April 16, 2014

Army of Me (Arm)

Wow, it's been over a week since my last blog post and probably a day or two before that. I've fallen off the blog wagon hard and need to get right back on.
Why did I fall off? Well I blame the boy, had about three weeks where my fantastic son George decided to wake up every few hours, combine this with my fantastic wife going back to work as a midwife left me sleep deprived and only really able to perform the basic functions of this daily pursuit I've come to call work. Orders packed, emails replied, much coffee drunk.
That's not quite true though, another pursuit managed to fill the cracks and become an obsession. The MeArm. The MeArm is a low cost robot arm, build for my frustration with the uArm Kickstarter for an Open Source robot arm. Why the frustration? Well it was $185 for a product already available for $115. Touted everywhere as Open Source and yet a month on from successful funding to the tune of $251,887 and there's still no files. Not to say they won't come, but for me until it's open it's closed.
Never one to allow the energy of frustration to go to waste I set about building the MeArm v0.1 (files on thingiverse). In construction I borrowed a lot from the plot clock, actually starting with their files and stretching out the arms. There was no gripper but I was quite pleased with the results.
Not really a finished article and lacking in gripper - the best bit about a robot arm right? It did at least inspire Jack Howard to get involved in the project. Jack is a mechanical engineer with a lot of experience in CAD. He come to phenoptix fairly often on our mostly unpublicised Open Office Fridays. Jack has turned up with designs for the laser cutter before and I've always been impressed by the fact that they work first time. I do everything in 2D and mesh them together in my mind and by rotating the work on the page, relying on my access to the laser to tweak down to a finished product.
Very quickly Jack built was was to be considered the v0.2 (files on thingiverse). It was heavy weight and had a gripper, unfortunately too heavy for our choice of servos, but it was so solid compared to my v0.1. I could still add improvements so considered running my own development alongside Jacks. Setting aside a couple of days of hacking time where I could learn CAD to improve my design I ultimately ended up frustrated by my slow progress. I managed to add a centre piece for stability but it took me so long. I made a short video of the v0.2 and where improvements could be made for starters. 
Sorry it's recorded hand held on my phone.
Really where the project gained momentum and started to take shape was after the feedback I received at the Linux User Magazine Pi Jam in Poole. Tim from PiBorg asked if me learning CAD was worth my time, when I was working with someone who was clearly expert in it. I'm too used to doing things myself, learning a new skill when its needed then moving onto the next problem that needs solving. Silly that it took this comment but it opened my eyes and I felt able to feedback what I felt was needed for the next iteration to Jack, who was able to add his own genius to come up with the v0.3 (files on thingiverse).
The v0.3 is the first kitable version and ticks all of the boxes I set out to tick. It can sell for a retail of around the £25 mark (available here) and could be made by a savvy school or maker for around £8. You can cut it from a sheet of A4 sized acrylic and build from common fixings (everywhere but the USA with their stupid Imperial measurements!). Hopefully it will stand up to 3D printing too. Kevin Osborn of Wyolum is currently printing off a first draft.
If he can track down some metric (M3) fixings it should work, it would be interesting to see how imperial screws fit though.
Last night I took it home to work on some code, but ended up just playing - I did at least make a video!
There was a little more product testing this morning too. This time from my wonderful daughter, who was quite impressed with it and wasn't able to break it! She load tested it more thoroughly than I did discovering it will lift spinning ballerinas and plastic ice cream cones but will not stretch to Mummy's keys.
So there you have it, why I'll been so quiet this last few weeks. Also new product - £25 robot arm! Let me know what you think!

April 08, 2014

The Tweeting Vending Machine at Nottingham Hackspace

There are a great number of cool things at Nottingham Hackspace, one of them is the tweeting vending machine. There are some great kits in it too! James does a great tour of its inner workings for the youtube channel Computerphile

April 03, 2014

Open Hardware Summit 2014 coming to an Eternal City near you!

(image from Phillip Torrone's Make Article on OHS 2012)

That is if you live near Rome! It was announced on Twitter last night that the organisers of the Open Hardware Summit are working on a contract with the Chamber of Commerce for a summit in Rome this autumn.

Hopes are high that this will fall in "innovation week" - from the 28th of September to the 5th of October which will culminate with Maker Faire Rome. It would be great to t-up the two events, one of the reasons I didn't travel to Boston last year was that the event was a stand alone and it was a long way to go for just the two days. With Maker Faire Rome added to the package it would make a great visit for those from across the pond.

For first time visitors to Europe I can recommend a trip to Germany the week before for the Munich Oktoberfest, or if you want to hang around the week after the Cannstatter Volksfest in Stuttgart is worth a visit. Let me know if you want to plan a Hacker trip to either of these events, I have some past form and I also would want to come...


April 01, 2014

Phenoptix Welcomes Travelers from Dangerous Prototypes!

My there are a lot of you today! Many thanks for Ian for posting the Custom PC article from back in December...

The image seems to compressed a little as it's been bounded around the information super high way so here it is again, hopefully in readable form...

If it's your first visit to the site, please have a look around it would be nice to reduce our bounce rate a little! Why not browse our products or relax and have a coffee whilst reading previous blog posts. 

March 28, 2014

Three New Products for Friday!

Three new products in store today as well as some notable restocks. First up is the blinkiest of them all - the 15 NeoPixel Ring Segment!

Unusually for Adafruit we're going to have to get the camera out. The image above is a bit of a blur while the lovely lit image below shows four of the product in action, which is a little misleading in my opinion, not intentionally but combining that with the official name of NeoPixel 60 LED Ring 1/4 Segment you can see how folk would get confused!


You'll agree a beautiful product. If you've been living under a poorly lit rock for the last 6 months you might want be wondering what a NeoPixel is. Well NeoPixel is a trademark of Adafruit it's their name for a whole bunch of products built with the fabulous WS2812 and WS2812B LEDs from WorldSemi. The WS2812 has an integrated controller chip within the LED package. It still needs to be told what to do but the protocol is fairly simply, if time specific. They need a microcontroller like an Arduino to drive them really.

Next up we have a new servo! This is the step up from our 9g hobby servo weighing in at about 15g due to its metal gears! I've been using a lot of servos lately and keep coming across times where a bit more torque is needed, so that's the niche these fill. For where you need a like for like replacement for a resin gear servo with a bit more grunt. I got the screwdriver out so you can have a look under the hood.

Like it's lighter cousin it comes with a set of "horns" and fixings so you can attach it easily where it's needed. Take a look at the listing for details of how to run this fella from a Raspberry Pi or Arduino.

The last new product is the Ultrasonic Distance Sensor! This a great and low cost sensor, perfect for the nose of your robot or for a haptic feedback glove. With a range of 2cm up to 5m with an accuracy of +/- 3mm it's extremely versatile for the price of just £1.99. Again it will work on a Raspberry Pi or Arduino. We include a couple of resistors so the 5V logic that it kicks out won't fry your Pi (as long as you use them!). What more would you want? Picture of the product with a 10p coin? Yup got that too.

If you check out the listing there's some more info and also evidence of how cold it was in the office today, I couldn't bring myself to take off my miser mits for the photographs!

I'll be quick with the restocks... we got a whole bunch of these:

an handful of these:

more of these:

Oh these too!

and these:


and not forgetting THESE!!

That's it for tonight!




March 26, 2014

What's on the bench? Floodlight Project

Well there are always too many projects! All in different states of done. Two that are screaming for my attention lately are the Floodlight and MeArm projects. The Floodlight is an iteration of a product we already sell, the BigClive Floodlight PCB. Clive's PCB is rock solid, sells well - particularly to the French and is well loved. So why mess with it? It's a great board but it can only take one kind of LED, most people have a stash of LEDs and would like to use them in whatever project comes their way, some people even have favourite LEDs. So I tweaked the LED footprint and added pads for surface mount as well as holes for your standard common all garden LEDs to compliment the Superflux LED holes on Clive's version. Discussing this with Clive last night he pointed out that it was very much like the LED footprint on another PCB he'd done. So turns out I nicked that idea too. Anyway I did make it look pretty with a lovely red solder mask.

There are a couple more "improvements" too. The board is double sided so now no need for jumpers and the mounting holes are located sensibly in the corners. They're also connected to the copper pour on the top layer so you can pull away some heat if you need to by using metal fixings. Since caring is sharing and I'm all about the Open Source, the files are on Github already if you want to fire up Kicad and take a look.

The board essentially has three channels, used mostly for red, green and blue LEDs, but I was thinking of using two with IR LEDs and the final channel for Red LEDs to use in our external floodlight for an area that will be covered by a PiNoir camera. The red LEDs will warn potential intruders that they've been spotted, frankly I'd rather they push off than carry on snooping around on the flat roof!

It's still only a prototype but if you fancy taking a look at a board for yourself I've put them up on the site

March 24, 2014

Augmenting Reality for the Sake of Selling Soft Drinks!

This is a pretty awesome bit of viral advertising and I'm sad to say I will be perpetuating it! A certain soft drinks firm had some folks wire up a camera into a bus stop on Oxford street with some rather cool overlays to keep the people waiting for their bus amused or in some cases just plain scared!

The full video has some more great overlays.

Anyone know who did this? I have my suspicions! Also any info on the camera set up?

March 21, 2014

Wearable Concept Art - The Nokia FIT Finger Phone

This is a really stunning render of some wearable tech, from Issam Trabelsi at YankoDesign.

The concept is a simple one. Finger phone. To be made from soft silicone and flexible rubber it's designed to be waterproof. Sending notifications through vibration and possibly bone conduction for sound transmission. There are to be buttons for basic tasks and texting is mentioned in the blurb but I've not worked out how that is supposed to be achieved. There are a couple more images below but that's really it, some nicely crafted images and a short blurb. I suppose that's what concepts are. It's nicely done and quite attractive. Perhaps something we'll see in the future.

March 19, 2014

Single Sided PCB Arduino Clones

Now those that know phenoptix board will know it's an obsession of mine to avoid vias. Single sided is best but I can rarely achieve it. The first version of the Cylon PCB was actually single sided but having to alternate the polarity of the LEDs as you inserted them was going to cause some problems. Doing single sided boards is fairly difficult, so they always impress me when I see them. This morning I spotted this by way of the electronics-lab blog - the Nanino by Johan von Konow.

You can see straight away that it's beautifully laid out. The tag line is that it is DIY friendly but there are too many holes for my liking in that prototyping area if I'm entirely honest. It does however give or shall we say represent, as nothing is given (BY-NC-SA!) a simple one sided Arduino compatible PCB. This has of course been done before, and it would seem by people who understand licencing. The Aryduino is another great looking board and actually acknowledges the copy left licence that Arduino is released under.

I had intended to write this whole blog about the Nanino but the licencing has really annoyed me. The Aryduino has power management anyway which makes it much better. Dr. Ayars lists the pros and cons of his board as follows


  • Standard Arduino form-factor and mount-points.
  • Accepts standard Arduino shields.
  • Single-sided board, easy to make with toner-transfer method. 
  • 16MHz ATmega328.
  • No SMT parts.
  • On-board 5V regulation.
  • Screw-terminal power-in connector, rather than barrel jack.
  • Pin-13 LED.


  • Lacks on-board USB-Serial conversion, so programming requires an FTDI cable.
  • No 3.3V regulator.
  • This is as detailed a board as I ever want to make using toner-transfer.  
  • No TX/RX LEDs.
  • No ISP connector.
  • Three component-side jumpers. Couldn't quite get all traces on the back side!

Which is a really fair and honest appraisal. His does have three jumpers but that's still pretty good with so many components. The populated boards have a sort of "fun" look about them, it's probably the detail of using different coloured jumper wires. I tend to use resistor and LED legs for that particular task!

The Eagle files have been shared too, again unlike the Nanino. Making the Aryduino a really very nice Open Source project. That is worth celebrating. It's a real shame about the Nanino, Johan you've let yourself and Open Source down. Copy left you dufus! Probably a little strong but I'm getting fed up of celebrating sudo Open Source or Fauxpen Source projects. We need to start calling BS on some of these. /rant

These aren't the first single sided Arduino boards to have existed but what I have seen this morning. More can be found on the Arduino forums and via the magic of google!

March 19, 2014

Open Source Furniture from Make

This morning's reading of the entire internet threw up this great article from Make on Open Source furniture. The article has some stunning furniture and is well worth a read. I'm a little disappointed that we can only make dolls house furniture in our office, but it does give me another reason to "invest" in a massive CNC or laser cutter. Getting it up the stairs might be tricky though...