Monthly Archives: February 2013

AVC Update and “Engineering Roundtable” – Homemade Pan/Tilt with Creo

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First off, we have an exciting announcement about the 2013 SparkFun Autonomous Vehicle Competition. After months of filling out forms, writing emails, and making phone calls, we’ve nailed down a date and location for the 2013 SparkFun AVC. The event will take place on June 8, 2013 at the Boulder Reservoir.

If you’re not familiar with the AVC, this has become SparkFun’s signature event where competitors race against each other with DIY autonomous vehicles. In the past, the event has been held at SparkFun HQ, but the AVC has officially outgrown our location so we’re moving it to the reservoir.

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Details, like entrant and spectator signups, will be coming soon, but we have now locked down the date and location. Plan accordingly! We’ll be posting again soon with more details, a course preview, rules, and other info. We hope you can make it for what should be an awesome day of robotics!

Today, we have a new episode of “Engineering Roundtable.” We are also introducing a new “character” (and a character, he is) – Paul, SparkFun Mechanical Engineer. In today’s episode, Paul discusses his homegrown pan/tilt camera mount. Check it out:

Vimeo version can be found here

As usual, leave any comments or suggestions for Paul in the comments section below. We hope you enjoy the video and we’ll be back in a few weeks with another episode of “Engineering Roundtable.”

Android and Simon Hacking with Jeff Boody

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A few weeks back, SparkFun customer Jeff Boody came to our office to give a presentation about one of his recent projects. Using Bluetooth connectivity, Jeff was able to take one of our SparkFun Simon Kits and link it with his Android-based phone, so that he could use his phones interface to control the Simon board. Essentially, all the game play occurs on the Simon game itself, and the phone simply mirrors the game and transmits the communication back to the board.

Vimeo version can be found here

SparkFun is particularly excited about this project, because it has some awesome implications for the classroom. In the past, using a mobile device or tablet to program a board was difficult, but this could open the door to make that much easier, allowing an educator/teacher to easily program students' boards without using a laptop. With the industry trending towards using tablets/mobile phones more prevalently, this is an awesome development!

If you’re interested in developing a similar app, Jeff has made all his materials available. The Simon app on the Google Play store can be found here, the Simon Says fork can be found here, the Google Play app and the github source for the Serial Mirror can be found here and here, and the Google Play store app and the github source for the BlueSMiRF demo can be found here and here.

Thanks, Jeff, for coming by and teaching us a thing or two.

SparkFun at Make a MakerSpace, hosted by Artisan’s Asylum, Part 2

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Day two of Make a MakerSpace found the Lindsays of SparkFun splitting up to offer two different workshops. My boss, Dr. Lindsay Levkoff, talked about hands-on education along with people like Chris Rogers from Tufts University. They played with Legos and discussed pedagogy while I led seventy-five people in learning the five foundational Arduino skills with our LilyPad Dev board. If you haven’t heard of it, as an educator, I love our ProtoSnap line. It’s the only way I know of to teach Intro to Arduino in under two hours. Here’s one of the ways SparkFun Education does it. We slammed through blinking and fading an LED and digital and analog input with buttons and photoresistors, with plenty of time left over to talk about Processing and make a really bad dubstep instrument using the tone() command. After the workshop we hung out with people like Tamara from Brown Paper Tickets, Juan from Burgath, space founders Mike Kaltschnee and Mark Barnett and a slew of other educators from all over the nation. I even happened to bump into Amon from MODKit and I was once again able to express my gratitude for the teaching tools he and his team have created over the years.

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Intro to Arduino…

Monday morning, Chris Taylor and I headed over to Harvard Engineering to tour their Undergrad Engineering labs – wow! We got to see a whole bunch of really cool equipment that students have access to starting freshman year. Talk about interdisciplinary – these guys use electronics and computers as a platform to explore a wide array of topics. They showed us a bunch of areas including the lab that they use for energy transfer education. Among the hardware in that room was a wind tunnel and solar simulator for use in their Heat Transfer class. We poked our noses into the tunnel, drooled over various setups and continued the tour. Chris was especially impressed with the cleanliness of their manufacturing labs. One of them had something like five 3-D automated mills, and there was not a single speck of sawdust or metal shaving in evidence! Near the end of the tour they showed us one of their innovations, the result of three summers of work. They were very proud of the micro-fluidics system they had designed to help researchers work with DNA. Again, we got to see a space where innovation and rapid prototyping are bringing down the cost of cutting-edge instrumentation by tenfold or more.

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…in around 1.5 hours…

That evening everyone headed back to You-Do-It-Electronics for our final workshop on the trip. We were given an example of how one of their long-time customers created a new contact/point system for use in professional fencing with e-textiles. It’s amazing what happens when you give new materials to innovators and engineers. We had never seen that particular use of conductive fibers before. Touche, Mr. Z, and thank you for sharing.

The last place I toured while in Boston was the BU Electronics Design Facility. They create all sorts of cool instrumentation that winds up all over the world, as well as in BU classes. They also teach soldering workshops to younger kids as an outreach program. Seems natural that we should hang out, right? They showed me the persistence of the vision boards they used last time they taught their class, as well as lamenting the rocky road of technical educational documentation. This is a song and dance SparkFun understands very well. The students in the lab were motivated engineering students who frequented at least three different Hacker and MakerSpaces! In particular these guys were psyched about their Rocket Propulsion Group. This Facility even has instrumentation in CERN! They were busy working on updating that particular set of sensors in preparation for CERN’s offline expansion/maintenance period over the next couple years.

As usual I walked away from this conglomeration of events and workshops with a new scope for consideration. I keep walking into amazing labs and learning environments where people are pushing the boundaries of our old systems. Whether it is learning more about physics and how particles work, or learning more about playdough and how people learn, it’s of utmost importance that we all have a place we can push these boundaries. It doesn’t matter if you’re changing the way people use Arduino, introducing people to homemade fudge or maybe creating high-quality recurve bows, there’s a place for you in a space out there. If you’re doing all three of these things in a single project please let us know!

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…with LilyPad Dev.

If you run a space and want us to visit hit us up! If you’re interested in where this conference is going in the future, you can find the official website here. No matter who or where you are, if your garage is stuffed to the gills with electronics, a 3-D printer, woodworking tools, musical instruments or painting supplies, don’t stop building, creating and making. Just think about moving your stuff to a place where like-minded creators can share and exchange knowledge. And if you can’t find a place… think about starting one.

SparkFun at Make a MakerSpace, hosted by Artisan’s Asylum, Part 1

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As an Educational Outreach Coordinator for SparkFun Electronics, I have seen a myriad of different educational environments since being hired in 2010. These spaces range from traditional schools to libraries to HackerSpaces and other forms of “spaces.” Schools, museums and libraries tend to take similar forms regardless of their location or the specific interests of the staff. “Spaces,” however, come in a wide variety of forms and foci depending on several factors. Special thanks to Chris Connors for use of many of his photos!

By no means do I consider myself an expert on HackerSpaces and their family of related spaces, but I’ve had the honor of visiting and teaching at different spaces around the nation. I’ve also met a large amount of the wonderful geeks, freaks and uniques that belong to various HackerSpaces at events such as MakerFaires and mini-MakerFaires, robotics and educational conferences, as well as greeting some of them in classes at SparkFun’s headquarters. With this exposure comes the knowledge that these wonderful spaces have popped up organically in the past when brave (and sometimes maybe a little naive) individuals gathered other like-minded people and resources to the point of critical mass. From there it’s anyone’s guess as to what direction the space might take. Many of them focus on computers and software, others might start with a dedicated militia of woodworkers, and I have no doubt there are probably some with a majority population of gear-heads and mechanically-minded grocers. In Boulder alone we have one called Phoenix Asylum, which is dedicated primarily to the arts, and another, Solid State Depot, which incubated in a furniture factory before morphing into a more circuit board focused environment. There are probably a couple other spaces that I’m not even aware of with completely different customs and intent. What I’m getting at is that these places are a reflection of the people who form them.

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The event was held in a large warehouse adjacent to Artisan’s Asylum

Given enough time, energy and a little organization (not too much, cuz then people don’t get to work on their projects), inevitably these organizations start offering classes. It seems to be an addiction for the spaces. Sure, it might start with an innocent soldering class here or a paper-making class there, but before anyone really knows what’s going on there’s usually a full blown smorgasbord of classes. Instructors are so excited to share their knowledge, either for the love of teaching or due to a maniacal plot to recruit others to help with their projects, that classes happen either in an organized fashion or in a one-off haphazard manner. In my humble opinion, both are admirable and have their own benefits from a teaching standpoint. At NoiseBridge in San Francisco, I taught an organized SMD Soldering class while people pursued other forms of electronics behind me, behind them a couple people cooked what smelled like curry, and even further behind them milled a group of people from One Laptop Per Child and other local cohorts. These places allow people to explore concepts that may have been outside of their comfort zone as individuals or in a group. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the spaces you also get a lot of cross pollination of ideas. This results in a lot of really weird ideas and some moments of fabrication genius. On top of all the diverse concepts floating around these places, the spaces themselves will often be driven by a founding philosophy or vision. These vary from Mitch Altman’s “Be Excellent to Each Other”, to Artisan’s Asylum sprawling workspace rental growth and unofficial mascot “Stompy,” the currently under-construction 4,000 lb. hexapod.

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Stompy’s leg

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Artisan in action

We love these spaces. They’re crazy in the best way possible – kind of how we like to think about SparkFun.

So naturally, when Artisan’s Asylum reached out to us about an event in early February with the help of Make Magazine to educate people who want to form Hacker and MakerSpaces, we told them we’d be there with piezo-buzzers on. I offered to conduct a workshop and bring hardware, RTFM Band-aids, three of our engineers with experience in founding HackerSpaces, SparkFun’s Engineering Department and, as a prize for one of the attendees, our brand new Hack Pack. My boss, the Director of the Education Department at SparkFun, thought it sounded so awesome she decided she was up for the ride from the get-go as well. I lined up a couple other workshops and meetings on either side of the event, packed up our back-up laptops for shipping (cuz while we will troubleshoot your laptop at a class, we don’t guarantee we’ll be successful), booked some hotel rooms and started prepping our SparkFunions for an action-filled extended weekend.

First of all – this happened to our crate of laptops in transit to the first workshop at You-Do-It-Electronics, ironically driving home a point I would make later in a presentation about Murphy’s Law. Luckily I had learned my own lesson, played it cool (kind of) and packed five laptops in my carry on baggage in an effort to roll with the punches. TSA did not like this. Apparently carrying around five laptops is pretty suspicious behavior. Luckily they were all labelled “education,” and I eventually got on the plane despite some really weird looks from security and fellow passengers.

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This is what happens

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when your shipment

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gets stabbed with a forklift.

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Once in Massachusetts, the engineers and I headed out to Needham to inspect damage and train the You-Do-It-Electronics staff on programming Arduinos with the ol' SparkFun Inventor’s Kit. Amazingly enough not a single laptop was damaged! The crate was kaput, but the contents survived the forklift stabbing unscathed. Friday morning the other Funions went to the Boston Science Museum while I visited Gann Academy to talk about how students can really push their interest in robots to the next level.

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SparkFunions hanging out in the Boston Museum of Science

That afternoon we all headed back to You-Do-It and taught another workshop for their customers. You-Do-It-Electronics has been providing electronics to professionals and hobbyists since 1949, so the attendees were loyal customers eager to sink their teeth into Arduino and some electrical circuits. I was pretty pumped to see a full house with a couple of young kids in the back of the class.

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Workshop at You-Do-It-Electronics

The next day, Saturday, found us Funions in a large warehouse with people from all over the nation and a few from elsewhere on the globe. Everyone present was intent on the same purpose: to gather as much information as possible about what it might take to start a MakerSpace or HackerSpace in their city, town, library or school. Make a MakerSpace was underway!

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Dale Dougherty, Gui Cavalcanti and Matt Oehrlein

I had signed up to help out with documenting the first day of the event, so I helped set up a camera and got to work at the first panel taking notes on someone else’s laptop. This particular panel was all about identifying and rallying your community. The speakers came from various places such as Make Magazine, Olin College, TechShop in California, the City of Somerville (where the event took place), i3Detroit and, of course, Artisan’s Asylum. Representatives talked about their respective organizations and how to leverage community interest into action and physical space. The general consensus amongst the speakers was that it’s best to attract smaller existing communities that might be interested in the larger umbrella community that Make and spaces help create. Dale Doughtery explained the MakerSpace initiative and welcomed everyone to the event. HackerSpace representatives such as Matt Oehrlein from Detroit talked about slowly working up to a larger and larger HackerSpace, in contrast to Gui Cavalcanti’s experience with the quickly growing and massive Artisan’s Asylum. Jim Newton from TechShop, also in Detroit, expounded on the benefits of having corporate sponsorship to build a space. TechShop was originally founded as a for-profit but switched to non-profit as it is a better fit for their intended goal. Apparently somewhere around two-thirds of HackerSpaces are non-profits. Stephen Houdlette explained how the city of Somerville views Artisan’s Asylum and how it is in the interest of cities and towns to support spaces as they pop up across the nation and the globe. The panel also touched on subjects such as how to attract a youth population, how to continue to be creative when all your time is taken up with space-founding logistics, and the creative, interdisciplinary nature of non-traditional teaching environments – I found Ben Linder from Olin particularly insightful when it came to this last topic. If you haven’t checked them out, Olin was actually founded on the premise of an interdisciplinary approach to engineering in 1997. They produce engineers like Gui and show up at events like Make a MakerSpace. Very cool.

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SparkFun Engineer Mike Hord jibber-jabbering about Tech Ed and HackerSpaces

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Giant ATMega – Brainchild of SparkFun Education and Engineering

The event was well-attended. I also took notes at the panel on Special Topics in MakerSpace Education. Among the key concepts that I heard driven home over the weekend were the importance of fair, critical and forward thinking governance, making sure bureaucratic stuff like inspections and finances are well taken care of and how important initial culture is when consciously forming a space or community. You have no clue how important this last one is. Look at SparkFun – Nate is more of a cat person than a dog person, but having dogs at work helps support his initial vision, wants and needs for his workplace. Did he think he was going to be employing thirty to forty dogs when he started? No. Does he think it’s awesome now that it’s happened? Yes. The lesson I heard was dream big at the beginning… before you know any better.

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Chris Rogers and Lindsay Levkoff on Technology Education

Check back soon for part two of the event!

New Product Friday: Shieldstravaganza!

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This week we have a smaller than usual list of new products, so I decided to do something a bit different. I was wanting to talk about a product that we carry that’s never gotten a proper introduction, but it didn’t seem fair to pick just one. So, for the next couple of weeks, I present to you, Shieldstravaganza. We’re going to be briefly talking about all the Arduino shields we carry. Adding them all up, we have about 50 different shields and it was fun to put them all on a table and talk about why each one exists.

Vimeo link here

Of course this video isn’t meant as an in-depth demonstration of each one, but more as a ‘hey, what does this one do?’ This video (and the ones to follow) really tested my knowledge of our product catalog. I admit, there were a couple shields that I didn’t immediately recognize and had to research before the video. It’s pretty interesting to see the whole range of shields at once. That being said, let’s see what new stuff we have for this week!

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Since we have a new MKII version of our robotic claw, we now have a MKII for the matching pan-tilt bracket. The new bracket has a couple additional holes that line up with the MKII claw. The older bracket can still work with the newer claw, but will require a bit of modification. The pan-tilt bracket should work with both claws as it has both hole patterns.

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Remember those coin acceptors we got a couple weeks back? Well, they’ve already discontinued the 2-coin acceptor. Boo! Thankfully, we have a 3-coin acceptor that’s even better! This one will of course recognize three different coin types and even has a nice little display on the inside to indicate which coin it just recognized.

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And lastly, we have a new version of the 4D Systems 3.2" LCD screen. The new version has some minor hardware and software updates. This is a 240x320 LCD screen that would be great for a slick GUI or even 3D graphics.

Well, that’s it for this week. Be sure to check back next week, we actually have a VERY interesting new product to talk about that should shake things up a bit. See you then and thanks for reading!

SparkFun Teaches at Missouri 4-H Robotics Conference

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The West Coast tour last fall was amazing. We met a bunch of people, taught a whole lot and got to see some awesome projects. Hoping to be home in time for Halloween, we drove through the night and found ourselves cooking cinnamon rolls for breakfast while the RV chugged up over the Rocky Mountains (cooking in a moving vehicle is an art unto itself). After a little over a week of staying in one place we started to get itchy feet, so in early November we drove east to Jefferson City, MO, to see what a 4-H Robotics conference looks like. Along the way we stopped for some barbeque.

Sometimes we have trouble with unprepared laptops or computers when we teach workshops. It’s difficult because often the awesome people installing software and drivers for us ahead of time don’t actually have to teach the workshops. Usually everything goes well, but we have seen classes where we have a limited amount of time being brought to a screeching halt by a lack of drivers and admin password. The technical support for the conference, Bill Pabst, was having none of that. It really underlined for us the importance of having the whole educational community on board to support tech teachers. Without the support of administration and IT people, a tech teacher’s life is a non-stop roller coaster ride of hoping nothing goes wrong in the future instead of reveling in present successes.

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Learning Arduino with the LilyPad

Jeff and I split up into two teams to teach Intro to Arduino with two different hardware formats. He taught using the Simple LilyPad boards and I taught using ProtoSnap Mini. Then we joined forces to teach e-sewing and XBee Series 1 wireless. (Rob wasn’t there, just giving props.) The population was a combination of teachers and students. People had travelled from far and wide to come to the conference, so we met people from Mississipi to Chicago and everywhere in between. My favorite moment was overhearing two sixteen-year-old girls exclaiming that “Sewing is hard! It’s not easy like soldering… or programming.”

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Fun with the ProtoSnap Mini

The guys from the Cowtown Computer Congress had a really easy time with XBee but also had similar sentiments about e-sewing. Among their group was Rob Giseburt, author of extruder head firmware for 3-D printers as well as other very interesting projects. They were really great guys and printed out little gliders for all us kids. It just goes to show that there are so many skills involved in tinkering and making that just when you think you’ve seen it all, a new skill comes along and you get to start the learning process all over again. I wound up hanging out with guys from Cowtown Computer Congress, among others, until the wee hours due to the presence of a piano in the hotel lounge.

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Jeff shows a sewn circuit what’s up

There was a wide array of educators at the conference. Everything from infrastructure and funding, to 3-D printing and diesel powered robotics was up for discussion. The keynotes were delivered by Ross Higashi from Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Academy and Arlene Lantz, a 4-H volunteer and amazingly active member in Missouri’s educational community. Among other things, Ross is known for his work with ROBOLAB Video Trainer and Lego NXT. Arlene Lantz was the recipient of the Mylo Downey Leadership Award in recognition of her work in 18 different counties. Her activities include relentless organization and fundraising as well as being Club Leader and club shooting instructor for the Country Explorers organization. SparkFun would also like to thank Ann Boes, the organizer of the event. We know how much it takes to put together large events and we were proud to be able to support the people we met in Jefferson City.

With a twelve hour drive ahead of us at the end of the weekend, we packed up our trusty van and headed back west. Despite the fact that it was the first day of hunting season and our new friends had warned us to be vigil, we made it home to the square state without any incidents. I can’t wait to head back to Missouri and Kansas to see what they’ve been up to in the meantime (and grab some more barbecue)!

Introduction to Infrared with Jeff

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Over the past couple months we’ve been building some tutorials on beginner concepts like robotics motors and servo motors with Jeff, one of our educational outreach coordinators. For our most recent addition, Jeff covers the basics of infrared – how to set up different sensors, troubleshooting, and how to hook them up to an Arduino to read the results – to use with robotics projects.

As always, if you have any questions, comments or ideas for other videos you’d like to see, feel free to leave them below!

West Coast Tour 2012, Part 2

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As our travels continued we headed for the Bay Area, catching a night in the mountains outside Santa Cruz. It was then on into San Francisco to hit our next round of workshops.

Our next appointment was at Noisebridge in the Mission District. Weâd been talking to Mitch Altman, and he asked if we could do a surface-mount soldering workshop. So after securing a parking spot around the corner from Noisebridge, we rolled our road cases in and began setting up and marveling at the surroundings. Noisebridge is on the third floor of a building on Mission St. and is an impressive facility. The space is over 5000 square feet, and itâs packed with electronics, classrooms, a machine shop, a kitchen, and a darkroom — about everything a maker could want. We toured with Mitch and soaked up the atmosphere. There are cast-off electronics from every era and tools everywhere. In every nook and cranny it seems that someone is working on a fantastic project. As Linz lead the workshop that night, we shared the room with the One Laptop Per Child group and a programming class in Java or Python. We had a full house and it was great to get to spend time with Mitch. His TV-B-gone is a personal favorite and heâs a stalwart in the DIY community.

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It works!

The next morning found us around the corner at The Sterne School. Weâve worked with Ed and his staff before and were excited to try some new class material with his students. We took about 40 middle- and high-school students through an array of squishy circuits, e-textiles and e-origami before an afternoon of programming with the Inventor’s Kit and the Lilypad Development Board. We had lots of chances to explore different techniques for teaching concepts around the material, and we were impressed by how adaptable and fun the kids were. As we closed out the school day with the students at Sterne, we headed across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley. We had been invited to visit Pioneers in Engineering, a student-run organization in the UC Berkeley Engineering School. PiE does a really interesting robotics challenge for high-school students that uses hardware they design, build and support on campus. You could think of this as a $100 FIRST Robotics competition. We toured around with the PiE students and talked about the hardware for the upcoming year and how the event is run and supported. As well, we saw some of the workspace and student projects at UC-Berkeley. We were so impressed with the whole PiE program that weâre headed back in late April to take part in the PiE Final Competition. We encourage all the NorCal folks to come down and check out the digs and see what this program is all about.

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Rob can barely contain his glee at Parallax

The road called us back and we were on our way to our next stop. In late August, Ken and Jessica from Parallax had come out to SparkFun and done a great presentation on the Propeller chip, the Elev-8 Quadcoptor, and some of Parallaxâs other products. We got to talking about our plans for a West Coast tour, and they invited us to Parallax for a workshop with the LilyPad e-textile products we produce.ÂIâve long been a Parallax fan and customer and we were glad to accept the invitation. We headed up to Rocklin, CA, where Parallax has its headquarters. We got a tour of Parallax and its Production and Engineering facility from Jessica, and then we set up in their classroom to go over the e-textile material weâd prepared. We were excitedÂto sit down with the mix of people from the community and Parallax staff to work together. Iâve spent a lot of time with âWhatâs a Microcontroller?,â so having Andy and Stephanie Lindsay in a class was a real treat. We got to meet some great people at Parallax, and they have an education event May 4th in Rocklin — itâs sure to be a great time, so check it out.

We wrapped up the Parallax class and began our next leg of the trip. Weâd booked the evening to see what Portland State University had going on, and we were about to be amazed yet again. Early on in the planning for the tour, Gerry Recktenwald from PSU had contacted us about a visit. Heâd been using the SparkFun Inventor’s Kit as a part of his curriculum and we wanted to check out what was going on.ÂGerry is part of the Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science, his department is Mechanical Engineering and his specialty is Fluid and Thermal Science. As part of a three-part Introduction to Engineering curriculum, the students get the Inventor’s Kit instead of a text book. From there on out the students build and log data to get an experiential approach to problem solving and skill building that includes learning basic machining and design as it relates to engineering. At the end of the course, students build a water pump from scratch and then test it for efficiency. We were pretty bowled over — this approach is a dream come true for a shop rat like me. Gerryâs students all showed up and talked about their experiences and how the material worked for them.

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The Portland State microgravity drop tower

Next, Gerry turned us over to Andrew Wollman, an adjunct professor at PSU whoâs working on capillary action in microgravity environments. As it turns out, PSU has a five-story-tall microgravity drop tower in the main stairwell of the building. A researcher raises a platform to the top of the tower and then the whole tower lights up in the middle of the building and the âsledâ in the tower drops, giving a two-second window of microgravity conditions. As it turns out, fluids and capillary action behave differently under microG conditions. On filmed experiments with high speed photography, the new behavior has revealed itself and has lead to a big leap in the way we look at fluid dynamics in space. In addition, PSU has direct control experiments aboard the the International Space Station. We were ushered into a room full of video monitors and computers with live views from ISS. PSU in combination with the University of Bremen, Germany, is monitoring the experiment, which looks at bubble formation in fluids in microG settings. When we had finished in the control room, Gerry and Drew took us downstairs to PSUâs prototyping lab. The lab has an array of tools for circuit-board production, pick-and-place operations, and a full complement of tools to flush out the rapid-prototyping environment. One of our favorites was a vending machine set up to dispense resistors and capacitors, as well as other commonly used components in the EE/CS departments. Itâs simple, but we love the DIY nature of having consumable parts available to the student body 24 hours a day. ÂÂÂÂ

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Fresh out of Combos

The next day was another in a line of mind-blowing encounters with SparkFunâs people. Weâd arranged to visit Derek Runberg in Hillsdale, a little west of metro PDX. Derek is teaching Arduino and a number of other emerging tech topics to middle schoolers in Hillsboro. We talked a bit with Derek about what we could do with his students that was a good fit – not too hard, but engaging and relevant to the work heâd already done in his classroom. We settled on a day with the Processing language and decided to run six sessions over the course of a school day with Derekâs classes. The Processing material was a huge hit with the kids – every class was so engaged we had to kick them out at the end of the period. As we look back on it, we think that by removing the set of variables that go with wiring a circuit correctly, weâd let the kids concentrate on the programming alone.ÂWe think they were less frustrated by the level of difficulty of the material.ÂThe day sailed by and Rob and I really enjoyed our time with the students.

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Middle School workshop in Hillsboro

The next morning we were at it again with a teacher training with Hillsboro students and teachers combined. We did an introduction to Arduino and had the good fortune to meet some of Derekâs colleagues and their students. We often talk about our place as part of a learning community and we really feel like this new model for learning is great for emergent technology. We had students and teachers learning side by side, and the day was memorable for everyone there. In the days and weeks afterward, Derek put up a website on the work started in Hillsboro. Weâve started sending educators there as a reference to Processing and its place in the classroom. Weâve had a lot of great response to Derekâs work — give him a shout if you use the material or have something to add. The next night, as the twilight crept in, we headed towards our final stop, Bellevue, WA.

We drove through the persistent Northwest rain and pulled into Bellevue late. We sat down and talked with our hosts for a little while before settling into the RV for a nightâs rest. The next morning found us at the Open Window School with our friend Adrienne and her Technology class. Adrienne had requested that we come and help her get a jump start on the Arduino hardware she had for her classroom and we were glad to help out. We took her group of students through the basics of programming with Arduino and they took off. We get to see a lot of classrooms where the initial steps to getting the hardware running are the most challenging part of the process. Open Window School was a pretty good case study, where we start out a little slow and the students take off about an hour into things. We blazed through the concepts with Adrienneâs class as they worked very well with the material. In the mid-afternoon we packed up the RV one final time and headed for Boulder.

We made pretty good time on the way home and rolled out of the RV in time to start work on the National Tour KickstarterÂthat was about to launch. This trip provided us with valuable information about travelling and teaching with SparkFunâs customers and about how we can work with educators to provide classroom resources. We can’t wait to get back on the road later this year, and we hope to see you out there!

West Coast Tour 2012, Part 1

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SparkFun travels a lot these days. The Education Department spent most of September and October 2012 traveling, meeting our customers and teaching. With the announcement of the SparkFun National Tour last week, we thought it would be a good time to share our story about one of these trips.

Last spring, Linz and I did a tour of the east coast, continuing our goal of reaching more people and spreading the word about SparkFun and electronics. As weâve spread out from teaching classes at the Boulder facility, weâve gotten great feedback about what works and what new material we can bring to classrooms, after-school programs and the larger community.

In discussions over the summer we figured weâd tackle the western United States and see how we fared. We started reaching out to people weâd met at Maker Faires and conferences during our travels to see what the interest would be along the route. At first glance, the plan was deceptively simple: Weâd leave Boulder in an RV and head south through Arizona, then on to southern California and on up the Pacific coast to the Bay area. We would add a stop at Parallax near Sacramento at the suggestion of our friends there, stop in Portland and Seattle, and then perhaps add an intermountain stop before returning to Boulder.

Around mid-August we started setting our dates. One of our first hits was outside Phoenix with a teacher at Perry High School in Chandler, AZ. We found that travel by RV was the most efficient, and the ability to park and sleep on this tour was key. The next morning was a fun workshop using Arduino for data-logging and measurement in science classrooms for the Chandler School District. Weâd like to thank Dave at Perry High School for hosting — weâll be sure to stop back and see how things are going as we bounce around the country. Through the night the RV chugged into the desert, and after a night of good sleep near Joshua Tree it was on into Los Angeles.

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Ah, life on the road.

Our friend Patricia at Handmade Penguin had booked two days in the Sea Scout Base in Long Beach, CA. Patricia has been working programs there, and we had a great group of kids and parents for our first night of Lilypad e-textiles. The kids were great and dug right into programming with the Lilypad Development Board. We love it when people find nontraditional ways to use our stuff, and Patricia is really great at figuring out things in her own way. She has an awesome YouTube channel with projects for younger kids under Squigglemum. The second day with Patricia was a concentrated day with home-schoolers doing Arduino with the SparkFun Inventor’s Kit. The day flew by and we all had a great time. One of the great things about doing workshops with our customers is the range of people we see, and how we go from one group of interesting people to the next without a lot of repetition.

For our next engagement, we had the fortune to cross paths with Jean at The Exploratory in Santa Monica, and were in for a real treat. Jean runs programs for kids of all ages and we had booked two nights with her at Paul Revere Middle School in LA. The first night was an all-out craft and âMakerâ spectacular in the lunchroom. Kids could build robots from recycled materials or do e-textiles, as well as great e-origami. The night rocketed past us as kids continually amazed us with their creativity and focus.

The next afternoon we headed back to Santa Monica for a second night at Paul Revere Middle School. Linz has put together some great material using the Scratch programming language and the PicoBoard to build interactive gaming with the up-and-coming programmers of the world. We settled into the cafeteria at Paul Revere, and about 30 families joined us for an evening of programming, hardware and camaraderie.

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Molding young minds

The next morning bright and early found us at the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). We had been contacted several weeks earlier by the Manager of Youth Services about helping them get a pilot program for a hackerspace off the ground. We had been in contact with both the library and some folks from Crash Space – the LA Hackerspace – and we put together a training with about fifteen librarians at the Central Library in downtown LA. The discussion was lively, we worked through the basics of Arduino with the Inventor’s Kits, and we talked about the challenges associated with trying to get a program like this together. Weâve since seen a great deal of interest from libraries around the country in adopting the hacker/makerspace model. Weâre in debt to Tara Tiger Brown for her persistence and help in setting up our time at LAPL.

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Spreading the Arduino love at the LAPL

After a quick lunch we had one last stop in the Los Angeles area, where weâd put together an e-textile afternoon with Santa Monica High School. We all gathered in the yard outside the science building and settled in to a good afternoon of sewing and talking about LilyPad and its possible applications and creative possibilities. We had a mixed group of young men and women; even some folks from the local DIY/Hackerspace community joined us.

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E-textile madness!

As the afternoon turned to evening, we loaded back in to the RV and bid our new friends in LA goodbye. We headed up the incomparable Highway 1, hugging the coast and taking in the great views of the Pacific Ocean. That night late found us in central California for a workshop with Qtechknow. Weâve been really lucky to get to work with Quin over the last few years, and heâs been teaching a lot in southern and central CA, so we were delighted to get chance to work with him again. We did a day dedicated to Arduino, with Quin leading a group of fun young people through the basics of embedded electronics.

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Intro to Arduino for the kids, by the kids, with Qtechknow

If youâre curious about classes, products and events with Qtechknow, the website is a great resource. As well, Quin does events with Crash Space in Culver City. We enjoyed a well-needed day off with Quin and his parents and weâll count the days till we see them all again.

Stay tuned for part two of our West Coast Tour recap coming later this week!

New Product Friday: Shaking Things Up

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

Before we get started on today’s homepage post, we want to provide an update about the SparkFun National Tour.

It was originally stated that a tour stop would cost $2,500 – this includes all the hardware, support materials, and a full-day of training. However, after a bit of discussion, SparkFun has made the commitment to subsidize the cost for the first 50 stops – bringing the per stop price down to $1,500.

This is truly on a first-come, first-served basis so sign up your location today! After the first 50 stops are booked, the price will bump back up. We hope this makes it a bit easier to bring the wonderful world of electronics into your classroom, library, or hackerspace! Now on to the product post:

Hello everyone and welcome to another Friday Product Post. As always, we’ve got some new stuff this week, so check out the video and check out the new products.

Vimeo version can be found here.

The Uncertain 7-Cube is delightful and annoying at the same time. It’s just unsatisfying to ask it a question and get such a worthless answer. But that’s why I love it so much. We are currently working on a tutorial and will have something in the next week or so. I’ll post it in an upcoming new product post, so stay tuned.

As I mentioned in the video, we actually used a single Lumapad for lighting this week. It’s a pretty cool Kickstarter from our customer, Richard Haberkern. This is the first product I’ve seen using the Electric Imp, which is neat to see. Speaking of seeing, I’m still seeing spots; that thing is bright.

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The Wake-on-Shake is a cool little board that makes motion-activated projects really easy. Shake the board and it will turn on whatever is connected to it. You can set the sensitivity, the time it remains ‘active’, and even shut it down once your code finished running.

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Have a Raspberry Pi and want to get into robotics? The RaspiRobot might interest you. The RaspiRobot kit is an expansion board for the Pi that turns it into a robot controller. Once you get done soldering it together, just attach it to your Pi and use the Python library to start making your robot move around.

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We’ve seen a lot of our red boxes used as storage and makeshift enclosures. The SparkFun Parts Box is the same size as our most popular box (5"x4"x1.25"), but it’s paper-laminated cardboard and has a magnetic flap to keep it closed. It’s a bit thicker and sturdier than our normal ones. Plus, it’s got freakin' magnets embedded in it.

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Like purple boxes? We’ve got that box I just talked about in purple, and it’s bigger too! The LilyPad Parts Box is 9"x4"x1.5" and has a bit more style to it. Use it for storing all your e-textile stuff.

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We got a shipment of these 12V fans and can’t send them back, so we’re offering them for sale for a limited time. They are the same as our 5V version, but operate at 12V instead.

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We’re building the new IOIO OTG and have a lot of leftover PICs from the older version. This PIC24FJ256DA206 is a 16-bit flash microcontroller with an embedded graphics controller and USB On-The-Go (OTG) capabilities. Get them while they last.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading and be sure to check back next week. As always, we’ll have new stuff for you to check out. See you then!

Join Us On Our National Tour

via SparkFun Electronics - Recent News Posts

You might remember back in November/December when we ran an (unsuccessful) Kickstarter to help fund a “SparkFun National Tour” – an event where we would travel the country teaching students, teachers, librarians, and other educators about DIY electronics and how they can be part of the modern classroom. It was our goal to reach every state in the U.S., but the Kickstarter campaign ultimately failed.

The good news is that we learned a lot and made a ton of contacts through the process and, in typical SparkFun fashion, we aren’t going to let a touch of failure keep us down. So today, we are proud to announce the SparkFun National Tour.

The SparkFun National Tour has one goal – to share our passion for electronics with students and teachers across the country. We want to stop in 50 states on 50 dates, teaching lifelong skills such as programming, soldering, and building circuits along the way.

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The way it will work is like this – we’ve created a SparkFun National Tour page where you sign up your school, hackerspace, institution to participate in the tour. The cost is $2,500 which includes all the hardware for your workshop (enough for 25-40 students), supporting materials, and a team of highly-trained SparkFun employees showing up at your location for a full day of training. When the workshop is over, you’ll not only have a bunch of hardware, but also the knowledge and skills to continue to explore the world of embedded electronics.

If you’re looking for ways to raise the requisite funds, we encourage you to explore crowd-funding sites like FundRazr and IndieGoGo. These sites make it fairly easy to pool money together!

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We’ve divided the country up into sections and will tackle each part of the U.S. one region at a time. When you sign up, you’ll select your region and we’ll get in contact soon to hash out the details about the visit.

For many of us, this tour is a lifelong goal. We want to share our passion for electronics exploration with students across the country! We hope that you’ll join us in helping change the face of education! Join the SparkFun National Tour today!