Scotty Allen Visits Strange Parts, Builds an iPhone

Scotty Allen has a YouTube blog called Strange Parts; maybe you’ve seen his super-popular video about building his own iPhone “from scratch”. It’s a great story, and it’s also a pretext for a slightly deeper dive into the electronics hardware manufacturing, assembly, and repair capital of the world: Shenzhen, China. After his talk at the 2017 Superconference, we got a chance to sit down with Scotty and ask about cellphones and his other travels. Check it out:

The Story of the Phone

Scotty was sitting around with friends, drinking in one of Shenzhen’s night markets, and talking about how bizarre some things seem to outsiders. There are people sitting on street corners, shucking cellphones like you’d shuck oysters, and harvesting the good parts inside. Electronics parts, new and used, don’t come from somewhere far away and there’s no mail-ordering. A ten-minute walk over to the markets will get you everything you need. The desire to explain some small part of this alternate reality to outsiders was what drove Scotty to dig into China’s cellphone ecosystem.

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Christal Gordon: Sensors, Fusion, and Neurobiology

Some things don’t sound like they should go together, but they do. Peanut butter and chocolate. Twinkies and deep frying. Bacon and maple syrup. Sometimes mixing things up can produce great results. [Dr. Christal Gordon’s] expertise falls into that category. She’s an electrical engineer, but she also studies neuroscience. This can lead to some interesting intellectual Reese’s peanut butter cups.

At the 2017 Hackaday Superconference, [Christal] spoke about sensor fusion. If you’ve done systems that have multiple sensors, you’ve probably run into that before even if you didn’t call it that. However, [Christal] brings the perspective of how biological systems fuse sensor data contrasted to how electronic systems perform similar tasks. You can see a video replay of her talk in the video below.

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Mike Harrison at the Superconference: Flying LCD Pixels

Mike Harrison, perhaps better known to us as the titular Mike of YouTube channel mikeselectricstuff, is a hardware hacking genius. He’s the man behind this year’s Superconference badge, and his hacks and teardowns have graced our pages many times. The best thing about Mike is that his day job is designing implausibly cool one-off hardware for large-scale art installations. His customers are largely artists, which means that they just don’t care about the tech as long as it works. So when he gets together with a bunch of like-minded hacker types, he’s got a lot of pent-up technical details that he just has to get out. Our gain.

He’s been doing a number of LCD installations lately. And he’s not using the standard LCD calculator displays that we all know and love, although the tech is exactly the same, but is instead using roughly 4″ square single pixels. His Superconference talk dives deep into the behind-the-scenes cleverness that made possible a work of art that required hundreds of these, suspended by thin wires in mid-air, working together to simulate a flock of birds. You really want to watch this talk.


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Alan Yates: Introduction To Vacuum Technology

When we mention vacuum technology, it’s not impossible that many of you will instantly turn your minds to vacuum tubes, and think about triodes, or pentodes. But while there is a lot to interest the curious in the electronics of yesteryear, they are not the only facet of vacuum technology that should capture your attention.

When [Alan Yates] gave his talk at the 2017 Hackaday Superconference entitled “Introduction To Vacuum Technology”, he was speaking in a much more literal sense. Instead of a technology that happens to use a vacuum, his subject was the technologies surrounding working with vacuums; examining the equipment and terminology surrounding them while remaining within the bounds of what is possible for the experimenter. You can watch it yourself below the break, or read on for our precis.

In the first instance, he introduces us to the concept of a vacuum, starting with the work of [Evangelista Torricelli] on mercury barometers in the 17th century Italy, and continuing to explain how pressure, and thus vacuum, is quantified. Along the way, he informs us that a Pascal can be explained in layman’s terms as roughly the pressure exerted by an American dollar bill on the hand of someone holding it, and introduces us to a few legacy units of vacuum measurement.

In classifying the different types of vacuum he starts with weak vacuum sources such as a domestic vacuum cleaner and goes on to say that the vacuum he’s dealing with is classified as medium, between 3kPa and 100mPa. Higher vacuum is beyond the capabilities of the equipment available outside high-end laboratories.

Introduction over, he starts on the subject of equipment with a quick word about safety, before giving an overview of the components a typical small-scale vacuum experimenter’s set-up. We see the different types of vacuum gauges, we’re introduced to two different types of service pumps for air conditioning engineers, and we learn about vacuum manifolds. Tips such as smelling the oil in a vacuum pump to assess its quality are mentioned, and how to make a simple mist trap for a cheaper pump. There is a fascinating description of the more exotic pumps for higher vacuums, even though these will be out of reach of the experimenter it is still of great interest to have some exposure to them. He takes us through vacuum chambers, with a warning against cheap bell jars not intended for vacuum use, but suggests that some preserving jars can make an adequate chamber.

We are then introduced to home-made gas discharge tubes, showing us a home-made one that lights up simply by proximity to a high voltage source. Something as simple as one of the cheap Tesla coil kits to be found online can be enough to excite these tubes, giving a simple project for the vacuum experimenter that delivers quick results.

Finally, we’re taken through some of the tools and sundries of the vacuum experimenter, the different types of gas torches for glass work, and consumables such as vacuum grease. Some of them aren’t cheap, but notwithstanding those, he shows us that vacuum experiments can be made within a reasonable budget.

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Erika Earl: Manufacturing Hacks

Many of us will have casually eyed up the idea of turning a project into a product. Perhaps we’ve considered making a kit from it, or even taking it further into manufacture. But building a single device on the bench is an extremely different matter from having a run of the same devices built by someone else, and in doing so there are a host of pitfalls waiting for the unwary.

[Erika Earl] is the Director of Hardware Engineering at Slate Digital, and has a lengthy background in the professional audio industry. Her job involves working with her team to bring high-quality electronic products to market that do not have the vast production runs of a major consumer electronic brand, so she has a lot of experience when it comes to turning a hacked-together prototype into a polished final device. Her talk at the 2017 Hackaday Superconference: Manufacturing Hacks: Mistakes Will Move You Forward examined what it takes to go through this process, and brought her special insights on the matter to a Hackaday audience.

She started her talk by looking at design for manufacture, how while coming up with prototypes is easy, the most successful products are those that have had the ability to manufacture as a consideration from the start of the design process. Starting with the selection of components, carrying through to the prototype stage, and through design reviews before manufacture, everything must be seen through the lens of anyone, anywhere, being able to build it.

At the selection of components for the Bill of Materials level, she made the point that high quality certified components can be the key to a product’s success or failure, contributing not only to reliability but also to it achieving certification. In her particular field, she often deals with components that can be close enough to the cutting edge to be prototypes in their own right. She mentioned the certification angle in particular in the context of exporting a product, as in that case there is often a need to be able to prove that all components used to meet a particular specification.

When it comes to the prototype stage, she made the point that documentation is the key. Coming back to the earlier sentence about anyone anywhere being able to build the product, that can only be achieved if all possible stages of manufacture are defined. She mentioned an example of a product in which the prototypes had had PCB fixing screws tightened by hand; when the factory started using electric screwdrivers the result was damaged PCBs and broken tracks.

The design review should look at everything learned through the prototype stage, and examine everything supplied to the manufacturer to allow them to complete their work. She describes finding support documentation containing a poorly hand-drawn schematic, and seeing an electronic assembly in which a piece of gum had been used to secure something. She also made the point that another function at this point is to ensure that the product is affordable to produce. If any parts or procedures are likely to cost too much, they should be re-examined.

After the talk itself as described above there is a Q&A session where she reveals how persistent and cheeky she sometimes has to be to secure sample parts as a small-scale manufacturer and delivers some insights into persuading a manufacturer to produce prototypes at a sensible price. And yes, like most people who have tried their hand at this, she’s had the nightmare of entire runs of prototype boards returned with a component fitted incorrectly.

The talk is embedded in its entirety below the break, and represents an extremely interesting watch for anyone starting on the road to manufacturing, particularly in the electronic world. If this describes you, take a look!

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Hackaday Superconference Kicks Off with a Party

Begin the Hackaday Superconference a day early this year. Supercon is far more than a conference, it’s a Hacker Village that forms when we all get together and that’s happening on Friday, November 10th with early badge hacking, dinner, and a party all included with your Supercon ticket!

In the last year, Supplyframe (Hackaday’s parent company) moved into a new office. It’s a beautiful space with enough square footage to host a conference itself. This year we’ll be capitalizing on that by hosting some of the larger Superconference workshops there. They’ve also opened their doors and are pulling out all the stops for the meet-and-greet pregame on Friday. Just let us know you’ll be there.

Badge pick up and hacking will begin at noon. If you’re itching to get your hands on the amazing Supercon badge, this is where you want to be. As we move into the five o’clock hour we’ll bring in the catering and the bartenders for a bash that welcomes back your extended family of hackers, designers, and engineers. This an amazing community and you’re a part of it so make your plans to get to town early.

Is a day early not good enough for you? You’re in luck! We’ve opened up a chat room on Hackaday.io. Talk to one another about what to bring, how to get there, what to do, and who exactly already has the Gerbers for the Superconference badge. It’s going to be a fantastic conference, and we can’t wait to see you there!

Get Hands-On at Supercon: Workshop Tickets Now Available

Build something cool and pick up new skills from the workshops at the Hackaday Superconference. Last week we announced all of the talks you’ll find at Supercon, and starting today you can reserve your spot at one of the workshops.

You must have a Superconference ticket in order to purchase a workshop ticket; buy one right now if you haven’t already. You can get mechanical with Haptics and Animatronics, take your product design from schematic to PCB and enclosure, brush up your embedded development on several choices of platform, make cell towers do your bidding, or dump way too many volts into a block of wood.

Space in these workshops is limited so make sure to sign up before all the seats are taken. The base price for workshops is $10 (basically a “skin in the game” price to encourage those who register to show up). Any tickets priced above that base is meant to cover the material expense of the workshop. Here’s what we have planned:

Embedded Programming with Black Magic and the Lights On

Piotr Esden-Tempski

Sunday Afternoon

Embedded systems programming has earned a bad reputation of being difficult to master. Especially in the open-source world, most people associate it with cut and pasted code that is difficult to debug. The usual tools we have to debug embedded systems are a blinking LED and, if we are lucky, printf statements through a serial port. In this self guided workshop we will show you how easy it can be to have full insight into your microcontroller using fully open source tools that are on par with expensive proprietary closed-source solutions.

Fun with High Voltage

Will Caruana

Sunday Morning

This workshop is about making Lichtenberg figures. A Lichtenberg figure is a piece of art though the multiplication of a few thousands of volts to burn wood. We will cover the science behind this art form as well as the safety and lastly we will be getting hands on experience in being able to using high voltage transformers to make these burnings into wood and make coasters you can take home.

Designing Electronic Textures

Noah Feehan

Sunday Afternoon

Participants will learn the physics behind electrovibration, and then get to play/design for it using a new open-source board called WEFT. After the workshop, you’ll know how to deploy electrovibration in your projects, and understand the feeling of different waveforms.

End to End Product Design with Eagle and Fusion 360

Matt Berggren

Saturday Morning

In this session, we’ll take you end to end, from building a new schematic, simulating a circuit using EAGLE’s built-in SPICE simulator, laying out a PCB, generating mfg files and include some tips & tricks for milling boards and making stencils. We’ll also take you thru the link between electronics and mechanics using Fusion360. Alongside EAGLE we’ll build an enclosure and generate the mfg outputs for your mechanical design (CAM, 3D prints, etc). We’ll look at library management across electronics and mechanics and bidirectional synchronization between both of these domains. This is more than an intro, as Matt’s always good for some essential, oft-missed background and tips with EAGLE you might never have known otherwise.

AVR® MCU Effortless Design Workshop: Prototyping with Sensors and BLE

Bob Martin, Senior Staff Engineer

Sunday Morning

This hands-on training session will walk you through how to develop an embedded sensor node prototype with Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) connectivity. You will speed through configuration of the AVR microcontroller, sensor interface and communications interface setup by using Atmel Start, a graphical programming interface. This tool will generate libraries with simple APIs so you can spend time working on your solution instead of messing with registers or communication protocols.

Rapid Prototyping and Linux Kernel Development with the PocketBeagle® Platform

Robert Nelson

Saturday Afternoon

The newly introduced PocketBeagle® is an ultra-tiny-yet-complete Linux-enabled, community-supported, open-source USB-key-fob computer. By leveraging the Octavo SIP, the PocketBeagle offers complete BeagleBoard functionality and includes 512MB DDR3 RAM, 1-GHz ARM Cortex-A8 CPU, 2x 200-MHz PRUs, ARM Cortex-M3, 3D accelerator, power/battery management and EEPROM. The board offers lots of GPIOs, on board peripherals and various expansion capabilities via multiple headers and the Mikroelektronika click board interface. During this course you will learn about pin configuration, how to create a Linux distribution, reconfiguring io on the fly and how to leverage expansion modules. Attendees will leave with their very own PocketBeagle and a couple other surprises as well.

Cellular Connectivity for Your Next Hardware Project

Ben Strahan and Chris Gammell

Saturday Afternoon

Your project shouldn’t be constrained by the range of a WiFi signal. This workshop will show you how to connect to cellular towers via a serial link, get connected into the cloud and reliably start transmitting data. This workshop is suitable for people just getting started in the firmware ecosystem up through advanced firmware engineers. Advanced members of the workshop will have the opportunity to hack their conference badge to connect to cell towers. Sign up for this workshop to add another connection method to your hardware development toolbox.

An Introduction to Animatronics with Laser Cut Tentacle Mechanisms

Joshua Vasquez

Saturday Morning

Animatronics are way cool, but the hacker community rarely ventures farther than a few hobby servos and “dem-blinkin’ LEDs.” In this workshop, I’ll get you cozy with tentacle mechanisms that you can build with just a laser cutter and a few hand tools. There are three big takeaways from this workshop. We’ll build up a two-stage controller reusable in other projects, muscle up our vocabulary of off-the-shelf parts for cable mechanisms, and discover a few laser-cut design techniques.

Superconference workshops tend to sell out extremely quickly. Don’t wait to get your ticket.