Friday Product Post: LilyPalooza!

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Welcome, everyone! Thank you for stopping by for another exciting Friday Product Post here at SparkFun. This week we have plenty of brand-new LilyPad products and e-textile accessories to make whatever your heart desires. We are happy to bring you our new ProtoSnap Plus in a kit as well as a Lab Pack, a simple E-Sewing ProtoSnap board and kit for those of you who just want to light up your fabric, and a few other goodies that will help set you up! Let’s jump in!

E-sew your way to a new tomorrow!

LilyPad E-Sewing ProtoSnap

LilyPad E-Sewing ProtoSnap Kit


The LilyPad E-Sewing ProtoSnap is a great way to explore how buttons and switches behave in simple e-sewing circuits before crafting your project. Like other LilyPad ProtoSnap series boards, the individual pieces of the board are pre-wired — allowing you to try out the function of the circuit before sewing. There is no programming required to use this ProtoSnap, and it can be used right away!

We have also incorporated this little LilyPad ProtoSnap into an easy-to-use kit with everything you need to start sewing a simple circuit right away!

LilyPad ProtoSnap Plus Kit

LilyPad ProtoSnap Plus Lab Pack


The LilyPad ProtoSnap Plus Kit is an all-in-one e-textile prototyping kit that has been specifically designed to make it as easy as possible to incorporate electronics into any of your garments or fabrics. The included LilyPad ProtoSnap Plus is a sewable electronics powerhouse that you can use to explore circuits and programming, then break apart to make an interactive fabric or wearable project. We have also included a USB cable, 110mAh LiPo battery, needle set and two conductive thread bobbins. With all of these parts combined and the featured Activity Guide, you will be able to plan and create fantastic projects in no time!

For our teaching friends, we have also made this kit available in Lab Pack form for classroom and makerspace applications.


LilyPad ProtoSnap Plus Activity Guide

December 7, 2017

Learn how to program in Arduino with the LilyPad ProtoSnap Plus. This guide includes 10 example activities that use the pre-wired LilyPad boards on the LilyPad ProtoSnap Plus.

Make: Wearable Electronics


“Make: Wearable Electronics” is intended for those with an interest in physical computing and creating interfaces or systems that live on the body. Perfect for makers new to wearable tech, this book introduces you to the tools, materials and techniques for creating interactive electronic circuits and embedding them in clothing and other things you can wear.

Each chapter features experiments to get you comfortable with the technology and then invites you to build upon that knowledge with your own projects. Fully illustrated with step-by-step instructions and images of amazing creations made by artists and professional designers, this book offers a concrete understanding of electronic circuits and how you can use them to bring your wearable projects from concept to prototype.

LilyPad Sewable Electronics Kit Guidebook


The full-color LilyPad Sewable Electronics Kit Guidebook contains step-by-step instructions for creating four interactive projects from the materials contained in the kit. Examples and circuits are provided and explained. The manual also includes a glossary and troubleshooting tips. Once you make your way through all of the projects, you will have a much better grasp on e-textiles!

SparkFun Large Parts Box - LilyPad (Magnetic)


When you’re working with e-textiles, you have a tendency to collect a lot of small parts: LilyPad boards, bobbins, needles…the tools of the trade. Why not pick up a sturdy box to keep your bits and pieces off the floor? This large LilyPad-branded box is made from rigid cardboard printed with a fancy tone-on-tone pattern, label space and the LilyPad logo. There are even magnetic closures embedded in the lid.

Alligator Clip with Pigtail (10 Pack)


Last up today is a product that may not look like it fits too well into the LilyPad line but actually does. In fact, it can help you prototype your ProtoSnap Plus through its expansion ports. This is a 10-pack of wires that are pre-terminated with an alligator clip on one end and a hookup pigtail on the other. Alligator clips are a staple item for any workbench or makerspace, and with these cables you will be able to easily incorporate those clips into a breadboard, development platform or anything else to which you would normally be able to attach a hookup wire.

And that’s it, everyone! We had a great time developing all of these new LilyPad boards and kits for you, knowing that they should help you make something amazing! As always, we can’t wait to see what you make with these parts! Shoot us a tweet @sparkfun, or let us know on Instagram or Facebook. We’d love to see what projects you’ve made!

Thanks for stopping by. We’ll see you next week with even more new products!

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Curbside Mower Gets Electric Transplant

via hardware – Hackaday

There’s few things more exciting to a hacker or maker than seeing a piece of hardware on the curb. An old computer, an appliance, maybe if you’re really lucky some power tools. So we can only imagine the rush that known lawn equipment aficionado [AmpEater] had when he saw a seemingly intact push mower in the trash. The pull start was broken on the gas engine, but where this mower was going, it wouldn’t need a gas engine.

When he got the mower back to his garage, he started on the process of converting it over to electric. Of course this means basically everything but the wheels, handle, and deck would get tossed. But starting with a trashed gas mower still sounds a lot easier compared to trying to figure out how to make or source a wheeled mower deck.

Step one in this conversion was stripping all the paint off the deck and welding a plate over where the original gas engine was. [AmpEater] then 3D printed some mounts to hold the DeWalt tool batteries he would be using as a power source, taking the extra time to align everything so it would have the look of an old flathead gasoline engine. A tongue-in-cheek reference to the mower’s old gasoline gulping days, and an awesome little detail that gives the final product a great look.

The controller is a commercial model intended for electric bikes, and the heart of this new mower is a brushless direct-drive motor capable of 3,000 RPM at 40 A. [AmpEater] reports a respectable one hour run time with the six DeWalt batteries, and more power than his store-bought Ryobi electric mower.

If the name [AmpEater] looks familiar, it’s because this isn’t the first time he’s graced us with a mower conversion: back in 2013 he impressed us with his solar-electric Cub Cadet zero-turn. This build isn’t quite as slick as the Cub Cadet, but the much lower cost and difficulty level means that you may be able to follow in his footsteps even if you don’t have his Zeus-level mastery of the electric motor.

As electric mowers have gotten more popular, we’ve seen an increasing flow of hacks and mods for them. Everything from replacing the batteries to turning them into something else completely.

Filed under: Engine Hacks, hardware, Tool Hacks

Biometric Authentication with a Cheap USB Hub

via hardware – Hackaday

It’s fair to say that fingerprints aren’t necessarily the best idea for device authentication, after all, they’re kind of everywhere. But in some cases, such as a device that never leaves your home, fingerprints are an appealing way to speed up repetitive logins. Unfortunately, fingerprint scanners aren’t exactly ubiquitous pieces of hardware yet. We wouldn’t hold out much hope for seeing a future Raspberry Pi with a fingerprint scanner sitting on top, for example.

Looking for a cheap way to add fingerprint scanning capabilities to his devices, [Nicholas] came up with a clever solution that is not only inexpensive, but multi-functional. By combining a cheap USB hub with a fingerprint scanner that was intended as a replacement part of a Thinkpad laptop, he was able to put together a biometric USB hub for around $5 USD.

After buying the Thinkpad fingerprint scanner, he wanted to make sure it would be detected by his computer as a standard USB device. The connector and pinout on the scanner aren’t standard, so he had to scrape off the plastic coating of the ribbon cable and do some probing with his multimeter to figure out what went where. Luckily, once he found the ground wire, the order of the rest of the connections were unchanged from normal USB.

When connected to up his Ubuntu machine, the Thinkpad scanner came up as a “STMicroelectronics Fingerprint Reader”, and could be configured with libpam-fprintd.

With the pintout and software configuration now known, all that was left was getting it integrated into the USB hub. One of the hub’s ports was removed and filled in with hot glue, and the fingerprint scanner connected in its place. A hole was then cut in the case of the hub for the scanner to peak out of. [Nicholas] mentions his Dremel is on loan to somebody else at the moment, and says he’ll probably try to clean the case and opening up a bit when he gets it back.

[Nicholas] was actually inspired to tackle this project based on a Hackaday post he read awhile back, so this one has truly come full circle. If you’d like to learn more about fingerprint scanning and the techniques being developed to improve it, we’ve got some excellent articles to get you started.

Filed under: computer hacks, hardware, Security Hacks

Bus timer project

via Dangerous Prototypes


Limpkin published a new build:

For once, this project was not for me… it was for my wife !
Every morning she takes the bus then train to go to work. If she misses her train, she has to wait for more than 30 minutes for the next one. Not missing her bus is therefore quite important.
Where we live every bus station has a display letting you know in real time when the next bus will be there. My first thought was to reverse engineer its RF signal but something easier then came to mind.
In the very same bus stations, a small QR code brings you to a web page displaying the very same “minutes before bus arrival”… HTML parsing therefore made more sense given that I was fairly busy with other projects.

See the full post on his blog.

Alan Yates: Introduction To Vacuum Technology

via hardware – Hackaday

When we mention vacuum technology, it’s not impossible that many of you will instantly turn your minds to vacuum tubes, and think about triodes, or pentodes. But while there is a lot to interest the curious in the electronics of yesteryear, they are not the only facet of vacuum technology that should capture your attention.

When [Alan Yates] gave his talk at the 2017 Hackaday Superconference entitled “Introduction To Vacuum Technology”, he was speaking in a much more literal sense. Instead of a technology that happens to use a vacuum, his subject was the technologies surrounding working with vacuums; examining the equipment and terminology surrounding them while remaining within the bounds of what is possible for the experimenter. You can watch it yourself below the break, or read on for our precis.

In the first instance, he introduces us to the concept of a vacuum, starting with the work of [Evangelista Torricelli] on mercury barometers in the 17th century Italy, and continuing to explain how pressure, and thus vacuum, is quantified. Along the way, he informs us that a Pascal can be explained in layman’s terms as roughly the pressure exerted by an American dollar bill on the hand of someone holding it, and introduces us to a few legacy units of vacuum measurement.

In classifying the different types of vacuum he starts with weak vacuum sources such as a domestic vacuum cleaner and goes on to say that the vacuum he’s dealing with is classified as medium, between 3kPa and 100mPa. Higher vacuum is beyond the capabilities of the equipment available outside high-end laboratories.

Introduction over, he starts on the subject of equipment with a quick word about safety, before giving an overview of the components a typical small-scale vacuum experimenter’s set-up. We see the different types of vacuum gauges, we’re introduced to two different types of service pumps for air conditioning engineers, and we learn about vacuum manifolds. Tips such as smelling the oil in a vacuum pump to assess its quality are mentioned, and how to make a simple mist trap for a cheaper pump. There is a fascinating description of the more exotic pumps for higher vacuums, even though these will be out of reach of the experimenter it is still of great interest to have some exposure to them. He takes us through vacuum chambers, with a warning against cheap bell jars not intended for vacuum use, but suggests that some preserving jars can make an adequate chamber.

We are then introduced to home-made gas discharge tubes, showing us a home-made one that lights up simply by proximity to a high voltage source. Something as simple as one of the cheap Tesla coil kits to be found online can be enough to excite these tubes, giving a simple project for the vacuum experimenter that delivers quick results.

Finally, we’re taken through some of the tools and sundries of the vacuum experimenter, the different types of gas torches for glass work, and consumables such as vacuum grease. Some of them aren’t cheap, but notwithstanding those, he shows us that vacuum experiments can be made within a reasonable budget.

Filed under: cons, hardware

Enginursday: What I look for in a new product

via SparkFun: Commerce Blog

Having fielded many emails and inquiries about new products over the past five years as SparkFun’s technical researcher, I’ve found formulas and patterns that lead to successful products. I aim to provide insight for those looking to take their project to market.

This post was originally supposed to be submitted to John Teel’s Predictable Designs blog last month, but due to a catastrophic failure on the part of my computer, it was lost, only to be re-written after the due date. John’s blog is great for those looking to design and market hardware, and I highly recommend checking it out. The purpose of this post is to give those looking to work their product into the hobbyist/DIY/maker market insight into what I look for when proposing products for our catalog. I wouldn’t take all these points as absolute rules to design by, but keep them in mind when doing so.

You recognize a need being unfulfilled and have a vision for how to provide the solution. You create the final product and start selling it on a site like Tindie. This provides a solid set of sales, but your role shifts from creating the product to support and shipping. While it’s not a bad problem to have, you find yourself far removed from the reason you started this in the first place. So you start looking into distributors, someone who can handle sales and support while you concentrate on working on the parts you like. Or maybe you dig doing that stuff as well, and you’re looking to bring the product to the next level.

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Now there’s a good guide written by a former SFE engineer, Jim, on what we look for in terms of design and what questions we need answered in a product pitch. But there are certain aspects that I personally look for that wouldn’t be appropriate or relevant in said document. They’re more subtle aspects of the product or company that from the surface might not matter, yet could pose risk or be an indicator of a product poised for success. Below are some areas I take into consideration. While most of these relate specifically to something you could see SparkFun selling, some bleed over into consumer electronics.

Snippet of a SparkFun Schematic

Clean layouts and schematics are always a big plus.

Cross-Platform Functionality

This one is pretty self explanatory. There once was a time when if you worked with electronics, you worked on Windows. That time is long gone. Sure you can bootcamp in Mac OS, but it adds complexity to the user experience that could sink a project — especially one that is aimed at beginners for any topic. Bonus points if your tutorials include Linux. But software should be cross-platform. This goes for mobile applications as well.

Stable Hardware

This seems like a no-brainer, but there are some subtleties to it. My personal definition of stable hardware includes well-documented, legit parts (I don’t want to take the fall for you using counterfeit ICs to keep your BOM cost down), but also a sustainable supply (chain). There are lots of opportunity today in surplus. Things like displays and tubes come at a great price from stock of larger companies who no longer need the parts. This is usually a great route for providing cost-efficient designs. What concerns me as a larger purveyor of products is the limited stock of said parts. I don’t think I have to explain that low-cost electronics sell extremely well. So what happens when the stock of your low-cost parts run out? We’re left with a lot of demand and no way to fulfill it. So while those products are always tempting, I tend to proceed with caution when considering it for the SparkFun catalog.

Price the Product Correctly

Again, this is one view of many. If your project is low-cost or price-competitive because you’ve cut the margins (yours or your distributor’s) it’s not really low-cost or price-competitive. Yes, there are exceptions to this, and it’s a tough point to sell in the world of Raspberry Pi. However, from my vantage point, slim margins are a surefire way to sink a project, especially for a small business. As a distributor, it means less money for me and my company. There are ways to make a slim margin work, but it requires more time and effort, especially if the product doesn’t immediately stick out as popular or in demand. From a less apparent viewpoint, look at this from what you will be making. I hear this notion a lot that as the sales increase, the small amount you’re earning from each sale will be more bearable. If the product takes off, maybe this might hold true…maybe. But the reality is very few products in our market make it to that point. More than likely, you’ll find yourself or your group having to make a tough decision as to whether or not it’s worth your time and energy to continue selling at that price. Furthermore, the fixes are not fun. Keeping healthy margins from the start gives you more flexibility in the long run and will definitely make the relationship with your distributors easier.

What Problem Does Your Product Solve?

You’ll hear this a lot from investor folk too, but you should be able to tell me in a sentence or less exactly what your product does. So why is that important? When looking at products, I want to know that the problem your product solves is something that affects more than just you. If you need to set a background for me to understand the problem you’re addressing, it makes me wonder how many people actually might be facing that same problem or how big the market for this actually is. One example of this that I see often is, “What if you need to use Product or Technology 1 with Product or Technology 2?” While I’m pretty knowledgeable on a lot of topics within DIY and maker electronics, there’s plenty I’m not privy to. Requiring further explanation of the problem it solves puts me in the mindset mentioned above. Now don’t confuse this direction for your entire pitch needing to be one sentence or less. Absolutely set the background, explain how you got to that point, describe all the in-depth details. But at some point in the pitch, I need to see a sentence or less that tells me exactly what your product does. Not only for the reason described above, but in turn, I’ll need to describe the product to others. One extra bit I might add to this; if you find yourself in a position where you think the market for your product simply isn’t big enough to move on from your current level, use your simple explanation to consider a broader market you might reach.

Show Me That You’re Interested

This might seem like another no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how apathetic some of these product pitches I receive come off as. This product doesn’t have to be your crowning achievement or something you’ve dedicated your life to. However, show me it’s more to you than just a quick way to make a buck. Another recurring theme among product proposals I see is the theoretical nature of them. I understand you don’t want to put work into a project that’s going nowhere; it accounts for about 50 percent of the work I do here at SparkFun, and I understand that it doesn’t feel great when it was “all for nothing.” But look at this type of proposal from the distributor standpoint. Here’s someone who’s only going to create this product or move it forward if I say yes. Will it be difficult to get them to make revisions or help with support of the product? While the point of coming to us in this scenario is getting some of the “business end of things” off of you, you should still be evangelizing your product(s) at any point you can. I’d much rather work with someone who is already thinking about v2 and where they’re going with this product than someone who is content with minimizing personal investment.

Longevity of the Relationship

If it’s not apparent yet, a lot of what I’m looking for relates to a long, healthy relationship. While the focus is absolutely the product, the hope in the long term is a healthy supplier relationship. Sales of your product will eventually decline. If you’re lucky enough for it to happen three to five years out, your next iteration might be incredibly self-guiding. There will be new tech and focuses of usage with the product that you can build off of. In other situations, it might not be so clear where to go next. It’s important to take note of any feedback you get. It might not be relevant at the time, but could become pertinent at a later date. One of the things that makes me happy about longer relationships is seeing an email in my inbox announcing v2 (just try to give us a heads-up before release).

I’ll reiterate that this is just one viewpoint in a difficult-to-navigate market. Some of this might not apply to your direction, but I highly recommend taking these points into consideration. I’ve seen my fair share of companies enter and leave the market, and the ones that seem to work stand out in one or more points above. If you have any questions or comments, drop them below, and I’ll try my best to respond. One final note: I absolutely love seeing the community of small business springing up through Tindie and similar sites — keep them coming!

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