Archive for the ‘News and Discussions’ Category

Inside Coach – Smart Ball IMU Based Technology

 

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To all my fans, readers and supporters … I just wanted to share a new exciting project to which I dedicated my last few months of work. This project summarizes and is in a way the culmination of all my IMU research that I’ve done in the past few years. The idea of the project is simple, yet no one produced to date a comparable product that would be flexible and open enough to allow developers to build apps on top of it. Inside Coach is a smart ball technology that incorporates a IMU unit and processor as well as a wireless transceiver. The ball connects to your smart phone or device or computer. On the app side we’re developing a way for people to track their progress and share it with friends. In the first phase Inside Coach will be used by pro players and we’ll record data of certain type of ball kicks. In next stage this data will be fed into an expert system which will be able to analyze it and helped by a machine learning system become your personal coach inside your pocket. We don’t claim this will replace your real coach, don’t fire him yet ! However it will help you or even your real coach to understand better the physics behind a good kick and a bad kick and ultimately achieve repeatability while learning a sport. The philosophy behind this is that  anyone  can score a goal by chance, to become a pro player however you need to understand the factors that lead to it or the factors that make you fail. Yes, some people just have it in their blood, but even those people train and perfect their moves. As any pro player will tell you – talent alone is not enough!  Sometimes you’re so close but still  you’re missing something … but what ? Inside Coach will be able to answer those questions and help you succeed by providing you real time advices from our expert system  via a Bluetooth headset – like “Try more spin” , “Try less speed”, “Mind the 5mph sideways wind”. To some people sports is an art, to some it is magic, and don’t get me wrong – we want to keep all that! We hope that Inside Coach will bring the ball based sports (football, baseball, soccer , volleyball , hand ball , tennis , etc) to the next level. Inside Coach  is where technology meets sports and makes learning and perfecting a sport fun once again !  

Current prototype. All of our pieces put together.

At the time of this post we developed a workable prototype and a basic app used to stream data that is transferred wirelessly from the sensor to your device. However to turn this into  a manufacturable product and do more work on the app we need your support! Rather than seek private capital we decided to go the way of KickStarter and connect directly to people that will be using the product and are as much as we are excited by the technology that this product will bring along its path. This is because we want the development of this product to be dictated by YOU an not by some random banker that has no other interest than gaining money.

If you would like to find more about our journey and support us I invite you to visit the Inside Coach KickStarter page.

Thank you !

//starlino//

Kickstater Campaign To Buy Off Radioshack stock and Convert To Maker Places

A while back I wrote a  “Wake-up letter to Radioshack”. Since then, Radioshack made a substantial progress in the direction of being more appealing to the maker community, but now it is about to fail and go out of business.

If you scroll through the comments on a recent Hackaday post “Ask Hackaday: What Can Save RadioShack?”, you’ll see that most opinions gravitate around two main ideas:

1) Let it fail. Radioshack had it chance to restructure. Now it failed. Let it go !

2) Radioshack must restructure , give up its line of consumer and cell phone goods and instead offer:

– products used by makers at competitive prices, no crazy markups and unnecessary (costly) packaging

– provide shelf spaces for online retailers such as Adafruit, Sparfun, etc

– consider a franchise model where the store managers have more control over their store and can adapt to local markets. Give up the centralized model that so many former employees complain about.

– make Ship-To-Store arrangements with part providers like Mouser and Digikey, so you can order online and pick at Radioshack next day . Now if you order overnight a $1 part, you pay most of the money to UPS/Fedex. Radioshack can get bulk overnight orders and then distribute to customers. It can also observe what parts are ordered most and stock on those.

– offer services that makers can use: Laser Cutting , 3D Printing, CNC milling , etc

– offer classes and seminars to educate public and thus create a new market

I agree with both opinions and I have a solution for both parties. Let it fail and let it rise again.

Let’s look at the root of the problem ? Why Radioshack did not go with the maker direction and now is about to fail ? The main problem is it the shareholders of the Radioshack stock – they are not makers ! This has to change.

My idea is to have a Kickstarter campaign and buy-off Radioshack. As bold as it sounds it’s not an impossible idea. I suggest that the campaign is run it two stages:

Stage 1. Raise money for a legal team. Let’s face it – buying off a multi-million company is not easy, but not impossible in our times !

Stage 2. Create a business plan for the new company and run the actual campaign to raise money to buy off Radioshack.

Stage 3. Congratulations you’re now the proud owner of a slice of your local MakerShack !

What if it fails ? Believe it or not , even if it fails , this campaign will send out a strong message to Radioshack (or to whoever is going to buy it off) – the Makers are here and that is how much they are ready to invest in this idea.

Who should run the campaign? I would suggest that Hackaday does it. If they can send people to space, I am sure they can do this ! The important thing is that we don’t have multiple campaigns, this would dilute the results …

Learn Git in 15 minutes by practice.

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I absolutely love this practical concept of learning GIT from Code School. Want to learn Git, but don

Shpero – a robotic project success story

http://orbotix.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Lifestyle2013-4535.jpg

I recently got my first Sphero and I have to admit as with any new product I was skeptical in the beginning. However just after few minutes of playing with it I had to admit – boy, this stuff really works and is  lots of fun !  Sphero is a simple ball (well, not so simple on the inside) robot that you can control via your tablet or phone via bluetooth (major devices supported). There are many available apps on the market besides the stock control app. It also has a nice SDK that allows to use Sphero for your own projects. Because it contains an IMU sensor inside, Sphero can be used as controller for a game or application.

Only few years ago Shpero was just a crazy idea. Now Ortobotix is a company with dozens of employees. As it happens with many new projects Sphero was not perfect from the start. At their lowest point the founders (Ian Bernstein and Adam Wilson) admit they were so depressed that they were contemplating to pull out of CES 2011 at the last moment. Then something magical happened and the team was able to sort out all problems making it a hit at 2011th CES ! Morale of the story – never give up!

To find out more about the Sphero’s success story read up here:  http://www.gosphero.com/tag/startup/ .  Sphero is available on Amazon and other retailers. Get yourself one, I guarantee it – it’s not just a toy but also a great research tool if you’re into electronics or robotics !

//s//

Some (Free!) Feedback for TI MSP430 LaunchPad’s Development and Marketing Team

I finally got a minute to play with the MSP430 LaunchPad Kit I received, well almost for free from TI and immediately got some feedback to share with the development and marketing team.

First overall I think Launchpad is a great product and I am looking forward to seeing it improve, secondly my understanding is that its targeted market is starting engineers , hobbyist and alike … and I am speaking from that perspective.

I know you might hate me for this and maybe this is a banned word in your company but you should really look at Arduino and try to understand why it became so popular, in a nutshell let me break it down:

– the secret is in details, you might have a better product at a better price but if you can’t present it correctly it will not catch up with developers
– simplicity , simplicity , simplicity, too much information is as bad as no information, getting started manual DOES NOT have to be 182 pages long, half of which are telling about the entire TI lineup and various clock setup , get straight to the point show us the fun part !
– people don’t want so many options, so you must make choices for them , for example – choose a fixed clock mode (crystal or internal clock) and make it standard, let advanced users hack it if necessary, this will also make Launchpad programs more portable if you choose and “official” operating clock speed.
– make a free compiler and IDE : it makes no sense to have a paid compiler and charge a developer “pennies” compared to what that developer can bring you in hardware sales if he uses your chips , instead of spending money on giveaways and free lunches at trade shows , etc, just give the developers a free unlimited IDE and compiler, best promotion you can make and best boost in hardware sales for the future ! It is no coincidence Arduino was based on AVR the only major MCU manufacture to have multi-platform free compilers and IDE (both Microchips and TI’s free editions are limited and crippled).
– give free and no “string attached” MCU samples as Microchip has, same reason as above , you can’t cook dinner with MCUs if someone is ordering them they are an engineer and they might make a product that will use millions of your chips in the future, if you don’t make samples easy and fast , he might choose Microchip because today he is a student and he is broke, call it fate or whatever – unfair but fair ..
– in coding hide all the ugly details like the clock setup , in worst case scenario make a “launchpad” header file to contain all the technical stuff, if you make the “blinking led” program a one or two line program than you know you’re on the right way !
– make changing pin direction (output / input) prettier and more straightforward and avoid the | (OR) bit assignments, in worst case you can use some macros (as I explain here http://www.starlino.com/port_macro.html) , this style of assignments is confusing for beginners

Well that’s it for now, i might add more ideas … so check back or contact me directly if you’d like more feedback.

Arduino – to clone or not to clone ?

Microchip started marketing an Arduino clone called chipKit. Is this a correct decision to clone an open source platform as opposed to Texas Instrument's decision to create it's own platform LaunchPad ?

 

 

By the way the TI's platform is really cheap, I would say cheaper than components and PCB + shipping. Obviously TI wants more people to use it, however what it is lacking is the relaxed open-source crowd around it.

Is Arduino really something to follow ? What do you think ?

Radioshack Replies

So we finally received a reply from Radioshack "Wake Up Letter to Radioshack"  it was posted in the comments (and has been confirmed to be coming from Radioshacks corporate). Here it is:

Dear Electronics Hobbyists of America,

We have heard your voices. We are not going to deny that we have let the hobbyist business run on auto-pilot for several years now. The times changed, so we changed with it. Now the times are changing again. Hobbyists have remained dedicated to RadioShack for the better part of a century and we recognize that you deserve the same dedication from us. Our goal is to substantiate our loyalty to you. We know we must have a greater selection of products that you want and as much of it as you need. We promise we are working on it and that it is as important to us as it is to you. In the last two years, we have added over 150 new items to our technical assortment. We are working on a plan to get more hobby kits and test equipment into stores but we don’t expect that to be the end of the conversation. We do not underestimate the power of the online community, and we would love to hear more from you. We think this is a great beginning to a dialogue and we are listening.

RadioShack-Team Technical

Well Radioshack first thank you for replying and not ignoring us altogether. But we would like to see more actions being done. As a reply I will leave you with a related comment from a 10th grade student:

Hello, my name is Nic. I'm in grade 10 and I have an interest in electronics. But I have a lot of restrictions. I live in Canada in a town where there is no electronics shop other than "The Source" (Radioshack was bought out by The Source) which sells overpriced components that aren't the greatest quality, I'm far away from A1 Electronics which is a brilliant store in missisauga. And There is no Electronics course in my high school.  …

[Source: http://www.instructables.com/id/New-Life-for-Old-Printed-Circuit-Boards/ ]

 

IMU breakout boards from ST

Sign that someone from ST is reading the blogs – a series of breakout boards directly from ST , just couple of good ones:

$26.95  STEVAL-MKI093V1 ( breakout for LYPR540AH  – 3 axis analog gyro )

http://www.mouser.com/ProductDetail/STMicroelectronics/STEVAL-MKI093V1/?qs=Mmr5WwCtLzNTGieQUi715w%3d%3d

Looks like , Mouser has all datasheet , pictures and descriptions wrong at the time of this post.

correct datasheet   http://www.st.com/stonline/products/literature/bd/17906/steval-mki093v1.pdf

 

 

$26.95 STEVAL-MKI064V1 (breakout for LSM303DLH  3-axis magnetometer + 3-axis accelerometer)

http://www.mouser.com/ProductDetail/STMicroelectronics/STEVAL-MKI064V1/?qs=Mmr5WwCtLzNMjRxMWs1ArA%3d%3d

correct datasheet http://www.st.com/stonline/products/literature/bd/17844/steval-mki064v1.pdf

 

Order while they are in stock :-)

ST launches Multi sensor application (MuSA) board platform

For $99  MuSA  could be a nice hackable platform for all sorts of motion-enabled applications.  It has a  built-in accelerometer , LCD  and a simple casing. Here is the description from ST:

"The platform comes with the LIS331DLH preinstalled on the board, but can support any digitaloutput accelerometer from ST in 3×3 or 3×5 mm packages connected to the microcontroller through an SPI interface, as well as the LIS344ALH analog-output accelerometer.

The MuSA platform features four buttons for navigating the menus. A mini-USB connector is available to exchange data with a PC, depending on the specific application, and also recharges the internal Li-ion battery. The battery is capable of providing power for approximately 7 hours of operation."

For device demonstration see video here:

http://www.st.com/stonline/domains/support/edemoroom/index.htm?id=14

Wake-up letter to Radioshack – the hobbyists are back !

Have you been to Radioshack lately ? You might have needed a part for that last moment project, of course you could buy it online but you need it NOW! So you finally decide to step into that quiet  long forgotten Radioshack store. You walk in and you see cell phones , batteries , chargers , computer accessories, more cell phones ! , and finally in the back, here they are , on the dusty shelves some electronics parts. In an uninviting  metal drawer cabinet you see them nicely marked by category, you look around , is it safe to look inside  ? or should I call the clerk , "Naaaah he probably has no clue", is it locked ? will the alarm sound if I open it ? You finally gather the courage to look inside , and you feel like an explorer opening the cabins of Titanic, here is a transistor, a voltage regulator , a kit of resistors – "I might need it", a proto-board – "Nice!". You finally grabbed a cart of parts, although you didn't find what you were looking for in first place, you're little disappointed.  You're  finally  heading to the register, not without stopping to observe the Radioshack branded  multimeters and charges – and the whole place still feels just like a museum . The clerk was getting nervous already, you didn't even notice that an hour has passed. Now he is scanning your parts, he looks scared, half of the things he is scanning look dangerous to him, "this guy is up to something dangerous, we are dooooomed !". Oh no , now he is asking your address , is he going to call the cops ? :)

If you found yourself in this funny situation you're not alone, the truth is that at this time  there are no serious retail stores for the electronics hobbyist, however there's a booming market !  Due to the current economic environment I doubt that someone would venture to open a nation-wide retail chain like the one Radioshack has, this being the reason I decided to write an open letter to the company. You might not like the Radioshack company but the truth is that we need them and they need us !

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Hobby electronics is a serious business !

I can't help myself but notice that more and more electronics giants are starting to realize that hobby electronics is becoming a serious business !

Newark has just launched their new hobbyist / maker oriented web site www.element14.com as well as their own video blog  persona Ben Heck. When I first saw Ben I thought "I didn't know Conan O'Brian is into electronics. Wait that's not Conan !". Just like David L. Jones from EEVBlog , Ben likes to take things apart even before turning them on. I enjoyed very much his X-Box tear down and custom foot controlled XBox controller  and I am looking forward to seeing more videos like this.

Jameco has teamed up with Make Magazine 's   Collin Cunningham and forged a series of video tutorials aimed towards electronics beginners. And yes they finally carry Arduino in stock  !

In the same spirit , Texas Instruments launched few months ago a subsidized development platform MSP430 LaunchPad trying to win the hearts of all those Microchip PIC and Atmel AVR fanboys out there. But word along the benches is that it ain't gonna happen unless they make it Arduino shield pin compatible :).

Old news already – but ST tried a similar move with their STM8S-Discovery kit , not sure how many people they converted but it's interesting to see some competition going on for this hobbyist /  maker , no-longer-niche market.

Adafruit and Sparkfun  are two wonderful pioneer companies that showed to the world that   [title of this post]  = TRUE  ! They started  from zero and reached millions of dollars in sales in just few years. A good example that if you like what you're doing and you are passionate about it – you're going to go a long way.

Overall my feeling is that we are witnessing a new boom right now.  Robotics and Electronics is for 2010's what  Internet was for 2000's and personal computers for 1990's. For all those still in doubt , or who haven't  send their college applications yet – this is THE FIELD to work in the next decade ! A lot of wonderful things are just waiting to happen ! Stay tuned and enjoy the ride.