ThingM blog

What we think, what we like, what we make, and how we make it.

blink(1) mk2 Manufacturing Updates

We been up to a bunch of stuff since our Kickstarter closed.   On all fronts we’ve been making good progress.  In this update there’s info about:

  • Electronics
  • Enclosures
  • Software
  • API updates

We’re also having a bit of delay due to issues in getting the microcontroller chip in quantity from our vendor. We hope to have that sorted out shortly though.

Electronics

In anticipation of things going smoothing, we started the electronics manufacturing for blink(1) mk2 before we got funded, in late July and early August. It was at that point we placed the order for the components and set our electronics fabricator on making circuit boards. It usually takes about a month to go from emailing PCB layout (a view of that is the image below), a bill-of-materials (BOM), and payment to a finished set of electronics to test. (aside: it’s kind of amazing that we live in the future were we can just email out designs and get functional gadgets back in quantity) Our electronics manufacturer has finished fabbing the PCBs and has started on the electronics assembly. pcb

Enclosures

Several weeks ago we hired a firm to start manufacturing of the enclosure pieces. This can take over a month since just building the injection molds (for both the plastic and metal pieces) takes 4 weeks. We were hoping to start that earlier, but the evaluation of different injection molding providers took longer than hoped. We wanted to be sure we found someone who could fabricate the molded anodized aluminum alloy metal frame to our tolerances. One interesting output of the enclosure manufacturing step is turning our 3D CAD models into detail diagrams. These are the ones that look like blueprints and are really great to see how 3D gets systematically flattened to 2D representations: cad

Software

The newly rewritten version of Blink1Control is coming along nicely too. Our programming team has had a functional version working for a week now and is making the functionality have the right artwork and icons. It’s looking pretty great. Here’s a work-in-progress shot of it. software

API Updates

If you’re a developer or just like to poke around software, we’ve already updated most all the blink(1) API, libraries and sample code to work with blink(1) mk2. We’ve initially targeted blink1-tool, C/C++, and Java. You can check that out here. https://github.com/todbot/blink1/ Note that any existing blink(1) software will work with blink(1) mk2 (and vice-versa). The only thing you’ll be missing is the ability to control the individual LEDs on the mk2. There’s also the start of a new multi-modal ThingM-supported Python library that uses either PyUSB or blink1-lib via ctypes, depending on your needs. You can check it out here: https://github.com/todbot/blink1/tree/master/python

Sketching in Hardware 2013

Last weekend ThingM sponsored, and Mike organized, Sketching in Hardware 2013, held at PARC–the legendary Palo Alto Research Center (where Mike’s day job is). This was the eighth annual meeting of people developing tools that make creating with electronics accessible to non-professional engineers. We had a great group of people from as far as Copenhagen and Shenzen. Some were artists, others designers, many were scientists, engineers and university researchers. All were excited to talk about the tools that will make electronics more expressive, and more accessible. Since all 50 attendees gave a presentation (that’s one of the rules of the event), there isn’t space to summarize everything that everyone said, but here’s a sample:

  • David Mellis, of the MIT Media Lab, showed his Open Source mobile phone, and explained the philosophy behind it: the exploration of what happens when there is no distance between a prototype and the final product. Taking ideas of rapid iteration from agile software development and applying it, Dave concludes “If it doesn’t keep evolving, it’s dying.”
  • Robert Evans, one of the core Flip Video team, talked about how moving to scale (say 100K+ products) means not just convincing potential consumers that they need to invest in your product, but convincing every single supplier that they need to invest in your idea. It’s not about buying parts, it’s about getting everyone to believe that it’s better to work with you than with ANYONE else.
  • Katherine Moriwaki of Parsons described an amazing program to bring underserved kids together with technology and interaction design to explore new ways of learning and teaching each other. And she introduced a new Open Hardware board, the gadgITERATION noisemaker.
  • Jason Kridner, one of the creators of the Beagleboard, argued that JavaScript should be the programming environment for experimenting with digital hardware experiences, and to prove it showed a prototype JS development environment that lets you do just that.
  • Eric Paulos, of UC Berkeley, asked if the energy you use feels different when you know it was created by your child playing, and what it really means to be an amateur–a lover (from the latin root)–when participating in the invention of new technologies.
  • Yoichi Nagashima, of Shizouka University of Art and Culture, showed a new board, the SUACboard, that brings together four common microcontroller platforms (including Arduino and Gainer) together to create the hardware mashup of the year, one which his students have used to create beautiful work.
  • Jennifer Parker and Gene Felice introduced UC Santa Cruz’s OpenLab, which mixes art and technology creation to create a fluid space where–quite literally–anything can happen, from data visualization to carpentry.
  • Ed Baafi further pushed hardware development into the realm of software with Wiring++, which takes the core Arduino wiring library and adds concepts from modern object-oriented languages and operating systems, while keeping the whole thing tiny and lightweight.
  • Josh Walton and James Tichenor showed the latest incarnation of Spacebrew, their interactive space choreography toolkit that integrates and synchronizes many devices running simultaneously to create a single experience.
  • And finally, multiple presentations, from Steve Hodges, Yoshi Kawahara and PARC’s own Janos Veres gave glimpses of the next wave of prototyping by showing off amazing inkjet printed electronics (in some cases with printers and ink you can buy today).

We could continue enthusiastically gushing, but instead we’ll just point you to the presenters’ presentations, available from sketching-in-hardware.com/2013/presentations (currently the presentation is pretty raw–just a directory listing–but we’ll get a designed page up there eventually).

Announcing blink(1) mk2

photo-main

We’re working on an improved version of blink(1) and have launched a Kickstarter for it.

blink(1) mk2 is an updated version of the blink(1) super status light. The original blink(1) made it easy to connect any data source in the cloud or on your computer to a full-color RGB LED so you can know what’s happening without checking any windows, going to any websites or typing any commands. blink(1) mk2 maintains backward-compatibility while adding better functionality and great new features.

The main new features are:
- Better USB support
- Brighter via dual RGB LEDs
- Independently-addressable LEDs
- Improved Blink1Control application

We think it’s going to be great.
blink1mk2-ani

Nice review of blink(1)

Chris Moyer, author “Building Applications in the Cloud: Concepts, Patterns, and Projects” and a new blink(1) user, published a nice review of blink(1) for anyone curious about them. Thanks Chris!

blink1-review-screenshot

Neat MaxM + Arduino Moodlight Instructable

Instructable user yodacraft3 made a great guide on how to build an “Arduino Mood Lamp Using BlinkM”. You’re shown how to set up a BlinkM and then the much brighter BlinkM MaxM, using either an Arduino or LinkM. Check it out! (And thanks @DIYEngineering for bringing it to our attention!)

arduino-maxm-instructable

Mike’s talk at Augmented World Expo 2013

Mike gave a great talk at Augmented World Expo 2013. (as did ThingM advisor and good friend Ben Cerveny!) AWE brings together people to talk about the latest in augmented reality.

Mike’s talk was titled “Sculpting the Augmented World”. Slides and notes are below.

He was also interviewed by AWE.tv and that’s up on Youtube now.

Sculpting the Augmented World: Scale and Narrative in Augmented UX design by Mike Kuniavsky

blink(1) available at Maker Shed and Inventables

makershed
inventables

We now have two distributors of blink(1): Maker Shed and Inventables.

Both Maker Shed and Inventables also carry our BlinkM-family products too. We are very excited to have our gadgets offered by two companies that carry so many other neat products. Check them out!

Make an omnidirectional blink(1) with a ping-pong ball

Here’s a quick hack to try if you have a blink(1) and want a light that is large and viewable from more angles than what blink(1) normally provides. It does make things a bit larger though. It turns out ping-pong balls make excellent diffusers for LEDs. Here’s how to attach a ping-pong ball diffuser to your blink(1) so you can put a computer-controlled notification light just about anywhere.

omni-blink1-animated

blink(1) omni-light with ping-pong ball diffuser

Tools Needed:
- blink(1) USB RGB LED
- white ping pong ball
- hobby knife
- hot glue gun
- USB extension cable (optional)

Parts needed to make blink(1) omni-light

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MakerFaire 2013 Wrap Up

makerfaire

Whew, MakerFaire Bay Area 2013 is over and it was astoundingly fun. Not only did we get to interact with so many people doing awesome things with ThingM products (like these BlinkM MinM earrings) but we got to show off a bunch of projects made with blink(1) and BlinkM-family stuff to thousands of new people. We heard tallies of 120,000 people showed up over the weekend, and we love seeing the concepts the Maker community inspires diffusing out into the larger world, as this LA Times article speaks to.

This year not only were we fortunate enough to have a ThingM table in the Maker Shed (Thank you Leah, Alex, Will, Carlyn, & Mike for helping staff it), but we also gave talks. Mike spoke about the future of manufacturing in a work filled with Maker-inspired tools and techniques, while Tod gave a talk on the process we went through to take blink(1) from an idea to Kickstarter to production.

Below are slides from both talks.

Mike’s talk:
MFBA 2013 336

The New Product Ecosystem: How design will reinvent manufacturing (Maker Faire 2013) by Mike Kuniavsky

Tod’s talk:

todmakerfaire

From Prototype to Kickstarter to Production: How blink(1) was made by todbot

High-five robot with BlinkM MinM

They said it couldn’t be done: a robot that only does high-fives. They were wrong. Thanks to a courageous BlinkM MinM who donated his brain to be rewritten with an BlinkMuino ATtiny85 Arduino sketch, the High-Five Robot exists.