We can rebuild them, we have the technology!

A $6M hockey player isn’t expensive anymore. It’s sadly a reasonably affordable contract these days.

Unfortunately our local team, the Toronto Maple Leafs are, as ever, in a rebuilding phase. They lost, again, last night. They have to win every remaining game to have even a chance at the playoffs. Brian Burke, the GM, is trying to get legendary loudmouthed commentator Don Cherry fired. Cherry is apalled that the Leafs dont have enough local players.

Besides mercilessly mocking the one founder who happens to be a massive Leaf fan, what can Upverter and the electronics world do to help? We were hacking away in our dowstairs lab but couldn’t come up with a solution within the rule boundaries. Finally, we found a project out of the University of Manitoba. Meet your newest Toronto Maple Leaf, Jennifer!

Sure, she’s a little slow on her feet. But she wouldn’t be the only slow and high-priced member of the team; Tie Domi, anyone? And OK, she’s not going solve the Leaf’s Ontario problem, what with her roots in Manitoba. Not to mention that a female, robot hockey player is likely to make Don Cherry even more apoplectic.

The good news is that she’s stil in development and that the research team is furiously working on her skating and stick handling ability.  They have a much better chance of getting her up to snuff than the Leafs’ coaching staff do.

So keep your fingers and soldering guns crossed for your next Maple Leafs star! And maybe work on your own add-ons for her here at Upverter!

About Upverter

Did I mention that Upverter makes it possible to share designs for real things. There are thousands of high fidellity, accessible anywhere, publicly shared and open sourced designs waiting to be forked, manufactured, and hacked on. If you’ve got a design, you should share it! Need a design, find it! Or just explore for some inspiration.

How Minecraft Changed (Electrical) Engineering Forever

So. Minecraft. If you haven’t heard of it – well, where have you been? It’s probably one of the most popular indie games ever, pretty good for something that has you punching trees into submission to keep big green blobs from eating you. Basically, you collect materials, build stuff, fight off monsters, and repeat until you end up dead or with a really fancy castle. Pretty fun, pretty detailed, but what the hell’s it doing on a hardware blog?

I’m getting there. See, when version Alpha 1.0.1 rolled around back in 2010, it included a little thing called Redstone. Collect enough Redstone dust and you can start spreading it around as wire. Put a little on a stick, and you’ve got a Redstone torch. Connect the torch to a line of wire and it’ll transmit power all the way to the end. Stick another torch at the end, and you can turn it off and on by fiddling with the other one. Then you throw on a couple switches, connect up a few more wires, add some extra torches, create a few basic logic gates…

Are you seeing where I’m going with this?

You can build computers in Minecraft. Real, honest-to-god computers. I want to be clear, here: this isn’t what Redstone was designed for. Redstone was supposed to let you power carts and doors and build traps and stuff. But the people who played the game clearly decided this wasn’t bizarre and time-consuming enough and started making digital calculators and playing Pong in massive jungle arenas.

Just because they could.

Which is why Minecraft might end up totally changing the way people learn electronics. Used to be, if you wanted a hands-on look at circuits you could just break open a computer and rummage around in the guts. Not so easy now. The focus is on software and cute little sealed-up tablets you’d need power tools to get into. At this point your average computing student wouldn’t know an XOR gate if it hit them in the face.

Redstone is so basic you might as well be typing out binary, but at least you can see what you’re doing, and like the videos prove, you can make some pretty wicked landscapes out of it. Plus,it’s a lot easier to see circuit-building as a challenge instead of a chore when you’re doing it in between mining lava and smashing zombies.

Learning electronics through simulation means students will stay interested longer and work a lot harder. It also means way more materials to work off of, since gamers have their grand traditions of sharing guides. I’m not saying that multi-story tic-tac-toe boards are the electronics of the future, but the work that goes into them is 100% applicable to real-world computer design, and plenty of people are already starting to make that shift.

Physical Computing: It’s kinda sorta starting to happen!

// definition

Physical computing is a research field that studies human movement in relation to computer based interactions with everyday objects. In physical computing, hardware is designed for the convenience of people rather than for the convenience of computing (Papadimatos, 2005). The ability to trigger and orchestrate Internet related activity in everyday objects causes a whole new world to unfold. This brave new world is called “The Internet of Things”.

// why it matters

Mercedes-Benz, Ford and Audi are now marketing “connected cars.” Connected cars have smart phone apps integrated into dash boards.

In the Internet of Things, your world literally becomes “Your World.” Your movement, and other physical characteristics of your environment will allow you to determine the actions of the objects in your world. In the Internet of Things, the objects in your environment become capable of interacting with you in the same way that you are able to connect to and interact with the world through your smart phones. Like Spiderman, shooting an invisible web of energy, the world around you will connect you to the world beyond you like never before.

Some TVs, cars, washing machines and refrigerators are now capable of Internet connectivity. With over 50 percent of objects at this year’s CES being Internet connected, and over 9 billion connected objects already in existence (with over 24 billion projected to be in existence by 2020) the Internet of Things has arrived. It’s official. Physical computing is science fact, not science fiction (Macmanus, 2012).


Once upon a time (Psych! like right now) there was a small Cambridge, Mass tech start-up called Supermechanical, who created an itty biddy (2.5 sq. in.) device called Twine. Supermechanical raised over $500,000 for Twine on Kickstarter, a genius crowd sourced fund raising website. Twine was introduced with the promising headline: “Listen to your world, talk to the Internet.” Sporting  WiFi connectivity, and internal and external sensors, Twine is powered by 2 AAA batteries that allow the device to keep running for months. (As a power MacAir user accustomed to working around 3 hr. battery limits, I danced and shouted when I read how much battery mileage Twine has.) All this cuteness gets set up with the aid of an anti-nerd app downloaded from the Internet.

Twine empowers you to create Internet connected systems wherever you have Wi-Fi. The durable Twine unit has Wi-Fi, vibration and temperature sensors as well as an expansion connector that allows the addition of other sensors. Twine is the hardware that works in tandem with a cloud based service called Spool. Instead of programming, you create a set of “when…then” rules from a menu of conditions that will trigger a message being sent. In its Kickstarter offering, Supermechanical gives the following example how the rules work: “WHEN moisture sensor gets wet THEN tweet “The basement is flooding!”



What This Means to You

The Internet of Things means greater ease and access to communication and information in ways that have been seldom dreamed of. Undoubtedly the connectivity coin has a downside that comes along with the fun. The information generated as a byproduct of connectivity will be mined by marketers who will be able to track and contact potential customers where ever they go. Invariably privacy issues will prominent. So as this Brave New World unfolds, people will have to maintain a level of alertness for privacy compromises and use the power of purchase to enforce the importance of this issue.

// about upverter

Should we love or fear flying robots?

Most people loved Vijay Kumar’s presentation at TED of the work being done in his GRASP lab at Penn. We did, Hackaday did, and Chris Anderson sure did.

Farhad Majoo at Slate did not. In fact, he sounds like he’s ready to go all John Connor on us.

About a year ago, Mellinger posted a video showing a team of three drones building structures out of large metallic beams. The machines fly in a terrifying, coordinated ballet, each of them picking up a beam, finding the exact spot where it should be placed, and gingerly snapping the object in place.
Stare at this long enough and you could mistake the scene for something adorable—birds building a nest. But by this time you’ve stopped staring. Instead, you’ve opened another browser tab to look for good deals on bomb shelters and MREs.

Upverter believes that robots are cool and that flying robots are REALLY cool! Designing a robot from scratch is a great way to bond with your kids, help them learn math and science, and show them what you can do with advanced calculus and n-dimensional matrix algebra. No more questions about what use does math have if they’re optimizing the 4th derivative of a path for their flying robot OF DOOM!

One thing we did learn from Terminator 2 is that it takes a Robot to beat a Robot. So regardless of where you come down on the question of whether or not Penn’s flying robots will kill us all, you should be building your own and designing them here on Upverter!

There was a guy on the Daily Show the other night talking about how the point of the space program was to beat the Russians. Not to make the world better. And when we won the Cold War we killed the space program. For proof, look at NASA today vs yesterday. Despite doing it for all the wrong reasons, it made the world better. We respected engineers and technologists more than at any other time in our history. Little kids grew up wanting to be tomorrow’s heroes – engineers. In a small way the engineers of today are all reminicient of that. Flying shit is cool not only because it is a feat of engineering, but because it makes us dream of tomorrow. And it makes our kids want to be engineers again. Which is probably the most valuable thing we could ever hope to achieve.

About Upverter

Did I mention that Upverter makes it possible to share designs for real things. There are thousands of high fidellity, accessible anywhere, publicly shared and open sourced designs waiting to be forked, manufactured, and hacked on. If you’ve got a design, you should share it! Need a design, find it! Or just explore for some inspiration.

Bot, James Bot

Like nearly everyone else, Upverter fell in love with this TED presentation by Vijay Kumar from Penn’s GRASP lab.
It shows you how much can be done with quadrotors and how they can be a platform for some very interesting projects.
So head over to DIYDrones and pick up an ArduCopter or 3 and then design your own mini laser cannons (or other awesome drone fleet accessory) here on Upverter.
We’re going to be working on a fleet of flying robot bartenders. Shaken, not stirred, of course.

About Upverter

Did I mention that Upverter makes it possible to share designs for real things. There are thousands of high fidellity, accessible anywhere, publicly shared and open sourced designs waiting to be forked, manufactured, and hacked on. If you’ve got a design, you should share it! Need a design, find it! Or just explore for some inspiration

TPB, Physibles And What It All Means

About a month ago The Pirate Bay launched a section of their site called Physibles [blog] [gizmag] [physibles]. I’m amazed by how huge this is. And almost equally amazed by how little its been talked about. I didnt think I’d be one to have to tell you why this matters, but alas, it looks like I am. You’re welcome. Sorry it took me so long.

Collaboration and reuse are valueable

First and foremost. I want to let that sink it. Starting from scratch is painful and duplication of effort is ridiculous in the age of the internets. And the market is very, very good at removing inefficiencies. Look no further than Napster, released in 1999, 4 whole years before the iTunes store enabled access to media on the internet legally.

People are desperate to share

For a decade or so a small number of people have been sharing their designs for real things in impromptu message boards and phpBB forums. Its a horrible managomy of MS Paint drawn schematics, blinky text and scans of photocopies of pictures from (war era) text books. It’s beautiful in its agressiveness, and provocativly resourceful. But terrible for how hard and unapproachable it makes it all look.

The Pirate Bay is responding to a very real need: the ability to share. Even things as seemingly esotaric as the designs for real physical objects. They will be shared. They will be used. And their availibility and ubiquity will only increase. Someday soon the designs for the next smartphone, or assult rifle will be just as easy to find pirated as Microsoft Office is today. Which leads me to my closing point…

Open source hardware as a deterant

Not unlike what happend in software the companies responsible for building the multitude of real things that surround us will come to a crossroads. Is their offering and their value stored in their designs? Their cad files? Or is it somehow secondary. MySQLRedHat and JBoss all built very large and successful businesses around a secondary value, all the while giving away most of their IP. As a product maker is it your ability to design the next great smart phone? Or your marketing, manufacturing, distribution and supply nextworks that really matter? Or maybe its doing it first? Or doing it at all?

If you need an example of a company built ontop of open source hardware you need look no further than the every-man’s 3D printer, the MakerBot. Since inception MakerBot Industries has opensourced the vast majority of their core IP. In otherwords you need not give them $1300 dollars and wait through months of backorders. You could buy all the parts in the design, assemble one from scratch, and even save yourself whatever margin MarkerBot would make from you. But their value somehow isnt in the design. Because despite being completely open source the vast majority of 3D printer owners own the product as produced by MakerBot.

Call to action

As you probably have already gathered I think this is a powerful and necessary step forward for the collaboration on and design of real things. I think in the months and years that follow this will be a blip on the radar. And it wont be long before its as common place to share models and designs as it is to steal music and movies.

About Upverter

Did I mention that Upverter makes it possible to share designs for real things. There are thousands of high fidellity, accessible anywhere, publicly shared and open sourced designs waiting to be forked, manufactured, and hacked on. If you’ve got a design, you should share it! Need a design, find it! Or just explore for some inspiration.