to Supercon, we can’t wait to see you there — the badge hacking begins early Friday morning.

Be sure to check out Sam’s interview after the break!

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Supercon Keynote: Dr. Megan Wachs On RISC-V

Hackaday has open-source running deep in our veins — and that goes for hardware as well as software. After all, it’s great to run open-source software, but if it’s running on black-box hardware, the system is only half open. While software has benefited mightily from all of the advantages of community development, the hardware world has been only recently catching up. And so we’ve been following the RISC-V open-source CPU development with our full attention.

Dr. Wachs, making her own wedding ring.

Our keynote speaker for the 2019 Hackaday Superconference is Dr. Megan Wachs, the VP of Engineering at SiFive, the company founded by the creators of the RISC-V instruction-set architecture (ISA). She has also chaired the RISC-V Foundation Debug Task Group, so it’s safe to say that she knows RISC-V inside and out. If there’s one talk we’d like to hear on the past, present, and future of the architecture, this is it.

The RISC-V isn’t a particular chip, but rather it’s a design for how a CPU works, and a standard for the lowest-level language that the machine speaks. In contrast to proprietary CPUs, RISC-V CPUs from disparate vendors can all use the same software tools, unifying and opening their development. Moreover, open hardware implementations for the silicon itself mean that new players can enter the space more easily, bring their unique ideas to life faster, and we’ll all benefit. We can all work together.

It’s no coincidence that this year’s Supercon badge has two RISC-V cores running in its FPGA fabric. When we went shopping around for an open CPU core design, we had a few complete RISC-V systems to pick from, full compiler and development toolchains to write code for them, and of course, implementations in Verilog ready to flash into the FPGA. The rich, open ecosystem around RISC-V made it a no-brainer for us, just as it does for companies making neural-network peripherals or even commodity microcontrollers. You’ll be seeing a lot more RISC-V systems in the near future, on your workbench and in your pocket.

We’re tremendously excited to hear more about the project from the inside, and absolutely looking forward to Megan’s keynote speech!

The Hackaday Superconference is completely sold out, but that doesn’t mean that you have to miss out. We’ll be live-streaming the keynote and all other talks on the Supercon main stage, so subscribe our YouTube channel and you won’t miss a thing.

Superconference Interview: Carl Bugeja

It’s an exciting time of year for us, not because Christmas is on the horizon, instead for something far more exciting than that! The Hackaday Superconference is nearly upon us, our yearly gathering of the creme de la creme of the hardware hacking world for a fascinating program of lectures and other events. We can’t wait, and we hope you’re looking forward to it as much as we are.

A particularly stimulating part of the Supercon experience comes from the people you rub shoulders with as you attend, whether or not you will have seen their work on these pages they represent a huge and fascinating breadth of experience and skill. It’s the incidental conversations at events like this that are the most fertile, because from them comes inspiration that can feed all manner of things.

One of last year’s hits came from Carl Bugeja, when he gave a talk about his impressive work with using printed circuit boards to construct electric motors and magnetic actuators. We’ve seen the various iterations of his work evolving in these pages, and at last year’s event he also gave an interview to our own Elliot Williams, and we’re happy to bring you the resulting video after the break.

We’d love to be able to reveal a hidden stash of Supercon tickets, but sadly it’s all sold out. We can however direct you to the livestream of the event which begins at 10 am Pacific time on November 15th. Be sure to head on over to the Hackaday YouTube channel, and subscribe.

Meanwhile it’s worth pointing those lucky ticket holders to the Supercon ticketing page since we’ve added more tickets to the previously-sold-out workshops. Now, enjoy Carl’s interview, and we hope you’ll join us for Superconference whether you do so online or in person.

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Gigantic FPGA In A Game Boy Form Factor, 2019 Supercon Badge Is A Hardware Siren Song

Look upon this conference badge and kiss your free time goodbye. The 2019 Hackaday Superconference badge is an ECP5 FPGA running a RISC-V core in a Game Boy form factor complete with cartridge slot that is more open than anything we’ve ever seen before: multiple open-source CPU designs were embedded in an open system, developed using the cutting-edge in open-source FPGA tools, and running (naturally) open-source software on top. It’s a 3,000-in-one activity kit for hardware people, software people, and everyone in between.

The brainchild of Jeroen Domburg (aka Sprite_TM), this design has been in the works since the beginning of this year. For more than 500 people headed to Supercon next week, this is a source of both geeky entertainment and learning for three action-packed days and well beyond. Let’s take a look at what’s on the badge, what you need to know to hack it, and how the design serves as a powerful development tool long after the badge hacking ceremonies have wrapped up.

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Superconference Interview: Ted Yapo

We’re just two weeks away from the fifth annual Hackaday Superconference, the single biggest gathering of hardware enthusiasts on at least one continent. It’s gearing up to be great, and we’re super excited for the opportunity to bring you such a diverse array of talks, workshops, and more.

What makes Supercon so great? All the awesome people you meet there. One of them is [Ted Yapo], who joined the Hackaday writing crew this year after gracing our pages and winning our contests for so long. You might remember him as the guy who turned an innocent USB-to-serial adapter into an SDR transmitter, or as the guy who tried to jump-start a car with a coin cell.

At last year’s Supercon, [Ted] gave a talk about dealing with cheap spectrum analyzers, which doubled as a live look into the article he wrote for the Hackaday Journal of What You Don’t Know. [Mike Szczys] caught up with [Ted] last year for a brief interview in the hardware hacking area, which you can catch after the break.

[Ted]’s back again this year with a talk about building an open-source multi-GHz sampling ‘scope, and why that’s harder than it seems. You really should be there, you know. Oh, what? It’s sold out? Don’t worry, just kick back and watch the live stream! Subscribe to our YouTube channel and you’ll be notified when it starts, which will be around 10:00 am Pacific on November 15th.

If you do already have a Supercon ticket, but didn’t get tickets for the workshop you wanted, go check again! We released a limited amount of tickets this morning and emailed everyone about it. See you there!

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Speakers Taking The Stage At Supercon Plus A Hint Of The Hacking To Come

Four weeks from today the Hackaday Superconference comes alive for the fifth year. From engineering in challenging environments to elevating the art form of electronics, here are nine more talks that will make this a year to remember.

In addition to the slate of speakers below there are three other announcements, plus workshops. Jeroen Domburg (aka Sprite_TM) is designing this year’s badge based around a beefy FPGA running a RISC-V core and using open source synthesis tools. We’ll have more on that soon, but if you just can’t wait, check out the expansion board spec he just published, and join the conference chat room for the inside track. Badge hacking is sure to be the liveliest we’ve ever seen.

Tickets are sold out but you can still get on the waiting list and hope that one becomes available. If you are holding onto one of these hot commodities but are unable to use it, please return your ticket so that we can get it to someone waiting with their fingers crossed.

The Talks (Part Four of Many)


  • Laurel Cummings

    When it Rains, It Pours

    Over the last two years my work has been beyond ordinary, building and prototyping in strange locations like being stranded on a sailboat in the Atlantic Ocean, teaching US Marines in Kuwait, and building fuel gauge sensors for generators for vital systems in North Carolina post hurricane Florence. Some of the big lessons I’ve learned are about how to source materials and supplies in weird places, like finding potentiometers in the backwoods of North Carolina when Amazon cannot physically deliver across flooded highways, how to find welding gas in Kuwait City (and how a local chef could possibly be your best bet), or how far you can get with an O’Reilly’s Auto Parts store near the city docks. These situations help you really see the “engineer creep” that can happen to a project. I’ve learned that when you’re in high-risk situations, you really should stop caring about whether the edges of your 3D print are chamfered. In fact, version 1 of the hurricane fuel gauge sensor was demonstrated while being housed inside an elegant, tasteful sandwich baggie.


  • Angela Sheehan

    Building Whimsical Wearables: Leveling Up Through Playful Prototyping

    Whether it’s for a theme party, Halloween, cosplay, or That Thing in The Desert, designing wearables for whimsical self expression presents a great opportunity to challenge yourself as a maker, wearer, and collaborator. As an artist and designer who crash landed into a career in tech, I’ve found that imposter syndrome can often place limits on what feels personally achievable from an electronics and programming standpoint. Recontextualizing a project to shift the focus from ‘wearable tech hardware endeavor’ to ‘quirky mixed media experiment in personal styling’, I’ve created a safe space to play and try new things just outside my skill set and produced some of my most technically complex and polished personal work. Take a journey with me through the process of conceptualizing and building my Color Stealing Fairy project, an exercise in iterative design and upgrading an interactive wearable project over the course of two years and counting.


  • Michael Ossmann and Kate Temkin

    Software-Defined Everything

    The popularity of Software-Defined Radio (SDR) has led to the emergence of powerful open source software tools such as GNU Radio that enable rapid development of real-time Digital Signal Processing (DSP) techniques. We’ve used these tools for both radio and non-radio applications such as audio and infrared, and now we are finding them tremendously useful for diverse sensors and actuators that can benefit from DSP. In this talk we’ll show how we use the open source GreatFET platform to rapidly develop an SDR-like approach to just about anything.


  • Kelly Heaton

    “Hacking Nature’s Musicians” (or, “The Art of Electronic Naturalism”)

    The general lack of acceptance of electronic art results from a scarcity of critics, curators, collectors, and grantors who understand electronic media, compounded by a cultural gap between the artistic and engineering communities. In order to solve this problem, we must stretch our comfort zone and vocabularies to have a respectful, enlightening conversation with people with different educational backgrounds. In this talk I’ll discuss my wonderment at the simple, analog circuit designs that mimic life-like behavior such as chirping crickets and singing birds. This will include discussion of various schematics and demonstrations of a small. along with an abbreviated survey of my work to-date.


  • Jasmine Brackett

    Setting your Electronics Free

    In this panel we’ll discuss the key ways to get your projects from your workshop into the hands of the first few users, and what you can do to scale up from there. We’ll talk about common pitfalls, and also what are the best resources to draw upon.


  • David Williams

    MicroFPGA – The Coming Revolution in Small Electronics

    Big FPGA’s are awesome. They’re doing what they’ve always done, enabling AI, signal processing, military applications etc. However, there is a new possibility emerging – FPGA’s for small applications – which is quite possibly even more significant. Using open source tools, cheap flexible development boards, and new libraries, designers have a whole new set of options, creating incredibly high performance, flexible, low power projects and products.


  • Nick Poole

    Boggling the Boardhouse: Designing 3D Structures, Circuits, and Sensors from PCBs

    The presentation will be a series of design features or techniques with a few minutes of exploration into the ‘gotchas’ of each, as well as example layouts in EAGLE and physical examples. I’d like to cover as many different techniques as I can cram into 30 minutes, including bringing weird shapes into EDA, the inside corner problem caused by tab and slot, fillet soldering, stacking boards, imitating model sprues with mouse bites, manipulating the mask layer for custom displays, bendy tab buttons, working rotary encoder, and ergonomic design for handheld PCBs.


  • Ted Yapo

    Towards an Open-Source Multi-GHz Sampling Oscilloscope

    Tektronix designed a 14.5 GHz sampling oscilloscope in 1968. With the easy multi-layer PCB designs, tiny surface-mount parts, blazingly fast semiconductors, and computer horsepower available to the individual designer today, can a similar sampling head be re-created inexpensively with common, off-the-shelf components? Should be easy, right? It’s not. In this talk, I’ll discuss progress towards an open-source GHz+ sampling oscilloscope, including a lot of dead ends, plus some very promising leads.


  • Jeroen Domburg

    Building the Hackaday Superconference Badge

    The tradition of the Hackaday Supercon badge is to build something unlike any Supercon badge that came before. This year’s badge has an FPGA as its central component, and this comes with some extra challenges: the FPGA only comes in a BGA package with a whopping 381 pads to solder, and instead of just referring to the datasheet of the SoC to write the badge software, the SoC itself had to be written first.  I will discuss the development process of the badge, as well as the many challenges encountered along the way.

 

Keep Your Eye on Hackaday for the Livestream

The speakers you’ll see at Supercon have an amazing wealth of experience and we can’t wait to see their talks. But even if you couldn’t get a ticket, that doesn’t mean you have to miss out. Keep your eye on Hackaday for a link to the livestream which will begin on Saturday, November 16th.