Category Archives: Aggregated

All New ElectriCute!

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

A new episode of Electricute, plus some changes on the wind!

That’s right- it’s not just a new episode of ElectriCute, though we’re very proud of this one, we’re also making some changes!

Here are a few changes you WON’T be seeing:

  • I won’t be leaving
  • Nick won’t be leaving
  • Still no sock puppets
  • No additional ASMR triggers* (but we won’t remove any of the existing ones)

And a few that you WILL:

  • More frequency! Breaktime is OVER, people! We’ll be cranking out several videos a month now.
  • More frequency means we’ll get a lot deeper in the catalog, so you’ll see a lot more information about integrating products from outside the e-textiles category into your wearables products.
  • What does that mean? More sensors! More interactivity! More complex projects!
  • Why isn’t that scary? Because you’ll also be getting a lot more accompanying tutorials! Need more details on how we put something together? You’ll get ‘em.
  • We’re going to be more responsive to your questions and suggestions. Post your questions or product requests in the comments, and we’ll work on replying to them, either there or in the next video!

So with no further ado, here’s this week’s video! Feast your eyes, check out the accompanying tutorial, and get ready to talk about the bad old days when you had to simulate your own ElectriCute episodes by giving your pets squeaky voices!

*Unless video views drop below an undefined threshold, at which time we’ll try basically anything

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Reverse Engineering a Blu-ray Drive for Laser Graffiti

via Hackaday » » hardware


There’s a whole lot of interesting mechanics, optics, and electronics inside a Blu-ray drive, and [scanlime] a.k.a. [Micah Scott] thinks those bits can be reused for some interesting project. [Micah] is reverse engineering one of these drives, with the goal of turning it into a source of cheap, open source holograms and laser installations – something these devices were never meant to do. This means reverse engineering the 3 CPUs inside an external Blu-ray drive, making sense of the firmware, and making this drive do whatever [Micah] wants.

When the idea of reverse engineering a Blu-ray drive struck [Micah], she hopped on Amazon and found the most popular drive out there. It turns out, this is an excellent drive to reverse engineer – there are multiple firmware updates for this drive, an excellent source for the raw data that would be required to reverse engineer it.

[Micah]‘s first effort to reverse engineer the drive seems a little bit odd; she turned the firmware image into a black and white graphic. Figuring out exactly what’s happening in the firmware with that is a fool’s errand, but by looking at the pure black and pure white parts of the graphic, [Micah] was able guess where the bootloader was, and how the firmware image is segmented. In other parts of the code, [Micah] saw thing vertical lines she recognized as ARM code. In another section, thin horizontal black bands revealed code for an 8051. These lines are only a product of how each architecture accesses code, and really only something [Micah] recognizes from doing this a few times before.

The current state of the project is a backdoor that is able to upload new firmware to the drive. It’s in no way a complete project; only the memory for the ARM processor is running new code, and [Micah] still has no idea what’s going on inside some of the other chips. Still, it’s a start, and the beginning of an open source firmware for a Blu-ray drive.

While [Micah] want’s to use these Blu-ray drives for laser graffiti, there are a number of other slightly more useful reasons for the build. With a DVD drive, you can hold a red blood cell in suspension, or use the laser inside to make graphene. Video below.

Filed under: hardware

Gameboy Halloween costume

via Raspberry Pi

The good people at Adafruit pointed us at this video. Besides the fact that the costume is driven by a Raspberry Pi, we don’t know much about the build (or the guy who made it – he goes by MikeHandidate on YouTube, but we suspect that’s not actually his name) – good though, isn’t it?

More Halloween goodies to come tomorrow. Are you using a Pi in your costume or house decorations this year?

The making-of an animatronic baby alien

via Arduino Blog


Eva Taylor works at EKT Workshop and built an animatronic rod puppet Alien as a masterwork research project for the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) in Sydney Australia. It was inspired by the “bambi burster” built for the film Alien 3, although her creature is somewhat different.

The animatronics are controlled via a Playstation 3 controller, using a servoshock module between the controller and an Arduino Uno board:

It contains and 8 way 2 stage tail mechanism and animatronic lips, jaw and tongue. The remaining parts are rod controlled. A myriad of techniques were deployed in its construction – the torso and limbs were hand-carved from Queensland Maple while the joints were custom made from recycled parts of RC cars and planes. The skeleton of the tail was custom made from acrylic and cut on a laser cutter. The head contains an underskull of fibreglass, dental acrylic teeth and silicone skin. The muscle groups are also made of deadened, encapsulated silicone.

She shared with us the video above showing the main phases of the making-of process, while the one below gives you an idea of how  the puppet looks like in a more dramatic piece:

Pi Talks at PyConUK

via Raspberry Pi

You may remember our Education team attended PyConUK in Coventry last month. We ran the Education Track, which involved giving workshops to teachers and running a Raspberry Jam day for kids at the weekend. We also gave talks on the main developer track of the conference.

Carrie Anne gave a fantastic keynote entitled Miss Adventures in Raspberry Pi wherein she spoke of her journey through teaching the new computing curriculum with Raspberry Pi, attending PyConUK the last two years, being hired by the Foundation, and everything she’s done in her role as Education Pioneer.

See the keynote slides here

I also gave my talk PyPi (not that one) – Python on the Raspberry Pi showing interesting Pi projects that use Python and demonstrating what you can do with a Pi that you can’t on other computers.

See the talk slides here

Alex gave his talk Teaching children to program Python with the Pyland game - a project Alex led over the summer with a group of interns at the Computer Lab.

See the talk slides here

The conference ended with a sprint day where Alex led a team building and testing Pyland and adding challenges, and I worked with a group of developers porting Minecraft Pi to Python 3.

If you missed it last week, we posted Annabel’s Goblin Detector, a Father-daughter project the 8 year old demonstrated at PyConUK while enjoying the Raspberry Jam day.


via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

Not too long ago, the fine folks at SAINTCON - a great network security conference in Utah - gave us a free badge for their event. We made the decision to give it away to one of our customers who would be able to make it on short notice. When we posted about it on Twitter, SparkFun customer Josh Datko jumped at the opportunity to go. Josh was nice enough to write about his experiences at the conference, so today we want to share those with you! Here’s what Josh had to say:

SparkFun Electronics gave me a free pass to SAINTCON, a networking security conference in Odgen, Utah. How did I receive this? Well, social media addiction has its rare benefits and I was the first to respond to a tweet.

SAINTCON hosted a Hardware Hacking Village (HHV) this year and as the recipient of a SparkFun-sponsored ticket, I felt I should check out the HHV immediately. I sat down, soldered my badge, and then proceeded to complete all five hardware challenges; I was the first to complete hack the badge. That’s what happens when a SparkFun social-media-addict goes to a conference.

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Completed badge with the blinky kit.


Prior to SparkFun’s tweet, I had never heard of SAINTCON. At the conference (con), I asked around and it seems that this was the second public year. Apparently, it had been hosted for several years prior, but was somehow restricted. The con is more then just talks. Although there were plenty on the schedule, there are also numerous side events. The HHV is the place to solder and tinker with electronics. The Lock Picking Village is where you can learn how to let yourself into your own house when you forget your key. Tangential to the talks and the villages was the Hacker’s Challenge, a series of puzzles, in various topics, with one global scoreboard for SAINTCON participants.

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Just your standard locking picking kit.

For regulars of Information Security conferences, like DEFCON, this conference format will feel familiar. The challenges have become so popular at DEFCON that attendees blow off most of the talks just to hack the challenges.

There were some interesting talks. I went to the EFF’s talk on Privacy Badger, which I highly recommend you install, and a talk on RFID hacking. It turns out, there is a device that can read RFID tags from up to 3 feet away. Once read, it can then spoof said tag. Needless to say, if you are only using RFID as a means as access control, you probably want to re-think you program.

In your faithful correspondent’s humble opinion, the best thing going on at SAINTCON was the HHV.


Luke Jenkins and Matt Lorimer were the two main organizers of the HHV, although there were a few other volunteers staffing the village, whose names I unfortunately missed. The small conference room was lined with soldering iron stations around the outside and on a center table. From open-to-close each day of the conference, the HHV was packed with a queue of participants waiting to enter. Running a HHV is an operation. With 35 soldering irons, set between 650 and 750 degrees, in the hands of novices, the HHV staff are constantly engaged.

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Primarily they are there to make sure you don’t injure yourself or others. After that, they are there to make sure you have fun and learn. As I assembled my badge, I was surrounded by people who looked at electronics as a kind of black magic. I watched them and occasionally offered some tips as they completed the kit, to which there were no instructions. The only hint was the silk-screen of the printed circuit board they wore on their neck.

The Badge

What was everybody soldering? They were assembling a badge that was designed by Luke Jenkins and Klint Holmes. Every SAINTCON participant received a badge and a bag of components on registration. The badge is essentially an Arduino clone, inspired by SparkFun’s RedBoard. If you are experienced with electronics or the Arduino community, then you would instantly recognize the design. But imagine finding a person off-the-street, handing them a kit, and saying, “go build this.” Building this badge, for a complete beginner, is a significant accomplishment — one that people were proud to wear around their necks.

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The unpopulated badge and kit that came with the registration bag.

This is not a DEFCON badge. LosT, the creator of the DEFCON badges designs some wicked challenges where people blow-off the con just to hack the badge. The DEFCON badge is on a completely different level. I mean, the DEFCON 22 badge can act as a Bitcoin miner. The SAINTCON badge was designed to be approachable, teachable, and hackable for beginners.

For the rest of Josh’s story from SAINTCON, please visit his blog. Thanks to Josh for doing such an awesome writeup and glad to hear the conference was a blast!

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The Mothership: A Visit to the New SparkFun Building

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

Garth Sundem, author and Geekdad contributor, came by the new SparkFun HQ with his family. Here’s what he had to say about it. (We promise we didn’t change a word).

The Mothership: A Visit to the New SparkFun Building

I’m more science geek than technology geek, but lately I’ve been doing my best – learning how to solder and code by building SparkFun kits along with my kids (6 and 8), first the WeevilEye, then Herbie the little mouse kit and now into the world of Arduino. (My daughter, Kestrel, bounces off furniture and people and walls as if she were the cue ball of a billiards trick shot, but she’ll sit and solder for a straight hour.) What this means is that instead of looking at soldering kits from the perspective of an electrical engineer who, I’m sure, sees these kits as simple teaching tools, I’m completely flabbergasted along with my kids when Herbie hits a wall and his electrical whiskers make the mouse turn. Wow! When we reach the great moment of flipping the switch to “on”, my armpits sweat.

All this is to say that when I scheduled a tour of the new SparkFun building just outside Boulder, CO, I told the education director that my kids were really excited. But in fact, I was Charlie waving my golden ticket while the offspring played the part of Grandpa Joe.

Who do you usually get as a guide when you take a corporate tour? Usually it’s the intern who hasn’t mastered the all-important corporate skill of looking harried and over-busy. At SparkFun we got Ben Leduc-Mills. Ben has a PhD in computer science. Ben was really excited about the open source SparkFun data site where users can publish streams up to 50mb. My kids were really excited about the fact that SparkFun employees can bring their dogs to work. Leif counted seven dogs and I’m sure there were more. Production manager Adam Silva explained that he had raised three dogs at SparkFun.

The thing is, we’ve all been in the offices of “creative” organizations that overreach for hipness – from somewhere upon high, the corporate overseers imagine that a scooter track will totally help recruit talent from MIT and Stanford. And then no one uses it.

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Garth’s kids enjoyed the visit as well. Photo courtesy of ©2014

SparkFun has some of the same uber-hip accoutrements, but it felt like the ideas grew organically from the employees. The shipping department was full of dudes with asymmetric facial hair on skateboards. An engineer had picked up about a thousand Keva planks and on an upstairs wrap-around counter space, there was a crowdsourced build going on – in which you could tell the crowd had higher than the average bear’s level of design thinking skills. Strung on a wall was a DIY art piece made of light bulbs and wire that was set to ripple in response to sounds. A trigger-operated race car track wound underneath a 7-foot tall version of one of those wooden dinosaur skeleton kits. The office of their e-textiles engineer is painted like a fairy forest, with a rack of antlers framing the chair’s headrest. These are the essentials. I’m sure that with a second month in their new building, additional interesting oddities will bloom.

Ben explained the cool things you could do with an Edison Board – it is WiFi enabled, which seemed to be really important to Ben. I am still severely limited by my lack of imagination but look forward to grokking the possibilities, just as soon as I finish the tutorial for my Digital Sandbox…

But the cool thing about visiting the SparkFun mothership was that despite being one small step above e. coli in my ability to build and code, as I walked out of the building everything seemed possible. I felt like I could go home, download some open-source SparkFun code and program a drone that would drop water balloons on my wife as she bikes to work. I could make the limbs of my front yard tree grab tick-or-treaters as they step on the welcome mat. I could insert small Arduino-driven electrodes into the brains of my children that would force them to open and close their mouths in the presence of broccoli.

People at SparkFun are psyched to build. And after visiting, I am too.

More about Garth, from Garth:

I write books, speak and blog about science, math and the brain. Usually this includes interviewing people who actually know what they’re talking about, namely scientists. Other than keeping a close eye on the ecology of my backyard from the vantage of the semi-converted garden shed that is my office, this is my favorite part of the gig: talking to people who are absolutely passionate to the point of excess about things like the mathematics of graph theory used to describe a soccer ball passing through the system of a team, or how to mimic the brain states that make us ready for insightful solutions, or the differences in wisdom between old and young people as they play games that simulate mineral extraction.

I grew up on Bainbridge Island, WA, a short ferry ride from Seattle, where my dad — a former president of the American Accounting Association — taught for 34 years in the U.W. business school. We played with math growing up, scribbling through issues of Games Magazine cover-to-cover. Later, I studied math and music composition at Cornell University and then at Western Washington University, and was an adjunct professor at Montana State University. I live in Boulder, CO with my wife, two kids and a pack of Labradors.

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Follow your cat with FPV camera and Arduino Leonardo

via Arduino Blog


After the Bike Tachometer we posted back in September, Nikus  shared with us a new Instructable to show you how to build remote-controlled tank using a first person view (FPV) camera and Arduino Leonardo:

At the beginning I build only RC tank without FPV camera but when I was driving it in the house I have not seen where it is. So I came up with that I will add to it the camera mounted on a 2 servos. The range is about 100m, you can also ride with it at home. With this tank you can see what your cat is doing when you’re not looking. You can see it on a video :D

Watch it in action and follow the tutorial:


SparkFun pcDuino Camera Module Glitch Booth

via SparkFun Electronics Blog Posts

In today’s project, coming at you from our Creative Technologist Nick Poole, we’re using the CSI Camera Module for the pcDuino to build a “glitch booth.” What is a glitch booth, you say? Check out the video!

To build his photo booth, Nick chose the 2-megapixel CSI Camera Module because it easily connects to the pcDuino single-board computer and needs very little to get up and running. Nick - being Nick - didn’t stop with a standard photobooth, and added a “ruin my photo” button, thusly creating his one-of-a-kind glitch booth!

Check out the video above to learn more about his project - and build a glitch booth (or regular ol' photobooth) of your own!

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Real-time depth perception with the Compute Module

via Raspberry Pi

Liz: We’ve got a number of good friends at Argon Design, a tech consultancy in Cambridge. (James Adams, our Director of Hardware, used to work there; as did my friend from the time of Noah, @eyebrowsofpower; the disgustingly clever Peter de Rivaz, who wrote Penguins Puzzle, is an Argon employee; and Steve Barlow, who heads Argon up, used to run AlphaMosaic, which became Broadcom’s Cambridge arm, and employed several of the people who work at Pi Towers back in the day.)

We gave the Argon team a Compute Module to play with this summer, and they set David Barker, one of their interns, to work with it. Here’s what he came up with: thanks David, and thanks Argon!

This summer I spent 11 weeks interning at a local tech company called Argon Design, working with the new Raspberry Pi Compute Module. “Local” in this case means Cambridge, UK, where I am currently studying for a mathematics degree. I found the experience extremely valuable and a lot of fun, and I have learnt a great deal about the hardware side of the Raspberry Pi. And here I would like to share a bit of what I did.


My assignment was to develop an example of real-time video processing on the Raspberry Pi. Argon know a lot about the Pi and its capabilities and are experts in real-time video processing, and we wanted to create something which would demonstrate both. The problem we settled on was depth perception using the two cameras on the Compute Module. The CTO, Steve Barlow, who has a good knowledge of stereo depth algorithms gave me a Python implementation of a suitable one.


The algorithm we used is a variant of one which is widely used in video compression. The basic idea is to divide each frame into small blocks and to find the best match with blocks from other frames – this tells us how far the block has moved between the two images. The video version is designed to detect motion, so it tries to match against the previous few frames. Meanwhile, the depth perception version tries to match the left and right camera images against each other, allowing it to measure the parallax between the two images.

The other main difference from video compression is that we used a different measure of correlation between blocks. The one we used is designed to work well in the presence of sharp edges and when the exposure differs between the cameras. This means that it is considerably more accurate, at the cost of being more expensive to calculate.

When I arrived, my first task was to translate this algorithm from Python to C, to see what sort of speeds we could reasonably expect. While doing this, I made several algorithmic improvements. This turned out to be extremely successful – the final C version was over 1000 times as fast as the original Python version, on the same hardware! However, even with this much improvement, it was still taking around a second to process a moderate-sized image on the Pi’s ARM core. Clearly another approach was needed.

There are two other processors on the Pi: a dual-core video processing unit called the VPU and a 12-core GPU, both of which are part of the VideoCore block. They both run at a relatively slow 250MHz, but are designed in such a way that they are actually much faster than the ARM core for video and imaging tasks. The team at Argon has done a lot of VideoCore programming and is familiar with how to get the best out of these processors. So I set about rewriting the program, from C into VPU assembler. This sped up the processing on the Pi to around 90 milliseconds. Dropping the size of the image slightly, we eventually managed to get the whole process – get image from cameras, process on VPU, display on screen – to run at 12fps. Not bad for 11 weeks’ work!

I also coded up a demonstration app, which can do green-screen-free background removal, as well as producing false-colour depth maps. There are screenshots below; the results are not exactly perfect, but we are aware of several ways in which this could be improved. This was simply a matter of not having enough time – implementing the algorithm to the standard of a commercial product, rather than a proof-of-concept, would have taken quite a bit longer than the time I had for my internship.

To demonstrate our results, we ran the algorithm on a standard image pair produced by the University of Tsukuba. Below are the test images, the exact depth map, and our calculated one.

Tsukuba_L Tsukuba_R



We also set up a simple scene in our office to test the results on some slightly more “real-world” data:




However, programming wasn’t the only task I had. I also got to design and build a camera mount, which was quite a culture shock compared to the software work I’m used to.


Liz: I know that stereo vision is something a lot of compute module customers have been interested in exploring. David has made a more technical write-up of this case study available on Argon’s website for those of you who want to look at this problem in more…depth. (Sorry.)


100:1 Micro Metal Gearmotor MP with Extended Motor Shaft

via Pololu - New Products

This gearmotor is a miniature (0.94" x 0.39" x 0.47") brushed DC motor with 100.37:1 metal gearbox, similar to Sanyo’s popular 12 mm gearmotors. These units have a 0.365"-long, 3 mm-diameter D-shaped output shaft. This version also has a 4.5 x 1 mm extended motor shaft.

Key specs at 6 V: 220 RPM and 40 mA free-run, 19 oz-in (1.4 kg-cm) and 0.7 A stall.

75:1 Micro Metal Gearmotor MP with Extended Motor Shaft

via Pololu - New Products

This gearmotor is a miniature (0.94" x 0.39" x 0.47") brushed DC motor with 75.81:1 metal gearbox, similar to Sanyo’s popular 12 mm gearmotors. These units have a 0.365"-long, 3 mm-diameter D-shaped output shaft. This version also has a 4.5 x 1 mm extended motor shaft.

Key specs at 6 V: 290 RPM and 40 mA free-run, 17 oz-in (1.2 kg-cm) and 0.7 A stall.

10:1 Micro Metal Gearmotor MP with Extended Motor Shaft

via Pololu - New Products

This gearmotor is a miniature (0.94" x 0.39" x 0.47") brushed DC motor with 9.96:1 metal gearbox, similar to Sanyo’s popular 12 mm gearmotors. These units have a 0.365"-long, 3 mm-diameter D-shaped output shaft. This version also has a 4.5 x 1 mm extended motor shaft.

Key specs at 6 V: 2200 RPM and 40 mA free-run, 3 oz-in (0.2 kg-cm) and 0.7 A stall.

Workshops in the UK: looking for ambassadors and tutors

via Arduino Blog


A week ago we were in London for an introductory workshop on the Arduino Yún. The participants were mainly beginners, knew the basics about Arduino and had the chance to learn about the Bridge library, how to control the board locally through the browser and to use Temboo to connect the plant to Twitter. See the pictures on the our Flickr account.

Arduino history is tied to the city of London: the first Arduino workshops ever took place right there.

We are now planning to organise more #ArduinoTour activities in UK and we are looking for teachers and ambassadors of the Arduino community in London and also UK in general. Are you interested? Fill the form!

Next workshop in the City is scheduled on the 20th and 21st of December and it’s focused on beginners. On the 19th from 6 to 8 pm there will be a public presentation on the Arduino project and also get in touch with possible collaborators. Take a look at the program and book your participation to the workshop – (location still to be defined, more news soon).