Monthly Archives: November 2020

Transgender Awareness Week: spreading gender awareness in the Arduino community

via Arduino Blog

Transgender Awareness Week, which culminates today with the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), aims at raising the visibility of the transgender and gender non-conforming people, and address the issues their community faces.

At Arduino, we believe that technology should improve the lives of everyone, regardless of their gender, sexuality, race, age, ability, nationality, and body. Being inclusive is at the core of our mission: making technology easy to use, we want to empower everybody to be free to innovate. 

We have decided to join the Transgender Awareness Week and the TDOR because we feel a duty to our community, and to all its members, including the GNC and trans community. Our goal today is not only to celebrate all the diversities of our community — in particular the trans and GCN community — but also to start a conversation with our users about inclusivity in general. Finally, our celebration wants to empower our community members to spread awareness by being everyday their authentic self. 

At Arduino, we believe role models are important to inspire people, to show the way, to reveal what’s possible so we’re going to talk more and more about the people who helped build the technologies who make what we do possible. 

Today, we celebrate two transwomen that, even indirectly, have contributed to the Arduino Project. Sophie Wilson and Lynn Conway not only represent a fundamental inspiration for us, but are also a beacon of hope for the next generation of trans and GNC scientists in our community. 

Sophie Wilson studied computer science at the University of Cambridge; in 1978, she designed the Acorn Micro-Computer, System 1, an early 8-bit microcomputer for hobbyists and, later, co-designed with Steve Furber  the prototype of what became the BBC Microcomputer. In 1983, Wilson started to design the instructions set for the “Acorn RISC Machine” processor that became popular as Arm. The Arm became one of the most successful microprocessor architecture  in history and is now used in billions  of different products, from mobile phones to laptops, from digital TV to video games and our beloved Arduino boards. (All of our latest boards are based on Arm.) Wilson was listed in 2011 in Maximum PC as number 8 in an article titled “The 15 Most Important Women in Tech History.”

Lynn Conway studied at the M.I.T. and Columbia University and was then recruited by IBM Research to co-design the architecture of the Advanced Computing Systems (ACS) project. With the invention of the multiple out-of-order dynamic instruction scheduling, used by most computers to improve their performance, she made foundational contributions to computer architecture. In 1969 she underwent gender transition and was fired. This didn’t stop here and the work she did with Carver Mead led to the so-called  “Mead & Conway revolution.” Their book “Introduction to VLSI Systems” was the first VLSI chip design textbook usable by non-physicists and resulted in a worldwide restructuring of academic materials in computer science and electrical engineering education, and was paramount for the development of industries based on the application of microelectronics.
She was also recognized by Time Magazine in 2014 as one of the most influential LGBTQ figures in American Culture. Lynn is a gender activist and has always worked to protect and expand the rights of transgender people.

As Arduino users, we have to thank Lynn for “democratizing” the design of complex silicon chips, which paved the way for people like Sophie who we must thank for designing the Arm processor architecture that is central to all of the work we do now. Without them, we wouldn’t be where we are today in technology!

So, Lynn and Sophie, thank you from the bottom of our open source hearts here at Arduino. 🙂

The celebration of the Transgender Awareness Week and the TDOR is only the beginning of an important journey that will mark Arduino’s commitment to inclusivity. Stay tuned for more! 

(NOTE: The biographies are edited from Wikipedia articles used under the  Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.) 

Defeat evil with a Raspberry Pi foam-firing spy camera

via Raspberry Pi

Ruth and Shawn from YouTube channel Kids Invent Stuff picked a cool idea by 9-year-old Nathan, who drew a Foam-Firing Spy Camera, to recreate in real life.

FYI: that’s not really a big camera lens…

The trick with spy devices is to make sure they look as much like the object they’re hidden inside as possible. Where Raspberry Pi comes in is making sure the foam camera can be used as a real photo-taking camera too, to throw the baddies off the scent if they start fiddling with your spyware.

Here’s the full build video by Kids Invent Stuff

The foam-firing bit of Nathan’s invention was relatively simple to recreate – a modified chef’s squirty cream dispenser, hidden inside a camera-shaped box, gets the job done.

Squirty cream thing painted black and mounted onto camera-shaped frame

Ruth and Shawn drew a load of 3D-printed panels to mount on the box frame in the image above. One of those cool coffee cups that look like massive camera lenses hides the squirty cream dispenser and gives this build an authentic camera look.

THOSE cool camera lens-shaped coffee cups, see?

Techy bits from the build:

  • Raspberry Pi
  • Infrared LED
  • Camera module
  • Mini display screen
All the bits mentioned in the list above

The infrared LED is mounted next to the camera module and switches on when it gets dark, giving you night vision.

The mini display screen serves as a ‘lid’ to the blue case protecting the Raspberry Pi and mounts into the back panel of the ‘camera’

The Raspberry Pi computer and its power bank are crammed inside the box-shaped part, with the camera module and infrared LED mounted to peek out of custom-made holes in one of the 3D-printed panels on the front of the box frame.

The night vision mini display screen in action on the back of the camera

The foam-firing chef’s thingy is hidden inside the big fake lens, and it’s wedged inside so that when you lift the big fake lens, the lever on the chef’s squirty thing is depressed and foam fires out of a tube near to where the camera lens and infrared LED peek out on the front panel of the build.

Watch the #KidsInventStuff presenters test out Nathan’s invention

Baddies don’t stand a chance!

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Arduino Explore IoT Kit vs Arduino Oplà IoT Kit: a detailed comparison

via Arduino Blog

If you are looking for a solution to learn and experience the Internet of Things, there are two popular choices: the Explore IoT Kit and the Oplà IoT Kit. But which one should you pick? Here‘s a handy guide.

The kits share a very similar set of hardware and are in the same price range; moreover, they both offer a free one-year subscription to the Arduino Create MKR Plan, Arduino premium coding platform.

That is where the similarities end though! The Oplà IoT Kit is designed for individuals to use to add connectivity to devices around the home or in the office. Whilst the Explore IoT Kit is an educational kit developed for students to learn how to control objects remotely using digital dashboards and learn the fundamentals of the Internet of Things. Moreover, they offer different online platforms, different projects, in other words, a completely different experience. 

We’ve created a super simple guide to help you decide which is the right kit for you and your projects! 

Both kits include: 

And now, let’s explore  what you can do with the Explore IoT Kit and the Oplà IoT Kit

Explore IoT Kit

The Explore IoT Kit teaches you fundamental concepts to control objects remotely.

This educational kit includes 10 online student activities that adopt a learning-by-doing approach.               

Step-by-step, students will acquire knowledge by constructing fully functional solutions including experiments, challenges, and building real-life applications. Students also learn to control objects remotely using a digital dashboard – the Arduino IoT Cloud. 

Oplà IoT Kit

The Oplà IoT Kit adds connectivity to your home, office appliances, and applications. 

This kit comes with a complete set of 8 Internet of Things projects ready to turn everyday appliances into ‘smart appliances’ e.g. thermostat.

Suitable for more advanced users so they can create their own connected devices and IoT applications through the open programmable platform providing ultimate control. 

Q&A with NASA engineers behind Raspberry Pi–powered ISS Mimic

via Raspberry Pi

Did you see the coolest International Space Station (ISS) on Earth on the blog last week? ISS Mimic is powered by Raspberry Pi, mirrors exactly what the real ISS is doing in orbit, and was built by NASA engineers to make the ISS feel more real for Earth-bound STEAM enthusiasts.

Here’s (most of) the team behind ISS Mimic

The team launched ISS Mimic in celebration of 20 years of continuous human presence in space on the ISS. And they’ve been getting lots of questions since we posted about their creation so, we asked them back to fill you in with a quick Q&A.

And here are newbies Dallas and Estefannie (Estefannie made the ISS Mimic video)

1. Since this is NASA-related, “MIMIC” must be an acronym, right?

Yes, we forced one: “Mechatronic Instantiated Model, Interactively Controlled”

2. What’s your subtitle? 

“The second-most complicated International Space Station ever made”. We also like “1/100th scale for 1/100,000,000th cost”

3. Wait, are US tax dollars paying for you to make this?

No, it’s a volunteer project, but we do get lots of support. It’s done on our own time and money — though many NASA types and others have kicked in to help buy materials. 

ISS Mimic, filmed by YouTube’s finest Estefannie Explains it All

4. So you have supporters?

Yes — mostly other organisations that we have teamed up with. We partner with a non-profit makerspace near NASA, Creatorspace, for tools, materials, and outreach. And an awesome local 3D printer manufacturer, re:3D, has joined us and printed our (large) solar panels for free, and is helping to refine our models. They are also working towards making a kit of parts for sale for those who don’t have a printer or the time to print all the pieces, with a discount for educators.

Particularly helpful has been Space Center Houston (NASA’s visitor center), who invited us to present to the public and at an educator conference (pre-COVID), and allowed us to spend a full day filming in their beautiful facility. Our earliest supporter was Boeing, who we‘ve worked with to facilitate outreach to educators and students from the start.

The real International Space Station (ISS) in orbit

5. How long have you been working on this?

5 years — a looong time. We spent much effort early on to establish the scale and feasibility and test the capabilities of 3D printing. We maintained a hard push to keep the materials cost down and reduce build time/complexity for busy educators. We always knew we’d use Raspberry Pi for the brain, but were looking for less costly options for the mechatronics. We’d still like to cut the cost down a lot to make the project more attainable for lower-income schools and individuals.

6. Have you done any outreach so far?

All of the support has allowed us to take our prototype to schools and STEM events locally. But we really want this to be built around the world to reach those who don’t have much connection to space exploration and hands-on STEM. The big build is probably most suitable for teens and adults, while the alternative builds (in-work) would be much more approachable for younger students.

‘ISS Mimic’ on display

7. So, this just for schools? 

No, not at all. Our focus is to make it viable for schools/educators — in cost and build complexity — but we want any space nerd to be able to build their own and help drive the design.

8. Biggest challenge?

Gravity. And time to work on the project… and trying to keep the cost down.

9. What about a Lunar Gateway or Habitat version of ISS Mimic?

It’s on our radar! Another build that’s screaming to be made is hacking the LEGO ISS model (released this year) to rotate its joints and light LEDs.

Raspberry Pi on the real ISS

There are two Raspberry Pi computers aboard the real ISS right now! And even better, young people have the chance to write Python code that will run on them — IN SPACE — as part of the European Astro Pi Challenge.

Tell the young space enthusiast in your life about Astro Pi to inspire them to try coding! All the info lives at astro-pi.org.

The post Q&A with NASA engineers behind Raspberry Pi–powered ISS Mimic appeared first on Raspberry Pi.

November 2020 update after 8 months of operations under coronavirus

via Pololu Blog

This week marks eight months since business shutdowns began in Nevada in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Here is an update about how we have been surviving at Pololu since my last detailed post in April, when we got our PPP loan.

We managed to reach a record sales quarter for Q1 despite the last few weeks being under the Nevada emergency measures and February onward being disrupted by the shutdowns affecting our China operations. Sales really dropped in April and even more in May, leading to Q2 sales ending up the worst since 2013. The money we received in April from the PPP loan allowed us to keep paying those employees who were still working and to cover health insurance and other benefits for the rest. We submitted our PPP loan forgiveness application in early July on the day our bank released their application and kept in constant contact with our bank rep while we maintained core operations with a minimal staff.

The initial loan application had been approved very quickly, so we were hoping to get a resolution on the forgiveness similarly quickly to let us know where we stood regarding how much we would be in debt. We made some tough staffing decisions in July and August, and that turned out to be a very good move because the loan forgiveness process ended up taking a lot longer. We started the year with around 80 employees, and by the end of August, we had reduced that to around 55, of which about ten work only remotely. Everyone else has now formally quit or been laid off, with some hope that most of them could eventually return once the pandemic is under control.

Q3 brought several special high-volume sales, including components going into coronavirus testing equipment around the world, which helped Q3 sales inch past our Q1 sales for a new all-time record sales quarter. Perhaps some of that was also impacted by orders delayed from Q2 and from schools buying more kits for the resumption of classes in the fall. It sure felt like things were going in a good direction, which I guess is how a lot of the world felt.

The news did not stay good for long as sales dropped a lot again in October, falling below our April low (but not getting as bad as May) as the new wave of COVID cases swept Europe and brought in renewed shutdowns in many countries there. November has so far also been weak as the coronavirus continues to surge across the globe.

We got one bit of good news for Pololu last week when our PPP loan forgiveness went through! We did not get our whole loan forgiven, but it was over 90% of the loan amount, which is a substantial amount of money that covers a lot of our losses from Q2 and lets us approach the end of the year with a bit of cash reserves instead of being in a hole. It’s a huge relief knowing we should be able to ride out the holiday season without having to do further layoffs.

We are of course working hard to do more than just to get by for another few months. Some of the staff we brought back in the summer are working on new and exciting products, including resumption of projects we had been working on long before the coronavirus hit. We have not even done proper announcements of some of the items that are already released, including our 3-channel wide field of view (FOV) distance sensor module.

That was a very challenging project that I still intend to write about in a separate blog post. Right now, I have one more product to tease that we are pushing to release in time for the holidays!

Speaking of the holidays, normally we would be gearing up for our biggest sale of the year, our Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale that has run from the Wednesday before Thanksgiving through the following Monday. This also made that period very busy for our shipping and manufacturing departments. Since we are working with a reduced staff this year and many people are already stretched thin covering multiple roles, we will be scaling back the intensity of the sale and running it longer in the hopes of distributing the load on those departments. Last year, we introduced a design-your-own-doorbuster promotion, and that was pretty fun to run, so we’ll try to do that again (though we’ll probably be less open to selling things at a loss just to be in the holiday spirit).

Only six more weeks of this crazy year to go! I am so grateful to everyone who has helped us get this far, from all the customers who kept ordering to the employees who stuck with me through the scariest times to everyone who has made a donation. Thank you very much and stay healthy and safe, everybody!

This Arduino-powered robot is like a Roomba with a paintbrush

via Arduino Blog

Can robots paint? More specifically, can they create art? The second question is, of course, open for debate, but Technovation’s robotic build shows that they can indeed wield a paintbrush.

The device, shaped vaguely like a Roomba vacuum cleaner, uses a pair of NEMA 17 motors for movement and a third to rotate a sort of brush turret. A servo attached to the pivoting arm positions a brush up and down, dipping it into paint, and bringing it to the drawing surface as needed.

Control is via an Arduino Uno with a CNC shield. The project is capable of producing art randomly, or be programmed to execute pre-defined patterns.

You can see in action in the video below, while instructions to make your own are available in Technovation’s tutorial.