Category Archives: computer

DARPA’s Open Source Cyber-Electro-Mechanical Design Tools Are Posted

Just a quick post to remind the world that DARPA has posted the open source design tools (and associated tutorial) that will be used to simulate and eventually manufacture an infantry fighting vehicle. This Fast Adaptive Next-Generation Ground Vehicle (FANG) Challenge is part of the Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM) program. The primary tool that I’m working with now is CyPhyML written by Vanderbilt University.

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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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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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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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VehicleFORGE – DARPA’s Open Source Hardware Competition Is Open For Registration

I’m gonna start this post with a little bit of background. I’m a developer on various open source hardware projects, others and my own. Hardware has more barriers to entry than software, particularly when it comes to distributed collaboration. It’s not a matter of exchanging text files; you have to work with images, CAD files, videos, documents, etc and then there’s the problem of incompatible versions of multimedia. Even when everybody uses the same file formats, it can be difficult to convey all of the relevant information. And if you change anything it can be a huge issue. Then there’s the ever-present problem of turning the design into an actual physical thing.

What the open source hardware community needs is a common set of tools, but not just a few tools, an entire toolchain. I tried to work out a common file format and quickly realized that it’s not possible. You need a common database format, and not just a database, you need tools that can edit the project files without losing all the relationships in the database. Basically, you need an end-to-end development environment that links any random developer with all other developers, using identical file formats, and identical tools, that eventually produces a digital description of the machine that can be qualified and fabricated virtually.

It’s a huge undertaking. Without an end-to-end environment each piece is only marginally useful. The chicken and egg problem seemed almost insurmountable.

However, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) had the same thought, and they threw a lot of money at it. In an attempt to cut the development time of military vehicles by a factor of five, DARPA has created a complete, web-based, virtual development environment…oh and they’re releasing it under an open source license.

It’s called VehicleFORGE and for its first trick it will host a year-long, three-stage competition to design the Marine Corps’ next amphibious infantry fighting vehicle. It’s called the FANG Design Challenge and it’s open to any “U.S. person.” Yes, ANYONE (who doesn’t violate ITAR restrictions). All you have to do is register and, when the competition goes live on 14 January 2013, you’ll be able to design a vehicle using cutting-edge open source tools.

I just registered and I can assure you that, after poking around the members area for a while, VehicleFORGE looks polished. It’s only got a few controls, but they’re exactly what you need, they work intuitively, and it’s an overall slick experience. The only stuff that’s live at the moment seems to be the social network stuff (competitors and teams).

Speaking of which, if you’d like to join Team Openalia, just register and do a quick search or follow the link.

I’m fairly certain that the competition will be won by teams uploading a lot of high-performance parts that aren’t included in DARPA’s list of supplied components. However, participating will be a lot of fun. Lets see how well we can do against the other non-professional teams!

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The Featherweight Book Scanner – Open Hardware by Dany Qumsiyeh

This is an open source book scanner, which is cool. But you wanna know what the coolest part is?

Okay, I’ll tell you. The coolest part is that this is an open hardware project that actually makes it easy to access not only the design of the machine but also the rationale behind the design. It’s all written up in a very approachable manner in this *.pdf. Click here for the page Google hosted the file on.

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The Raspberry Pi Super Computer (With Legos)

The Raspberry Pi is a $35 single board computer.

If you network a lot of computers together you can use them like one giant computer. If you’re 6 you can hold them all together with Legos. Check out Professor Simon Cox’s group at Southampton University; they put Legos and Rasberry Pis together to form a supercomputer and documented the process so you can make one yourself (2-64+ nodes).

additional links

 

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Using Github To Track Hardware Projects By Gary Hodgson

Unlike software, hardware projects cannot be entirely defined, or contained within, the computer. That’s a shame because there are some really great tools for managing software projects.

Gary Hodgson has prototyped his proposal for using github to manage hardware projects. He called it githubiverse and, appropriately enough, hosted it on github. Here is an example of it functioning to track Mechanical Movement #27. All the files are on github and this custom webpage displays whatever is up to date.

If the name Gary Hodgson sounds familiar, that’s because he built a DLP resin printer, which Openalia covered previously. I don’t think I’m outing him as a true geek when I point to this…

An interesting advanced use case is the ability to use the same core template across many projects.  You could fork the githubiverse-template project and edit the html/css as you wish. Then, in each project’s gh-page branch create a submodule referring to this fork.  All that’s left would be to create a _config.yml file with the details in the root project gh-pages branch and an additional entry defining the source of the jekyll site as being the submodule folder.

…as reminding me of this Dilbert cartoon.

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A Survey of Open Hardware Debugging & Analysis Tools

One of the biggest brags of open source is that it reduces the cost of achieving a result to 1/5 or 1/10 of a commercial solution.

Of course, open hardware developers usually don’t include research & development costs. If someone wants to build their own project, the realization that development tools can cost far more than the small project they produce can come as a shock. Why would someone want to spend a thousand dollars on a tool to debug a ten dollar project?

Nathan Willis’ LinuxCon talk comes by way of LWN.net. Details of open source oscilloscopes, logic analyzers and more after the jump.

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