A Real-Time Fuel Consumption Monitor

Jeff Bachiochi’s real-time fuel consumption monitor for his Jeep.

Circuit Cellar columnist Jeff Bachiochi has enjoyed driving his wife’s Prius, in part because of the real-time feedback it gives him on the miles per gallon he is getting. It made him aware of how he could save gas with simple and immediate adjustments to his driving style.

With that in mind, he thought it would be a good idea to build an effective and affordable monitoring device that would give him the same real-time mpg for his Jeep.  After all, he can’t always borrow his wife’s car.

In the June issue, he shares what he came up with for an onboard diagnostics display. He explains below how he tapped into his own experience, as well as that of another Circuit Cellar author, to build the device for Jeep

“In the summer of 2011, I presented a three-part series about the on-board diagnostic system (OBD-II) built into every automobile produced since 1996 (Circuit Cellar 251–253)….”

“In 2005, Bruce D. Lightner wrote an article about his winning entry in the 2004 Atmel AVR design contest (“AVR-Based Fuel Consumption Gauge,” Circuit Cellar 183, 2005). Lightner’s project altered an analog tachometer gauge as a display for miles per gallon. I wanted to show a little more information, so my project uses a Parallax Propeller microcontroller to interrogate the OBD interpreter and drive a composite LCD.

“You can get a composite color display from Parallax or an online source. While I had a small 2.5” display to work with, I was looking for something a bit bigger. For less than $50, I found a 7” LCD, which happened to be combined with a camera (for mounting on a vehicle’s rear license plate frame)…

“I dug out my Propeller Proto Board and blew off the dust…. The Propeller microcontroller design includes eight 32-bit parallel processors (i.e., cogs) and peripheral support, including access to the 32 I/O pins, two counters, and a video generator per cog.  It is the video generator support that makes this project possible with a minimal component count…. only three resistors are required to develop a composite video output.“

To read more about Bachiochi’s OBD device, check out his article in the June issue.

 

Ace Monster Toys – 3D Printing, DIY Book Scanners and “Dirty Shops”

Ace Monster Toys is a Hackerspace in the East San Francisco Bay Area dedicated to education, hacking, and maker culture since September 2010. They are a membership based group with regular free open-to-the-public classes and events. They are open to anyone and non-members are welcome.

Location 6050 Lowell Street, Oakland, CA
Members 55
Website AceMonsterToys.org

Ace Monster Toys Hackerspace

Here’s what Ace Monster Toys member David has to say about his group:
Tell us about your meeting space!

Our space is 1600 sq ft, divided among three rooms, one upstairs and two downstairs. The upstairs is the “less dirty” area, with desks for working on projects, space for meetings and classes, electronics work area, and 3D printers. Downstairs is the “dirty shop,” in which one room is mostly woodworking tools with a large CNC mill and the other room contains the laser cutter and some storage. We have many shelves where members can put their projects in boxes as well as a few small storage lockers, both upstairs and downstairs.

What tools do you have in your space? (Soldering stations? Oscilloscopes? 3-D printers?)

Everything and the kitchen sink it seems like! Downstairs is a giant 80W laser cutter, a giant CNC router table (both capable of taking full sheets of plywood or other woods), a mini desktop CNC router, several different woodworking tools (bandsaw, chop saw, radial arm saw, table saw, router table, jointer, wood lathe, various power hand tools), a metal bandsaw, a micro metal lathe, a drill press, and a Zcorp powder based 3D printer. Upstairs we have several textile machines (serger, sewing machines), oscilloscopes, logic analyzers, soldering stations, three plastic FDM type 3D printers, a DIY book scanner, a large format inkjet printer, and a roomba or three.

Are there any tools your group really wants or needs?

A more reliable 3D printer would be pretty nice. Also a CNC mill capable of working metal would be really cool and would allow us to fabricate metal parts. A decent tabletop or larger metal lathe would expand our fabrication abilities. For textiles: Supplies for conductive sewing projects/classes… lilipad everything, conductive fabric, thread, battery packs, batteries. Not just for the classes themselves but also for prototyping projects.

Does your group work with embedded tech (Arduino, Raspberry Pi, embedded security, MCU-based designs, etc.)?

Yes! We have lots of Arduino and Raspberry Pi fans, but of course we have people who work with other microcontrollers as well (ARM based mostly I’d say).

Can you tell us about some of your group’s recent tech projects?

One group project we built was a laser shooting gallery — targets had light sensors and were attached to servo motors, would pop up, and then you had to shoot them with a laser pointer gun. There were sound effects and a score display. You can read more details about it here: wiki.acemonstertoys.org/Shooting_Gallery and there are some videos here: popmechnow.com/radioshack (on the left side) One of our members has been working on using a small desktop CNC router to make custom circuit boards. It uses a neat hack to probe the level of the bed to create more accurate cuts. The results have been pretty good. There’s lots of details about this project here: wiki.acemonstertoys.org/Milling_Circuit_Boards

Another cool and not too complex project is 3D scanning our members and then printing out the models on our 3D printer. We use an inexpensive xbox kinect to do the scanning, along with the free version of the software Skanect, and then we load that model into our Makergear Mosaic 3D printer and spit them out. Here’s a picture of two of our members in plastic model format:

3D Scans of Ace Monster Toys' members

What’s the craziest project your group or group members have completed?

Craziest? It’s hard to say, lots of crazy stuff comes out of this place. One impressive project is our Book Scanner, made from plywood, random hardware store nuts and bolts, and a bike brake cable which triggers the shutters on two cameras to photograph two pages at once. It’s gotten a lot of press, the inventor even gave a TED Talk about it. He made his own website for it, you can find more details here: www.diybookscanner.org

Do you have any events or initiatives you’d like to tell us about? Where can we learn more about it?

Our current biggest initiative is moving to a bigger space. We would like to double our square footage and offer more facilities & capabilities including accessibility. For events which are going on, many of them weekly, check out the calendar on our website or on meetup.acemonstertoys.org.

What would you like to say to fellow hackers out there?

“Collaboration and connection has done more to further my knowledge and to produce better, more creative art and projects and innovative ideas than any other factor. Be fearless. Ask questions, try it. Don’t be afraid to cut, or solder or try even when it seems hard or complicated. Everybody starts somewhere.” ~ Crafty Rachel

Check out Ace Monster Toys’ pages on Instructables and Facebook!

You can read all about their projects on their wiki page.

Show us your hackerspace! Tell us about your group! Where does your group design, hack, create, program, debug, and innovate? Do you work in a 20′ × 20′ space in an old warehouse? Do you share a small space in a university lab? Do you meet at a local coffee shop or bar? What sort of electronics projects do you work on? Submit your hackerspace and we might feature you on our website!

New CC Columnist to Focus on Programmable Logic

We’d like to introduce you to Colin O’Flynn, who will begin writing a bimonthly column titled “Programmable Logic In Practice” for Circuit Cellar beginning with our October issue.

Colin at his workbench

You may have already “met.” Since 2002, Circuit Cellar has published five articles from this Canadian electrical engineer, who is also a lecturer at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and a product developer.

Colin has been fascinated with embedded electronics since he was a child and his father gave him a few small “learn to solder” kits. Since then, he has constructed many projects, earned his master’s in applied science from Dalhousie, pursued graduate studies in cryptographic systems, and become an engineering consultant. Over the years, he has developed broad skills ranging from electronic assembly (including SMDs), to FPGA design in Verilog and VHDL, to high-speed PCB design.

And he likes to share what he knows, which makes him a good choice for Circuit Cellar.

Binary Explorer

One of his most recent  projects was a Binary Explorer Board, which he developed for use  in teaching a digital logic course at Dalhousie. It fulfilled his (and his students’) need for a simple programmable logic board with an integrated programmer, several switches and LEDs, and an integrated breadboard. He is working to develop the effective and affordable board into a product.

In the meantime, he is also planning some interesting column topics for Circuit Cellar.

He is interested in a range of possible topics, including circuit board layout for high-speed FPGAs; different methods of configuring an FPGA; design of memory into FPGA circuits;

Colin’s LabJack-based battery tester

use of tools such as Altera’s OpenCV libraries to design programmable logic using C code; use of vendor-provided and open-source soft-core microcontrollers; design of a PCI-Express interface for your FPGA; and addition of a USB 3.0 interface to your FPGA.

That’s just a short list reflecting his interest in programmable logic technologies, which have become increasingly popular with engineers and designers.

To learn more about Colin’s interests, check out our February interview with him, his YouTube channel of technical videos, and, of course, his upcoming columns in Circuit Cellar.

 

 

Linux Home Automation

Neil Cherry

My first home automation (HA) project included an Atari 800XL, a Heathkit X10 interface, and the “Build the Home Run Control System” article series from Steve Ciarcia’s Circuit Cellar column (BYTE, 1985). I was forever hooked on HA. Eventually, I built Circuit Cellar’s HCS II (Circuit Cellar Ink, 1992). I still provide support for it at The Open Source HCS Project (http://hcs.sf.net.).

One day, while reading the Usenet comp.os.minix newsgroup, I saw a post about Linux, a Unix-like operating system (OS) for the Intel Inboard 386-AT. A short time later, I picked up a used Compaq 386SX PC, loaded Linux on it, and I had a multitasking, multiuser OS on my home computer. I wrote some software, connected my HA interface, and started a webpage with all the information. I eventually became the librarian of all things Linux and HA. Since then,  Linux has been ported to several different systems from small, yet powerful, Raspberry Pis (RPis) to IBM mainframes, and from bare-bones systems to every service, tool, and language imaginable. And, at the base of everything, is a common interface and toolset. While a distribution may put things together a bit differently, at the heart of the system, the tools and interfaces are the same.

Currently, I have several Linux systems in my home including laptops, Wi-Fi routers, network storage, media players, and servers. I also have one Windows computer for testing and support, but I mainly run an X server on it to access my Linux resources. And, of course, I have my HA system, my main Linux server, and MisterHouse (MH), an open-source HA program written in Perl (http://misterhouse.sf.net). In addition to my Linux resources, I have a mix of X10, INSTEON, Z-Wave, ZigBee, 1-Wire, web-based controllers, serial, USB, and Ethernet I/O. My home is more like a lab, but my wife has strict rules: It must work and must look professional. The web-based controllers and the HCS II can operate as a stand-alone system, but they lack certain features I want. Most of the components are tied together by Linux and MH, which supply the missing features. The rest of the components are controlled by programs and scripts, which have been added to cron or run as Unix services. The Linux and MH environments enable me to easily pull together disparate technologies and seamlessly combine them.

MH has been my main HA program since 2000. Its flexibility has made it an extremely useful program. In addition to using Perl for the main code and device interface, I also use Perl for user code. The Wiki site includes examples and a mail to help new users. I’m currently integrating the web-based controllers into MH. I’m surprised at how easy this has been. Some have mistaken MH for dead due to project administrative problems. However, the community seems to have fixed that and has been quite busy updating everything. Version 2.200 became available on March 2.

In addition to MH, my main Linux server also runs my home’s dynamic host configuration protocol (DHCP), which supports Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) and IPv6 and a local domain name system (DNS). My Linux server also includes print, file, media sharing, revision control, my development system, syslog, Network Time Protocol (NTP), web server, and other standard Unix services. A 2001 1-GHz Advanced Micro Devices Athlon microprocessor with 512 MB RAM and a 1-TB hard drive (soon to migrated to a RPi) manages the system. The only limitation is that I may need more I/O ports. My MH system has 12 serial ports, so I need to resolve that. I say this to illustrate that Linux can be light on resources when a complex set of services is required.

To take advantage of today’s newer software technologies, I’ve begun looking at HTML5, Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), JavaScript Object Notation (JSON), and Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) for use with MH. Adding AJAX extends the user experience. No more refreshing the page (polling) every 60 s. Instead, the client-side JavaScript code enables us to push the data to the client’s browser and update the webpage as the events occur.

A more recent technology, node.js, which is event-driven, server-side JavaScript, enables you to create new web services with little effort. I believe it can be used to provide the glue between services and MH. For example, I could use a RPi, node.js, and my sprinkler controller. While Linux and the RPi are definitely overkill, the speed at which I can write the code and develop the services combined with the total cost (in time and money) make this attractive.

Future plans include refactoring MH. Fifteen years of cruft need thinning and, amazingly, it hasn’t affected MH’s performance. A bit more object-oriented programming (OOP) would be nice, as it makes it easier to handle complex things. Additionally, I’d like to add many of the lessons learned using HCS II. A simple user language would be a great help to users (it’s not always about the developer).

Neil Cherry (ncherry@linuxha.com) is a Professional Technical Architect at AT&T. He has been active in computers since 1978. Neil has a degree in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering Technologies and has maintained the Linux Home Automation pages since 1995. Neil has been active in home automation with Unix since 1988, and has been using Linux since 1992.

DIY Surface-Mount Circuit Boards

James Lyman, an engineer with degrees in Aerospace, Electrical Engineering, and Systems Design, has more than 35 years of design experience but says he was “dragged” over the past decade into using surface-mount devices (SMD) in his prototypes. He had a preference for using through-hole technology whenever possible.

“The reasons are simple,” he says in an article appearing in the June issue of Circuit Cellar magazine. “It’s much easier to use traditional components for building and reworking prototype circuits than it is to use wire to make the connections. Plus, the devices are large and easy to handle. But time and technology don’t leave anyone at peace, so my projects have gradually drifted toward surface-mount design.”

In his article, Lyman shares the techniques he developed for designing prototypes using SMD components. He thought sharing what he learned would make the transition less daunting for other designers.

This accompanying photo shows one of his completed circuit board designs.

Lyman’s techniques developed out of trial and error. One trial involved keeping small components in place during the building of his prototype.

“When I built my first few surface-mount boards, I did what so many amateurs and technicians do. I carefully placed each minute component on the circuit board in its correct position, and then spent several minutes playing ‘SMD hockey,’ ” Lyman says. “With nothing holding the component in place, I’d take my soldering iron and heat the pad component while touching the solder to the junction. Just as the solder was about to melt, that little component would turn into a ‘puck’ and scoot away. Using the soldering iron’s tip as a ‘hockey stick,’ I’d chase the little puck back to its pads and try again, which was maddening. Finally, I’d get a drop of solder holding one end of the puck in place, usually with the other end sticking away from its pad. Then I could reheat the solder joint while holding the puck and position it correctly. I would have to start over with the next component, all the while yearning for that wonderful old through-hole technology.

“It slowly occurred to me that I needed something to hold each part in place while soldering—something that would glue them in place. Commercial houses glue the components down on the boards and then use a wave soldering machine, which does all the soldering at once. That’s exactly what I started doing. I use J-B Weld, a common off-the-shelf epoxy.”

Using an easy-to-get epoxy is just one of the tips in Lyman’s article. For the rest, check out his full article in the June issue of Circuit Cellar.

 

New Products: May 2013

iC-Haus

iC-Haus iC-TW8

The iC-TW8 is a high-resolution signal processor designed to evaluate sine/cosine sensors. Its automatic functions help minimize angular errors and jitters. The processor can be used for initial, push-button calibration and to permanently adapt signal-path parameters during operation. The angular position is calculated at a programmable resolution of up to 65,536 increments per input cycle and output as an indexed incremental signal. A 32-bit word, which includes the counted cycles, is available through the SPI.

As an application-specific DSP, the iC-TW8 has two ADCs that simultaneously sample at a 250-ksps rate, fast CORDIC algorithms, special signal filters, and an analog front end with differential programmable gate amplifier (PGA) inputs that accepts typical magnetic sensor signals from 20 mVPP and up. Signal frequencies of up to 125 kHz enable high rotary and linear speeds for position measuring devices and are processed at a 24-µs constant latency period.

The device’s 12-bit measurement accuracy works with one button press. Measuring tools are not required. The iC-TW8 independently acquires information about the signal corrections needed for offset, amplitude, and phase errors and stores them in an external EEPROM.

The iC-TW8 has two configuration modes. Preset functions and interpolation factors can be retrieved through pins and the device can be calibrated with a button push. No programming is required for initial operation.

The device’s functions—including an AB output divider for fractional interpolation, an advanced signal filter to reduce jitter, a table to compensate for signal distortion, and configurable monitors for errors and signal quality—can be accessed when the serial interfaces are used. Typical applications include magnetic linear displacement measuring systems, optical linear scales, programmable magnetic/optical incremental encoders, high-resolution absolute/incremental angle sensors with on-axis, Hall scanning, and the general evaluation of sine/cosine signals (e.g., PC measuring cards for 1 VPP and 11 µAPP).

The iC-TW8 operates on a 3.1-to-5.5-V single-ended supply within a –40°C-to-125°C extended operating temperature range. It comes in a 48-pin QFN package that requires 7 mm × 7 mm of board space. A ready-to-operate demo board is  available for evaluation. An optional PC operating program, in other words, a GUI, can be connected with a USB adapter.

The iC-TW8 costs $7.69 in 1,000-unit quantities.

iC-Haus GmbH

www.ichaus.com


ULTRASOUND RECEIVERS

Analog Devices AD9675

The AD9675 and the AD9674 are the latest additions to Analog Devices’s octal ultrasound receiver portfolio. The devices and are pin compatible with the AD9670/AD9671.

The AD9675 is an eight-channel ultrasound analog front end (AFE) with an on-chip radio frequency (RF) decimator and Analog Devices’s JESD204B serial interface. It is designed for mid- to high-end portable and cart-based medical and industrial ultrasound systems. The device integrates eight channels of a low-noise amplifier, a variable-gain amplifier, an anti-aliasing filter, and a 14-bit ADC with a 125-MSPS sample rate and a 75-dB signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) performance for enhanced ultrasound image quality. The on-chip RF decimator enables the ADC to be oversampled, providing increased SNR for improved image quality while maintaining lower data I/O rates. The 5-Gbps JESD204B serial interface reduces ultrasound system I/O data routing.

The AD9674 offers similar functionality, but includes a standard low-voltage differential signaling (LVDS) interface. Both devices are available in a 144-ball, 10-mm × 10-mm ball grid array (BGA) package.

The AD9674 and the AD9675 cost $62 and $68, respectively.

Analog Devices, Inc.

www.analog.com


LOW-VOLTAGE DIGITAL OUTPUT HALL-EFFECT SENSORS

Melexis MLX92212

Melexis MLX92212

MLX92212 digital output Hall-effect sensors are AEC-Q100-qualified devices that deliver robust, automotive-level performance. The MLX92212LSE-AAA low-hysteresis bipolar latch and the MLX92212LSE-ABA high-hysteresis unipolar switch are optimized for 2.5-to-5.5-V operation. They pair well with many low-power microcontrollers in embedded systems. The sensor and specified microcontroller can share the same power rail. The sensors’ open-drain outputs enable simple connectivity with CMOS/TTL. They exhibit minimal magnetic switch point drift over temperature (up to 150°C) or lifetime and can withstand 8 kV electrostatic discharge.

The MLX92212LSE-AAA is designed for use with multipole ring magnets or alternating magnetic fields. It is well suited for brushless DC electric motor commutation, speed sensing, and magnetic encoder applications. Typical automotive uses include anti-trap/anti-pinch window lift controls, automatic door/hatch systems, and automatic power seat positioning. The MLX92212LSE-ABA enables the use of generic/weak magnets or larger air gaps. It can be used in simple magnetic proximity sensing and interlocks in covers/hatches or ferrous-vane interrupt sensors for precise position and timing applications.

Both MLX92212 devices utilize chopper-stabilized amplifiers with switched capacitors. The CMOS technology makes this technique possible and contributes to the sensors’ low current consumption and small chip size.

The MLX92212 sensors cost $0.35 each in 5,000-unit quantities and $0.30 in 10,000-unit quantities.

Melexis Microelectronic Integrated Systems

www.melexis.com


POWERFUL SPI ADAPTERS

Byte SPI Storm

Byte SPI Storm

The SPI Storm 50 and the SPI Storm 10 are the latest versions of Byte Paradigm’s SPI Storm serial protocol host adapter. The adapters support serial peripheral interface (SPI), Quad-SPI, and custom serial protocols in the same USB device.

The SPI Storm 50 and the SPI Storm 10 support serial protocols and master up to 50 and 10 MHz, respectively. The SPI Storm 10 features an 8-MB memory, while the higher-end devices are equipped with a 32-MB memory.

The SPI Storm adapters enable system engineers to access, communicate, and program their digital board and digital ICs, such as field-programmable gate array (FPGA), flash memories, application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC), and

system-on-a-chip (SoC). The SPI Storm 10 is well suited for engineering schools and universities because it is a flexible, all-around access device for hands-on digital electronics. The 50- and 100-MHz versions can be used in mid- and high-end testing and debugging for telecommunications, medical electronics, and digital imaging industries.

The SPI Storm 50 and the SPI Storm 10 cost $530 and $400, respectively.

Byte Paradigm

www.byteparadigm.com


ANALOG-BASED POWER MANAGEMENT CONTROLLER WITH INTEGRATED MCU

Microchip MCP19111

Microchip MCP19111

The MCP19111 digitally enhanced power analog controller is a new hybrid, digital and analog power-management device. In combination with the expanded MCP87xxx family of low-figure-of-merit (FOM) MOSFETs, it supports configurable, high-efficiency DC/DC power-conversion designs for many consumer and industrial applications.

The MCP19111 controller, which operates at 4.5 to 32 V, integrates an analog-based PWM controller with a fully functional flash-based microcontroller. This integration offers the flexibility of a digital solution with the speed, performance, and resolution of an analog-based controller.

The MCP19111 devices have integrated MOSFET drivers configured for synchronous, step-down applications. The MCP87018, MCP87030, MCP87090, and MCP87130 are 25-V-rated, 1.8-, 3-, 9-, and 13-mΩ logic-level MOSFETs that are specifically optimized for switched-mode-power-supply (SMPS) applications.

The MCP19111 evaluation board includes Microchip’s high-speed MOSFETs. This evaluation board includes standard firmware, which is user-configurable through an MPLAB X IDE graphical user interface (GUI) plug-in. The combined evaluation board, GUI, and firmware enable power-supply designers to configure and evaluate the MCP19111’s performance for their target applications.

The MCP19111 controllers cost $2.81 each and the MCP87018/030/090/130 MOSFETs cost $0.28 each, all in 5,000-unit quantities.

Microchip Technology, Inc.

www.microchip.com


ELASTOMER SOCKET FOR HIGH-SPEED QFP ICs

Ironwood SG-QFE-7011

Ironwood SG-QFE-7011

The SG-QFE-7011 is a high-performance QFP socket for 0.4-mm pitch, 128-pin QFPs. The socket is designed for a

1.6-mm × 14-mm × 14-mm package size with a 16-mm × 16-mm lead tip to tip. It operates at bandwidths up to 10 GHz with less than 1 dB of insertion loss and has a typical 20 mΩ per I/O contact resistance. The socket connects all pins with 10-GHz bandwidth on all connections. The small-footprint socket is mounted with supplied hardware on the target PCB. No soldering is required. The small footprint enables inductors, resistors, and decoupling capacitors to be placed close to the device for impedance tuning.

The SG-QFE-7011’s swivel lid has a compression screw that enables ICs to be quickly changed out. The socket features a floating compression plate to force down the QFP leads on to elastomer. A hard-stop feature is built into the compression mechanism.

The sockets are constructed with high-performance, low-inductance gold-plated embedded wire on elastomer as interconnect material between a device and a PCB. They feature a –35°C-to-100°C temperature range, a 0.15-nH pin self inductance, a 0.025-nH mutual inductance, a 0.01-pF capacitance to ground, and a 2-A per pin current capacity.

The SG-QFE-7011 costs $474.

Ironwood Electronics

www.ironwoodelectronics.com

Issue 274: EQ Answers

The answers to the Circuit Cellar 274 Engineering Quotient are now available. The problems and answers are listed below.

Problem 1—What is wrong with the name “programmable unijunction transistor?”

Answer 1—Unlike the original unijunction transistor—which really does have just a single junction—the programmable unijunction transistor (PUT) is actually a four-layer device that has three junctions, much like a silicon-controlled rectifier (SCR).

 

Problem 2—Given a baseband channel with 3-kHz bandwidth and a 40-dB signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), what is the theoretical capacity of this channel in bits per second?

Answer 2—The impulse response of an ideal channel with exactly 3 kHz of bandwidth is a sinc (i.e., sin(x)/x) pulse in the time domain that has nulls that are 1/6,000 s apart. This means you could send a series of impulses through this channel at a 6,000 pulses per second rate. And, if you sampled at exactly the correct instants on the receiving end, you could recover the amplitudes of each of those pulses with no interference from the other pulses on either side of it.

However, a 40-dB signal-to-noise ratio implies that the noise power is 1/10,000 of the maximum signal power. In terms of distinguishing voltage or current levels, this means you can send at most sqrt(10,000) = 100 distinct levels through the channel before they start to overlap, making it impossible to separate one from another at the receiving end.

100 levels translates to log2100 = 6.64 binary bits of information. This means the total channel capacity is 3,9840 bits/s (i.e., 6,000 pulses/s × 6.64 bits/pulse).

This is the basis for the Shannon-Hartley channel capacity theorem.

 

Problem 3—In general, is it possible to determine whether a system is linear and time-invariant (LTI) by simply examining its input and output signals?

Answer 3—In general, given an input signal and an output signal, you might be able to definitively state that the system is not linear and time-invariant (LTI), but you’ll never be able to definitively state that it is, only that it might be.

The general technique is to use information in the input signal to see whether the output signal can be composed from the input features. Input signals (e.g., impulses and steps) are easist to analyze, but other signals can also be analyzed.

 

Problem 4—One particular system has this input signal:

Figure 1

The output is given by:

Figure 2

Is this system LTI?

Answer 4—In this example, the input is a rectangular pulse that can be analyzed as the superposition of two step functions that are separated in time, one positive-going and the other negative-going. This makes the analysis easy, since you can see the initial response to the first step function then determine whether the response following the second step is a linear combination of two copies of the first part of the response.

In this case, the response to the first step function at t = 0 is that the output starts rising linearly, also at t = 0. The second (negative) input step function occurs at t = 0.5, and if the system is LTI, you would expect the output to also change what it’s doing at that time. In fact, you would expect the output to level off at whatever value it had reached at that time, because the LTI response to the second step should be a negative-going linear ramp, which, when added to the original response, should cancel out.

However, this is not the output signal received, so this system is definitely not LTI.

Member Profile: John Peterson

John Peterson

John Peterson

Location: Menlo Park, CA

Education: BS and MS, University of Utah

Occupation: Software Developer

Member Status: John has been a subscriber since 2002.

Technical Interests: His interests include user interfaces for embedded systems, field-programmable gate array (FPGA) development, and embedded Internet development.

Most Recent Embedded Tech-Related Purchase: John recently purchased a power supply for one of his designs.

Current Projects: He is currently working on a custom light controller for strings of progammable LED lights.

Thoughts on the Future of Embedded Technology: John feels that smartphones have raised everybody’s expectations for how we interact with everyday things (e.g., cars, appliances, household control, etc.). “Either the phone becomes the interface (via the network) or the gadgets need touchscreen displays,” John said.

Q&A: Clive “Max” Maxfield – Engineer, Author, Innovator

Clive “Max” Maxfield

Clive “Max” Maxfield is an engineer who has written more than a half-dozen engineering books, contributes to several blogs, and enjoys learning and relating information to others. Max and I recently discussed his journey from hardware design engineer to prolific book author and blogger, some of his ongoing projects, and his outlook on the future of embedded technology.—Nan Price, Associate Editor

NAN: Let’s start with some background information. Where are you located? Where and what did you study?

MAX: I’m originally from the city of Sheffield in the county of Yorkshire in England. (Yorkshire is God’s own county where all the men are handsome, all the women are beautiful, and all the kids are above average—similar to Lake Wobegon, MN, except that Yorkshire is real.) I moved to Huntsville, AL, in 1990 for the nightlife (that’s a little Alabama joke right there).

I studied at Sheffield Hallam University in South Yorkshire, England. My BSc is in Control Engineering, which involves a core of mathematics with “surrounding” subjects in electronics, mechanics, hydraulics, and fluidics.

NAN: When and how did you become interested in electronics?

MAX: I actually started in the playground when I was about 11 years old. One of my friends, Carl Clements, was really “clever beyond his years.” While the other boys (it was a boys’ grammar school) were kicking a soccer ball around or playing conkers or whatever, Carl and I would be crouched down in a corner somewhere, with him using his finger to draw circuit diagrams of things like one-transistor amplifiers and such in the dust.

NAN: Tell us about the first circuit with which you worked. What was the project? What did you learn from it?

MAX: I used to be an avid reader of electronics hobbyist magazines, including Practical Electronics and Practical Wireless. There was a series of articles in Practical Wireless called “Take 20” about projects that were 20 components or fewer costing 20 shillings or less (at that time there were 20 shillings in a UK pound). As I recall, the first circuit I built was a simple oscillator that warbled back and forth between two frequencies and sounded (a bit) like a police car. My mother loved it (not).

Building these projects, I learned to be really good at soldering. I also learned that, no matter how simple the project, something always went wrong. I can’t recall a single time that a project worked the first time I powered it up. So I also learned a lot about troubleshooting and tracking down shorts and opens and components I’d soldered in backwards.

NAN: Tell us about your current occupation.

MAX: Well, I still think of myself as being a hardware design engineer—in my time I’ve designed everything from silicon chips to circuit boards, and from brainwave amplifiers to steampunk “Display-O-Meters.” I’ve also been fortunate enough to be at the forefront of the Electronic Design Automation Consortium (EDA) for more than 20 years.

Having said this, I sort of drifted into writing—starting with magazine articles and presenting technical papers at conferences, and graduating into books. So now I don’t really do any engineering (apart from my hobby projects), I just talk about it a lot!

My current occupation is to act as editor for two EE Times websites: Programmable Logic Designline and Microcontroller Designline (www.eetimes.com/design/programmablelogic and www.eetimes.com/design/microcontroller-mcu, respectively) and as Editor-in-Chief for the All Programmable Planet (APP) community (www.allprogrammableplanet.com).

NAN: Tell us about APP, how you became involved, and what your role as Editor-in-Chief entails.

MAX: APP is, first and foremost, a knowledge-sharing website for programmable devices and technologies such as today’s state-of-the-art, all-programmable field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), 3-D integrated circuits (ICs), and system-on-chip (SoC) devices. But it’s more than that. It’s a community of really great guys and gals spanning the range from complete novices to absolute experts. It’s also full of interesting characters, such as The Mighty Hamster (a.k.a. Mike Field) from New Zealand, who is always performing interesting experiments in his lab and reporting them in his blogs on APP. Actually, we have so many interesting bloggers that it’s impossible to cover them here—your best bet is to bounce over to APP and see what’s going on.

I will say that we have some truly interesting projects on the go, such as the world’s (nay, the universe’s) first wireless mesh network to be utilized in propeller beanies (http://bit.ly/XYk6Ku). This little beauty—in the form of 250 networked propeller beanies—was deployed at the DESIGN West 2013 Conference and Exhibition (www.ubmdesign.com).

As to my role as Editor-in-Chief, have you ever heard the expression “herding cats?” That’s sort of what I do. I have a bunch of bloggers all going in different directions, and my role—in addition to penning my own incredibly interesting articles, of course—is to ensure that everything comes together at the right time.

NAN: You contribute to an EE Times blog, Max’s Cool Beans, with posts on topics ranging from personal supercomputers to embedded speech. Tell us about the types of projects you enjoy working on and blogging about.

Electronic Steampunk Suitcase

Electronic Steampunk Suitcase

MAX: As you say, my Max’s Cool Beans blog (http://bit.ly/10rmX1U) does tend to cover a lot of ground. One day I might be writing about life in a 1950s typing pool on the one hand and the latest and greatest technologies on the other. I also blog about my own personal projects, such as the “Electronic Steampunk Suitcase” (http://bit.ly/X4aiBf) I built as a prop to accompany one of the papers I presented at DESIGN West titled “Danger Will Robinson! How Radiation Can Affect Your Embedded Systems.”

Another ongoing project is my “Heath Robinson Rube Goldberg (HRRG) Mixed-Technology Computer.” The idea here is to have a collection of glass-fronted wooden cabinets mounted on the wall. The contents of each cabinet will be realized using a different implementation technology—relays in one, vacuum tubes in another, circuits built out of individual transistors in another, and so forth. Some cabinets will boast more esoteric technologies like pneumatic logic and magnetic logic. Combined, all of these cabinets will form a simple 4-bit computer.

Bebop to the Boolean Boogie

Bebop to the Boolean Boogie

NAN: You’ve written several books, including Bebop to the Boolean Boogie: An Unconventional Guide to Electronics, The Design Warrior’s Guide to FPGAs: Devices, Tools, and Flows, and Electrical Engineering: Know It All. How did you transition from being an engineer to writing about engineering?

MAX: A few years after starting work, I began to use a digital logic simulator that was owned by the company I worked for. I took to it like a duck to water, and it wasn’t long before my company asked me to give training courses to their customers, which meant I had to write the training materials. From there, I started writing articles on simulation for technical magazines, and things just started rolling along, picking up speed.

The great thing about writing for an engineering audience is that they really don’t care (or know) if I split an infinitive or leave a participle dangling in the wind.

NAN: Your book, How Computers Do Math (co-authored with Alvin Brown), includes the DIY Calculator (www.diycalculator.com), which is an Assembly-based calculator program. Tell us why you created this tool.

MAX: When home computers first started to come out in the mid-1970s I really wanted one, but I simply couldn’t afford one. We’re talking about a single-board machine with an 8-bit microprocessor, like a 6502, only with 1 KB of ROM and 1 KB of RAM (if you were lucky), and a hexadecimal keypad. The strange thing is that, if you were into computers at that time, you tended to know an awful lot about how things worked at the “nitty-gritty” level.

By comparison, these days, everyone has an awesome amount of computing power at their fingertips, but very few people have a clue what goes on “under the hood.” Most of the non-academic computer-related books out there are along the lines of Learn to Use XXX Version 6.0 in 21 Days!” (I have a feeling that the reason they say “21 days” is because that’s when version 7.0 is going to hit the streets.)

Remembering how much I’d wanted a simple computer when I was a lad—something I could experiment with to really see what it was doing—I talked to my chum Alvin (we’d co-authored a couple of books by that time) and we decided to write a book that would really explain things in terms that anyone could understand.

As part of this, we created the DIY Calculator, which is a virtual machine that runs on your PC. The core of the DIY Calculator is a simple virtual microprocessor with an 8-bit data bus and a 16-bit address bus. This is then augmented by a virtual RAM, a virtual ROM, and a bunch of virtual I/O ports.

The virtual interface to this system looks like a calculator front panel. When you click this front panel’s On/Off button on your screen absolutely nothing happens. This is because there isn’t a program yet. What we do in the book is present a series of hands-on labs (each about 20 to 30 min.) in which the reader creates small programs in our (homegrown) Assembly language. First we display “Hello world” on the virtual LCD panel. Then we read buttons from the virtual keypad and display their values on the LCD, and we work our way up until the user has a four-function calculator (+, –, ×, /) up and running. And there are lots of extra keys for future development. We have readers as young as 11 and as old as 75 plus. One reader even created his own BASIC interpreter (in our Assembly language). Anyone can download the virtual DIY Calculator for free from the website.

BookshelfNAN: What do you enjoy most about writing? Do you plan to write any future books?

MAX: Generally speaking, I don’t like a lot of technical or science books because they are so dry and boring. I like books that are fun to read and teach me all sorts of new things, such as Reinventing Gravity: A Physicist Goes Beyond Einstein Reinventing Gravity by John Moffat (physics), The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean (chemistry), and Wetware: A Computer in Every Living Cell by Dennis Bray (biology). I love discovering nuggets of knowledge and tidbits of trivia, so that’s the way I try to write my books.

What I really like is receiving e-mails from readers saying how much they’ve enjoyed reading something I’ve written, and how they didn’t understand it before but they do now. Once, as I was giving a course based on Bebop to the Boolean Boogie, while I was explaining something using a diagram, a loud (and happy) voice from the audience said, “So that’s what that means!”

With regard to the future, I have a lot of ideas for books explaining science and technology for younger readers—say boys and girls around 12 to 16. I always think of myself as writing for myself at that age, if you see what I mean. Like, if I could take my books and use a time machine to send them back to myself when I was 14.

One book I’m working on at the moment is a book on “how to write for engineers” sort of thing. This is not trying to explain everything to do with grammar and spelling and such, just the main things. Like I always say, if someone sends me an e-mail saying “Your an idiot” (using “your” instead of “you’re”), then they are not conveying the message they had hoped for.

NAN: What do you consider to be the “next big thing” in the embedded design industry?

MAX: You are joking! There are so many “next big things” that I wouldn’t know where to start. Two obvious areas are embedded vision and embedded voice. These technologies are poised to start appearing in all sorts of products in the very near future. For example, imagine a cat door that isn’t triggered by a magnet on your cats’ collars, but instead uses embedded vision to actually recognize your cats and grant them entry. Or imagine climbing into bed and saying, “Clock, please wake me up at 6:30 AM tomorrow,” and your clock responding, “You’ve asked to be woken at 6:30 AM for the last three days, do you want me to set that as the default in the week?”

But the thing to watch out for is the technologies and end-user applications that we haven’t even thought of yet. Look at how fast things are changing. As we moved into the new millennium (circa 2000, which is only 13 years ago), we couldn’t imagine smartphones boasting speech recognition, the ability to take photos and videos, and inbuilt GPS. Now we take them from granted. The first iPad was released on April 3, 2010, which is only three years ago, but now it seems like they’ve been around forever. I certainly don’t know what I’d do without my iPad.

All I can say is that I am 100% confident that the future is going to be much more wonderful, stranger, and scarier (in some ways) than most of us can imagine. I can’t wait! I love this stuff!

Electrical Engineer Crossword (Issue 274)

The answers to Circuit Cellar’s May electronics engineering crossword puzzle are now available.Across

1.            MOSIPROTOCOL—Adds a state indicating ownership [two words]

3.            SPECTROMETER—Measures wavelengths

8.            SHELL—Protects an operating system’s kernel

10.          CHARGE—Q

12.          ASSIGN—A FORTRAN control statement

13.          HALL—American physicist (1855–1938) who had an “effect” [two words]

15.          FIELDPROGRAMMABLE—Configurable after purchase [two words]

17.          MOUNTPOINT—In a Linux system, create this first to access the queue [two words]

19.          CORDIC—Calculate digit by digit

20.          MEISSNEREFFECT—Flux jumping [two words]

 

Down

2.            INTERPROCESSCOMMUNICATION—Data exchanging method [two words]

4.            SQUIRRELCAGE—Commonly used in asynchronous motors [two words]

5.            DEGLITCHER—Type of delay circuit, serves as a pulse generator

6.            MERCURYARC—Emits  bright bluish-green light [two words]

7.            BALLGRIDARRAY—Packages ICs [three words]

9.            THREADEDCODE—A compiler technique [two words]

11.          DARAF—Unit of elastance

14.          AMPEREHOUR—3,600 coulombs [two words]

16.          RIPPLE—Unwanted undulation

18.          NIXIE—Used for numeric display

 

Client Profile: Oscium

Oscium

Oscium’s WiPry-Spectrum

Oscium
5909 NW Expressway, Suite 269
Oklahoma City, OK 73132

www.oscium.com

Contact: Bryan Lee, bryan@oscium.com

Product Information: The WiPry-Spectrum transforms an iPhone, an iPad, or an iPod into a 2.4-GHz spectrum analyzer. It is the first 2.4-GHz industrial, science, and medical (ISM) band spectrum analyzer designed specifically for the iPhone, the iPad, and the iPod. The analyzer is simple and intuitive to use. It enables you to “pry” into your wireless environment to detect and avoid noisy channels. The WiPry-Spectrum has a 2.4-to-2.495-GHz frequency range and is compatible with Lightning and 30-pin connectors (with an adapter, it works with the iPhone 5, the iPad mini, and the iPad 4). The WiPry-Spectrum analyzer costs $99.97. For more information, visit www.oscium.com/products/wipry-spectrum-spectrum-analyzer.

Q&A: Scott Potter (Engineering a Way To Clean Solar Mirrors)

Designer and technology executive Scott Potter won first prize in the 2012 RL78 Green Energy Challenge, presented by Renesas Electronics in partnership with Circuit Cellar and Elektor magazines. The global contest called on participants to develop green energy designs utilizing Renesas’s RL78 microcontrollers. Scott won with his solar-powered electrostatic cleaning robot, which removes dust and debris from the tracking mirrors of large-scale concentrating solar power plants.—Mary Wilson, Managing Editor

Scott Potter

MARY: Where do you live and what is your current occupation?

SCOTT: I live in Los Gatos, CA, and I’m a senior director at Jasper Wireless, a company providing machine-to-machine (M2M) data communications services. I have been with Jasper since the beginning in 2005 when the company started with four people and a plan. Now Jasper is approaching 150 employees and we are a global company. I have served many roles at Jasper, working on location technology, device middleware, back-end reporting, and front-end software.

My other job is as an inventor at Taft Instruments. We are just now forming around the technology I developed for the RL78 design challenge. We are finding there is a big need for this solution in the solar industry, which is poised for tremendous growth in the next few years.

MARY: How did you first become interested in embedded electrical design? What is your educational background?

SCOTT: I started working for my father at his startup in the basement of our home in Long Island when I was a teenager (child labor laws were more lax back then). We were doing embedded electronics design along with mechanical modeling and prototyping. I learned from the best and it has stuck with me all these years. I went on to get a BSEE from Tufts University and I toyed with the idea of business school, but it never gripped me like engineering.

MARY: Why did you enter the 2012 Renesas RL78 Green Energy Challenge? What about its focus appealed to you?

SCOTT: The green energy design challenge came along at the perfect time. I had been working on the cleaning robot for a few months when I saw the challenge. The microcontroller I had originally picked was turning out to be not a great choice, and the challenge made me take a look at the RL78. The part was perfect, and the challenge gave me a goal to work toward.

MARY: How did the idea of designing a robot to clean solar-tracking mirrors (i.e., heliostats) for solar power plants come to you?

SCOTT: I can’t say it came to me all at once. I have participated in solar technology development sporadically throughout my career, and I have always tried to stay abreast of the latest developments. After the lessons learned from the parabolic trough concentrators, the move to high-concentration concentrating solar power (CSP) plants, which more efficiently convert solar power to electrical power, struck me as the right thing to do.

The high-concentration CSP plant utilizes hundreds of thousands of mirrors spread over many acres. The mirrors reflect sunlight onto a centrally located tower, which creates intense heat that drives a steam turbine generator.

The efficiency gains from the higher temperatures will make this the dominant technology for utility scale power generation. But there is a high maintenance cost associated with all of those mirror surfaces, especially in environments where water is scarce. A number of people have realized this and proposed various solutions to keeping the surfaces clean. Unfortunately, none of the proposed solutions will work well at the scale of a large utility plant.

I experimented with quite a few waterless cleaning techniques before coming back to electrostatics. It was my wife, Dia, who reminded me that NASA had been cleaning dust off panels on space missions for years using electrostatic principles. She convinced me to stop working with the forced-air concept I was doing at the time and switch to electrostatics. It was definitely the right choice.

MARY: What does the system do? What problems does it solve for power plants? How is the device different from what is already available for the task of cleaning heliostats?

SCOTT: Our patent-pending device is unique in many ways. It is completely autonomous, requiring no external power or water. The installation time is less than 10 s per heliostat, after which the device will remain attached and operating maintenance free for the life of the plant. We borrowed a marketing term from the military for this: “Set it and forget it.”

Most of the competing products have a long installation time and require some external wiring and maintenance. These can be logistical problems in a field of hundreds of thousands of mirrors.

Our device is also unique in that it cleans continuously. This prevents accumulation of organic materials on the surface, which can mix with dew and make a bio-film on the surface. That film bakes on and requires vigorous scrubbing to remove. We also have a feature to handle the dew, or frost, if it’s present.

MARY: What were some of your design challenges along the way and how did you address them?

SCOTT: They were numerous. The first challenge was the power source. It is important that this device be entirely self-powered to avoid having to install any wiring. I had to find a solar-panel configuration that provided enough power at the right voltage levels. I started with lower voltages and had a lot of trouble with the boost converters.

I also couldn’t use any battery storage because of the life requirement. This means that everything has to operate intermittently, gracefully shutting down when the sun fades and then coming up where it left off when the sun returns.

The next challenge was the mechanical drive. This had to grip the mirror tightly enough to resist a stream of water from a cleaning hose (infrequent cleaning with water will probably still be performed). And it had to do this with no power applied.

Another big challenge was the high-voltage electronics. It turns out there is little off-the-shelf technology available for the kind of high-voltage circuitry I needed. Large line output power transformers (LOPTs) for old cathode ray tubes (CRTs) are too large and expensive.

Some of the resonant high-voltage circuits used for cold cathode fluorescent lighting (CCFL) can be used as building blocks, but I had to come up with quite a few innovations to be able to control this voltage to perform the cleaning task. I had more than a few scorched breadboards before arriving at the current design, which is very small, light, and powerful.

MARY: You recently formed Taft Instruments (click here for Taft website). Who are the players in the company and what services does it provide?

SCOTT: We formed Taft instruments to commercialize this cleaning technology. We have been very fortunate to attract a very talented team that has made tremendous progress promoting the company in industry and attracting investment.

We have Steve Gluck and Gary Valinoti, both highly respected Wall Street executives who have galvanized the company and provided opportunities I could never have imagined. They are now recruiting the rest of the team and we are talking to some extremely qualified people. And of course my wife, Dia, is making numerous contributions that she will probably never get credit for.

MARY: How’s business? How would you describe the market for your product and the potential for growth and reach (both domestically and globally)?

SCOTT: We are not at the commercial deployment stage just yet. Our immediate focus is on the field trials we are starting with a number of industry players and the US Department of Energy National Laboratories. We fully expect the trials to be successful and for our large-scale rollouts to begin in about a year.

The market potential for this is tremendous. I’m not sure anyone fully realizes yet the global transformation that is about to take place. Now that the “grid parity” point is near (the point where the cost of solar power is competitive with fossil fuels), solar will become one of the fastest-growing markets we have seen in a century.

Entire national energy pictures will change from single-digit percentages to being dominated by solar. It is a very exciting time in the solar industry, and we are very happy to be part of it.

MARY: Are you individually—or is your company—developing any new designs? If so, can you tell us something about them?

SCOTT: Yes. I can’t say much, but we are working on some very interesting new technologies that will improve on the electrostatic cleaning principles. This technology will vastly expand the base that we can work with.

MARY: You describe yourself as a “serial entrepreneur” with a strong technical background in electronics, software, hardware, and systems design. That combination of skills comes in handy when establishing a new business. But it also helped you land your day job eight years ago as Director of Location Technology at Jasper Wireless. What do you see as future key trends in M2M communications?

SCOTT: M2M has really taken off since we began in 2005. Back then, there were only a few applications people had envisioned taking wireless. That list has exploded, and some analysts are predicting volumes of M2M endpoints that exceed the human population by tenfold!

We have seen large growth in a number of different verticals over the years, the most apparent one right now being automotive, with all the car companies providing connected services. Jasper is uniquely positioned to offer a global solution to these companies through our carrier partners.

MARY: Over the years, you have gained expertise in areas ranging from embedded electronics and wireless, to applications of the global positioning and geographic information systems (GPS and GIS). What do you enjoy most and what are some career highlights? Is one your involvement in the development of a GPS for the New York fire department’s recovery operations after the collapse of the World Trade Center?

SCOTT: What I enjoy most is working with motivated teams to create compelling products and services. One of my proudest moments was when our team at Links Point rose to the 9/11 challenge. At the time, I was a founder and the chief technology officer of Links Point, which provided GPS and location mapping.

When the request came from the New York fire department for a solution to locating remains at the recovery site, the team dedicated themselves to providing a solution no first responder had ever had access to previously. And we did that in record time. We had to come up with a proposal in a half-day and implement it within three days. You have to realize that GPS and PDAs were very new at the time and there were a lot of technical challenges. We also had to compete with some other companies that were proposing more accurate surveying equipment, such as laser ranging.

Our product, a PDA with a GPS attachment, won out in the end. The advantages of our handheld devices were that they were rugged and that firefighters could easily carry them into Ground Zero. We got the opportunity and honor of serving the  FDNY because of the extreme talent, dedication, and professionalism of my team. I would like to mention them: Jerry Kochman, Bill Campbell, Murray Levine, Dave Mooney, and Lucas Hjelle.

MARY: What is the most important piece of advice you would give to someone trying to make a marketable product of his or her design for an electrical device?

SCOTT: Whatever the device, make sure you are passionate about it and committed to seeing it come through. There is a quote that Dia framed for me hanging in my lab—this is attributed to Goethe, but there is some question about that. Anyway, the quote is very inspirational:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” I

Editor’s note: For more details, schematics, and a video of Scott Potter’s solar-powered electrostatic cleaning robot, click here.

Brooklyn-Based Alpha One Labs

Alpha One Labs is a very active hackerspace located in Brooklyn. They frequently host events and offer many services to their members.

Location 657 Meeker Ave #1L
Brooklyn NY, 11222
Members 25-35
Website AlphaOneLabs.com

Alpha One Labs

Mary Auriti is co-founder and secretary at Alpha One Labs. We ask her what she has to tell us about her space:

What’s your meeting space like?

Approximately 900 sq. ft. with 18 ft. ceilings which could accommodate a second floor. We have a wall of pegboard with tools and custom built shelves with clear containers for supplies as well as small bins for little items. There is eight heavy duty desks, a taller work table and an adjustable height desk/work table. In the front area of our space we have a little lounge area with a small sofa, book shelf, fridge, coffee maker, big flat screen TV, twitter LED scroller, old school video consoles and games, and a gallery wall featuring a local artist’s work.

What tools do you have in your space? (Soldering stations? Oscilloscopes? 3-D printers?)

We have a JCUT 6090 laser cutter, a RepRap, drill press, saws, a Dremel, and other hand tools. Also, oscilloscopes and soldering irons.

If you could add three more tools, what would they be?

Welder, Epilogue laser cutter, and a CNC 5 axis mill

Does your group work with embedded tech (Arduino, Raspberry Pi, embedded security, MCU-based designs, etc.)?

We use Arduinos and are getting into Raspberry Pi.

Can you tell us about some of your group’s recent tech projects?

We have had a wide range of projects come through our lab as well as the ongoing big project of the physical lab space itself. Some projects from the past four years are:

  • the “Twitmas Tree” (ornaments that light up every time someone tweets a holiday related word)
  • butter churning with kosher cream from bed sty
  • self-watering rooftop veggie garden
  • LED hat displaying preset or dynamic messages
  • Internet time piece
  • and a stair climbing wheelchair — to name few

What’s the craziest project your group or group members have completed?

“Shot in the Dark” — A laser pointing to the center of the toilet bowel so men have a target.

Where can the CC Community learn more about it?

We post all our events on our web site alphaonelabs.com and host a few meetups from time to time as people contact us. We like to be there for any group that needs us and shares our interests in the great wide space of making, art, technology, science, education, environmentalism, hacking.

What would you like to say to fellow hackers out there?

Come on down! We are open to all and love the diversity of people who come through our lab. We are consistently working on making our lab a place to encourage innovation and give people what they need to get their projects off the ground.

Keep up with Alpha One Labs! Check out their Facebook page or Twitter feed for current events or to get involved.

Show us your hackerspace! Tell us about your group! Where does your group design, hack, create, program, debug, and innovate? Do you work in a 20′ × 20′ space in an old warehouse? Do you share a small space in a university lab? Do you meet at a local coffee shop or bar? What sort of electronics projects do you work on? Submit your hackerspace and we might feature you on our website!