Arduino-Controlled Pneumatic Servo

Kinetic sculptor David Bynoe of Calgary, AB, sent in this project he’s working on. Looks pretty slick!

For an upcoming project I needed a pneumatic ram with a closed loop control system so I could position it accurately. Didn’t have the budget for an off the shelf solution, so I bodged one together with an ardunio, a couple air solenoid valves, and a pair of potentiometers.

How it works is one potentiometer is the target while the other is mounted to the ram. The arduino code compares the two, figures out the direction that the ram needs to move to match them up, it then cycles the solenoid valves on and off accordingly. Once the values match, it turns both valves on, more or less locking the ram in place. The target pot can also be replaced with any analog input.

Fritzing diagrams and code on David’s website. Also be sure to check out his Blockwatch periscope that we blogged back in ’07.


Kinect Gesture-Controlled RC Helicopter

Forbes blogger TJ McCue sent us a link to this awesome Kinect project with gesture-controls an S107 RC Helicopter. The builder, cdoughty29 on YouTube, writes:

The Kinect detects my hands, head, and hips. This information is translated into X, Y, Z coordinates, processed with some 7th grade Algebra, and then sent to the Arduino Uno over the serial port. The Arduino receives the signal and converts it to a 38 kHz Infrared signal that the S107 can understand.

Nifty. Thanks, TJ!


Open Music Labs on the ATmega328p ADC

Here’s an amazing article from Open Music Labs which provides an in-depth explanation of the inner workings of the ATmega328p ADC, and how to squeeze every last bit of performance out of it.  These guys really know microcontrollers inside and out, and it’s great to see electronics tutorials that get so close to the metal.


Tool Review: DeWalt Tough Tool Box


Despite its modest appearance, DeWalt’s ToughSystem tool case is more aptly described as a portable “tool bunker” than a mere tool box. An impenetrable tool bunker, one that’s impervious to earthly destructive forces. Okay, so maybe it is just a toolbox and I’m getting a little carried away, but the Tough System tool cases are still among the most rugged I have ever seen.

This review will focus on the large case, shown above, which can hold an ample assortment of hand tools, power tools, and supplies within its 21″ L x 13″ W x 12″ H walls. If you’re interested in a smaller form-factor, be sure to check out my separate review of DeWalt’s small ToughSystem case on my website. A taller and slightly wider extra large case is also available.

To start off, these tool cases are built with 4mm-thick structural foam walls, making them far more durable and sturdier than ordinary plastic tool boxes. They are designed to endure rough construction environments and job sites, so they pretty much have to be tough. In an attempt to see just how tough this toolbox is, I threw everything I had at it, literally in some cases. A framing hammer left a small mark, a dumbbell bounced right off, and I swear that the box chortled as I introduced it to my 3 lb drilling hammer. This was a real eye-opener – I’m going to need a sledge hammer.

I am not a contractor, tradesman, or professional tool user, but I sometimes travel with tools and delicate equipment. Toolbox durability and strength is important to me, and I also highly value ergonomics and user-friendly features. Fully loaded (as you’ll see down the page), these boxes can get quite heavy.

This particular size is rated for 88 lbs, and I’ve loaded it to at least 60-65lbs comfortably. I can’t handle this weight without breaking a sweat, but the tool box sure can.

The large cases have a comfortable handle on top, and also spring-action handles at both ends. The side-handles may not be quite as comfortable to grip as the top handle, but they’re still greatly appreciated when lugging around a fully-loaded box.

The cases are designed to stack neatly and securely atop each other, and can be physically coupled together using yellow latches built into opposite sides of the lid. Connecting multiple boxes together is optional, and so I typically opt to stack a few cases with the yellow latches folded in and unused.

What good is a tough toolbox without strong latches? Each case sports two oversized metal latches which seem to be weather/rust resistant. If I had to grade the tool boxes, this is where I would take off a few points. The latches are wonderfully designed for jobsite use, and can be easily toggled with gloved hands, but closing them is not exactly effortless and requires a little leverage. Maybe I just need to strengthen my grip.

Speaking of weather-resistance, check out that water seal! The case is rated to IP65 standards, meaning that it is completely dust-proof and can withstand water jets. A relief valve is built into the lid in case a pressure differential makes the lid difficult to open.

I can definitely see myself using these cases to transport non-tool-related equipment in the future, and they might even make great weather-proof outdoor project enclosures.

Photographing an empty case proved to be problematic, so here’s what they look like fully loaded. Here you can also see the decent tool trays that are included with each large case.

In terms of power tools, these cases can hold drills, impact drivers, jig saws, reciprocating saws, and other like-sized tools without issue. Circular saws may be a bit too bulky to fit, but can be easily accommodated by the extra-large cases.

The tool case is lockable via two padlock holes, as shown in the first photo, but there’s also a rear-mounted metal bracket that locks the case to DeWalt’s cart carrier.


What would make this toolbox even better? An optional “pick-n-pluck foam” drop-in insert would definitely increase its versatility. DeWalt’s large Tough System case is a great all-around tool box. It’s very well-built, comfortably sized, and at about $60 it’s a bargain for what it offers.

Stuart Deutsch is a tool enthusiast, critic, and collector, and writes his passion at ToolGuyd.


Cycle: Mechanized Virtual Bike Ride

Eric Hagan of ITP demonstrates “Cycle”, a stationary bike that’s mechanically connected to a giant wheel with scenery sculpted upon it’s circumference.

A camera gives a close-up view of the wheel’s surface and broadcasts to a monitor in front of the user, simulating a bike ride through a forest. As the user speeds up, so does the passing scenery, and gradually comes to a stop as he/she stops pedaling.


PCB Sprayer Machine Helps You Etch Your Own

MIT student Christian Reed built this PCB Sprayer top etch his own boards:

Plenty of people have published and built CNC machines. Even some 3D printers have started to pop up. Countless tools and devices for creating projects have been published on Instructables and across the internet. All of these devices use circuit boards and most can be created using a PCB. However, gone are the days where one needs a messy tray and needs to spend almost a half hour making them. The PCB Sprayer produces them in less than 2 minutes, can produce multiple PCBs at a time, continuously produce them, and then clean them afterwards. It is like a little factory in your workshop. This machine is a great addition to any maker’s shop and is an absolute blast to build. You can produce PCBs on demand with ease and not have to spend thousands on an industrial machine. Where else can you improve your wood, plastic, electrical, plumbing and sketching skills?

[thanks, John!]


Soapbox: The {Unspoken} Rules of Open Source Hardware

I truly believe open source hardware is here to stay, It has established itself as a great community, a great effort, and for many, a great business. I spend most of my days working on open source hardware in some way, and I wanted to talk about some of the {unspoken} rules we all, well, many, seem to follow. Why? Because the core group of people who’ve been doing what we’ve collectively called “open source hardware” know each other — we’re friends, we overlap and compete in some ways, but we all work towards a common goal: sharing our work to make the world a better place and to stand on each others shoulders and not each others toes : ) I’m sure there will be some folks who agree strongly with what I’ve outlined as “unspoken rules,” others, I hope will completely disagree with many points too. That’s great, it’s time we start this conversation.

OK, let’s go!

We pay each other royalties, even though we don’t need to.

As odd as it sounds, we pay each other. I can be really specific. I introduced Mitch Altman, inventor of the TV-B-Gone, to Limor Fried. I wanted to convince him to work with her on an open source hardware kit version. That was almost five years ago and it’s worked out great. Mitch travels the world doing workshops while MAKE, Adafruit, and many others sell his kit, and he gets paid a royalty that he came up with that makes sense. Behind the scenes, most/all open source hardware designers pay a royalty to each other when they make and design together. Do they need to? Technically no, but we all do. When kit makers talk to me about how we can work together, I tell them this story and encourage them to ask Mitch what it’s like working with Limor, getting royalties, and how it all works. If you look at many of the product pages on Sparkfun, they do this too. Actions speak the loudest for this unspoken rule : )

We credit each other, a lot.

What does the open source maker usually want? Just to be credited properly. This usually isn’t an issue since the community generally looks out for each other, but there are examples that pop up from time to time of it just being unclear who made what. It’s not malice, it usually just forgetfulness. There are a lot of giant companies taking open source ideas and making them commercial products (that’s always going to happen), but the open source hardware community is a community. We credit each other. Even if you don’t like someone, it’s easy and actually fun to credit each other. “Hey, I used this code/hardware, improved it, here it is and here’s who originally made it.” When we get general ideas, we usually say things like “This was inspired by.” Giant companies don’t or can’t do this, but the open source hardware world can. A big example is how you’d never see Samsung say they were “inspired” by anything Apple does, but it’s pretty clear they were. In open source, you’ll see makers gladly say where they first saw an idea.

Naming: be different. It’s better to be unique.

In general, we try to avoid naming our projects in a confusing way. Trademarks are one of the few ways we can “intellectually protect” hardware (schematics are not copyrightable) so we focus on branding things and building a product that people know comes from a specific company or person. Here’s an example: I think there was a period where many people and companies made Arduino-like boards and stuck “-uino” at the end or even just called it Arduino, but I see that as ending soon, or at least we won’t see it as much. The “Boarduino” for example was ok’ed by the Arduino team. This was before a million *uinos came out later. More and more makers are creating new and unique Arduino-compatibles and calling them something completely non-”uino” named. We’ll say things like Arduino-compatible, but we won’t call them Arduino. Arduino, the name, belongs to the Arduino team. From their USB vendor ID to the name and logo on the board, it’s theirs. If you’re trying to fool people by using someone else’s name, stop it. There are some examples of this well-known actual rule (trademark law) and unspoken rule getting broken. I think that will go away over time as companies and people see there’s more value in creating your own name for your own products. I’ll have a bigger article about trademarks and USB vendor IDs in the future, but this is a start.

We actually do open source hardware.

This is an easy one. If you’re calling it open source hardware, release the files: schematic, source, BOM, and code. All under an open license. Don’t hide it. Don’t say you need to sign an NDA and attempt to obfuscate. Don’t be difficult. If you’re trying to be tricky, just don’t do open source hardware. A new thing I’ve seen, and I don’t think meets the spirit of openness: don’t use open source hardware or software as a “prize” if your Kickstarter gets funded. It doesn’t work like that. Open source hardware isn’t a marketing term — it means something specific. We’re doing open source hardware because we want to, not because we want to trick people. The only issue that usually comes up for us is time, as we managing hundreds of projects all the time, so not every file is updated instantly. I know for a fact that I haven’t had time to instantly upload every single Eagle file for breakout boards to GitHub. Those are not complex so no one cares, but I care, so I’m going to try my best to make sure they’re all up. I’m moving everything to GitHub to make this easier on me (and everyone).

Basing your project/product off open source? Open source it.

This is another one we all generally follow. Let’s say you make something based on an Arduino, which is under an open license — yeah, you need to do the same. Once in awhile I’ll see an Arduino clone that someone has made and they’ve put under a non-commercial license. When I ask why, it’s usually something like, “Well, I don’t want to be cloned — like the Arduino is all the time.” Sometimes the maker changes the license after the project makes the rounds to an open one. It’s my opinion that if you do an Arduino shield it should be open source hardware too. However, I don’t think everyone agrees with this point.

Code and designs: add value.

It’s not valuable for the community to fork code and just change a name or something and call it your own. You need to add more value than a logo or naming change. Many open source hardware companies have really expensive teams making and sharing open source code and hardware. Just changing a couple of things so you can ship your own thing is really frowned upon. It happens, but it’s pretty rare. However, this is one of the unspoken rules that will likely need to be talked about openly. It’s one thing to copy and improve, it’s another to just copy and sell. I’m a big fan of copy, improve, and republish, but it’s rarely done because it’s hard work. When people fork just so they can change one comment or make it sound like they are the original authors, and they don’t add any value, it’s a support burden for the original makers too. Non-customers are confused — things aren’t synced up. It can be a mess.

For open source hardware to work, we all need to support the original authors when we can and we all need to talk about the rules of copying and republishing changes. We want to avoid people or companies building their products/projects off the open source software/hardware communities and then closing it off. Sharing needs to go both ways, always.

Cloning ain’t cool.

I’m going to continue to use Arduino as an example since it’s the poster child of open source hardware. If your goal is just to make Arduino clones and not add code or hardware improvements, please go do something else instead. I see a few companies just make straight-up clones, make confusing names, and think it’s socially acceptable. It’s not. The beginners get confused as to what’s a real Arduino with the quality, service, and support, and most of the time the clones are crappy. I have a box of “Arduino killers” from all over the world. They’re not adding value in any way — it’s just someone being selfish. I get a dozen emails a week from parents or kids who bought a fake Arduino, and they’re upset it doesn’t work and that the eBay seller or fly-by-night store won’t help them. Most of all, get cloned enough and any reasonable person might just stop doing open software and hardware due to the support burden.

Support your customers.

If you’re doing open source hardware because you want to make an “Arduino clone” thinking you can just pass the hard work of customer support over to the community, that’s not fair to anyone. Spend the time and resources to create tutorials, forums, and support your customers. I’m using Arduino again as an example since I see customers purchasing “cloned” Arduinos but expecting support from the Arduino support team because it says Arduino. Open source is a way to make things better, not to just outsource support to someone else. Join in, support your customers, and they’ll reward you!

Build your business around open source hardware.

If you’re going to require that someone does open source for your newly venture-funded online open source hardware social network or whatever, you gotta do some open source yourself. If you’re celebrating open source and attempting to make money around it, you gotta put value back in too. I’ll give you a good example: let’s say you want to make the “Dropbox” of open source hardware. Cool! However, if part of your product design is requiring customers to have all their files under an open source hardware license, you need to do that too and open up your own stuff. Otherwise, what’s the point? Obviously there’s marketing value in the word “open,” and for small startups we’ve seen that many want to take advantage of that. Want your new company to be part of the open ecosystem? It’s worth something, so you need to do the same. I’m not saying you need to give it ALL away, but you need to do something to show you value open source enough to do it yourself.

Respect the designer’s wishes.

We can email each other and talk when needed. Sometimes the maker of an open source hardware project might have a request if you’re going to clone their hardware; for example, “Hey, don’t use this to kill puppies, OK?” Now, while open source really doesn’t stop anyone from making an puppy grinder from your open source CNC, I think it’s totally fair for the designer to ask you not to do that if you start to go down that path. There’s been a few times I’ve seen open source hardware projects get hijacked a little, and the author was concerned about its direction. A simple polite request actually works: “Hey, I know you can do anything with my stuff, but I just don’t want to see a puppy grinder.” This is a tricky one because the hardcore licensing people hate to hear this. They think it means the license was weak or something — it’s not, it’s a strength that we’re a community who can talk to each other when needed. And 100 years from now, anyone reading this today will likely be departed, so I think it’s important that we try as a community to respect the designer who gave their work to the world. It’s also helpful for the designer to include a bit of text in a Readme for the license or on a project page that lists some ideal uses. Of course it won’t always be followed, but at least there’s some framework and intentions spelled out. Despite what we all think, we are humans that get emotional about our works, it’s not a weakness, this too is a strength.

When we finally get an open source hardware foundation, we’ll all support it.

Eventually there will be an effort led by great people to make a foundation that may talk about many of the things I just went over. They’ll be there to serve us, the community! I’m not the right person to be on a foundation (in case you’re wondering, I want to actually run an open source hardware company). Also, I probably have too many opinions to be effective at this point.

We can all do a couple of things well with the time we have, but a foundation for something as important as open source hardware would be too much for me to take on. But here’s what I can do: I’ll financially support a foundation, and I’m sure many/all/most of the open source hardware companies will too. I make a living from open source hardware, so when a foundation comes along I’ll give them money. I’ll encourage others to do the same. I’ve donated to the Open Hardware Summit, so this is an easy one. Right now, I think I can get the people I work with at Adafruit to donate about $400 per employee x 25 people — that works out to $10,000 from my day job. This is something that’s important, so I’m going to try to make it happen. I’m hoping other companies can do this on an employee basis too, since that’s a really fair way for companies of all sizes to help — from the individual making 25 kits in their kitchen to the 100-person factory floor.

Those are the biggies, and I’m hoping there will be a lively discussion about all of this. I should also say these are just my opinions. I don’t speak for the open source hardware movement — that would be impossible. When I say “we,” I mean it as what I think is the general stuff the open source hardware community tends to do. I’ve also talked with many open source hardware makers over the years and for this specific article. I’m sure many of us have accidentally broken some of these unspoken rules before, and hopefully we fixed it quickly : ) I also realize when I write stuff like this I’ll be held to some tough scrutiny. We’ll see if these types of articles are helpful. Not everything I work on will be open source, but if it says open source I’ll always work hard to make sure it fits the technical and social norms we all expect. OK, post away in the comments!


Interns Corner: Meet Our Newest Intern

A warm welcome to Ben, Make: Labs’ newest recruit!  Although still a senior in high school, Ben has plenty of experience in making, and has lost no time in acquainting himself with the plethora of tools in our Lab. A favorite of his is the laser cutter, which he used to make his Big Button (shown below).  He is also enrolled in the new Project: Make class, and made his favorite project to date, the circuit bending keytar, as an assignment.  According to Ben, the class is “a great opportunity to learn more about the maker’s spirit.”  He has certainly brought that spirit to the Labs with him!

"What could be cooler than a laser that cuts anything I put in its path?" Not much!

“I saw Stevie Wonder live,” reminisces Ben, “and his keytar solos caught my attention. When I saw the prices online, however, I was a little shocked. Then I realized: I could make one for myself!”

[Photos by Gregory Hayes]


Tinplate Kinetic Valentine

Becky shared the goodness that is Tinplate Girl’s collection of free online instructional videos and downloadable project patterns back in October. This simple kinetic sculpture called “Be Mine” is actually the work of her father, Marc. Tinplate Girl, whose name is Adriane, writes:

He made the hinges himself. Even though the design was pretty solid, there was still a lot of fitting and adjusting at the end to get everything to work properly. The red hearts came from a big tin that held a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red (hence the color). “Be Mine” was just scratched through the red coating with the point of a scriber.

[via CRAFT]


In the Maker Shed: Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas

Did you forget about Valentine’s Day (like I did) and need a gift for that special someone? Here are some great ideas from the “Geek Chic” category of the Maker Shed!

Show your Valentine she has your heart with the <3 necklace (above.) This wonderfully geeky yet elegant necklace depicts an ASCII heart, like you’d see in email or text messages. The pieces are laser-cut in Sterling silver, then hand soldered to silver tubes that hang from the 20″ curb chain. The necklace has a high-shine finish and is treated to reduce tarnishing. The pendant measures 1.5″ square, and the two pieces dangle freely with a silver bead between them. Made with love and lasers in NYC.

Sophisticated. Elegant. Open Source. Turn her on with the iNecklace! This gorgeously machined aluminum pendant with a subtle pulsating LED will look great on your Valentine. It is perfect for women who celebrate art, science, engineering and great design. The pendant comes strung on a 18″ long sterling silver curb chain that has been treated to inhibit tarnishing. For a personal touch, hack the iNecklace to glow her favorite color. Just follow Marc’s simple instructions on Make:Projects!

(Be sure to follow the Maker Shed on Twitter, or subscribe to our Deal of The Day RSS feed! You just might find a great deal on one of these items…)


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