240 Pixel WS2812 Array

My friend Scott randomly dropped by the macetech LLC lab up here in Pullman, WA. He brought a cool thing to show off...a big array of 60px/m RGB pixels using the WS2812 LEDs. It's very bright in person and I was impressed with the matchup of the 60px/m LED spacing and the fluorescent lighting louver grid. I've definitely used the grid in a lot of projects, but never made that connection! His controller uses a custom WS2812 library running on a Digilent chipKIT Max32 with plenty of CPU power to spare.

Submitted by Garrett on Sat, 07/19/2014 - 00:11.

Hacking the RGB Shades

We've got a new article over on Makezine today, showing how I added an audio-detection circuit to both the RGB Shades and the LED Matrix Shades. The result was REALLY cool and finally used the extra pins I'd made available on both designs. Audio detection is just the beginning...I have a few more ideas for sensors to add to LED Shades, and it would be great to see your suggestions. They might make it into another video!

Anyway, head on over the Makezine to see the full article: Hacking the Macetech RGB Shades

Submitted by Garrett on Fri, 07/18/2014 - 23:15.

LED Shades V0.1 Open Sourced

Back in 2012, in the few weeks preceding Maker Faire Bay Area, I was excited about a new secret project. We had the macetech LED Lounge again, but this was a way to take the party with you. Wearable LED shutter shades with a built-in Arduino-compatible controller!

They were a huge hit, both at Maker Faire Bay Area and Maker Faire New York. It was impossible to walk down the street in Manhattan without getting comments and questions every few seconds.

However, the first LED Shades were nothing more than prototypes. They were hurriedly designed. Didn't have much resolution, didn't have folding hinges or cables with connectors, the battery was taped onto the side, and so on. The biggest problem was one that didn't show up for months, but claimed all but one of our prototypes (which still works to this day). The problem was that the LED driver ICs along the top edge of the PCB would crack internally due to flexing stress while being worn.

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Submitted by Garrett on Wed, 07/02/2014 - 23:12.

LED Matrix Shades Have Arrived!

A quick introduction: LED Matrix Shades are a very cool piece of wearable technology that integrates a fully hackable Arduino-compatible processor with an LED matrix you can see through. They are the ultimate attention grabber at social events, and inspires curiosity among technology enthusiasts of all ages. Every function can be reprogrammed by the user, and there are even places to solder your own circuits and sensors.

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Submitted by Garrett on Sun, 06/29/2014 - 00:56.

Maker Faire 2014 and RGB Shades


The big event of the maker movement, O’Reilly Bowl *cough* I mean Maker Faire Bay Area 2014, happened last weekend (May 17th and 18th). As with most words used to describe Maker Faire, “happened” is a little insufficient. It’s a tremendous and complicated event that requires a massive effort from everyone involved…the O’Reilly Maker Faire team, the Maker Shed, the sponsors, the performers, the speakers, the exhibitors, and the event staff. And one more group that I didn’t fully appreciate until this year…the attendees (let’s call them participants). This was the first year at Maker Faire Bay Area that I was not an exhibitor, and instead wandered the exhibits and crowds. It was amazing and exhausting, just as much as if I’d been running an exhibit table.

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Submitted by Garrett on Mon, 05/26/2014 - 14:53.

WowWee MiP Quick Teardown

The WowWee MiP ("mobile inverted pendulum") robot is the first of its kind on the mass market. It's a toy robot that does what most other toy robots do: it rolls around your living room floor, making squawks and beeps and bumping into things, and being really cute in general. However, the MiP does it with style. The mechanical design is not inherently stable. If the MiP is turned off, it will not stand upright on its own wheels (a handy stand is provided for display). Instead, an onboard sensor suite and powerful ARM Cortex processor keep it teetering upright just like any self-respecting science fiction robot (or slightly less self-respecting tourists on Segways).

Researchers and hobbyists have been building devices like this for a number of years, but it's always exciting to see a niche technology make it to mainstream (much like the quadcopter boom in the past couple years). Robotics hobbyists pay close attention to the toy market, because a lot of technology can be hacked back into customized designs.

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Submitted by Garrett on Sun, 05/11/2014 - 00:03.

Of course we 3D print, too!

If you've attended a Maker Faire or Mini Maker Faire in the past few years, you've probably strolled past a table where someone seems to be tending to a jumble of wires and metal rods, and there's a whiff of molten plastic in the air. You might have stopped and watched as a plastic object appeared (slowly) and you might have been amazed (slowly) at the possibilities. You may have suspected this, but yes...we haven't been left behind, macetech has been 3D printing right along with the rest of the cool kids!

My first 3D printer was built in 2011, after reading up about RepRap and finding an older cartesian assembly robot on eBay, made by Sony. It was huge and heavy, and I drove deep into the Santa Cruz mountains to pick it up from a barn crammed with an analog and relay computer collection. I purchased an extruder from MakerGear, and practically duct-taped it to the robot in order for it to print better mounting parts. The original control board was stuffed with FPGA's and a 486 processor, but I had to remove that and hack the stepper drivers to receive pulses from an Arduino Mega. It's been useful over the past few years, allowing us to create various brackets, adapters, holders, prototypes, and even parts of the LED Shades. Here it is today:

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Submitted by Garrett on Sat, 04/05/2014 - 22:54.

Musical Fish (MSP430 Captouch & Bare Conductive Paint)

This is a short article demonstrating an experiment with Bare conductive ink and the MSP430's capacitive sensing hardware.

I've experimented with various capacitive sense methods previously; the most common uses one pin to charge up an electrode, while using another pin to measure the amount of time needed to charge up to the logic high threshold level of an input pin. A couple of similar approaches are illustrated here: http://www.ti.com/lit/an/slaa363a/slaa363a.pdf

An alternate method is available on several of the MSP430 value line microcontrollers (G2xx2, G2xx3, FR58xx, FR59xx). In addition to the typical pin peripheral functions, they include a relaxation oscillator circuit that includes pin capacitance to set the frequency. By measuring the number of oscillations in a given time period, a small change in capacitance can be measured...enough to detect whether a finger is touching an electrode.

Photo Jan 04, 1 43 12 AM (HDR)

Bare Conductive makes a carbon-bearing paint that is fairly conductive, and available in pen form. Combined with capacitive sensing, it is possible to draw an interface on a sheet of paper, and use it as input to a microcontroller. For this experiment, we used it to play a few notes from a speaker and make a very basic piano-like instrument.

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Submitted by Garrett on Sun, 01/19/2014 - 13:58.

Dallas Makerspace

Dallas Makerspace Laser Cutter

In the SF Bay Area, I had access to a number of places (TechShop, Noisebridge, Hacker Dojo) to work on projects that weren't appropriate for my garage or a spare bedroom. Tools like engine lathes and laser cutters are expensive to own, bulky, and require the proper infrastructure. It's also good to have a place to meet with like-minded people and share ideas. I just moved to Dallas and hoped to find something similar.

The nearest TechShop is about three hours away, in Austin. So I decided to check out the local Dallas Makerspace.

They seem to hold a middle ground between a typical hackerspace and a corporate-run workshop like TechShop. Hackerspaces usually attempt to remain completely open to the public, and shy away from creating rules whenever possible. This leads to a more intense environment where amazing things can rise from the chaos, but often leads to conflicts and drama. TechShops have a very strong divide between members and employees, and require adhering to a set of rules and certifications in order to use the equipment. Dallas Makerspace seems to have achieved an interesting midpoint where the feeling of members creating the space is still there, but many problems are forestalled by a small set of rules regarding the space, member behavior, and equipment.

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Submitted by Garrett on Sun, 01/12/2014 - 21:58.

LEDs and Tacos: macetech's new home in 2014

Last month, we announced that we'd be moving from California to Texas. I'm happy to report that the move was successful, and macetech is already resuming operations and shipping orders!

Most of the macetech activities are now located in Garland, TX; a city on the eastern outskirts of Dallas. We're hoping that the Midwestern location will improve shipping speeds for more of the USA, while reducing operating costs. We'll miss Foster City's great weather and proximity to Maker Faire, but enjoy some truly excellent brisket taco shops! All without having to give up In-N-Out.

We rented a 26' moving truck and did the driving with the help of our friends Matt and Karl. Our route took us over I-10 to avoid bad weather and some of the mountains...as it was, the truck struggled to maintain 35mph over some of the steeper hills. The total route was about 1850 miles and took us three days of driving. The only adventures were a radiator leak in the Jeep, and an RV driver at a truck stop who tried to convince us it was necessary to lay one of the fuel nozzles on the ground if we didn't have two diesel tanks. Mostly hours of intense boredom with occasional moments of weirdness.

No Instagram filter there, just an old Polaroid camera and expired film.

We're unpacking the macetech store stock and prototyping lab, and expect to have plenty of new and exciting projects to show off soon. First, the main question everyone has: yes, we'll be making more LED Shades. We'll also be increasing the selection of colors, and have other improvements and variations in the pipeline.

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Submitted by Garrett on Mon, 12/30/2013 - 01:24.