A Hacker Walks Into A Trade Show: Electronica 2022

Last week, the world’s largest electronics trade fair took place in Munich, so I had to attend. Electronica is so big that it happens only once every two years and fills up 14 airplane hangars. As the fairly generic name suggests, it covers anything and everything having to do with electronics. From the producers of your favorite MLCC capacitors to the firms that deliver them to your doorstep, from suppliers of ASIC test equipment to the little shop that’ll custom wind toroids for you, that’s a pretty wide scope. Walking around, I saw tomorrow’s technology today from the big players, but I also picked up some ideas that would be useful for the home gamer.

When I first walked in, for instance, I ran into the Elantas booth. They’re a company that makes flexible insulation and specialty industrial coatings. But what caught my eye was a thermoformed plastic sheet with circuit traces on it. To manufacture them, they cut out copper foil, glue it to a flat plastic sheet with a glue that has a little give, and then put it all together into a vacuum former. The result is a 3D circuit and organically formed substrate in one shot. Very cool, and none of the tech for doing that is outside of the reach of the determined hacker.

The Cool Stuff

All of the stands, big or small, try to lure you in with some gimmick. The big fish, firms with deep pockets, put up huge signs and open bars, and are staffed by no shortage of salespeople in suits. The little fish, on the other hand, have to resort to showing you the cool stuff that they do, and it’s more often the application engineers sitting there, ready to talk tech. You can guess which I found more interesting.

For instance when I walked up to an obviously DIY popcorn popper that was also showing 5000 FPS footage of kernels in mid-pop, I had to ask. The company in question was a small UK outfit that made custom programmable power supplies and digital acquisition gear that interfaced with it. You could plug in their box to some temperature probes, fire off the high-speed video camera, and control the heating and cooling profile without writing any code. Very sweet. Continue reading “A Hacker Walks Into A Trade Show: Electronica 2022”

Hacker Diary: Embedded World 2022

Yesterday I went up to the Embedded World trade fair in Nuremburg, Germany. As a lone hacker, you often feel more than a little out of place when you buy chips in single unit quantities and the people you’re talking to are used to minimum order quantities of a million. But what’s heartening is how, once you ask an interesting question, even some of the suit-wearing types flip into full-on kids who like to explain the fun tech. I struck up conversations with more than a couple VPs of global chip behemoths, and they were cool.

But my heart is still with the smaller players, and the hackers. That’s where the innovation is. I met up with Colin O’Flynn, of Chip Whisperer fame — his company is selling fancier chip-glitching tools, but he still had a refined version of the open source, quick-and-dirty zapper circuit from his Remoticon talk last year. There was a small local company producing virtual buttons that were essentially Pepper’s Ghost illusions floating in mid-air, and the button press was detected by reflective IR. Cool tech, but I forgot the company’s name — sorry!

Less forgettable was Dracula Technologies, a French company making inkjet-printable organic solar cells. While they wouldn’t go into deep details about the actual chemistry of what they’re doing, I could tell that it pained them to not tell me when I asked. Anyway, it’s a cool low-power solar tech that would be awesome if it were more widespread. I think they’re just one of many firms in this area; keep your eyes on organic solar.

When talking with a smaller German FPGA manufacturer, Cologne Chip, about their business, I finally asked about the synthesis flow and was happily surprised to hear that they were dedicated to the fully open-source Yosys toolchain. As far as I know, they’re one of the only firms who have voluntarily submitted their chips’ specs to the effort. Very cool! (And a sign of things to come? You can always hope.)

I met a more than a few Hackaday readers just by randomly stumbling around, which also shows that the hacker spirit is alive in companies big and small. All of the companies have to make demos to attract our attention, but from talking to the people who make them, they have just as much fun building them as you or I would.

And last but not least, I ran into Hackaday regular Chris Gammell and my old boss and good friend Mike Szczys who were there representing the IoT startup Golioth, and trying to fool me into using an RTOS on microcontrollers. (Never say never.) We had an awesome walkaround and a great dinner.

If you ever get the chance to go to a trade show like this, even if you feel like you might be out of your league, I encourage you to attend anyway. You’d be surprised how many cool geeks are hiding in the least likely of places.

[Banner image: Embedded World]

Electronica 2016: Too Much Electronics

The Electronica trade show in Munich is so big that it only takes place once every two years. Every manufacturer, distributor, and maker of anything electronic is there. To get a feel for the scale of things, Electronica is spread out over twelve large exhibition halls and is served by two separate subway stations, one on either end. You wouldn’t think there would be so many inductor manufacturers in the world, but you’d be wrong.

dscf9020It’s a hardware geek’s paradise, even if it is aimed more at facilitating industry contacts than at serving the humble hacker. But it’s great to see what is out there, quiz reps of all our favorite chip manufacturers about what they’ve got going on, and just generally wander around. You might not get to play with the multi-gigahertz scopes on a day-to-day basis, but you can get hands-on with them at Electronica. And as cool as it is to talk directly to the representatives of our mega-manufacturers, it’s maybe more fun to check up on the creative fringe of companies that you’ve never heard of before, but who nonetheless have great ideas.
Continue reading “Electronica 2016: Too Much Electronics”