Field Trip! Hackaday Visits Pimoroni

If you have a Raspberry Pi and have any interest in its peripherals, you may be familiar with the grinning pirate logo of the British company, Pimoroni. The Sheffield, UK based outfit first established a niche for itself as one of the go-to places for much of the essentials of Pi ownership, and has extended its portfolio beyond the Pi into parts, boards, and components across the spectrum of electronic experimentation. Their products are notable for their distinctive and colourful design language as well as their  constant exploration of new ideas, and they have rapidly become one of those companies to watch in our sphere. On our way up to Newcastle for Maker Faire UK, we passed close enough to the Pimoroni HQ to be able to ask nicely if we could drop in and have a tour.

[Paul] showing off some of the Pimoroni attention to design detail. This artwork is hidden behind a display panel on the finished product.
Paul showing off some of the Pimoroni attention to design detail. This artwork is hidden behind a display panel on the finished product.
The Pimoroni HQ can be found in a nondescript unit with a discreetly placed sign on an industrial estate after a short drive through the city from the motorway. Inside it’s the same as thousands of other units, a set of offices at the front and a cavernous warehouse behind, except this one is filled with the kinds of goodies that get our blood pumping! And we’re told this toybox warehouse is soon to be joined by another nearby unit, as the Pimoroni business is expanding.

Our guide was the company co-founder Paul Beech, whose work you will be familiar with even if this is the first time you’ve heard his name;  Paul was the designer of the Raspberry Pi logo! The company is not exclusive to that platform but it’s fair to say they have a strong connection with the Pi, starting in 2012 with as their website puts it: “One laser cutter and a kettle” on which they produced the first of their iconic PiBow laser-cut sandwich Raspberry Pi cases.

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Detoured: Inside MachineHistories

When designers and architects need a fancy centerpiece, a design element, or even some wall sconces, they don’t head over to the machine shop by themselves. They get someone else, who owns some fancy machines, knows how to use those fancy machines, and can create anything out of wood, foam, or metal to do the fabrication for them. Think of these companies as artisan contractors, capable of turning whatever an architect thinks of into a real, tangible object.

One of these such companies is MachineHistories, a joint venture between [Steven Joyner] and [Jason Pilarsky], who work in the medium of computer code and CNC programming. As part of the SupplyFrame Design Lab’s Detoured series, lead Staff Designer [Majenta Strongheart] takes us along for a tour of MachineHistories to figure out how this collaboration actually works.

This collaboration began at the ArtCenter College of Design where [Steven] and [Jason] spent most of their time working in the shop. Eventually, they realized they didn’t actually need the ArtCenter and decided to sign a lease and strike out on their own. The first tools in their new shop were just a 3-axis CNC and a laser cutter, but MachineHistories gradually expanded to enormous five-axis machines and other incredible tools. These machines are put to work creating works of art for architectural and design installations, ranging from futuristic chairs, fine furniture, to sculptures and even new designs for simple home items.

The skill and craftsmanship that goes into these works of art are beyond compare, but this is a great insight into how all those manufactured panels, design elements, and artistic accents are created, and one that shows you can do anything, provided you have the right tools.

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Detoured: Fabbing At The Art Institute Of Chicago

[Majenta Strongheart] is one of the talented folks who works at the SupplyFrame Design Lab, home to dozens of Hackaday meetups, the Hackaday Superconference, and when the shop floor isn’t filled with chairs, is the place where tons of awesome projects are fabricated. [Majenta]’s role at the Design Lab is a Staff Designer, where she’s responsible for working the machines, and holds the distinction of being in the room when the SawStop kicked for the first time. Don’t fret: it was mirrored acrylic.

Among [Majenta]’s other duties at the Design Lab is on the social media front, showing off the capabilities of other design spaces around the country. Her first video in this series is from her alma mater, the Art Institute of Chicago. In this video, [Majenta] takes a look at the incredible fabrication facilities found here.

The tour begins in an exceptionally well-equipped wood shop kitted out with panel saws, spindle sanders, bandsaws, and not enough clamps. From there, the tour moves over to the metal shop and — unique for the city of Chicago — a forge. A long time ago, after Philadelphia and New York were the tech centers of America, and before the Bay Area was the tech center of America, Chicago made everything. The forge at the Art Institute of Chicago is the last remaining place in the city where metal casting takes place. This space was grandfathered in, and still remains a place where students can cast objects out of bronze and aluminum.

The Art Institute of Chicago is a very, very well equipped space full of enough tools to make anything you want. If you’re looking for some inspiration on what your basement, garage, or local hackerspace should look like, you need only look at [Majenta]’s tour. You can check out the entire video below.

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Hackaday’s Open Hardware Summit Experience

Last week was the Open Hardware Summit in Denver Colorado. This yearly gathering brings together the people and businesses that hold Open Hardware as an ideal to encourage, grow, and live by. There was a night-before party, the summit itself which is a day full of talks, and this year a tour of a couple very familiar open hardware companies in the area.

I thought this year’s conference was quite delightful and am happy to share with you some of the highlights.

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The Electronics Markets of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

When we think about world-famous electronics markets in Asia, usually Shenzhen, Tokyo’s Akihabara, or Shanghai’s Beijing Road come to mind.

There’s another market that I’ve had my eye on for a few years: Nhật Tảo market in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It might not be as large or accessible as the more well-known markets, but it’s very much worth a visit if you’re in the area. I decided it was time to hop on my red motorbike (red things go faster) and give you a short tour of the central market, as well as some more hobbyist-friendly options.

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Extra Curricular Tour of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Last week, Hackaday had the chance to tour NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. Tours are given all the time at JPL, but ours was special. Steve Collins invited us, and acted as our tour guide, and a new friendship with Michelle Easter got us a look inside the labs where equipment for the 2020 Mars mission is being built.

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The Junk Bins of Akihabara

Akihabara, Tokyo has transformed over the years. In its present form Akihabara emerged from the ruins of a devastated Tokyo after World War 2 when the entire district was burnt to the ground. The area was rebuilt in the shadow of the Akiba Jinja (dedicated to the god of fire prevention), and a new breed of street vendors began to appear. Huddling under the protection of railway bridges, and dealing mostly in Black market radio parts, these vendors set a new tone to what would become Japan’s “Electric Town”. And as Japanese manufacturing prowess grew so too did Akihabara.

maid
Maids touting for business

Now of course Akihabara is also home to Otaku culture, and is perhaps best known in this regard for its maid cafes. Streets are littered with maids touting their cafes, somewhat incongruously among computer outlets and precision tooling stores.

My interests however lie squarely in Akihabara’s glorious junk bins. Of all places I think I’m happiest  digging through this mass of discarded technology from Japan’s manufacturing past.

A tour through the junks bins is like an archaeological dig. And in this article I will present some recent finds, and ponder on their relevance to Japanese manufacturing.

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