Category Archives: internet

The Open Hardware Toolchain Survey

Apologies for the silence. This blog got put on an unannounced hiatus as my new project gobbled up all of my free time.

If you’re reading this then the odds are pretty good that you already know what open source hardware is and why documentation is important.

So, you are the perfect person to follow this link and provide your input to the Open Hardware Toolchain Survey. Anonymous. 10-15 minutes max.

Not only will your perspective help to shape future hardware documentation tools, it will help guide the discussion at the Open Source Hardware Association’s (OSHWA) Documentation Jam in NYC April 26-29.

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Aligni Wants To Let You Use Their BOM Software For Free

As Bunnie pointed out on his blog, managing the Bill Of Materials (BOM) for a project can become quite complicated. Even a simple project, if it needs to be manufactured by someone else, would benefit from a BOM-specific tool

One such tool is Aligni, a web-based tool that can be used to construct the entire BOM, coordinate with manufacturers and manage inventory. Oh, and Aligni wants to let open source projects use the site for free.

I interviewed Jake Janovetz on what Aligni can do for open source hardware.

Can you give me some background on where Aligni came from and what it’s been used for?

Aligni was created out of a need to manage parts for a small electronics company.  Everything on the market was either too big (SAP, Oracle, Agile, Arena PLM), dead (Parts & Vendors), or would not handle inventory (Agile, Arena, etc).  We wanted a one-stop shop to handle things from design, part management, BOMs, cost info, inventory, assembly management, quoting, and purchasing. Interestingly, some products out there solved some of these.  QuoteFX is a widely used platform for doing quoting via database.  I think it runs in the $100′s per month per user.  Which is absolutely ludicrous.  It’s just a piece of what Aligni does and we do it much better!

What open projects have used Aligni successfully?

Unfortunately, none, really.  Some small projects have started and left over the years.  We haven’t really pushed hard on Open Aligni.  The commercial version of Aligni has lots of successful companies using it.

What do you, or the Aligni team, think about open hardware in general? How do you think it compares to the proprietary approach? Strengths and weaknesses?

We love open hardware.  As it has become better defined over the years, it is easier to talk about it.  Early on, it was confusing what it really meant.  Both open and proprietary are very valid.  In particular, a corporate entity will often get a lot of value from using proprietary hardware.  It’s simply a matter of motivation and accountability.  But Open Hardware is profoundly useful and disruptive (that’s a good thing). We originally introduced Open Aligni because we felt Open Hardware lacked a venue and a proper presentation.  The Open Hardware projects out there tend to cobble together some Google Docs or spreadsheets or other things in an inconsistent and hard-to-maintain manner.  Aligni is a more structured, disciplined approach to presenting hardware designs and managing them.
More after the jump… Continue reading
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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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Year of Open Source 2013 Calendar

Year of Open Source is a lifestyle and documentary project by Sam Muirhead. He is spending a year replacing as much as possible of what he does with open source alternatives.

As part of his fundraising effort he came up with the cleverest reward that I’ve seen in a long time: a swimsuit calendar featuring many of the world’s open source technology leaders. Of course, I had to have one, and now I do, hot off the presses from Berlin. If looking at mine isn’t enough for you then you can get your own, or just creep middle-aged cartoons in speedos, right here.

year of open source 2013 calendar

 

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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.

Continue reading

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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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Help OSE Refine The Design Of Their Backhoe

Open Source Ecology is gradually evolving their process for open source engineering. This latest installment is a Google Doc that anyone can jump in and view/edit. They’ve posted several questions so all you have to do is comment. You can also download the CAD files and a viewer if you don’t have anything to open them with at the blog post. The wiki page for the backhoe is here.

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Defense Distributed Had Their Stratasys 3D Printer Taken Away

Defense Distributed, headed by Cody Wilson, is championing the Wiki Weapon project, the aim of which is to produce files for a 3D printable gun.

Unfortunately for them, when Stratasys found out what they were doing the 3D printer they had leased got repossessed.  Stratasys said that a plastic gun runs afoul of the 1988 Undetectable Firearms Act which bans guns that can pass through a metal detector without setting it off (according to Wired Danger Room). WikiWep posted the letter from Stratasys on their blog…along with a weak attempt to spin the situation. This is also following the attempt to raise money on indiegogo, which was ended by indiegogo after they found out what Wilson was doing.

According to Wired…

Wilson visited the ATF field office in Austin…he added that the ATF believes he’s not broken any laws, and that the agency believes 3-D printed guns fall into a regulatory gray area…

Wilson says he’s consulted with a lawyer, and is considering acquiring a federal firearms manufacturing license, a process that could take at least two months at the earliest. He’s also thought it may be necessary to incorporate Defense Distributed, turning it into a company instead of a decentralized internet collective.

Wilson says. “It’s just disgusting. I hate that that’s the way it is, but that’s apparently the regulatory landscape.”

Wilson says his group is looking at building an electricity-fired 3D-printed test chamber that can be used to test pressure and the interaction between heat given off by bullets with thermoplastic, which could cause the gun to melt. The chamber wouldn’t have a trigger, Wilson says, who also plans to send the schematics to the ATF for approval while waiting for a manufacturing license.

Wired Danger Room also produced an interesting follow up to this story in which they dive into Stratasys’ relationship with existing weapons manufacturers. It turns out the company’s 3D printers are very popular with companies like Remington because, surprise surprise, they use them to rapidly prototype new guns. There is an exception in the Undetectable Firearms Act for plastic guns as long as they are prototypes made by licensed manufacturers.

I’ll wrap this up with the words of 3D Systems Corporations, CEO, Abe Reichental

Keeping 3D printing positive, allowing it to continue to make good requires decisive action – industry wide action.

With that in mind, I call on our capable and responsible industry leaders to join me in making 3D printing good and the community safe. Without taking a position on gun control laws, our responsibility is to be lawful.

We should join together so parents don’t have to worry their child might print something illegally and communities don’t have to worry that someone irresponsible will open fire with a printed weapon and companies don’t have to worry about counterfeiting and piracy.

References and 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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