Blog

News and views from SolderPad — a place to share, discover and collaborate on electronic projects.

RSA FutureMaker and Updates

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We’ll be demonstrating SolderPad and talking about some of the projects it hosts at the Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce FutureMaker day, which is being held at Somerset House in London on Wednesday 19th June 2013.

The event is billed as a day-long interactive showcase and celebration of making, and features speakers that include Professor Bill Lucas, Chris Wilkinson and John Stevenson MP, with Andy Sleigh as chair.

The event is free to attend and open to all. For further information and to register please visit the Eventbrite page.

Breaking radio silence

We realise it’s been quite some time since we posted an update — far too long — and this is something that we plan to rectify over the coming months.

We have been listening to your feedback and we’ve started planning the next series of updates to the site. More on this in due course!


Manufacturing the Future

Noisebridge Arduinos For Total Newbies workshop, July-2011

In a recent article in The Economist, entitled More than just digital quilting, it was suggested that the maker movement may just herald a new industrial revolution, and noted how it is “both a response to and an outgrowth of digital culture, made possible by the convergence of several trends”.

The article cites trends in online services and software, and new tools and technology as enablers for this movement, and goes on to note how openness has led to the creation of ecosystems. This latter point is key and the role played by a culture of sharing, underpinned by liberal licensing, cannot be overemphasised; eschewing more traditional approaches such as seeking to secure exclusive rights via patents, in favour of openness and sharing, has facilitated growth.

The idea of giving something away—‘intellectual property’—may seem counter-intuitive to many, and the opportunities this affords may be non-obvious. However, open source software has demonstrated that it can support businesses from one person in size, up to playing a significant part in the strategy of a global giant such as IBM. With open source hardware there are similar opportunities for provision of digital services such as design, customisation and support. However, since physical products are involved there are also manufacturing opportunities.

One of the most encouraging attributes of open source hardware ecosystems, such as Arduino, is that they are able to support a high degree of customisation and specialism, whereby marginal use cases can be catered for and small businesses are able to carve out a niche. And since designs are made freely available to all, manufacture can be closer to the point of use and the distinction between producer and user is blurred. This suggests exciting possibilities in terms of stimulating local economies, and reconnecting people with how technology works and extending its useful life.

As we attempt to navigate a course through difficult economic times, could it be that we are on the cusp of a 21st Century Industrial Revolution? Or rather, a post-industrial revolution where, as we continue to witness with media production and delivery, many top-down infrastructures are challenged by networks that support peer production.

It is clearly the case that major industry will never be entirely displaced, but there may be a significant reconfiguration of the design and manufacturing landscape on the horizon. Leading to a future in which the individual and many grassroots communities of interest play a much larger part, and there are many more opportunities for wealth creation in local economies.

Image top: learning Arduino development at the Noisebridge hackerspace, by Mitch Altman.


Free XMOS XC-1A Development Kits

XMOS XC-1A

Our friends at XMOS have just launched a promotion where you can get your hands on one of their XC-1A development kits for free. All you have to do is have to do is submit an idea for a project that you would use the kit for.

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of XMOS, and in fact co-founder and CTO, David May, presented at the inaugural OSHUG event organised by SolderPad’s 9600 and psd: not only do they provide support in the form of open source software for their devices, but their kits are also open source hardware.

You can explore some of the XMOS kits on SolderPad and we will be working with them to get more of these uploaded in due course.


The Network Applications Node

Nanode + 868MHz Wireless in Enclosure

Brainchild of monsonite and developed in conjunction with London Hackspace, the Nanode is an open source Arduino-like board that has in-built web connectivity. The above photo shows a Nanode that has been fitted with an 868MHz wireless module from JeeLabs and that is enclosed in an acrylic case from SK Pang.

It is supplied as a kit of through-hole components, that can be assembled by following a pictorial build guide.

Nanode Kit Contents

In supplying the Nanode as a kit, it not only keeps costs down but provides a sense of achievement for hobbyists and experimenters that are new to electronics. Use of through-hole components means that assembly, and repair, is within the grasp of those without experience of working with surface-mount technology (SMT).

Projects such as Open Energy Monitor have employed Nanode extended with wireless capabilities, to act as a wired-wireless bridge or hub for remote wireless devices. A common Internet of Things (IoT) use case for Nanode, this has led to the development of the Nanode RF- a variant that can directly accommodate an RFM12B wireless module, with additional features that include a microSD card socket, real-time clock (RTC) and SRAM.

The WiNode is the third member of the Nanode family and is intended to be used as an end node in a wireless network. It employs the same RFM12B module as the Nanode RF, but drops support for Ethernet in favour of enhanced I/O capabilities. In addition to acting as a remote sensor and actuator control node, it can also serve as a shield to a classic Nanode, thereby extending it with support for wireless, a RTC and increased I/O capability.

All three are fully Arduino-compatible and make use of the same IDE and libraries etc. However, to keep costs down a USB controller has been omitted and programming requires use of an FTDI cable. These are commonly available, low cost and only one is required regardless of how many Nanodes you have.


OSHCamp

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Founded in early 2010 and organised by SolderPad's 9600 and psd, OSHUG meet in and around London the last Thursday each month to discuss all matters Open Source Hardware. Evening meetups are great, but a number of people wanted the opportunity for hands-on development with time to share experiences and generally socialise, and so the inaugural OSHCamp was born.

Over 70 people in attendance put us close to capacity of the C4CC building, but meant we were able to support three parallel tracks on “3D Printing”, “Building The Internet of Things”, and “Collaboration in Open Source Electronics”.

OSHCAMP: RepRap tinkering

David Flanders, joined by Graham Klyne and Steven Gray ran a tutorial crammed with practical experience of DIY 3D printing, with one of the more interesting models produced being a cut for a penny whistle from technologist and folk musician Paul Freemantle.

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A packed main hall spent the day walking though building the Internet of Things. Paul Tanner showed a number of hidden features and unexpected uses of pachube, a perfect compliment to deep-dive sessions from Ken Boak on the Nanode and from Glyn Hudson and Trystan Lea of the Openenergymonitor — two innovative projects who are using SolderPad as a part of their development.

OSHCAMP: megni

The “Collaboration in Open Source Electronics” track was the perfect way for SolderPad to spend the day.

Collaboration in Open Source Hardware

Armed with some beautiful kits put together and donated by .:oomlout:., we each constructed a breadboard hack using 555 Timers, LEDs, buzzers and other simple components.

OSHK - Kit Pieces

An introduction to KiCad from Andy Bennett along with a pair of tutorials on Fritzing and Eagle from Garry Bulmer set us up for documenting our hacks in an EDA tool.

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Some of us even managed to share and exchange design files using SolderPad. Here’s Mark Tillotson uploading a lightrider test project.

Uploading to SolderPad

Sometimes the best conversations happen in the pub afterwards, and our day was completed by Al Wood, who regaled how he uses SolderPad to share plans for a number of RepRap controller boards over irc, incorporating and uploading new versions based on feedback from 30 odd members of the Thames Valley RepRap User Group.

Pub Talk

Al made a valid claim to have “the first board developed from concept to production using SolderPad”, the Open Motion Controller board.

RepRap motor controller

Finally, here’s some of the noisy buzz of the day, captured in the form of a Flickr long-photograph which ends with Andy Bennett’s persistence of vision circuit. Devised and built during the afternoon, it says “HI” using only three LEDs:

Thanks to all who attended for making such a great event, to the Centre for Creative Collaboration for letting us use their lovely space, to DesignSpark for support and sponsoring a delicious lunch, to the speakers, and to Rain Ashford for great photos, some of which have been republished here under the terms of the Creative Commons License.


The concurrency.cc board

concurrencyCC

Developed by OmerK whilst a Ph.D student in the School of Engineering and Digital Arts at the University of Kent, the concurrency.cc board is a surface-mount Freeduino variant which runs on a single AA battery.

Ideal for makers and artists, the team use the board to teach students concurrent programming using an accompanying Creative Commons licensed book, “Plumbing for the Arduino”.

In a video taken at OSHUG #3 you can hear psd gasping with joy as he struggles to simultaneously manually focus his camera whilst Adam Sampson explains how the board is capable of running 20 concurrent occam-π processes in only 2K of memory.


Video Tour

A number of people have asked us if we had a video explaining the site, so here’s an animated version of tour page. We expect this to look anachronistic as we add features to the site, but think it highlights one of our key goals: to expose the data locked inside electronic projects in an open and reusable way.

Transcript:

Hello and welcome to SolderPad, a place to share, discover and collaborate on electronic projects. SolderPad is under development, so here’s a quick tour of the current features, with some hints of what’s planned for the near future.

Registering creates a profile page — a place to present a short biography — and allows you to create projects and contribute to other projects.

SolderPad simplifies the publication of electronic designs, uniformly presenting each project in the style of a datasheet. A photograph brings the project to life, with text for the description and instructions structured using markdown, allowing the incorporation of images and other resources. At the heart of any electronic project is the circuit diagram and SolderPad allows the navigation of large and complex schematics using a pan and zoom interface. A similar pan and zoom interface is provided to explore the topology and layering of printed circuit boards.

The bill of materials is a simple list of components. Raising the visibility of part names and descriptions helps projects co-ordinate on meaningful values.

Tagging using key words and phrases makes it easier to find related projects, for example here are all the projects tagged with “geiger counter”.

Clear licensing is essential for reuse, and the bottom of a project page clearly names the copyright holder and the licence. We offer free publication and hosting for projects so long as they are published under an explicit open source license.

The schematic, board, bill of materials and file browser may be embedded in blogs, wikis and project pages by cutting and pasting the HTML embed codes from the project page, as in this example using TiddlyWiki.

The same URIs exposed by the Web site are available in a number of different representations, including JSON, simplifying the incorporation of your data elsewhere on The Web.

A SolderPad project page is really just a view on onto a git repository, with the project metadata available inside a special .solderpad sub-directory. Using git makes SolderPad a peer with other places hosting a project, and most importantly reduces the risk of a project being locked into SolderPad.


Welcome!

Welcome to SolderPad, a place to share, discover and collaborate on electronic projects. Our aim is to simplify the process of publishing electronic projects and to improve the state of the art in collaboration in electronics by raising the visibility of designs.

A SolderPad project’s files are stored in Git. This means that, along with version control, you can quickly publish existing Git projects on the site and easily copy or move them to elsewhere on the Web.

To get started, we suggest taking the tour and exploring featured projects. Should you get stuck there is documentation, a discussion list and you can always contact us directly.