Tag Archives: design

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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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.

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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AtFAB – Open Source Furniture

AtFAB is hoping that you will think about having your next table, chair or shelf cut out on a CNC machine.

Their furniture is licensed under a Creative Commons non-commercial license, so you can do whatever you want with it as long as you don’t sell it. If you want to sell it, they seem open to the idea of giving you an individual commercial license.

Balancing openness with the inherent need to pay for hardware development is tricky. For example, AtFAB will give you the DXF files for the furniture, but only after you exchange a couple emails and sign up for their mailing list. That seems fair, especially considering they have a nifty little app that lets you change some of the parameters in the files before you download them. You can stretch the chair out into a bench or adjust the cutlines to account for different material thicknesses.

Open design has been around just as long as open hardware, and the two have a lot of overlap since you need something physical to design on. That being said, I’m split on whether or not it makes any sense to “design” open hardware. On the one hand it never hurts to make something look prettier. On the other hand, open source designs tend to be utilitarian (because they tend to be cheap and require as few manufacturing steps as possible) so trying to “design” them starts to look an awful lot like trying too hard. An angular little chair is still an angular little chair after you paint an orange stripe on it.

Additional links:

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Legoification of Open Hardware on Genomicon

Over at Genomicon there’s a good post examining why it is vitally necessary for open hardware to “Lego-ify” if it wants to get any kind of wide acceptance.

Home computers started to really take off after the text-only interface of DOS was replaced with the graphical interface of Windows. Individual contributions to the web started to really take off after raw html code was replaced with higher level languages and tools. Tinkering with electronics is a lot more attractive when it doesn’t require soldering.

At the moment, possibly one of the largest barriers to entry for open hardware are CAD/CAM tools. Just like microcode, they have to be complicated because there are so many variables that have to be accounted for. However, they can slip into the background behind more user-friendly interfaces. But, any time you reduce complexity you have to decide which variables the user is allowed to manipulate.

Lego keeps coming up as a metaphor because it’s perfect. Lego handles all the nitty-gritty details of tolerances and compatibility, then simplifies the nearly unlimited design space into neat little packages. That kind of thing has to happen, and has to happen well, before a technology can achieve any kind of scale. The expert hobbyists can always figure out what’s going on, but the people who just want the technology to do something for them aren’t going to put up with much troubleshooting. Best Buy currently makes a lot of money hooking up audio/video gear, which is nothing more than plugging cables into boxes, because even that high-level packaging is too much for some people.

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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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