3′ × 5 Vertical Electronics Workspace

There’s a great deal of innovative electronics engineering and embedded systems development taking place in Europe. The Circuit Cellar team reviews dozens of inventive projects and insightful articles from European engineers each year. And based on the quality of that content, we’re convinced that Europe’s electrical engineers, programmers, and embedded designers are among the most industrious, inspired, and creative tech specialists in the world.

Burghausen, Germany-based Hubert Wihr is one of the many Europeans actively designing interesting electronic systems in his free time. At about 3′ × 5′ (approximately 90 cm × 150 cm), his workspace doesn’t leave much room for expansion or the addition of too many new design tools. But as long as at Wihr enjoys the space and finds it suitable, he gets the thumbs up from our staff.

WihrVerticalWorkspace

Hubert Wihr’s 3′ × 5′ workspace

We applaud his intelligent use of vertical space. Like an architect trying to add office space to a cramped city block, Wihr simply built upward. He effectively installed a few feet of vertical shelving and storage space to accommodate his PC, soldering station, test equipment, parts, and a perfectly placed cork board for tacking handwritten notes.

As for Wihr’s neatly labeled parts containers, well, you know how we feel about those. Such a storage system is an essential part of every proper workspace. If you look closely at his labels, you can see he’s storing Schraube (screws), Haken (hooks), and more.

Lastly, Wihr has a simple yet effective solution for keeping his tools in order and readily available. He smartly mounted his peripheral cables within arm’s reach to the right of his monitor. And just left of his cork board he hangs pliers, wire cutters, and a few other frequently used tools. Nice idea.

New 40-nm Microcontrollers for Motor Control

Renesas Electronics Corp. recently announced the RH850/C1x series of 32-bit microcontrollers (MCUs), which it said are designed for motor control in hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) and electric vehicles (EVs). Based on Renesas’s 40-nm process, the RH850/C1x series features the RH850/C1H and RH850/C1M MCUs, which enable embedded designers to enhance efficiency, reduce system costs, and achieve higher safety levels for HEV/EV motor control systems.

Source: Renesas Electronics Corp.

Source: Renesas Electronics Corp.

The new RH850/C1x devices can be used with the RAA270000KFT RH850 family power supply management IC (PMIC), which is currently available in sample quantities. The power management IC integrates into one device all the power supply systems required for MCU operation, two external sensor power supply tracks, and a full complement of monitoring and diagnostic functions, significantly reducing the user burden associated with power supply system design.

The RH850/C1H and RH850/C1M MCUs incorporate large memory capacities achieved through 40 nm MONOS process technology. The RH850/C1x series is based on Renesas’s metal oxide nitride oxide silicon (MONOS) embedded flash, which has an extensive track record in mass production. The MONOS characteristics include fast readout, low power consumption, and large storage capacity. The RH850/C1M and RH850/C1H devices offer memory capacities of 2 MB and 4 MB, respectively. In addition, 32-KB data flash memory, with essentially the same functionality as EEPROM, is included for data storage.

The microcontrollers also feature an extensive set of peripheral functions for HEV/EV motor control. The RH850/C1x MCUs can implement three types of motor control in hardware: sine wave PWM, over modulation, and square wave.

Samples of the RH850/C1H and RH850/C1M MCUs are scheduled to be available from the beginning of 2015 and will cost $45 and $50 per unit, respectively. Mass production is scheduled for May 2016 and is expected to reach a scale of 100,000 units per month.

Source: Renesas Electronics Corp.

Cabinet-Based DIY Electronics Workspace

Micrcontrollers and electrical engineering probably don’t come to mind when you flip through an IKEA product catalog. But when you think about it, IKEA has plenty of easy-to-assemble tables, cabinets, and storage containers that could be handy for outfitting a electronics workspace or “circuit cellar.”

(Source: Patrik Thalin)

(Source: Patrik Thalin)

Sweden-based Patrik Thalin built a workspace within an IKEA Husar cabinet. The setup is compact, orderly, and well-planned. He noted:

It has a pull-out keyboard shelf that I use it as an extension of the workspace when the doors are open. My inspiration came from a friend that had built his lab in a two door closet. The main idea is to have a workspace that can be closed when not used and to be able to resume my work later. I have used this lab for nearly ten years and I am still happy with it!

In the upper part of the cabinet I keep commonly used tools and instruments. On the top shelf are two PSUs, a signal generator, assortment boxes with components, the SMD component kit and shelf trays with cables and small tools. On the lower shelves are things like multimeter, callipers and a power drill. At the bottom is the work space with a soldering station. On the left wall are screwdrivers,wrenches and pliers. To the left are cables hanging on hooks.The thing hanging under the shelf is an old radio scanner. You can also see a small vise hanging on the front of the workspace.

The lower part of the cabinet is for additional storage, he noted.

(Source: Patrik Thalin)

(Source: Patrik Thalin)

The information and images were submitted by Patrik Thalin. For more information about his space and work, visit his blog.

Makelab Charleston, a place for hobbyists and professionals

Makelab Charleston is a hackerspace for hobbyist and professionals who share common interests in technology, computers, science, or digital/electronics art. It provides an environment for people to create anything they can imagine: from electronics, 3D printing, and construction, to networking, and programming.

Location 3955 Christopher St, North Charleston, SC 29405
Members 24

Treasurer David Vandermolen will tell us something more about Makelab Charleston.

MakeLabCharleston

Tell us about your meeting space!

We started in a 500 sq. ft. garage, but took a step up and are currently renting a 900+ sq. ft. home that’s been renovated.  We now have the space for a electronic/soldering room that also has our 3-D printer. One other room is dedicated to power-type tools and our CNC machine that is still being built by our members.  The other spaces in the house are used for classes and member activities such as LAN parties.

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

Soldering stations, oscilloscopes, 3-D printer, power tools, large table-top CNC machine (in progress), and a rack server for the IT minded to play with.

Are there any tools your group really wants or needs?

A laser CNC, nice tables, and chairs .

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

We have members that dabble in multiple areas so we try to provide classes on the technology people want to learn about and explore.

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

Our most recent tech project has been a overhaul of our server system. Other projects include the CNC currently in progress. That’s been an ongoing project for about a year.

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

Probably the wackiest project we completed was actually, something not tech related at all, building a bed for Charleston Bed Races. We put together a Lego bed (not real Legos) complete with Lego man and all.

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

We list any events or classes we are doing or plan on doing on our Website. Just click on classes and events on the main page or go to the calendar tab.

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

Makelab Charleston is about opening the world to information and sharing that information with the people in our community. The best way to do that is through teaching.

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 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!

Mandalas Blend Technology and Spirituality

Multimedia artist Leonardo Ulian’s work includes his stunning “Technological Mandala” series, in which he precisely arranges tiny electrical and computer components to create colorful and symmetrical mandalas. In Hindu and Buddhist cultures, a mandala is a geometric and spiritual artwork representing the universe and is used in meditation. In this interview, Leonardo discusses his background, artwork, and inspiration for blending technological and ephemeral themes.—Mary Wilson, Managing Editor

 

MARY: Where were you born and how long have you lived in London?

LEONARDO: I come from a little village called Ruda, situated in the northeast region of Italy, Friuli-Venezia Giulia. I have lived in London since 2004.

Technological Mandala 17: Electronic components, copper wire, paper, 72 cm x 72 cm, 2013 (closeup),

Technological Mandala 17: Electronic components, copper wire, paper, 72 cm x 72 cm, 2013 (closeup). (Photo courtesy of Leonardo Ulian)

MARY: I understand you started out pursuing a degree in micro-electronics, then trained as a graphic designer before earning a fine arts degree. Can you tell me about your education and what made you turn your training toward the arts?

LEONARDO: My first attempt to do art was more related to the activity of just making things. Since I was very young, I always liked to play with hammers, nails, pieces of wood, and other bits and pieces in order to make my own little toys. But more than anything else, I liked to open old radios to see what was hiding inside.

In the 1980s, I attended an electronics school, also because I was fascinated by the new technology revolution of that period. I do remember myself stuck in front of the television watching an American TV series about robots, computers, and all that sort of stuff. While I was studying electronics I attended an art course and I specialized in airbrush hyper-realistic painting techniques. I then studied graphic design and I worked as a graphic designer and photo-retoucher for several years until I moved to London where I obtained my BA degree in fine art.

Technological Mandala 17: Electronic components, copper wire, paper, 72 cm x 72 cm, 2013.

Technological Mandala 17: Electronic components, copper wire, paper, 72 cm x 72 cm, 2013.

MARY: How did you come up with the idea for the “Technological Mandala” series? What was your inspiration and what are you trying to convey with these pieces that solder together electrical components, circuitry, and microchips?

LEONARDO: I liked the idea of combining different worlds such as spirituality and mandalas with technology and underlining the fact that electronic technology devices have become fundamental for our daily lives, almost something to worship.

I am also fascinated by the pure exercise of geometry used for the construction of the traditional mandalas—an ordered representation that is used to explain something that probably has nothing to do with geometry, which is the meaning of everything we perceive around us as living beings. I guess my artistic and spiritual research have led me to discover the world of mandalas.

I am not a spiritual person, or at least not in the traditional manner. And I am not particularly polarized with a specific belief. But I do like the idea of a world made with infinite connections among persons, objects, or places, like the connections I make in my technological mandalas. I also like to believe that what happens in one of the parts of the connection can affect the others as well.

Electronic components have always fascinated me; there was something in them that has attracted my fantasy since I was very young. I always asked myself how these little things were able to do what they do within electronic devices. After my studies in fine art, I started to think about my old passions and interests in a different way. This is why now, in my eyes, the electronic components have lost their real functionality in order to become ephemeral objects able to trigger the eyes and minds of the viewers, but in a different manner.

Technological Mandala 38: Electronic components, white Perspex, triple mounting board, 60 x 60 cm, 2013 (close up).

Technological Mandala 38: Electronic components, white Perspex, triple mounting board, 60 cm x 60 cm, 2013 (close-up). (Photo courtesy of Leonardo Ulian)

MARY:  Can you describe how you created the pieces? The materials and techniques you used?

LEONARDO: I make the basic geometry design in a computer. I print the resulting image onto paper, and then I bring in countless electronic components—some recycled but most bought from online websites—to fill in the shape I have created. I spend hours online researching nice and colorful electronic components. The difficulty is that nowadays technology is moving toward miniaturizing the electronic components, and quite often they do not have any color code.

MARY: You started the series two years ago. Is it now complete?

LEONARDO: The series isn’t yet completed, it’s a work in progress and I do not know when it will be finished. I guess the series is evolving as the technology—especially the electronic one—is changing rapidly.

Technological Mandala 02 (the beginning). Electronic components, microchip, wood frame, 120 x 20 cm, 2012.

Technological Mandala 02 (the beginning). Electronic components, microchip, wood frame, 120 cm x 20 cm, 2012. (Photo courtesy of Leonardo Ulian)

MARY: Do you have other artwork, such as “Technological Mandala,” that presents technology in an unconventional and thought-provoking way? Can you tell me more about that work?

LEONARDO: One of my early pieces is called “Now and Forever.” It’s an old petrol lantern modified in order to have, instead of the real flame, a mini-LCD screen with a video of it. The virtual flame within the mini screen is powered by a DVD player instead of the petrol, and it could run forever—or at least until there is no longer electricity available.

"Now and Forever" (Photo courtesy of Leonardo Ulian)

“Now and Forever” (Photo courtesy of Leonardo Ulian)

MARY: What technologies most interest you? Do any of them intrigue you as inspiration for future projects? If so, how might you use them?

LEONARDO: I do not have a particular interest in a specific piece of technology; I like to pick up things that stimulate my imagination. But, among other things, I am fascinated by magnetic fields and how the spectator could interact with them in order to generate art.

The piece “Close to the Essence” explores my interest in magnetic fields. It is a system of elements, like a hi-fi system, that becomes a totem able to interact with the spectator. The whole structure becomes a giant theremin I made using three simple AM radios, and the sound generated by the sculpture varies according to the proximity of the viewers.

"Close to the Essence" (Photo courtesy of Leonardo Ulian)

“Close to the Essence” (Photo courtesy of Leonardo Ulian)

MARY: What project are you currently focusing on?

LEONARDO: At the moment I am focused on further developing the idea started with the “Technological Mandala” series.

MARY: Do you have a dream project, something you are resolved to do sometime during your artistic career?

LEONARDO: I do not have a specific dream project, although my sketchbooks are full of ideas. I try to work day by day in order to produce things I am happy with. I have to say that almost always I have doubts about the things I make, but this keeps me going forward to create the next piece.

Technological Mandala 05: Electronic components, microchip, wood frame, 60 x 57 cm, 2012. (Photo courtesy of Leonardo Ulian)

Technological Mandala 05: Electronic components, microchip, wood frame, 60 cm x 57 cm, 2012. (Photo courtesy of Leonardo Ulian)

'Dardoby"

“Dardoby” (Photo courtesy of Leonardo Ulian)

MARY: You are a self-described multimedia artist. Can you tell me about some of your other artistic pursuits, including The Apathy Band you co-founded?

LEONARDO: I do like to think that art can explore different fields, as the great master Leonardo da Vinci did in his practice. The Apathy Band is an open project created by the artists Bob and Roberta Smith and I am one of the co-founders. The instruments I play in the band are toys I have accurately modified, like old electronic keyboards or electronic gizmos and animated toys. Two examples are the Dardomin, a theremin I created using AM radios, and the Dardoby, a circuit-bent Furby toy puppet I use to generate unexpected sound. I have also collaborated with the artistic duo Marotta & Russo to create the soundtracks of their videos. (Refer to “Timeline” and “Netopia.”)

Leonardo Ulian has had numerous solo exhibitions in London and elsewhere. He is the recipient of the Owen Rowley Award, London (UK), and the Italian national prize Stamps of the XX Century. You can follow Leonardo on Twitter at @ulianleonardo.

Technological Mandala 29: Electronic components, copper wire, paper, 120 cm x 120 cm, 2013. (Photo courtesy of Leonoard Ulian)

Technological Mandala 29: Electronic components, copper wire, paper, 120 cm x 120 cm, 2013. (Photo courtesy of Leonardo Ulian)

 

Centrical Bonsai Tree: Electronic components, cement and steel base, 135 cm x 35 cm x 35 cm, 2013 (close-up).

Centrical Bonsai: Tree, electronic components, cement and steel base, 135 cm x 35 cm x 35 cm, 2013 (close-up). (Photo courtesy of Leonardo Ulian)

Centrical Bonsai Tree: Electronic components, cement and steel base, 135 cm x 35 cm x 35 cm, 2013 (close-up).

Centrical Bonsai: Tree, electronic components, cement and steel base, 135 cm x 35 cm x 35 cm, 2013. (Photo courtesy of Leonardo Ulian)

 

CC281: Overcome Fear of Ethernet on an FPGA

As its name suggests, the appeal of an FPGA is that it is fully programmable. Instead of writing software, you design hardware blocks to quickly do what’s required of a digital design. This also enables you to reprogram an FPGA product in the field to fix problems “on the fly.”

But what if “you” are an individual electronics DIYer rather than an industrial designer? DIYers can find FPGAs daunting.

Issue281The December issue of Circuit Cellar issue should offer reassurance, at least on the topic of “UDP Streaming on an FPGA.” That’s the focus of Steffen Mauch’s article for our Programmable Logic issue (p. 20).

Ethernet on an FPGA has several applications. For example, it can be used to stream measured signals to a computer for analysis or to connect a camera (via Camera Link) to an FPGA to transmit images to a computer.

Nonetheless, Mauch says, “most novices who start to develop FPGA solutions are afraid to use Ethernet or DDR-SDRAM on their boards because they fear the resulting complexity.” Also, DIYers don’t have the necessary IP core licenses, which are costly and often carry restrictions.

Mauch’s UDP monitor project avoids such costs and restrictions by using a free implementation of an Ethernet-streaming device based on a Xilinx Spartan-6 LX FPGA. His article explains how to use OpenCores’s open-source tri-mode MAC implementation and stream UDP packets with VHDL over Ethernet.

Mauch is not the only writer offering insights into FPGAs. For more advanced FPGA enthusiasts, columnist Colin O’Flynn discusses hardware co-simulation (HCS), which enables the software simulation of a design to be offloaded to an FPGA. This approach significantly shortens the time needed for adequate simulation of a new product and ensures that a design is actually working in hardware (p. 52).

This Circuit Cellar issue offers a number of interesting topics in addition to programmable logic. For example, you’ll find a comprehensive overview of the latest in memory technologies, advice on choosing a flash file system for your embedded Linux system, a comparison of amplifier classes, and much more.

Mary Wilson
editor@circuitcellar.com

Member Profile: Scott Weber

Scott Weber

Scott Weber

LOCATION:
Arlington, Texas, USA

MEMBER STATUS:
Scott said he started his Circuit Cellar subscription late in the last century. He chose the magazine because it had the right mix of MCU programming and electronics.

TECH INTERESTS:
He has always enjoyed mixing discrete electronic projects with MCUs. In the early 1980s, he built a MCU board based on an RCA CDP1802 with wirewrap and programmed it with eight switches and a load button.

Back in the 1990s, Scott purchased a Microchip Technology PICStart Plus. “I was thrilled at how powerful and comprehensive the chip and tools were compared to the i8085 and CDP1802 devices I tinkered with years before,” he said.

RECENT EMBEDDED TECH ACQUISITION:
Scott said he recently treated himself to a brand-new Fluke 77-IV multimeter.

CURRENT PROJECTS:
Scott is building devices that can communicate through USB to MS Windows programs. “I don’t have in mind any specific system to control, it is something to learn and have fun with,” he said. “This means learning not only an embedded USB software framework, but also Microsoft Windows device drivers.”

THOUGHTS ON THE FUTURE OF EMBEDDED TECH:
“Embedded devices are popping up everywhere—in places most people don’t even realize they are being used. It’s fun discovering where they are being applied. It is so much easier to change the microcode of an MCU or FPGA as the unit is coming off the assembly line than it is to rewire a complex circuit design,” Scott said.

“I also like Member Profile Joe Pfeiffer’s final comment in Circuit Cellar 276: Surface-mount and ASIC devices are making a ‘barrier to entry’ for the hobbyist. You can’t breadboard those things! I gotta learn a good way to make my own PCBs!”

3-D Printing with Liquid Metals

by Collin Ladd and Michael Dickey

Our research group at North Carolina State University has been studying new ways to use simple processes to print liquid metals into 3-D shapes at room temperature. 3-D printing is gaining popularity because of the ability to quickly go from concept to reality to design, replicate, or create objects. For example, it is now possible to draw an object on a computer or scan a physical object into software and have a highly detailed replica within a few hours.

3-D printing with liquid metals: a line of dollsMost 3-D printers currently pattern plastics, but printing metal objects is of particular interest because of metal’s physical strength and electrical conductivity. Because of the difficulty involved with metal printing, it is considered one of the “frontiers” of 3-D printing.
There are several approaches for 3-D printing of metals, but they all have limitations, including high temperatures (making it harder to co-print with other materials) and prohibitively expensive equipment. The most popular approach to printing metals is to use lasers or electron beams to sinter fine metal powders together at elevated temperatures, one layer at a time, to form solid metal parts.

Our approach uses a simple method to enable direct printing of liquid metals at room temperature. We print liquid metal alloys primarily composed of gallium. These alloys have metallic conductivity and a viscosity similar to water. Unlike mercury, gallium is not considered toxic nor does it evaporate. We extrude this metal from a nozzle to create droplets that can be stacked to form 3-D structures. Normally, two droplets of liquid (e.g., water) merge together into a single drop if stacked on each other. However, these metal droplets do not succumb to surface-tension effects because the metal rapidly forms a solid oxide “skin” on its surface that mechanically stabilizes the printed structures. This skin also makes it possible to extrude wires or metal fibers.

This printing process is important for two reasons. First, it enables the printing of metallic structures at room temperature using a process that is compatible with other printed materials (e.g., plastics). Second, it results in metal structures that can be used for flexible and stretchable electronics.

 

Stretchable electronics are motivated by the new applications that emerge by building electronic functionality on deformable substrates. It may enable new wearable sensors and textiles that deform naturally with the human body, or even an elastic array of embedded sensors that could serve as a substitute for skin on a prosthetic or robot-controlled fingertip. Unlike the bendable polyimide-based circuits commonly seen on a ribbon cable or inside a digital camera, stretchable electronics require more mechanical robustness, which may involve the ability to deform like a rubber band. However, a stretchable device need not be 100% elastic. Solid components embedded in a substrate (e.g., silicone) can be incorporated into a stretchable device if the connections between them can adequately deform.

Using our approach, we can direct print freestanding wire bonds or circuit traces to directly connect components—without etching or solder—at room temperature. Encasing these structures in polymer enables these interconnects to be stretched tenfold without losing electrical conductivity. Liquid metal wires also have been shown to be self-healing, even after being completely severed. Our group has demonstrated several applications of the liquid metal in soft, stretchable components including deformable antennas, soft-memory devices, ultra-stretchable wires, and soft optical components.

Although our approach is promising, there are some notable limitations. Gallium alloys are expensive and the price is expected to rise due to gallium’s expanding industrial use. Nevertheless, it is possible to print microscale structures without using much volume, which helps keep the cost down per component. Liquid metal structures must also be encased in a polymer substrate because they are not strong enough to stand by themselves for rugged applications.

Our current work is focused on optimizing this process and exploring new material possibilities for 3-D printing. We hope advancements will enable users to print new embedded electronic components that were previously challenging or impossible to construct using a 3-D printer.

Collin Ladd (claddc4@gmail.com)  is pursuing a career in medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, SC. Since 2009, he has been the primary researcher for the 3-D printed liquid metals project at The Dickey Group, which is headed by Michael Dickey. Collin’s interests include circuit board design and robotics. He has been an avid electronics hobbyist since high school.

Collin Ladd (claddc4@gmail.com) is pursuing a career in medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, SC. Since 2009, he has been the primary researcher for the 3-D printed liquid metals project at The Dickey Group, which is headed by Michael Dickey. Collin’s interests include circuit board design and robotics. He has been an avid electronics hobbyist since high school.

Michael Dickey (mddickey@ncsu.edu) is an associate professor at the North Carolina State University Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. His research includes studying soft materials, thin films and interfaces, and unconventional nanofabrication techniques. His research group’s projects include stretchable electronics, patterning gels, and self-folding sheets.

Michael Dickey (mddickey@ncsu.edu) is an associate professor at the North Carolina State University Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. His research includes studying soft materials, thin films and interfaces, and unconventional nanofabrication techniques. His research group’s projects include stretchable electronics, patterning gels, and self-folding sheets.

 

 

 

Q&A: Jeremy Blum, Electrical Engineer, Entrepreneur, Author

Jeremy Blum

Jeremy Blum

Jeremy Blum, 23, has always been a self-proclaimed tinkerer. From Legos to 3-D printers, he has enjoyed learning about engineering both in and out of the classroom. A recent Cornell University College of Engineering graduate, Jeremy has written a book, started his own company, and traveled far to teach children about engineering and sustainable design. Jeremy, who lives in San Francisco, CA, is now working on Google’s Project Glass.—Nan Price, Associate Editor

NAN: When did you start working with electronics?

JEREMY: I’ve been tinkering, in some form or another, ever since I figured out how to use my opposable thumbs. Admittedly, it wasn’t electronics from the offset. As with most engineers, I started with Legos. I quickly progressed to woodworking and I constructed several pieces of furniture over the course of a few years. It was only around the start of my high school career that I realized the extent to which I could express my creativity with electronics and software. I thrust myself into the (expensive) hobby of computer building and even built an online community around it. I financed my hobby through my two companies, which offered computer repair services and video production services. After working exclusively with computer hardware for a few years, I began to dive deeper into analog circuits, robotics, microcontrollers, and more.

NAN: Tell us about some of your early, pre-college projects.

JEREMY: My most complex early project was the novel prosthetic hand I developed in high school. The project was a finalist in the prestigious Intel Science Talent Search. I also did a variety of robotics and custom-computer builds. The summer before starting college, my friends and I built a robot capable of playing “Guitar Hero” with nearly 100% accuracy. That was my first foray into circuit board design and parallel programming. My most ridiculous computer project was a mineral oil-cooled computer. We submerged an entire computer in a fish tank filled with mineral oil (it was actually a lot of baby oil, but they are basically the same thing).

DeepNote Guitar Hero Robot

DeepNote Guitar Hero Robot

Mineral Oil-Cooled Computer

Mineral Oil-Cooled Computer

NAN: You’re a recent Cornell University College of Engineering graduate. While you were there, you co-founded Cornell’s PopShop. Tell us about the workspace. Can you describe some PopShop projects?

Cornell University's PopShop

Cornell University’s PopShop

JEREMY: I recently received my Master’s degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Cornell University, where I previously received my BS in the same field. During my time at Cornell, my peers and I took it upon ourselves to completely retool the entrepreneurial climate at Cornell. The PopShop, a co-working space that we formed a few steps off Cornell’s main campus, was our primary means of doing this. We wanted to create a collaborative space where students could come to explore their own ideas, learn what other entrepreneurial students were working on, and get involved themselves.

The PopShop is open to all Cornell students. I frequently hosted events there designed to get more students inspired about pursuing their own ideas. Common occurrences included peer office hours, hack-a-thons, speed networking sessions, 3-D printing workshops, and guest talks from seasoned venture capitalists.

Student startups that work (or have worked) out of the PopShop co-working space include clothing companies, financing companies, hardware startups, and more. Some specific companies include Rosie, SPLAT, LibeTech (mine), SUNN (also mine), Bora Wear, Yorango, Party Headphones, and CoVenture.

NAN: Give us a little background information about Cornell University Sustainable Design (CUSD). Why did you start the group? What types of CUSD projects were you involved with?

CUSD11JEREMY: When I first arrived at Cornell my freshman year, I knew right away that I wanted to join a research lab, and that I wanted to join a project team (knowing that I learn best in hands-on environments instead of in the classroom). I joined the Cornell Solar Decathlon Team, a very large group of mostly engineers and architects who were building a solar-powered home to enter in the biannual solar decathlon competition orchestrated by the Department of Energy.

By the end of my freshman year, I was the youngest team leader in the organization.  After competing in the 2009 decathlon, I took over as chief director of the team and worked with my peers to re-form the organization into Cornell University Sustainable Design (CUSD), with the goal of building a more interdisciplinary team, with far-reaching impacts.

CUSD3

Under my leadership, CUSD built a passive schoolhouse in South Africa (which has received numerous international awards), constructed a sustainable community in Nicaragua, has been the only student group tasked with consulting on sustainable design constraints for Cornell’s new Tech Campus in New York City, partnered with nonprofits to build affordable homes in upstate New York, has taught workshops in museums and school, contributed to the design of new sustainable buildings on Cornell’s Ithaca campus, and led a cross-country bus tour to teach engineering and sustainability concepts at K–12 schools across America. The group is now comprised of students from more than 25 different majors with dozens of advisors and several simultaneous projects. The new team leaders are making it better every day. My current startup, SUNN, spun out of an EPA grant that CUSD won.

CUSD7NAN: You spent two years working at MakerBot Industries, where you designed electronics for a 3-D printer and a 3-D scanner. Any highlights from working on those projects?

JEREMY: I had a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow while at MakerBot. When I joined, I was one of about two dozen total employees. Though I switched back and forth between consulting and full-time/part-time roles while class was in session, by the time I stopped working with MakerBot (in January 2013), the company had grown to more than 200 people. It was very exciting to be a part of that.

I designed all of the electronics for the original MakerBot Replicator. This constituted a complete redesign from the previous electronics that had been used on the second generation MakerBot 3-D printer. The knowledge I gained from doing this (e.g., PCB design, part sourcing, DFM, etc.) drastically outweighed much of what I had learned in school up to that point. I can’t say much about the 3-D scanner (the MakerBot Digitizer), as it has been announced, but not released (yet).

The last project I worked on before leaving MakerBot was designing the first working prototype of the Digitizer electronics and firmware. These components comprised the demo that was unveiled at SXSW this past April. This was a great opportunity to apply lessons learned from working on the Replicator electronics and find ways in which my personal design process and testing techniques could be improved. I frequently use my MakerBot printers to produce custom mechanical enclosures that complement the open-source electronics projects I’ve released.

NAN: Tell us about your company, Blum Idea Labs. What types of projects are you working on?

JEREMY: Blum Idea Labs is the entity I use to brand all my content and consulting services. I primarily use it as an outlet to facilitate working with educational organizations. For example, the St. Louis Hacker Scouts, the African TAHMO Sensor Workshop, and several other international organizations use a “Blum Idea Labs Arduino curriculum.” Most of my open-source projects, including my tutorials, are licensed via Blum Idea Labs. You can find all of them on my blog (www.jeremyblum.com/blog). I occasionally offer private design consulting through Blum Idea Labs, though I obviously can’t discuss work I do for clients.

NAN: Tell us about the blog you write for element14.

JEREMY: I generally use my personal blog to write about projects that I’ve personally been working on.  However, when I want to talk about more general engineering topics (e.g., sustainability, engineering education, etc.), I post them on my element14 blog. I have a great working relationship with element14. It has sponsored the production of all my Arduino Tutorials and also provided complete parts kits for my book. We cross-promote each-other’s content in a mutually beneficial fashion that also ensures that the community gets better access to useful engineering content.

NAN: You recently wrote Exploring Arduino: Tools and Techniques for Engineering Wizardry. Do you consider this book introductory or is it written for the more experienced engineer?

JEREMY: As with all the video and written content that I produce on my website and on YouTube, I tried really hard to make this book useful and accessible to both engineering veterans and newbies. The book builds on itself and provides tons of optional excerpts that dive into greater technical detail for those who truly want to grasp the physics and programming concepts behind what I teach in the book. I’ve already had readers ranging from teenagers to senior citizens comment on the applicability of the book to their varying degrees of expertise. The Amazon reviews tell a similar story. I supplemented the book with a lot of free digital content including videos, part descriptions, and open-source code on the book website.

NAN: What can readers expect to learn from the book?

JEREMY: I wrote the book to serve as an engineering introduction and as an idea toolbox for those wanting to dive into concepts in electrical engineering, computer science, and human-computer interaction design. Though Exploring Arduino uses the Arduino as a platform to experiment with these concepts, readers can expect to come away from the book with new skills that can be applied to a variety of platforms, projects, and ideas. This is not a recipe book. The projects readers will undertake throughout the book are designed to teach important concepts in addition to traditional programming syntax and engineering theories.

NAN: I see you’ve spent some time introducing engineering concepts to children and teaching them about sustainable engineering and renewable energy. Tell us about those experiences. Any highlights?

JEREMY: The way I see it, there are two ways in which engineers can make the world a better place: they can design new products and technologies that solve global problems or they can teach others the skills they need to assist in the development of solutions to global problems. I try hard to do both, though the latter enables me to have a greater impact, because I am able to multiply my impact by the number of students I teach. I’ve taught workshops, written curriculums, produced videos, written books, and corresponded directly with thousands of students all around the world with the goal of transferring sufficient knowledge for these students to go out and make a difference.

Here are some highlights from my teaching work:

bluestamp

I taught BlueStamp Engineering, a summer program for high school students in NYC in the summer of 2012. I also guest-lectured at the program in 2011 and 2013.

I co-organized a cross-country bus tour where we taught sustainability concepts to school children across the country.

indiaI was invited to speak at Techkriti 2013 in Kanpur, India. I had the opportunity to meet many students from IIT Kanpur who already followed my videos and used my tutorials to build their own projects.

Blum Idea Labs partnered with the St. Louis Hacker Scouts to construct a curriculum for teaching electronics to the students. Though I wasn’t there in person, I did welcome them all to the program with a personalized video.

brooklyn_childrens_zoneThrough CUSD, I organized multiple visits to the Brooklyn Children’s Zone, where my team and I taught students about sustainable architecture and engineering.

Again with CUSD, we visited the Intrepid museum to teach sustainable energy concepts using potato batteries.

intrepid

NAN: Speaking of promoting engineering to children, what types of technologies do you think will be important in the near future?

JEREMY: I think technologies that make invention more widely accessible are going to be extremely important in the coming years. Cheaper tools, prototyping platforms such as the Arduino and the Raspberry Pi, 3-D printers, laser cutters, and open developer platforms (e.g., Android) are making it easier than ever for any person to become an inventor or an engineer.  Every year, I see younger and younger students learning to use these technologies, which makes me very optimistic about the things we’ll be able to do as a society.

The Transistor: Something for Every DIY-er

The Transistor is a UT-based hackerspace. Its members have a love for all things open source and DIY. They enjoy working with embedded electronics and have created their own version of Arduino.

Orem

Location 1187 S 1480 W Orem, UT 84058
Members 55

Salt Lake City

Location 440 S 700 E
Unit #102, Salt Lake City, UT 84102
Members 18

The Transistor Hackerspace

Founder Deven Fore tells us about The Transistor:

ROBBERT: Tell us about your meeting space!

DEVEN: We currently have two locations. One in Salt Lake City, UT and one in Orem, UT.

Our Salt Lake City location is about 1,000 sq ft in a nice office building. We have one main area and two smaller rooms.

Our Orem location is about 5,700 sq ft in a large warehouse that also has offices. We have sectioned off a wood shop, a metal shop, a clean CNC, an assembly area, a members desks area, a lounge, a server room, an electronics room, and a few other dedicated areas.

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

DEVEN: Too many things to list. All the general things you would expect, such as:

  • Soldering irons
  • Oscilloscopes
  • Analyzers
  • PCB work stations
  • Laser cutter
  • Vinyl cutter
  • Heat press
  • Chop saws
  • Mini lathe
  • Servers
  • Air tools
  • Cut-off saws
  • Mig welder
  • V90 FireBall router
  • A couple small miscellaneous CNC routers
  • 3-D printers
  • Networking gear

ROBBERT: Are there any tools your group really wants or needs?

DEVEN: We would love to have a large mill (CNC or manual) some day. Also, just all-around upgrades to current equipment.

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

DEVEN: All the time.

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

DEVEN: Currently we are working on miniature MAME cabinets. They are two player and will hold up to a 22″ LCD. We will release the CNC plans to the public as soon as we are done.

We’re working on a lot of miscellaneous projects: software, hardware, security, and so forth.

We’re also currently working on building some displays for The Living Planet Aquarium, in Sandy UT.

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

DEVEN: Nothing too crazy. We built a drink cooler a year or so ago for the Red Bull Challenge. We designed and build a few full-size four-player MAME cabinets (planned for release to the public on our website, and featured in J. Baichtal’s Hack This: 24 Incredible Hackerspace Projects from the DIY Movement (Que Publishing, 2011).

4-player MAME cabinet

4-player MAME cabinet

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

DEVEN: Lots of things are going on right now. Nothing specific, aside from working with the aquarium. We have a lot of public events/user groups that meet at our space. Our calender is on our website if you are interested in specifics.

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

DEVEN: Have fun, be productive, be safe.

Want to learn more about The Transistor? Check out their Facebook or MeetUp page!

Check out their calender to see what The Transistor is up to.

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 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!

ALTspace – Cubes, Shame and Art

ALTSpace is a Community Art Workshop in Seattle. Creative people of all kinds share this spacious workshop, teaching, experimenting, making and learning. Members can spend time bouncing ideas off one another, hold or attend classes, work away from home and have the space to get even large projects done.

Location 2318 E. Cherry Street, Seattle, WA
Members 37
Website airlighttimespace.org

ALTspace hackerspace, Seattle

Co-founder Mike tells us about his space:
Tell us about your meeting space!

We have a total of about 2800 sq ft. We have two garage spaces for industrial machines, loud and dirty operations. (about 700 sq ft total) The rest of the space is for personal workspaces and public areas for working, meeting, hanging out. We have 2 showers, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, a laundry room and an outdoor patio.

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

Full list of ALTspace’s tools & equipment.

Are there any tools your group really wants or needs?

A laser cutter would be our next purchase.

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

Yes, we do quite a bit of electronics. One of our more well known projects, the Groovik’s Cube (A 30ft playable Rubik’s Cube) is an arduino driven project.

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

Groovik’s Cube:

ALTspace's Groovik's CubeWe first built the cube as an art project for Burning Man 2009 and we’ve since been working hard to try and bring this project to the general public. We’ve been collaborating with the Science Center since summer ’10 and we’ve been doing a number of refurbishments including a brand new light-weight aluminum structure to create a neater look suitable for an indoor museum environment.

Groovik’s cube is a fully playable, LED driven Rubik’s cube, hung from the ceiling, corner down. (the motion is of course simulated, not mechanical, i.e. the colors move around, not the structure itself). It can be played and solved by the visitors. A particularly interesting feature is that we have split the controls into 3 stations placed around the cube, each allowing only one axis of rotation. This means 3 people have to collaborate together to solve it. The stations are ~30-50 ft apart from each other. This makes the puzzle considerably harder with a current record solution time of 50 minutes (achieved on Friday night @ Burning Man 09). It also turns a very introverted game into a collaborative challenge which is fun to watch. Imagine people shouting instructions to each other and running around checking on the state of the cube from different angles.

Temple of Shame:

ALTspace's Temple of Shame

by Alissa Mortenson, Nebunele Theatre, The Temple of Shame was a 6ft wide, 18ft tall wooden Temple dedicated to the collection of shame from the participants of Black Rock City. The temple was ceremonially burned on the last night of the festival to symbolically release all the shame collected.

From shameproject.org: “The experience of shame is part of our shared humanity, yet paradoxically, the times when we are ashamed are the times when we feel most alone. But within shame lies a capacity for human connection. The Shame Bearers seek to explore this emotion as a powerful medium for reaching a state of shared vulnerability. In order to make connection –the core human desire– we must believe that we are enough, that we are worthy of love and acceptance. In our vulnerability and our recognition of our mutual imperfections, we can find worthiness and connection. That is the power of this project.”

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

Groovik’s cube for sure.

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

Indeed: http://lsc.org/grooviks. We’re trying to raise funding for a new Groovik’s cube that will travel the World for 7 years together with Liberty Science Center and Erno Rubik!

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

Hack more! Not satified with availability of hackerspaces near you ? Start one! It’s easier than you think and people come out of the woodwork to come and help and donate time and tools.

ALTspace’s tools & equipment:

Metal:

  • 2HP Metal Mill & Lathe
  • Lincoln 220 MIG Welder (up to 1/4″ steel)
  • TIG 200Amp DC/AC (i.e. Steel, Aluminum & other non-ferrous)
  • Plasma Torch (Up to 1″ steel or aluminum)
  • Stick Welder
  • Metal Grinding wheels, belt sanders
  • 4×6 Metal Bandsaw
  • Deburring wheel and 2 buffers
  • Wire bender
  • Abrasive metal chop saw

Machine Shop (Wood):

  • 3/4HP Table saw
  • Router table & Hand Router
  • Various Sanders (Orbital & Belt)
  • Miter Chop saw

Other Machine Shop amenities:

  • 90 PSI Compressor
  • 3/4HP 1/2″ Shank Drill press
  • Hand drills, Sander
  • 110V/230V Power (50A)

Glass:

  • Glass fusing/slumping/casting kiln, up to 1600 deg F

Jewelery setup:

  • Small Propane/Oxygen torch for soldering/annealing
  • Flexshaft Rotary grinder
  • Rolling Mill
  • Disc Die Cutter & Hemisphere punch

Electronics benches:

  • Maker bot
  • Soldering station with fume extractor and static pad
  • Multimeter
  • 100 Mhz Oscilloscope (Techronix)
  • Basic tools (snippers, strippers, screwdrivers, etc)
  • Variable voltage / current power supply
  • Stock of common components
  • Anti-static worktop

Sewing Area:

  • Pfaff industrial sewing machine
  • Janome domestic sewing machine
  • Hoseki HK757G is a 5-thread industrial serger
  • White domestic 4-thread serger
  • irons, cork-topped layout table, digitizing table, pattern plotter
  • Janome Computerized domestic sewing machine
  • Rowenta domestic iron
  • Sleeve board
  • Tailor’s ham
  • Pattern Drafting Rulers and curves
  • Costuming books

Read more about ALTspace’s Groovik’s Cube project on indiegogo or on Mike’s website, or about The Shame Project on shameproject.org!

You can read about more of ALTspace’s projects on their art 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!

Prevent Embedded Design Errors (CC 25th Anniversary Preview)

Attention, electrical engineers and programmers! Our upcoming 25th Anniversary Issue (available in early 2013) isn’t solely a look back at the history of this publication. Sure, we cover a bit of history. But the issue also features design tips, projects, interviews, and essays on topics ranging from user interface (UI) tips for designers to the future of small RAM devices, FPGAs, and 8-bit chips.

Circuit Cellar’s 25th Anniversary issue … coming in early 2013

Circuit Cellar columnist Robert Lacoste is one of the engineers whose essay will focus on present-day design tips. He explains that electrical engineering projects such as mixed-signal designs can be tedious, tricky, and exhausting. In his essay, Lacoste details 25 errors that once made will surely complicate (at best) or ruin (at worst) an embedded design project. Below are some examples and tips.

Thinking about bringing an electronics design to market? Lacoste highlights a common error many designers make.

Error 3: Not Anticipating Regulatory Constraints

Another common error is forgetting to plan for regulatory requirements from day one. Unless you’re working on a prototype that won’t ever leave your lab, there is a high probability that you will need to comply with some regulations. FCC and CE are the most common, but you’ll also find local regulations as well as product-class requirements for a broad range of products, from toys to safety devices to motor-based machines. (Refer to my article, “CE Marking in a Nutshell,” in Circuit Cellar 257 for more information.)

Let’s say you design a wireless gizmo with the U.S. market and later find that your customers want to use it in Europe. This means you lose years of work, as well as profits, because you overlooked your customers’ needs and the regulations in place in different locals.

When designing a wireless gizmo that will be used outside the U.S., having adequate information from the start will help you make good decisions. An example would be selecting a worldwide-enabled band like the ubiquitous 2.4 GHz. Similarly, don’t forget that EMC/ESD regulations require that nearly all inputs and outputs should be protected against surge transients. If you forget this, your beautiful, expensive prototype may not survive its first day at the test lab.

Watch out for errors

Here’s another common error that could derail a project. Lacoste writes:

Error 10: You Order Only One Set of Parts Before PCB Design

I love this one because I’ve done it plenty of times even though I knew the risk.

Let’s say you design your schematic, route your PCB, manufacture or order the PCB, and then order the parts to populate it. But soon thereafter you discover one of the following situations: You find that some of the required parts aren’t available. (Perhaps no distributor has them. Or maybe they’re available but you must make a minimum order of 10,000 parts and wait six months.) You learn the parts are tagged as obsolete by its manufacturer, which may not be known in advance especially if you are a small customer.

If you are serious about efficiency, you won’t have this problem because you’ll order the required parts for your prototypes in advance. But even then you might have the same issue when you need to order components for the first production batch. This one is tricky to solve, but only two solutions work. Either use only very common parts that are widely available from several sources or early on buy enough parts for a couple of years of production. Unfortunately, the latter is the only reasonable option for certain components like LCDs.

Ok, how about one more? You’ll have to check out the Anniversary Issue for the list of the other 22 errors and tips. Lacoste writes:

Error 12: You Forget About Crosstalk Between Digital and Analog Signals

Full analog designs are rare, so you have probably some noisy digital signals around your sensor input or other low-noise analog lines. Of course, you know that you must separate them as much as possible, but you can be sure that you will forget it more than once.

Let’s consider a real-world example. Some years ago, my company designed a high-tech Hi-Fi audio device. It included an on-board I2C bus linking a remote user interface. Do you know what happened? Of course, we got some audible glitches on the loudspeaker every time there was an I2C transfer. We redesigned the PCB—moving tracks and adding plenty of grounded copper pour and vias between sensitive lines and the problem was resolved. Of course we lost some weeks in between. We knew the risk, but underestimated it because nothing is as sensitive as a pair of ears. Check twice and always put guard-grounded planes between sensitive tracks and noisy ones.

Circuit Cellar’s Circuit Cellar 25th Anniversary Issue will be available in early 2013. Stay tuned for more updates on the issue’s content.