Monthly Archives: June 2012

QU-BD Open Source Design & Manufacturing Startup, Interview

Teamwork is a wonderful thing. Frequently the world has to put up with 1) inventors who don’t market their product or interact with their community enough to be successful or 2) marketers who don’t engineer their product enough to produce something of real value. Occasionally the stars align and people have the sense to build a team with overlapping skills rather than try to go it alone.

QU-BD is taking the teamwork approach. They are a four-person startup, Chelsea Thompson is majoring in communication and is the (active and prolific) face of QU-BD, Nathan Meyers is a serial entrepreneur, Courtney Kinggard has a background in architecture and interior design, and David Mainard brings not only a 35 year career in machining and industrial design, but also his own machine shop. From the back-end David and Nathan bring experience, design expertise, and decades-long relationships with suppliers; from the front-end Chelsea brings an infectious excitement and real-time interaction with the community.

Their “little indie 3D printing and milling company” is 100% committed to being open source. not only does the philosophy determine what they design/build, it also informs their business model. They are pricing their wares at the minimum responsible margins. That way they can focus on high volume which will get open source rapid prototyping technology into the hands of as many people as possible.

More after the jump.  Continue reading

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All The Plans for PENSA!’s DIWire Aluminum Wire Printer

A little while ago PENSA! wowed (a specific section of) the open source maker community with a few teasers for a brand new desktop rapid prototyping machine.

Their DIWire (DIY’er…get it?) takes aluminum wire and bends it into any shape specified in a wide variety of file formats. It’s a compelling idea and now that they’ve released all of the design files on Google Code and Thingiverse the community can start using and improving it.

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Crowd Funding Dump

Kickstarter has subdivided their “technology” category into “open software” and “open hardware” which makes my job a little faster. There aren’t very many things in it…but I suppose that also makes my job a little faster.

Summary:

Details after the jump.

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Printable Folding Construction Demonstrated With Robots

Sometimes you just can’t get from where you are, to where you want to be, in one step. For example, open hardware tends to work with stock materials, which means flat sheet is popular. It’s usually cheaper to obtain and work than a large block of the same material. But there aren’t very many ways to use a flat sheet if it stays a flat sheet. A couple popular ways to fold a flat sheet into a useful volume are illustrated.

Folding box by YanaPonoko. Thingiverse #17659

Parametric Flex Box by Juerd. Thingiverse #17327

Can this folding idea be taken even farther? For example, can we fold flat surfaces not just into structures, but into mechanisms as well?

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DIY Totally Open Source Arduino GSM Cell Phone by Zach Wick

Cell phones (like this and this) are turning out to be a reasonably popular open source project. It makes sense when someone points it out. They are pretty much the Swiss Army knife of the digital world. More importantly, they are useful and versatile but they don’t require any real hardware hacking. That’s important since most of the people doing open source work are comfortable with code and soldering irons…not wrenches.

Here’s an outline of the open source hardware necessary to physically assemble your own touchscreen phone. Zach Wick grabbed all of this stuff off-the-shelf (his or someone else’s).

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MaKey MaKey, Apparently Exactly What People Want

Crowdfunding is a reasonably popular way to launch, or maintain, an open hardware project. The best site for this approach is Kickstarter. Some projects get their funding, some don’t. What’s the difference between them?

That’s a hard question to answer. I haven’t studied the issue, but the most popular (IE: funded) projects seem to combine technology(s) in such a way as to create an “experience.” I’ve yet to see a better example of this phenomenon than the MaKey MaKey.

The creators asked for a mere $25K. What they got was $400K.

Printrbot asked for the same $25K and received over $800K, but that makes a lot of sense. It’s a 3D printer, so it can make things for you, and it’s remarkably small/cheap, so it’s superior to many other designs. However, for some reason, it’s a lot easier to find examples of people throwing money at things that aren’t nearly as practical. Printrbot got over 3,000% of its funding goal. Other projects that broke the 1,000% barrier are Remee (lucid dream mask), Twine (make your “things” send tweets), QuNeo (a colorful MIDI pad controller for musicians), TJ* (a robotic face puppet), Estylo (an eco-friendly iPad stylus), and ClockTHREE Jr (an amusing clock). There’s a lesson in here somewhere. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but at the moment it seems to be that people get excited about hardware projects (open or not) that create an exciting/novel/interesting experience.

So we’re back to the MaKey MaKey. It really doesn’t do much. What it does do is allow you to turn pretty much any arbitrary action and materials into a few simple inputs the computer can understand. You’re not going to get anything done with it, and the novelty will probably wear off in the 30 seconds it takes to lose playing Tetris on bananas, but that doesn’t matter. People want it.

Hardware projects (open or otherwise) depend on funding. You can’t build something physical with just pizza and a long weekend; eventually you’re going to need cash (or an incredibly well stocked junk yard). It helps if you don’t have to supply all the cash yourself. Apparently, if you want people to help out by purchasing/donating to your project, it’s a good idea to show them how the finished project will make them feel. The sort of people who build useful tools in their spare time also tend to be the sort of people who don’t market. That’s fine, but only a few other hard-core geeks are going to spontaneously understand why your project is awesome. Everyone else has to be shown. Some projects are made for the camera. They are pure experience. Other projects have to work at it.

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Open Source Shepard Rocket Test Stand by Mach 30

Mach 30 is a 501c3 non-profit “dedicated to the advancement of humanity into a space-faring civilization…through sustainable leadership, open source hardware, and the use of mature technology.”

They’re starting small, with a test stand for Estes rocket motors. Their budget is fixed at $200, not including “consumables.” Their timeline is 3 months, assuming sufficient volunteer effort. Like this, only closer to the size of a microwave.

25,000 lb thrust LOX/propane motor run on available Horizontal test stand.

Mach 30 has an “open design pledge” rather than a traditional license: “In order to promote open sharing of the design of its hardware projects, Mach 30 will license all material related to hardware projects it creates under open licenses, asking only for attribution in return, without limits on the making, using, or selling of that hardware.” Basically, they seem to be treating the software as a solved problem, taken care of with the existing Apache License 2.0, but open hardware licenses aren’t as well developed, so Mach 30 is simply releasing them into the public domain.

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3G GPS Shield for Arduino Microcontroller

You know how the Arduino has those expansion ports on it? Well, now Cooking Hacks (the same group that created the XBee shield) has created a 3G + GPS shield for attaching to those expansion ports. That’s right, you can make the Arduino accessible anywhere. As much as I hate talking about the cloud, this little beauty allows you to add your Arduino (and/or entire project) to it.

Details after the jump.

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Selected Quotes From RepRap Inventor Dr Adrian Bowyer

Read this stuff. Then get your RepRap supplies from the man himself.

3D manufacturing, or printing, is the most versatile production method humanity has yet come up with.

The role of the core team is to design the mechanics, electronics and software for the ‘standard’ RepRap….My role is to scratch my head and to wonder where it’s all going…

We estimate (though this is probably not a very accurate figure) that there are about 2,500 RepRaps and RepRap derivatives in the world. That’s from a total of four at the start of 2008. So there are almost certainly thousands of hobbyists doing exactly that. Things will get interesting when it becomes hundreds of millions, and to get there is my vision for the project.

The interesting thing about a widespread takeup of this technology is the way it would bypass conventional finance. The machines would be creating great wealth, but would be almost valueless themselves…A manufacturing machine that can copy itself can create goods like no other technology we have – it is the only way to do so with exponential growth, for example. But by that very fact, both the machine and those goods have a value that, as the technology spreads, asymptotically approaches the value of the raw materials used.

Conventional manufacturing produces goods in an arithmetic progression. But a self-copying 3D printer produces goods – and itself – in a geometric progression. And, no matter how slow it is, any geometric progression overtakes every arithmetic progression, no matter how fast, eventually.

I think that OS is in general a good thing anyway. The alternative is various forms of intellectual monopoly, and I can see no real justification for any of them.

When one has a machine that self-copies, logic compels one to make it open-source. The alternative is that one will spend the rest of one’s life in court trying to stop people doing with the machine the one thing it was most designed to do.

If this technology becomes very wide-spread, and if a large number of personal users have them in their homes, what’s going to happen to the whole idea of patents and copyrights? Of course, the answer is found in what has happened over the last ten years in recorded music. Nearly every country on Earth has laws protecting copyright and nearly every 17-year-old has 30 gigabytes of illegally-downloading MP3s on their hard drives. You can’t sue the entire human race.

The interesting thing about 3D printing is that it doesn’t replace one manufacturing industry, it could replace them all.

I expect RepRap will be resisted by many industries, but I’m far too old and uninterested in that aspect of the world to take on any fights. If the idea works the resistance is bound to fail, if not the resistance will have been pointless.

Related Links

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Pandora Handheld – A Tiny Open Source Portable Computing System

The Pandora is a community-designed portable computer. It’s a marvelous combination of open source hardware and software.

It’s a combination of a computer and a portable gaming console (that’s why it has the D-pad, gaming buttons, and a full qwerty keyboard). It can play games, run a full desktop (multitasking!) and access the internet. Most importantly, nothing is locked down. The entire thing is open source. Thousands of units have shipped to happy customers and production has finally caught up to all the pre-orders. You can get one for about $550.

More after the jump.

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