Category Archives: Aggregated

Fifty speakers for an interactive sound sculpture

via Arduino Blog

hive_2_cu

Hive (2.0) is the second iteration of an interactive sound sculpture consisting of fifty speakers and seven audio channels. The sensors detect the proximity of people and Arduino manipulates audio according to it.

hive_2_ls-e1418336047882

It was created by Hopkins Duffield, a Toronto-based collaborative duo exploring ways to combine both new and familiar mediums with artistically technological practices. In this work they used Arduino Uno together with Max 6 / Max For Live.
Check the video to listen to the sculpture:

SparkFun’s Awesome Solar Array

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

As you might know, SparkFun is now in an awesome new building. We have posted some other blogs such as how to build a building, but what we have yet to talk about is our amazing solar array we have on our roof. We currently have 672 Sunpower 327 Watt high efficiency modules, which can produce a peak power rating of 219,744 Watts of direct current with a 97.5% efficiency for DC to AC transfer. That’s a lot power that we harness right here on our roof!

Google map of our roof.

Solar panels were not always part of the initial plan for this building. It was a cool idea, but it is a large initial investment and Nate (our CEO) thought it best to wait to install them until somewhere down the line. That seemed like a good plan until we were informed that solar panels are heavy, and if we did not design the roof for them it would be a lot of extra work and money when we did want to put them in. So Nate decided to design for the solar panels from the start, which included an extra $18,000 in structural steel for the roof. Since we had the roof for the solar panels ready to go we decided to have the solar array from the start!

After some research, and some very optimistic proposals from solar companies, we chose a company and installed the solar panels, but sadly that was not the end of the complications. The solar array was installed and ready to go long before the electricians were ready to wire them in, which means that they were just sitting there not being used for peak summer months. And even after they were wired into our system and the grid we still had to wait to use them until the monitoring meter was installed.

But they are on our roof and they are working as best they can (we are in the winter months so this is the lowest output for the year).

So I, like many others, was very curious about the way Xcel pays us for our solar power energy. I thought that they would only pay us for excess energy we put back into the grid, that made sense to me, we put energy into the grid we get paid for that energy. And they do pay us for that, at about $0.07 per KWh here in Colorado (that number changes based on the state that you are in/energy provider). Cool - that’s great. What I did not know is that Xcel also pays us for everything our solar array produces regardless of if we use it ourselves or it goes back into the grid. This is an REC (Renewable Energy Certificate) credit, and so they also pay us $0.07 per KWh for this. The reason being is that we just produced energy that they did not have to. THAT’S AWESOME! So now instead of paying about $0.10 per KWh to get energy from the grid, we can use ours and instead get paid $0.07 per KWh. That’s a $0.17 per KWh profit for all the energy that we create for ourselves. And if we did produce extra energy from our solar array, which we are not currently, we would be paid around $0.14 per KWh for it.

Another thing that was a little confusing is what Xcel was billing us for. It makes sense to me that we use some amount of kWh of energy and we get charged (about $0.10) for that. And it also made sense that we are saving money by using power that our PV system produces instead of getting that from the grid. But there were other things on our bills as well. Mainly a “billable demand,“ and after doing some research and talking with some people from Xcel, I found out that this demand is the peak amount of power that SparkFun uses during that billing period. The units on this are in kW and it is taken over a 15 min interval.

So this is Xcel’s way of billing us for power and not just energy, which is smart because our energy bill would be the same if we had one 100 W light bulb on for the whole month, or if we had 2,880 100 W light bulbs on for 15 mins during the month (both are 72 kWh of energy). But having one 100 W light bulb on only takes 100 W of power were as 2,880 would take 288,000 W even if it’s only for 15 mins.

Xcel charges us $4.84 for every kW of our demand and there are some other costs associated with our demand as well, like an $8.00 per kW of demand charge that changes in winter and summer as well as other charges that add up to about $3 per kW of demand. So it started to seem like the energy we used wasn’t costing us as much as this 15 min peak demand. And now the question was are our solar panels helping with our peak demand?

After speaking with some experts from Xcel, I found out that unless we were producing more energy than we use during peak demand (in terms of what they bill us for) doesn’t change.

This was sad news, since the bill on our demands ends up being very close to our bill for our energy usage, so lowering that even just by a little would have a large impact.

The only way to lower that demand is to lower our energy needs, so either use less energy all the time, or spread it out so that not all of our electricity use happens at the same time.

Colorado seems like one of the most ideal places to get solar panels since we get around 300 days of sunshine a year. Right now we are in the winter months so we are seeing the lowest output from our panels, but we can still look at the numbers and see how we are doing so far. In mid September (right after we moved in) to mid October we only used about 13.8 MW of energy from the grid, and we used 22.9 MW from our solar system for a total of about 36.8 MW. This means that we produces about 62.3 percent of our energy that month, which is pretty good for a fall month. But mid November to mid December we used 60.4 MW from the grid and 17.7 MW from our solar system for a total of 78.1 MW. This means we only produced about 22.7 percent of our energy, which is still nice. This information actually seems to match NREL’s website’s estimates for our type and number of solar panels in our city.

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NREL’s estimate for our solar energy output using our location and solar array details.

We are looking forward to spring and summer where we should see more output from our solar array and maybe even have a month where we only use our solar energy!

Our advice to people looking to put solar panels up? Make sure you have all the information. There are a lot of things that didn’t make sense and were unknowns, and it is always good to have as much information as you can before you start. Residential energy billing is different than commercial energy billing, where SparkFun is being billed based on our energy and power, homes are often just billed on energy, but with varying costs for when you use is, like $0.10 per kWh on weekdays, and $0.14 per kWh on nights and weekends.

Do a cost analysis. These types of things are always better if you have the money up front, but if you are going to have to take out a loan to install them you need to weigh your expected monthly savings against interest costs. You have to really consider things like what is the payback period and the lifetime of the installation.

There are programs out there to help bring down the cost. Here in the United States lots of states give out incentives, rebates, and/or tax breaks as well as REC credits for just producing the energy, so take some time to do all the research and get help from organizations that are there to make sure you get all the money you can when you do stuff like this (for instance here in Boulder, CO there is EnergySmart (http://www.energysmartyes.com/home/rebates-and-financing.html)).

Here is a look at some estimations we made for our solar array:

alt text

The calculations above were based on our first bills/credits and NREL’s estimates, as well as information from our online monitoring system for our building. As you can see, for SparkFun, we had to take out a loan to be able to pay for the solar array. And as it is the payback period for our installation even, with the federal rebate is about 14 years, at which point we have paid back our loan with interest and are only making money by saving on energy expenses. The regular warranty for a photovoltaic solar panels is calculated to be about 25 years. The manufacturers come up with this number by estimating a loss of efficiency of 0.8% for every year (included in the above calculation).

At this rate of degradation, after 25 years, the panels will be down to operating at 80% of their original efficiency. Solar panels should meet a minimum 80% efficiency standard, in order to be effective. Therefore 25 years is the time predicted for these panels to degrade below an acceptable efficiency rate. Though many times PV panels can remain efficient up to 40 years, this is the manufacturing estimation, and therefore the estimation we used. As a price comparison, we also looked at if we just had taken the initial money and paid taxes on it and invested it how much would we have 30 years down the road. As you can see, the savings accumulated from the solar panels would just barely be better than the investment after 30 years, and this is taking into consideration that our PV systems efficiency has fallen to 76.8%. For now, even with federal rebates, the solar array isn’t efficient enough to make significantly more money than an investment in a timely manner. One thing that would have helped our payback period, and overall savings, would have been having the money for the solar array up front. It would have only taken us about 10 years to pay off the initial cost. So if money is the only reason you would like to install solar panels, you may want to wait until the technology advances, and the efficiencies increase. Otherwise if you just want to help out the planet a little, go for it!

And on the note of estimated values, now that we have been in our building for a few months we can compare our models and energy estimations drawn up for the new building and compare these numbers to our actual energy use and see how things are matching up.

Figure 1:

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Figure 1 shows the modeled electrical use for our facility.

Total estimated SFE annual usage: 365,045 KWh

If this were actually the case, our solar array is estimated to produce 312,454 KWh of energy a year (from NREL’s calculations), which means that SparkFun could produce 85.6% of our annual usage. But although our credit bills seem to be matching NREL’s solar array estimations pretty well, our energy usage and demand are much higher than was modeled or estimated.

From Figure 1 estimating our energy usage we should have expected to use a total of a little more than 30 MW in September, a little less than 30 MW in October, around 26 MW in November and about 28 MW in December. What we actually ended up using was 36.8MW from September to October, around 78 MW from October to November, and 78 MW from November to December. That a lot more than expected.

It looks like we are using about 2.5 times more energy than expected, and maybe it’s only for the winter months, but if this trend continues, our solar array may only be able to produce 34.2% of our annual usage. So estimations and models are nice, and sometimes the work out great, but sometimes the are not a good basis of what is to come.

Another interesting thing that came from our solar installation was our huge wires that we had to use to ground our solar array.

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Here I am holding a red 4/0 gauge wire and a yellow 500 MCM gauge wire. Most sizing charts that I found only go up to about 4/0, so this yellow 500 MCM gauge wire is rather large and very heavy.

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For reference, the standard 22 gauge wire that we sell is 0.025 inches (0.635 mm) in diameter. The 4/0 gauge wire is about 0.56 inches (14.37 mm) in copper diameter and weighs about 0.72 lbs (327 g) for the foot of length that I am holding. The 500 MCM wire is 0.76 inches (19.45 mm) in copper diameter and the foot and a half that I am holding weighs 2.42 lbs (1100 g)! It’s quite a lot of copper.

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Education, space, hacking and explosions – Bett 2015

via Raspberry Pi

Last Tuesday the Raspberry Pi education team beetled down to the ExCeL London for Bett, the gargantuan learning technology event. We spent the next four days on our new and fabulous stand talking, educating, demo-ing, entertaining, showboating, dancing and gerrymandering. There were astounding demonstrations of technological ingenuity, feats of strength and curious electro-mechanical devices.

Ready for action: the education team plus James Robinson (leftest), Martin O'Hanlon (bluest) and Sam Aaron (tallest).

Ready for action: the education team plus James Robinson (leftest), Martin O’Hanlon (bluest) and Sam Aaron (tallest). Clive is weeping openly but laughing inside.

We were happily overrun by what seemed like most of the Raspberry Pi community, many of whom made guest appearances in our back to back schedule. We ran hands-on-workshops in Minecraft Pi, Sonic Pi, physical computing, games programming and much more. We stormed the BETT arena with Astro Pi and Fran Scott’s pyro-computing show. We ran about and hooted. It was a brilliant show. My post-show brain is far too fried to write so here are some of our favourite bits:

Carrie Anne kicks off the show with who the Raspberry Pi Foundation are and what we do

Carrie Anne kicks off the show with who the Raspberry Pi Foundation are and what we do

Set-up day. Dave says this is the only place he could get electricity.

Set-up day. Dave claims that this is the only place he could get electricity.

I am not a number, I am a free man.

I am not a number, I am a free man.

James about to send up a time-lapse Pi on a helium balloon to spy on other stands.

James about to send up a time-lapse Pi on a helium balloon to spy on other stands.

Laura Dixon's (@codeboom) students from the Royal High School Bath talking about  Minecraft coding and their computing club

Laura Dixon’s (@codeboom) students from the Royal High School Bath talking about Minecraft coding and their computing club

Dr Sam Aaron, creator of Sonic Pi, showing people how to create beautiful music with code

Dr Sam Aaron, creator of Sonic Pi, showing people how to create beautiful music with code

Stunned silence then cheering: a blackout at Bett. (Nothing to do with us, honest.)

Stunned silence then cheering: a blackout at Bett. (Nothing to do with us, honest.)

Dave Honess introducing Astro Pi and the ISS. His pitch-roll-yaw demo is now legend https://twitter.com/Raspberry_Pi/status/558960988096307200

Dave Honess introducing Astro Pi and the ISS. His pitch-roll-yaw demo is now legend

Lance Howarth and Astro Pi on Bett Arena

Lance Howarth and Astro Pi on Bett Arena

“My favourite moment was being rushed for Astro Pi leaflets at the end of the opening ceremony of the main arena. I have a great feeling about this whole thing” — Dave Honess

A first for Bett arena we think: Fran Scott exploding hydrogen -filled balloons in the Arena.

A first for Bett we think: Fran Scott exploding hydrogen-filled balloons in the Arena.

Of course it’s not so easy to blow up stuff in the classroom so we made a safe version, the Balloon Pi-tay Popper:

Fran demonstrating the explosive-free Balloon Pi-tay popper resource.

Fran demonstrating the explosive-free Balloon Pi-tay popper resource.

Connecting Minecraft Pi to the real world: @whaleygeek's Big Red Button of Doom!

Connecting Minecraft Pi to the real world: @whaleygeek’s Big Red Button of Doom!

Our friends from Pimoroni show of their brilliant Flotilla

Our friends from Pimoroni show off their brilliant Flotilla

Andrew Mullolland, a student at Queen's University Belfast, and his LTSP classroom management system for Raspberry Pi

Andrew Mulholland, a student at Queen’s University Belfast, and his LTSP classroom management system for Raspberry Pi

Stewards Academy student @jaymegisbourne demonstrating his Porta-Pi

Stewards Academy student @jaymegisbourne demonstrating his Porta-Pi

Raspberry Pi Certified Educators Cat Lamin and Tom Sale show how easy it is to use Pis in Primary Schools

Raspberry Pi Certified Educators Cat Lamin and Tom Sale show how easy it is to use Pis in primary schools

Carrie Anne picks up her Best Author Award for Adventures in Raspberry Pi...

Carrie Anne picks up her well-deserved Best Author award for Adventures in Raspberry Pi…

...and celebrates in style with David Whale (@whaleygeek)

…and then celebrates in style with David Whale (@whaleygeek)

And that was that. Four days of manic educational goodness.

Thanks to CPC for supporting us, we couldn’t have done it without them. We had a fabulous stand and a great team across the way to give hardware advice and support.

A huge thanks to everyone who gave talks and demos and who helped out on the stand including: Sam Aaron, Laura Dixon, Martin O Hanlon, Alasdair Davies, Dave Honess & UK Space, Eliot Williams, Paul Beech, Jon Williamson, Phil Howard, David Whale, Tim Mockford, Simon Belshaw, Lauren Hyams, Fran Scott, Mike Horne, Tim Richardson, Jamie Mann, Matthew Parry, Cat Lamin, Tom Sale, Wolfram, Stephen Norbury, Naturebytes, Samantha Lubbe, Barry Byford, Karl-Ludwig Butte, Robin Newman, Andrew Mulholland, Spencer Organ, Geraldine Wright, Stewards Academy Raspberry Pi Club, and Cefn Hoile. If I’ve missed anyone then sorry and please email me!

Lastly a big thank you to all of the teachers, students, parents, educators and anyone else who came to see us. See you again next year!

Guest Blog: Circumventing Science Lab Budget Cuts with Open-Source Hardware

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

by Joshua Pearce, Ph.D.

Education in the U.S. is financially challenged, but academic programs that involve students working in laboratory experiments are perhaps the hardest hit. Experiments can be virtualized and there are many good DIY experiments designed for high school curricula, but these types of experiences lack the gravitas brought by real scientific research with modern instruments.

Unfortunately, both “research grade” and even educational scientific equipment has been historically expensive, and has become increasingly prohibitive as education budgets dwindle. A potential solution to this problem has been provided by open-­source concepts. Free and open-source software is computer software that is available in source code form and that can be used, studied, copied, modified, and redistributed without restriction, or with restrictions that only ensure that further recipients have the same rights. The open-­source method of development has been so successful that much of the Internet now relies on it. You use it every day as the Internet giants all run it behind the scenes. This process of developing technology has become a real movement as the method that has succeeded in software is now being applied to hardware. Most interesting to science teachers it has been adapted to scientific hardware (Pearce, 2014).

There have been two recent open­source hardware developments that make this possible: the Arduino microcontroller (and other OS electronics like the Raspberry Pi and Beagleboard) and the RepRap 3­D printer (see Figure 1).

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Figure 1. A student team building a MOST RepRap 3­D Printer.

Arduino microcontrollers are a family of low-­cost completely open-­source integrated circuits that contain a core processor, memory and standardized analog and digital input/output peripherals. As Arduinos are relatively easy to learn and use, they have been applied in a vast number of science research and education areas including lab kits (Sarik & Kymissis, 2010). They are versatile – so that a single Arduino can be used in dozens of different types of student experiments and integrated into research grade equipment (Pearce, 2012;2014). As everything about this technology is liberated there is now an enormous databank of small programs that make the Arduinos capable of providing starting points for lab automation, data collection, robot experiments and more.

One of the useful automation projects in the vast Arduino collection for the high school science teacher are open-­source 3­D printers known as RepRaps (self-­replicating rapid prototypers capable of making >50% of their own parts). RepRaps can be made with off-the-shelf components for under $500, which makes 3­D printing accessible to most schools. The RepRap can use designs from most CAD packages such as the free OpenSCAD, an open-­source, script-­based computer aided design application. It is used by writing code to describe the geometric specifications of the required object by using primitive shapes, complex polygons, and extrusion commands. OpenSCAD is a good way to teach students geometry and coding (Knill & Slavkovsky, 2013). It also allows for parametric designs, which is the ability to alter a design to specifications by changing the parameters of the geometry of an object. This allows changes to be made to the design easily and quickly by simply changing the value of user-­defined variables – so once one person designs it, everyone can quickly customize the design for themselves. Dozens of scientific equipment designs are already flourishing in Youmagine and Thingiverse, free and open repositories for digital designs of real physical objects. The latter also maintains a customizer application that converts OpenSCAD scripts into easily manipulatable designs (Figure 2).

alt text <- -> Figure 2. A screen shot of an open-­source lens holder in the Customizer App, which allows anyone to quickly design and then print an ideal holder for their experiments. Printed holder shown in inset.

To appreciate this approach consider the recently developed open-­source optics library, built from standard low-­cost parts available in most hardware stores, Arduinos and customizable printed parts (Zhang, et al., 2013). This collection of inexpensive 3­D printable components from simple fiber optic holders to automated filter wheel changers is being used to radically reduce the cost of optics equipment in labs. For example to outfit a high school physics laboratory with 30 optics setups including optical rails, optical lens holders, adjustable lens holders, ray optical kits, and viewing screens, the total cost is less than $500 using the open-­source optics approach as compared to $15,000 for commercial versions. Free and open-­source hardware has simply made it less expensive to design and print scientific tools than to buy them, particularly if someone else has started the designs.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, when you alter an open-­source design you are obligated to share your improvements with the rest of the community under the open-­source licenses. This can be built into the curricula so that by taking the extra step of sharing all of these designs, students can make a concrete contribution to help the acceleration of open-­source scientific hardware for everyone. This can be a powerful motivating factor for students.

One of the most important conceptual shifts in science instruction as outlined by the Next Generation Science Standards is that, “K­12 science education should reflect the interconnected nature of science as it is practiced and experienced in the real world.” This learning objective is addressed with students actively participating in the open­source community by modifying existing designs and creating original models. Open-­source hardware and software are giving students unprecedented access to incredibly powerful design tools. These tools allow students to generate high resolution designs within the CAD software and ability to rapidly prototype their ideas with very low cost. This iterative process of designing, testing, and redesigning is at the core of the intention of the NGSS to further integrate engineering and technology into science instruction. Enabling students to participate in this open-­source community allows them to see the reality of the design process by seeing the multitude of designs available on such sites as Youmagine. After browsing the site, the students are able to access files for modification or complete redesign.

Examples would include students modifying gear sizes for mechanical projects to varying scales and shapes of prosthetic limbs. Encouraging the students to upload their work to the open-­source repositories give them a sense of genuine application and participation in the scientific community. This empowers students to begin seeing themselves as active participants and designers rather than passive consumers both of knowledge and products.

Useful Links:

References

Knill, O., & Slavkovsky, E. (2013). Illustrating Mathematics using 3D Printers. arXiv preprint arXiv:1306.5599.

Pearce, J.M. 2012. Building Research Equipment with Free, Open­Source Hardware. Science 337 (6100), 1303.

Pearce, J.M. 2014. Open­Source Lab: How to Build Your Own Hardware and Reduce Research Costs, Elsevier.

Sarik, J. Kymissis, I. 2010. Lab kits using the Arduino prototyping platform. In Frontiers in Education Conference, 2010 IEEE (pp. T3C­1).

Zhang, C., Anzalone, N.C., Faria, R.P., Pearce, J.M. 2013. Open-­Source 3D ­Printable Optics Equipment. PLoS ONE 8(3): e59840.


Joshua Pearce, Ph.D., is the director of the Open Sustainability Technology Research Group at Michigan Tech University. Housed within the Materials Science & Engineering and Electrical and Computer Engineering departments, the lab explores the way solar energy can be used to provide clean sustainable electricity through photovoltaic devices and how the sharing of open source hardware and software can create sustainable and equitable means of production.

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New Product Friday: The Fresh Prints of Bel Air

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

Welcome back! This week we only have two products, but both are pretty high tech. One uses lasers and the other makes 3D objects appear out of thin air. It’s a great time to be alive.

You can watch the LIDAR demo by itself here. They wouldn’t let me wear the glasses, and this made me sad. Don’t worry, I just broke some dishes on my own. The LIDAR Lite should be really cool for the upcoming AVC this year.

LIDAR Lite

SEN-13167
$ 89.95

The LIDAR Lite is a compact, high performance laser range finder. It has a range of up to 40m and an accuracy of +/- 0.025m. It uses either a standard I2C or PWM interface and works with a 5V power supply, so it’s perfect for most microcontrollers.

LulzBot Mini 3D Printer

TOL-13256
$ 1349.95

The LulzBot Mini is an easy-to-use, small form factor 3D printer that is more than capable of producing almost any object you can think up. Though tiny, this 3D printer is mighty! Enjoy tons of new ease-of-use features including auto-bed leveling, auto-nozzle cleaning, and easy carry handle. Plus, the whole thing is open source and backed by a great company.

That’s it for this week. We’ll have more new stuff next week so check back then. See you next week!

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Thirty-five Pixels, powered by Raspberry Pi

via Raspberry Pi

Creative Director and Interactive Developer Michael Newman was tapped by UCLA Extension to design their 2015 winter course catalog cover. To accompany his work, he also designed, developed, and built a Raspberry Pi-powered interactive installation called Thirty-five Pixels which is currently on display at UCLA Extension’s 1010 Westwood building through the 2015 Winter Quarter.

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An Arduino at Heart prototyping board you can DIY

via Arduino Blog

Newtc Prototyping board

Newtc is our latest partner joining the Arduino At Heart program with three new products of the same family.

The Prototyping Board by Newtc is an Arduino At Heart coming in a couple of versions: the DIY version you can assemble and solder yourself and the Assembled version ready to be used. The CPU of the boards ( ATMEGA328P-PU ) is already burned with Arduino Uno bootloader. In addition to the boards, Newtc provides also the Arduino At Heart USB to Serial uploader for Arduino compatible boards.

In the picture below you can see the components of the DIY Version and in the video you can follow the tutorial and learn how to assembled it!

newtcDIY2

Save Data from Old Scopes with a GPIB Disk Emulator

via Hackaday » hardware

If you still use old test equipment on a regular basis, you probably have been frustrated by the lack of options for pulling data off these aging devices. Many higher-end devices are equipped with GPIB ports, which are general purpose buses for communicating with a variety of obsolete peripherals. Since GPIB disk drives aren’t too common (or practical) these days, [Anders] made a GPIB adapter that emulates a disk drive and stores data to an SD card.

[Anders] designed a PCB with a PIC microcontroller that plugs into a GPIB port. The PIC emulates a disk drive using the AMIGO protocol or the SS/80 protocol, which can be selected in a configuration file on the SD card. Most test equipment supports one of these two protocols, so his adapter should work with pretty much any GPIB-equipped kit.

Data is saved to a single image file on the SD card, which is encoded in a native HP disk format. The image file can be opened on Windows and Linux with some utilities that [Anders] mentioned on his project page. If you have any old test equipment withGPIB lying around and want to build your own, the schematic and source code are up on his site or [Anders] is selling bare boards.

Now if it’s a protocol converter that you need we’ve seen those in a couple of different varieties.


Filed under: hardware, tool hacks

Enginursday: CES, You should go next year.

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

For the second year now, I had the opportunity to represent SparkFun at the International Consumer Electronics show. If you’re not familiar with our presence there, check out my post from last year. As with most years, the show is giant and we weren’t able to see everything. But there was still lots of cool stuff to be seen.

CES from the outside (okay and the inside) might not seem to be for everyone. Huge crowds, loud dance and house music, and miles of walking can put off the most seasoned veterans. It was incredibly difficult to get our head of engineering, Pete, on board to come to this because of these things… and some distrust of myself relating to a Tiësto show, but you’ll have to ask Pete about that.

IPhone Health App

Can you guess which days I was at CES?

The thing I’ve heard more than anything that puts people off coming is the lack of interesting technology. I admit, we’re a bit spoiled in our area of interest. We’re playing around with technology that has a few years before it makes it into consumer or finished projects. But there’s cool stuff to be seen, you just have to look a little harder.

Open Bionics Demo

The folks at OpenBionics are doing amazing things. This gentleman had a fully functional, 3D Printed, bionic arm. At one point he couldn’t explain the project as he was too busy shaking hands with everyone with the arm.

Self-Tuning Gibson Guitar

Gibson had a self-tuning guitar. I think this could be an easy project to replicate

In a lot of cases, it’s not what the technology is, rather what’s being done with it. There was a lot of situations where I saw products that used a technology I had been aware of, but in a manner I never thought of.

Audi Laser Headlights

What seems like a bad idea, Audi’s lazer headlights are actually quite brilliant. Increasing your visibility while not effecting the visibility of others. Cough, Cough Xenon Headlights.

Spider Dress

I was unable to get a great picture of the two dresses made by Anouk Wipprecht at the Intel booth, but they were astounding! Well done and functioned perfectly.

Hexapod Bots

The dresses even had matching hexapod bots!

But where I disagree most with this sentiment is that CES is so much more than new technology. I’m personally not one for Comic-Con, so in a lot of ways, CES is the big nerd event I look forward to every year. A place where the majority of the people there hold the same interests as me and it’s easy to explain your latest project without going into the basics of electronics.

Everyday after the show closes, there are numerous meetups held by companies or interest groups where it’s easy to meet new friends or talk to people with similar interests. While we didn’t make it to any official meetups (reference the graphs above) we were able to meet up with a few friends every night. A great aspect of the show being in Las Vegas is there’s no shortage of interesting bars to meetup at. One such meeting turned into a tour of kinetic art on the strip.

So to conclude, if CES is something you’ve written off, I beg you to reconsider. There’s so much more to it when you come with a participation mindset rather than an observational. Furthermore, as the maker/hobbyist community and consumer electronics community come closer together, you’ll find more and more things that could pique your interest.

So the most asked question I got while I was there was “what is the coolest thing you saw?” I really wasn’t impressed with most stuff in the way one might be (OK, so sometimes I feel that way too). I admit, I didn’t want to wait in the line at the Oculus booth, but I think I would have been impressed with the progress made with it. What did impress me was the 8K TVs. Have you ever been watching TV and a place you’ve visited comes on and you think “I’ve been there, it looks nothing like that”. Well my impression with 8K is it will look exactly like what it looks like in person.

8K Resolution TV

I feel like that’s the color the giant steampunk elephant is in real life

Oculus Booth

Bonus pic of the Oculus booth, it was pretty impressive and had a line around the corner.

I’m going to lobby with the higher ups to sponsor a meet up for next year. So stay tuned for more information or a very disappointed Pearce.

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Flotilla

via Raspberry Pi

Liz: Here’s a guest post from our friend Paul at Pimoroni, who has a really exciting Kickstarter to share. You know Paul’s work already: he designed the Raspberry Pi logo, and he’s the brain behind the ridiculously successful Pibow case. Over to Paul!

When I was in nursery school, our class had a BBC Micro. One day, it was my turn to play. I’d been ‘painting’, and being young and uneducated, didn’t wash my hands before using the computer, and got paint smears all over this shiny beige machine.

I got shouted at by the teacher a lot and didn’t get to play. Protecting the shiny new machine was more important than learning.

This is why I love Raspberry Pi. It’s a computer you can be rough and experimental with. If it breaks, it’s replaceable, unlike an expensive iPad or laptop.

Learning is more important than the thing you’re learning on. But this attitude of fear and reticence still prevails. We still see a lot of doubt, and a “that’s not for me” feeling when it comes to tinkering and plugging things into circuit boards. As much as we love playing with breakout boards, and the geekery involved, the friction that goes with it can easily turn a 10 minute job into an hour. Digging out wires, reading datasheets, and finding three blog posts with different libraries in various states of undress; we think these are unnecessary distractions.

So, being Pimoroni, we had a lightbulb moment and decided to fix a bunch of issues at the same time. A year later, Flotilla was born; making all these frustrations a thing of the past.

Flotilla is a system of smart, affordable breakout boards backed by great software that lets you easily use them on the Raspberry Pi. The idea is that you can just break out a Pi, pop in a Raspbian SD card with the Flotilla software installed, plug in the Dock then start playing and learning without knowing much of anything beforehand.

widgets

The first level is Cookbook. You plug widgets into the Dock. Cookbook suggests recipes that involve those pieces. So plug in a Light-sensor, a Barometer, and Cookbook might suggest you build a weather station or a Digi-pet.

cookbook

The next step is Rockpool. A simple app-like interface for defining rules. So you can say “If the temperature is high, turn a motor with a fan on”. It’s impossible to get wrong, and can be used without typing. You can build surprisingly complex projects; such as line-following robots, musical devices and games.

rockpool

The Pi can also act as a WiFi Access point and web server. This lets you connect to Flotilla from your tablet, phone or laptop, and control Cookbook and Rockpool from a web-browser. Great if you’re running your Pi from a battery. On a robot, say. :-)

After that, you’re into the world of Scratch and Python. We’ll be providing lovely Flotilla libraries to get you started.

The whole idea is top-down learning. People start by having fun, and doing and discovering what interests them. If they like it, they can delve further into how things work. Clive says it best in the video. It’s “learning by stealth”.

We’re pretty sure Flotilla is the first fully-fledged plug-and-play digital tinkering kit. We’re also sure that the Raspberry Pi is the right place for it. The easier it is for everyone to start learning, and being comfortable with computers and electronics, the more time scientists and engineers have to make spaceships, instead of a better coffee-maker, or pet-feeder.

We’re on Kickstarter now, and would love you to support Flotilla so we can turn it into something everyone can use, in schools, at home, in the lab, and contribute too :D

http://flotil.la

- Paul & Jon & the Pirate Crew.

What have you built with Arduino? Interview 12&13 #MFRome14

via Arduino Blog

fablabtorino
Maker Faire Rome video interviews – “What have you built with Arduino?” – A couple of new protagonists for our short series:

  • Soluppgång (Lampada Solare) – Interactive Sunlight Lamp, university project

 

  • Fablab Torino – Interview with Fabrizio Garda, the latest projects created at Fablab Torino

Explore playlist on Youtube >>

Guest Post: FIRST Robotics and the ChapR Team

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

A while back while we were on tour with Intel, we met a group of students doing some pretty cool stuff for their FIRST robotics team. What started off as a solution to a design problem has grown to be much more within the FIRST community. We asked one of the students, Rachel Gardner, to write a bit about what they’ve been working on. Check it out!


While participating in a high school robotics program two years ago, a group of us students realized the difficulties of using a PC for driving practice. The FIRST (For the Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Tech Challenge (FTC) contains a user-controlled portion during contest, so our drivers need to practice driving the robot. However, to do this we needed a laptop, the development environment, the code and a whole lot of patience. After our first season, one of our mentors decided there had to be a better way to connect to our robot wirelessly and drive it, without needing a PC.

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Our first concept drawing

Our mentor approached us with the idea of creating a new product to assist in drive practice. We formed a small development team of students – I worked on software/management, Ben designed the printed circuit board (PCB) and other students helped with marketing and manufacturing. With such a small team, we were all able to learn about and participate in aspects of marketing, design and manufacturing. The overall plan was for the product to use two USB ports to take in driver-control input, then translate it to Bluetooth to be sent to the robot. We wanted to make it as cheap, portable and reliable as possible. This design required three main components: a microcontroller, a USB interface and a Bluetooth module.

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The first prototype._

Our earliest prototype included an Arduino Uno and a VDIP1, as well as a Bluetooth antenna from SparkFun. However, we realized that this design was too bulky to be as portable as we had hoped. From this, we transitioned to our final set of main components. In our final prototype and current version, we use the Arduino Pro-Mini as the microcontroller, a VDIP2 from Vinculum as the USB interface and the RN42 from Roving Networks (now Microchip) as the Bluetooth module. The VDIP2 takes in the joystick input, the Arduino translates the input and the RN42 sends out packets over Bluetooth.

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The final board design.

After we finished development, we began marketing the product through our website and a commercial on YouTube. Many teams were excited about the device, which we named the ChapR (short for ChapRemote). Most teams were willing to pay the $100, but we didn’t want to use the sales as a fundraiser – instead, the profits (roughly $25 per device) went to producing ChapRs for teams in financial need. To date, we have shipped out over 120 ChapRs, all manufactured in a small part of the school’s robotics room.

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The finished product

After our successes with the first product, we took our ChapR team and transformed it into the Chap Research program, a program within the school dedicated to giving other students the innovation experience. We’ve taken on several projects, such as a demo for our local TedX Youth event. Though we’ve achieved a lot, we are still working hard; both further developing the ChapR and looking for more projects to pursue!


This is truly incredible work from Rachel and the rest of her team! It was great to meet you guys - keep it up!

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