Monthly Archives: December 2012

iFixit Literally Opens Hardware

Part of the point of open hardware is, you know, the open part. If you can’t open it, then it’s not open. iFixit tears apart popular consumer products, then rates them 1-10 based on how easy they are to work with. Apple seems to get pretty low scores (go figure) while Google seems to get pretty high scores (clips are better than glue). They also have a huge user community uploading instructions for repairing all sorts of things.

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Makeblock Is A New Modular Aluminum Extrusion System

Makeblock is here to solve your robot problems. The t-slot aluminum extrusion is a tried-and-true way of building modular frames, and even simple mechanisms. It works, but it has an Achilles Heel…the nut.

t slot nut boltThat nut has to be inserted into the slot so that the bolt can torque down on the beam. Some designs include a nut that can be inserted straight through the slot and twisted instead of needing to be slid in from one end (FAZTEK). Others turn the bolt around so that the head of the bolt takes the place of the traditional nut and the nut tightens down from the outside of the bolt (MakerBeam).

A new Kickstarter campaign does away with the nut all together. Instead of using a t-slot, they have a slot with parallel sides and just the right threading to allow you to screw in a nut at any point along the slot.

Makeblock looks like an extremely well integrated system for prototyping cyber-electro-mechanical systems. They have the modular beam system itself, but they also have their own electronics with the correct footprint to fit on the beams and adapters for common things like Lego and servos. Additionally, they have it working in the real world and appear to have the manufacturing muscle to produce a lot of the kits.

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Ford Officially Backing Open Source 3D Printers

In a press release Ford Motor Company bragged about using 3D printing in general, and the open source Makerbot Thing-O-Matic in particular, to develop some of the smaller plastic parts for its vehicles. Zack Nelson, the engineer in the video, lists the easy availability of design files and community support as benefits to using the open source machine.

The full text of the press release is after the jump.

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Build A Portable Raspberry Pi Handheld Computer

Nathan Morgan, the CEO of Parts-People.com, has put together instructions for building a soda-can-sized handheld out of a Raspberry Pi.

None of the individual components are particularly open source, but Morgan did an excellent job of ensuring they are relatively cheap and easy to work with. There are a few parts that need to be hacked together, like the battery, and the case needs to be 3D printed from the files here. The whole thing adds up to around $400, but $130 of that is the 64GB SSD.

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DIY Spot Welder

A spot welder can be used to permanently attach small pieces of (mostly ferrous) metal without the need for screws, rivets or adhesives. The actual science of optimizing a spot welder is pretty deep, but at the end of the day all you’re doing is heating up metal until it flows, so as long as the tool does that you can get some home shop use out of it…particularly if it’s made out of like $10 worth of materials and runs on household current. BTW, don’t mess around with high current devices unless you know what you’re doing and take all the appropriate safety precautions (like not standing in a puddle).

Here Grant Thompson of TheKingOfRandom.com explains how to make your own.

More after the jump  Continue reading

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Bunnie’s Totally Open Source Laptop

Andrew (bunnie) Huang, who won the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s 2012 Pioneer Award (for something different), is currently testing the first version of his open source laptop hardware.

It’s about 120mm by 150mm by 14mm nad it has a small battery board so it should be able to fit into an average sized laptop frame (yet to be designed). Nearly the entire motherboard is open source; only a couple things required closed source firmware and the board is bootable without them.

One of the things I love about open source is that people don’t tend to worry about anything other than the best possible solution. They don’t try to design in some sort of crippling restriction that will lock in customers. Like, for example, Apple arbitrarily redesigning their docking port and then telling developers they can’t use it in their device if it includes ports compatible with anything else. Bunnie not only used a standard SATA-style port to connect the battery and mother boards but he also make the connection for the battery itself a standard molex so you can use cheap, commonly available RC vehicle batteries.

At the moment he’s apparently running through the tedious process of validating all the board’s functions, but that highlights another thing I love about open source. Down in the lengthy comments beneath his post it was suggested that he include a physical kill switch for the microphone and camera. Bunnie hadn’t thought of that, but recognized it as a good idea, and is planning to add the feature. It would take a year to get something like that changed anywhere else and that’s assuming the developers ever heard about a good user-submitted idea.

 

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RepRap Generation 7 Electronics

This design is by Markus (Traumflug) Hitter and should be of particular interest to the RepRap side of 3D printing. RepRap stands for Replicating Rapid Prototyper because Dr. Adrian Bowyer’s project was focused on creating a machine that could more-or-less reproduce itself. We have the RepRap project to thank for the recent explosion in amateur interest in 3D printing and it was the RepRap’s self-reproducing feature that made the explosion possible. The more parts the machine can make, or process, on its own the easier it will reproduce. Traumflug’s Gen 7 electronics are simple and single-sided, so the board can be milled on a suitably equipped RepRap.

You can buy the electronics from Traumflug or find the files at github

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The Burrito Bomber Is Exactly What It Sounds Like

Yes, it’s a drone that delivers a burrito directly to wherever you are. It’s open source and you can find all the files on Darwin Aerospace’s website, or the github repository.

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Vagina Hacking by Scanlime, Open Hardware (Emphasis on Hard)

Beth over at scanlime is no stranger to building electronics. But this time she wanted to, well…in her own words, “create something new and exciting that I can immediately use in my everyday life. It also happens to be a sex toy.” Specifically, one of those little remote-controlled vibrating egg things.

She ended up producing a hack that is remarkably polished. She even designed and 3D printed a custom enclosure for the whole thing. If she had used neon pink plastic it would have been hard to tell that it wasn’t part of the original product.

She’s got an incredibly detailed description of the project on her blog. Personally, I think the most interesting part of the hack was her solution to the power problem.

This was getting complicated fast. Lithium polymer battery, a boost converter to raise the voltage to 5V for the sonar module, charging circuit, “fuel gauge” indicator. All of this work goes into every commercial product that runs on batteries, and we often take it for granted. As far as I’m aware, though, there isn’t a great equivalent for quick DIY prototyping. The Arduino Fio board is close to what I want: an Arduino with a built-in LiPo battery charger. But it doesn’t have the 5V boost converter or any way of monitoring the battery’s charge. Without designing my own PCB, I’d need several separate components: batteryfuel gaugecharge/boost. All total, over $45 and a lot more bulk and complexity than I wanted. I was really hoping there was a better option.

It so happens that this sort of amalgamation of parts is already pretty commonplace in the form of portable cell-phone chargers. These devices are very little more than a boost converter, charger, lithium battery, and a very basic fuel gauge. Best of all, thanks to economy of scale, they’re really inexpensive. The 3200 mAH battery I used in this project was only $22, and it’s something I can reuse for multiple projects… or even to charge my phone.

This is an elegant solution that can apply to an array of different projects. Once something becomes commoditized it can drop below the price point at which it makes sense to reproduce the functionality yourself. All wireless projects need power, and with cell phone chargers becoming cheap and easy to find it makes sense to just plug one into the project’s USB slot and call it a day. Not only is it cheaper and easier, but it’s modular because you can still use it for its original purpose.

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