posts tagged with the keyword ‘hardware’

2017.03.02

3D Part

I love it when a plan comes together! I also love it when you design things and then create them and they work. I like when you can design things to work with the hardware you have, or design things for specific hardware, and then order that hardware and it fits perfectly because you planned for it, and designed for it.

Spinny!

So often when building (without planning and designing) you end up grabbing whatever hardware is around and use it, and you might also grab whatever sheet material is around and use it, and you hope that the length of the hardware and the depth of the material work together, or maybe you make some deep countersink holes or make other weird decisions… When I can 3D print a part I get to choose the depth of the material, the size of the holes, etc. It’s wonderful.

Bolts!

But yeah, I really like when I can plan ahead of time for the hardware I need and then get that hardware. Also, I think I love Bolt Depot now. Prices seem good, shipping seems reasonable, and their web site is easy to use. And they package your hardware in little bags that are properly labeled and nice and clean. It’s sort of beautiful.

Spinnerator!

Oh yeah, I’ve also made good progress on my spinny button pressing thingy. And thanks to Bolt Depot I now know that I had some #8-36 bolts mixed in with my #8-32 bolts. And what!? I didn’t even know I had #8-36 bolts! Weird… Anyway, I look forward to a great hardware future.

2012.04.07

Beam me up!

Beam systems make construction of thing easy, or precise, or both. I keep seeing more of these systems, so I figured I’d write-up the ones I’ve seen.

MakerBeam
Back in 2009 MakerBeam, a Mini-T open-source building system, showed up (on Kickstarter) and while makerbeam.com is empty, makerbeam.eu has lots of good stuff. You can also get them from our pals at SparkFun. There’s some bits and pieces on Thingiverse as well. (And, MakerBeam is open source hardware.)

MakerSlide
Bart from buildlog.net launched MakerSlide, which is an “Open Source Linear Bearing System” geared towards DIY CNC machines like laser cutters, CNC routers, and (now) 3D printers. MakerSlide launched as a Kickstarter project, and did quite well. It seemed to be continually out-of-stock, but Inventibles is now kicking in to fill the gap. There’s a whole system of parts that go with MakerSlide, and from what I can tell it’s a pretty solid system.

OpenBeam
There’s a new one, called OpenBeam, which is running on Kickstarter as of my writing this. It’s an open source miniature construction system. (See a trend here?) OpenBeam seems to cite that the fasteners and connecting plates used by other systems are what causes things to get costly. Their solution is to use standard sizes and common hardware to make the whole system easier and cheaper to work with. There doesn’t seem to be a web site yet, but you can check out the developers blog.

Bitbeam
A bit different is how I’d describe Bitbeam. Instead of extruded aluminum like the other systems, it’s typically made of wood, and describe as just “holes in poles.” :) In fact, Bitbeam is based on another system, Grid Beam. And hey, both are open source! Bitbeam is Lego Technic compatible, and you can make your own with a (powerful) laser cutter. Bitbeam is also on Thingiverse. Sweet!

Grid Beam
As previously mentioned, Grid Beam is sort of the older big-brother of Bitbeam. While Bitbeam is for smaller things, Grid Beam is for larger things. You can actually build things like vehicles and furniture with Grid Beams. It also appears to be the oldest of these beam systems, dating back to 2008. Check out more at gridbeamnation.com

Are there any other beam building systems I’ve missed?

2011.05.23

Open Source

Open source software has been around for a long time, and I’ve been following it’s evolution for the past 10 years or so, and in that time I’ve seen it grow from a small idea known only to those in the software world, to something much larger, where everyday people like Aunt Tillie use open source software and think nothing of it.

In the past year since I’ve started working more with hardware, and following the great work of the Arduino team, Adafruit Industries, and others, I’ve seen the rise of open source hardware. Take a look at the Open Source Hardware (OSHW) Statement of Principles and Definition v1.0 and the Open Hardware Summit site for more info.

There’s a great comment by Chris Anderson, highlighted in this blog post at Adafruit. Here’s just a small excerpt:

This is the classic open source hardware model. Software, which costs nothing to distribute, is free. Hardware, which is expensive to make, is priced at the minimum necessary to ensure the healthy growth of a sustainable business to ensure quality, support and availability of the products. All intellectual property is given away, so the community can use it, improve it, make their own variants, etc.

Go there now and read the whole thing.

This got me thinking that eventually open source hardware could be more successful than open source software. If you remember the old concerns about open source software by the business folks, there was always the question of how you would make money from it. You can sell “Premium Editions” or make money by charging for support, you can hire yourselves out as consultants, and offer customized software solutions for customers… The ideas were plenty. Some worked, some didn’t. There were varying degrees of success.

I see open source hardware as pushing beyond that, taking the existing model and improving upon it. The software? Free. Open. Get it rolling, get the community involved, give it away to everyone. You should expect to make no money with software. Sure, it costs money to create software, but it’s a digital good, and making one copy or 1,000 copies has almost the exact same cost.

Hardware, on the other hand, is a physical good. It’s an object, a collection of parts, or things, not just bits of ones and zeros. Hardware costs money because someone, somewhere, assembled some real world thingamabob.

I don’t want to make it sound like hardware is better than software. They’re both equally important. They both need people to design them, create them, market them, and support them. The main difference is that creating 1,000 Arduino-compatible microcontrollers is going to cost more that creating 1,000 copies of the Arduino software. That’s just the reality of digital goods. Once you have one copy, making a lot more is cheap and easy. (And the shipping costs on digital goods are pretty close to zero. I say “pretty close” because there are server costs, bandwidth considerations, and other issues, but you’re not buying boxes, and packaging materials, and paying shipping companies to move goods.

As for the clones, well, that’s just a part of open source hardware, much the same way that an open source software package has forks of the original. Again, the difference is in the support, but support goes both ways. Since open source hardware vendors typically publish everything you need to make their products, you could certainly not buy from them and either build it yourself, or find a company that makes it cheaper. Cheaper is fine. I’m a fan of cheaper, but I’m also someone who believes in supporting those that create things and add value. If it all comes down to nothing but money, we’re pretty much doomed.

(Next time I’ll talk about specific pieces of open source hardware. See you then!)

2011.04.14


Photos from Adafruit Industries.

I remember seeing the Teensy when I was digging into Arduino stuff last year, and it looked interesting, mainly due to it being small and cheap. (I like cheap!) But since I’m a lot more interested in what the Arduino has to offer, I didn’t look into the Teensy very much.

The Teensy is interesting though because out of the box it functions as a USB HID device, which means it can very easily emulate a keyboard or mouse. (See this Awesome Button post for a neat example.)

If you didn’t know, I’m a big fan of Adafruit Industries, not just for their amazing customer service and great products, but for their support of the open source movement, especially the work they’ve done with open source hardware. Adafruit actually sells the Teensy, but they also came out with a product called the “Atmega32u4 Breakout Board+” (terrible name, eh?) which is like a Teensy, but not like a Teensy.

Here’s where it gets weird… or interesting… or both…

By all respects, the Teensy is pretty cool, as I said, it’s small, and cheap, and can emulate a USB HID, and if your project needs that, it’s a good fit. See the Teensy page for more info.

Now, the “Atmega32u4 Breakout Board+” (terrible name) by Adafruit is similar but different. You can check out the Atmega32u4 Breakout Board+ page for more info.

Ultimately, I think I’d prefer to use the Atmega32u4 Breakout Board+ from Adafruit, and for a good explanation, see this Adafruit blog post about the Teensy, and for extra credit, see A Brief Essay About the Benefits of Open-Source Hardware.

It’s a shame the Teensy is not open source hardware, as I’d prefer to support vendors of open source hardware.

So I’ve got a project planned, and it will use a Teensy. So why not use a Atmega32u4 Breakout Board+? The first reason is, I don’t think I’m ready for it. In reading through the Atmega32u4 Breakout Board+ docs and digging through the forums a bit, it looks like Atmega32u4 Breakout Board+ development is not exactly easy for a beginner. I’d like to get into it at some point, but right now, the Teensy seems like an easier path to completing my project, and maybe once it’s done I can look into working with the Atmega32u4 Breakout Board+.

I know this may seem like a small thing, but I’d really like to support open source hardware when I can, the same way I try to support open source software when I can. It’s always a struggle.

2010.10.21

I think I first heard the phrase “The network is the computer” in the late 1990s. It was Sun Microsystems who wanted to convince us of this. I worked at a creative agency at the time, where we had pretty powerful Macs on every desk. We thought, sure, a dumb terminal or “network computer” was fine for office drones doing their menial tasks, but creatives needed more power than that… we needed to connect scanners, and color calibration devices, and weird disk drives, and work on ginormous Photoshop files, and things that required more than the VAX terminals we also used at the time.

Fast forward 15 years and what Apple has effectively given us is… a computer that looks like it’s nearly useless without a network. Hello MacBook Air. Don’t get me wrong… it’s a well designed piece of computer. The fact that it weight almost the same as an Eee PC I bought 3 years ago is not lost on me… nor is the fact that the user experience is probably 10 times better. But I still worry about where we are headed…

The MacBook Air has it’s place. But I just can’t help but feel like while hacker/maker culture is moving in one direction, Apple sometimes seems to be moving in the other… creating these sealed boxes that are definitely easy to use, but harder to open. Steve Wozniak must be turning in his grave. The Apple ][ was like the ultimate hacking machine when it came out… and now you can’t even connect a FireWire video camera to the MacBook Air.

In all this I hope Apple doesn’t forget it’s core creative audience. The ones who need Mac Pros, and need to install dedicated cards, and more drives, and tons of memory… The content creators. While the iLife suite gets these great improvements, many of us worry that the Pro Apps are being neglected. Does Apple take us for granted? Knowing that we’ll upgrade Final Cut Studio no matter what?

In the old days you could actually upgrade your computer instead of just getting rid of it and getting a new one. (You could even upgrade the processor!) I’ve been a fan/customer of Other World Computing for many years, and upon reading their write-up of Apple’s “Back to the Mac” event, it saddened me a bit:

Apple seems to be making things easier and more intuitive as well, but seems to be more enabling rather than empowering lately. We want to email our photos, Apple makes it drag and drop easy to put together one of four pre-made collages from our photos and pick an address to send them to. We ask for better tools to make videos, they hand us pre-built effects rather than tools to adjust them ourselves. We want to share our photos with our friends on Facebook, Apple automates and organizes it all for us. Are we as consumers going to gradually lose our ability to do traditional computing (using and upgrading) for ourselves as we conform our computing lifestyles to Apple’s one size fits all templates … and, as a result, is 1984 coming full circle?

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