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Enginursday: Doing Something Spectacular

We really want to do a fun and amazing project here in Engineering and want to know your thoughts.

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Just a quick reminder: Today is the last day to take advantage of the Data Dozen sale, so if you’ve got any data-based project plans, get in there while the getting’s good!

Before I begin, I just want to make a quick call-to-action to those whom this concerns. I know this affects a lot of our customers, so I’m going to skirt my general rule of leaving politics out of electronics and bring this up. Right now the FAA is working on an interpretation of their rules regarding model aircraft. If it goes through as is, it could be pretty disastrous for those interested in model aircraft. I won’t go too deep into it, because our friends at Hack A Day wrote up an excellent article detailing what’s going on. The FAA has extended the comment period another 60 days to September 23rd. If you have any interest vested in this situation please make yourself heard.

What will become of Pete and his Planes?

What will become of Pete and his planes?

On to the Enginursday. Yesterday the extended engineering department went to a coffeehouse/brewery (I was not amused) to discuss working on a larger project. This project would most likely not be a product, nor would it be a project highlighting our products, but rather a larger scale project that puts our talents to good use.

The first question to address is, “Why?” There are many reasons. If you’re familiar with SparkFun, you know we try to incorporate smaller projects here and there that showcase what a product of ours does. While these are great, they come with huge constraints. Time is often a factor; we’re given anywhere from days to a month to complete the project. It also has to have one of our products as the main attraction, and there is rarely complexity to the projects (sorry if I’m offending anyone here at SparkFun). We want something where we have a realistic timeframe to accomplish something great, something that the final product of the project is the star, not the parts used to make it.

So yesterday we sat down in the common room shared by a coffee shop and brewery and discussed what we could do. I cannot reiterate enough at this point that I mean no ill will towards anyone here at SparkFun with this post. But I left feeling our ideas were lack-luster, a feeling that we can do better. The general ideas were great, but the projects that might come from them were nothing special. Most were re-hashings of previously done projects. I chalk it up to how close these projects resemble our day-to-day work. It’s tough finding the motivation to go home at night and do what you were just getting paid to do for the past eight hours. So to get over this, I think we need a fresh idea, possibly one that comes from outside the group. Something we can get excited and passionate about. A project we can take pride in accomplishing.

I want to hear ideas from you guys. What would you like to see us tackle? Here’s a few broad topics we had discussed to give you an idea of where we want to go with this:

Helping an educational institution with their research

Any of the engineers who started out in our technical support department will tell you that we get a lot of calls from researchers and scientists looking for a more customized sensor or tool to take measurements and readings for their experiment. More often than not, we can tell them what they need to do within a few back and forth emails to create this tool, but do not have the extended time to create and maintain the tools for them. Our ideas included helping with environmental measurements and creating sensor arrays to help create more usable prosthetics.

Create a large art installation

Yet another common topic we see in tech support. Lots of our engineers like to think of themselves as more creative and artistic types and surround themselves with similar environments. Some of us even have pipe dreams of helping their favorite artists with an installation. Ideas bounced around included giant interactive pieces at landmarks (with city approval) or helping an artist realize a lofty piece.

Giant Scavenger Hunt

What I once thought was shady (and frequent) drug deals happening in a bush in front of our building was actually people Geocaching. With all the excitement of a modern-day treasure hunt, we thought of ideas to make it more interesting. One of which I personally liked was a Geocache that’s never in the same place for each visitor. Ideas outside of Geocaching were pitched as well, something that could go city to city.

Create a Handy Open-Source Solution

This one takes some explaining as this is kind of what we do. But the idea was swung to come up with an Open Source environment for an existing solution that’s out there. Maybe something like an open-source bike electronics environment, or home automation platform. Something that results in the base work of a usable, open solution to an existing (or not yet existing) set of hardware and software.

Again, these were just the first ideas. We want something that demonstrates more than just the hardware inside, rather something that shows how pertinent 3D printing, is or how E-textiles and wearable electronics are here and feasible.

Throw us your ideas in the comments. Remember, there’s no judgement in brainstorming. Also tune in next week, when Enginursday returns with what I can only assume will be verbal abuse being hurled in my general direction.


Comments 59 comments

  • Katie8 / last year * / 5

    Do any of you Funions have type 1 (or insulin-managed type 2) diabetes? :)

    As a 16-year old girl with diabetes, it annoys me that I can’t easily wear dresses and still have control over my insulin pump. In addition, I hate it when my CGM (continuous glucose monitor) starts alarming in public, and people ask me what it is (which often turns into a conversation about how type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease that is usually diagnosed in kids, and it’s not preventable :P “You’re not fat, how did you get diabetes?” “Aren’t you too young for that?” sigh). What about a device that can control the pump, grab data from the CGM sensors, and interface to a phone so that nobody has to see the pump and CGM?

    CGMs and insulin pumps especially are notoriously hackable – see Hacking Medical Devices for Fun and Insulin: Breaking the Human SCADA System – so it seems that one could, without too much trouble (since y'all are smart engineery people), make a module that receives glucose numbers over RF, sends them to your phone over bluetooth, where they are in an app, from which the user can send commands back to the device about how many carbs they are eating and how much insulin they want to bolus, which are in turn relayed to the insulin pump. In addition, the app could ring when blood sugars are too high or low, and the user would just look like he or she was just checking his or her phone!

    I started working on a project like this, but I’m heavily limited by time, money, and both hardware and software knowledge. I’d LOVE to see this as a project from you guys! If you open source the hardware and software, I’m sure that there would be a really awesome bridge between the medical community and the open source electronics community that would allow the project to advance, become more useful, and help diabetics everywhere.

    This disease can be difficult to manage, and is the leading cause of new cases of blindness. It can also cause kidney, heart, and nerve problems. Unfortunately, teenagers tend to be the ones who refuse to manage their diabetes because it might open them up to teasing and it can carry a kind of weird, misguided stigma (like this, or this, or this, sigh). I have a brother in law who went blind because of type 1, and with all the technology available today, it seems like an app that makes this disease seem a little less weird is a no-brainer.

    Good luck with your project! Whatever it is, I know I can expect great things from you guys. Thanks for being awesome! :)

  • One of the greatest risks facing the US right now will be water. We have to become more intelligent about water usage. Although there are many OS projects that address the gardening aspect, I think Sparkfun can bring something to the table.

    Namely, by having expertise in wireless, custom PCB’s, and small micro’s, you can develop a base station that can control water, as well as either wired, or wireless nodes to feed information to the base station. The base station can report back through Wifi, either with a web interface, or feeding information to an app. A wireless moisture sensor might have a small micro, small solar cell, and small lipo, and wakes up every 5 mins, takes a reading, reports back to the base station and then sleeps. This does not need to be a 802.11 wirelss, it could use another way more suited to it’s use, and all packaged in a small PCB.

    The other project might be energy and smart homes. Similar to existing projects, I think your custom PCB’s could be advantage for the home crowd. Don’t worry about the enclosure’s, let the 3rd party market do that, unless you want to release 3d printer files.

    Both of these projects can solve real world needs, and showcase a lot of the expertise of the engineering department. It would also expose them to different constraints than they might normally be exposed to, designing goods for manufacture, rather than as development boards.

    • I second the smart home/energy monitoring bit. Mainly because it’s on my project list but I’ve been far too busy to actually tackle it. (Three kids will do that to you.)

      Water use would be cool too. (I’m in West Michigan, about 20 minutes from ‘le big lake. Even so moisture sensing and timing for the garden and such would be fantastic: I’m a pro at forgetting to turn the soaker hose off.)

    • Of the many interesting replies here, this from @andy4us resonates the most with me. Try living without water - go on, try it. Huh, I’m thirsty!

      Pete Warshall wrote in the successor to the Whole Earth Catalog (paraphrasing here): “The two most important questions for anyone on earth are:

      1. Where does your water come from? -and-

      2. Where does your water go?

      No one notices anything wrong until the well goes dry. There are ever more and more of us but less and less water to go around. Accurate, effective, efficient water management is a crucial part of Civilization. If the Sparkfun community can supply tools and methods to help monitor and measure this resource, many citizens would benefit. The many and diverse sensors that Sparkfun supplies coupled with mesh network enabled comm links could be a significant tool that many would benefit from.

      Water - it’s easy to forget it’s importance; until you have none.

  • A co-worker tonight told me of a friend’s eleven year old child who just underwent surgery to have a two pound tumor removed from his heart. They weren’t able to get it all this time around, he’ll be undergoing chemo before another surgery, and schooling from home. My immediate thought was, “It wouldn’t be that hard for him to have a tele-presence in his classroom.” And as my brain took off, I thought it would be fairly simple to add a servo-driven arm, so that he could raise a hand to ask questions. Put a servo under the camera/monitor, so he could look around the classroom. We could add options from the student side for him to change how the classroom sees him in the monitor. Maybe he’s feeling down about the way he looks, so we make it possible to overlay <name of someone handsome that the kids like>’s face for the day. (This of course allows for abuse - Frankenstein, SpongeBob, etc.) We could also make allowances for him to program improvements or personalizations to the interface, getting him interested in programming at a good age (if he isn’t already!)

    I know this is not an isolated incident, but this was the one that brought it to my attention. St. Jude Children’s Hospital alone cares for about 7,800 kids each year, and I’m sure many of them are missing school during a time in their lives when social interaction is just as important a part of school as their classes. This would, to some degree, allow that to continue. And come on, going from “That sick kid who’s losing all of her hair, who used to be in our class” to “Bethany over there, who is now totally, like, part robot!” would be a huge boost to a young child’s self-esteem. And of course, once it’s completed, it would become completely open source, offering up all of the build specs, software, and 3D parts to be printed.

  • A Pinball machine !

  • One idea that comes to mind regarding the “helping an educational institution with their research” would be to set up a database where educational institutions (or other charitable organizations – e.g., helping the physically disabled) could post “projects” that they need help with, and then those of us who have the knowledge and skills and are willing to help out could respond.

    Just as a “for instance”, I can see times when a biological research project might want to monitor small animal dens for occupancy – fairly easy for many of us to do by combining some sensors, something like a proMini, and an RF link to gather the data, but well beyond what most biologists can do. Someone might volunteer to design the box, someone else to program it, someone else to “kit” the parts (paid for out of the project’s budget), and several folks to donate an evening or two putting the kits together.

    Maybe even a sort of “inverted Kickstarter” – folks who have a few bucks in their budget to do something where they need some skills could get in touch with folks (like me) who are “retired” engineers who might be willing to do some project that (from the engineer’s point of view) is a rather small project.

    • I think in large part this is covered by Stack Exchange. Admittedly it is focused on smaller questions than entire projects, but seems like it should be the catalog/database/aggregator where people would connect interests and abilities.

    • It sounds similar to the websites where you post a project description for, say, a logo for your company - and then graphic artists contact you and link you to their portfolio and rates. You pick one and work with them to get the final project.

      There would be two types of users: Builders/engineers who are interested in building these types of projects, and clients, who need the project built. The builders register and set up a profile, with their areas of expertise and a “portfolio” of completed projects. The clients register and post a description of the project, with as much detail as they can manage, and the budget. Then builders can look over the projects and contact clients to start discussion of the project. It’s not a forum, there is no public discussion of the projects.

      The other issue is money - the graphic design sites that do this (http://99designs.com, http://www.fiverr.com/, etc) all take a cut of the payment to keep the site going. And setting this up would take some time and expertise, not to mention promoting it to all interested parties.

    • I love this idea, but have to argue the usefulness of such a database. this sounds like any other internet forum, except most forums are 10% project discussion, 90% people telling each other who’s wrong until the original thread is abandoned. This would almost have to be restricted to an educational community to work well.

      • “Those who say something can’t be done should not get in the road of those who are doing it.” Sorry, I don’t recall the attribution of the comment.

        Anyway, I’m thinking of more something that someone posts “my research requires XYZ, anybody willing to help do it?” and then people who are would contact them “off-line”, and maybe require that the original poster follow up (once a fortnight?) with either “still need some help” or “OK, I think I’ve found enough help”, basically a (very brief) status report. If “general advice” is needed, then put it onto a “normal” forum, and discouraged on the “need workers” (“inverted Kickstarter”) thing.

        • I’m not saying it can’t be done, i just don’t really see the use. Like many project sites, Sparkfun already HAS forums set up where people can go to collaborate on various projects, and as with any forum, theres a few threads in there where the main topic was abandoned due to various members going off on some tangent of the project, rather than directly helping with the goal of the thread. So to save the interest of THIS thread, I would be glad to chat with you over on skype if you want to look me up :)

  • This might be from way out in left field, or from the bottom of my caffene supply, but I’ve always loved the outdoor work you guys do, from AVC to the HAB projects, the larger scale the better. You want a project with a real world timeframe, A project meant to shine in itself, so in spite of sounding riddiculous, why not build a moon rover? The Cubesat prograom is almost commonplace, if costly, but the platform is there, components being bought off the shelf keep getting smaller, and more affordable every year. How difficult would it be to take things a step further? Instead of signing up for an orbital launch, send a 3U box unit to the moon to deploy a little rover?

    • The Google Lunar X-Prize has the same goal. It’s been underway for several years; the deadline was recently extended because none of the dozen or so teams were close to being able to make it. As the remaining teams can attest (many have dropped out), this mission presents an extremely difficult set of problems to solve, chief among them the budget - the $20M prize seems like a lot, but the rocket flight alone is likely to cost more than that.

      But as you say, the cubesat ecosystem is rapidly maturing. A satellite mission may not be out of the question, especially since PocketQube tickets are getting down into the $30K range. We’ll be at the AIAA Small Satellite Conference next week, we’ll let you know if there are any offers too good to pass up.

  • What about combining electronics and food together. An example would be an Arduino based coffee machine. Another example would be an oven control that would have profiles that could be downloaded from the internet that are similar to a solder reflow profile. The oven could start baking a pizza really hot, but then cool down once the cheese has melted.

  • The “Helping an educational institution with their research” option certainly appeals to me. Any tools developed with the assistance of SparkFun engineers would be available as open source to the broader research community. I imagine if word got out that SparkFun engineers were willing to apply their talents to one or two larger projects, you’d have researchers bombarding you with good ideas. Sparkfun could cherry-pick the most interesting, most worthy, most technically challenging, most fun, most creative - whatever criteria you choose. Declare open season and solicit proposals beyond this comment box. Me? I’d probably propose getting help from SparkFun’s engineers to fabricate heat pulse sap flow sensors used to measure transpiration in trees. Making these things by hand takes up hours and hours of time and I’m pretty sure there are steps that could improve quality of these sensors - how bout a little winding machine to fabricate the micro-heater coils?

    • … like Google Summer of Code, but in-house and for hardware?

      Good idea SparkFun, regardless of what projects you decide to take on.

  • Heard of Blender.org? How about building a physical interface, with the idea of a smallish manikin (a head, biped or quadruped etc… device). To create/record (like digital stop-motion) and playback motion/animation files through blender. An alternative to mocap, with the added feature of using the animation feature of the program to control animatronics. A plug-in could be written in python by someone skilled enough. But the treat would be watching your project, however small you wish to make it, repeatedly replay your animation when and how you want, even if it has to be connected to a computer. Think those gaudy Christmas light shows are cool using Vixen and an arduino? How about a fully animatronic halloween or Xmas display… oooh the possibilities. /evil grin

  • This falls into ‘Handy Open Source Solution’ A reliable, variable frequency, high-speed, true PWM inverter controller with power factor tracking. Maybe something with over-current detection and such. [hey, you asked!! ]

    I work on power systems and would buy something like that in a heart beat. I’d use it for induction forging but you could use it for brew system variable frequency drives and all kinds of power electronic projects. If you guys just do the controller and leave the power FET’s and capacitors out of the picture it, parts should be reasonably priced.

    • Kinda like an open source motor controller? That’s not a bad idea. That could be used for many applications, especially in the hobby area. It would be a great primer for engineers and automation techs going into manufacturing as well. Variable frequency drive are everywhere in manufacturing.

      • yep, exactly like that, I would only ask that you can modify it to from 0-500kHz instead of 0-60Hz.

  • Don’t know if this idea is to the scale of the other ones, but I have always wanted to do build a dog collar GPS tracker. I know there are a lot of GPS loggers out there for pets, but I was thinking of an actual tracker that sends coordinates back to some server and can be displayed on a mobile device so you could track down a lost pet. Also thought about incorporating something like Sparkfun’s Wake on Shake board (https://www.sparkfun.com/products/11447) to try and conserve battery life. The limiting factor is the range of the transmitter attached to your pet, but perhaps the goal would be that you could also track your pet by using receivers in other people’s homes (i.e. other people with the same pet tracker).

    • Sounds like Iota.

    • I have a couple uses for this, and I think the mesh network aspect would be much more interesting, maybe over bluetooth? as for ‘range of transmitter’ there are the Sparkfun GSM kits, but then you’re paying the monthly fee to keep the simcard active, which is efectively the same as what’s already on the market :) But power saving and mesh networking, that definately has potential!

  • I can think of two things that caught my imagination over the years. One was the project called “Spirit of Butts Farm” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Spirit_of_Butts%27_Farm) which successsfully built a model airplane that autonomously flew across the Atlantic Ocean. The other was a recent attempt to build a solar-electric boat that got pretty far in its attempt to autonomously navigate across the Atlantic to Spain. (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scout_%28autonomous_boat%29) I think both of these are in the spirit of what you guys are contemplating, as well as a nice extension of the AVC. Since I live in San Diego, I’ve been researching about the possibility of building an autonomous boat to navigate to Hawaii instead of Spain, as this would also give me an excuse to go to Hawaii again (assuming it was successful.)

  • I love the big ideas proposed by the Rocky Mountain Institute. I can see a natural tie between you both in Colorado. Some of the ideas they have about making cars more efficient by making them lightweight with advanced materials and new control systems should be something to consider. A series of 3D printed files to modify cars so they get close to some of the performance specs RMI talks about would be huge. AND, it would allow others to copy your lead and bring about energy reform in the automobile industry from a grass roots effort.

    Saving the planet with your 3D printer…that’s a big idea that you could start tackling in little pieces!

  • Project: Since you’re meeting in a brew-house, why not build an smart-brewery. Temperature control for boiling the grains, CO2 measurements, timers, optical sensors to sense the color of the beer…. it’s geeky, it’s practical, and you get the drink the end-product.

  • Zio / last year / 1

    OH MY GOD! That is a Nikitis Hotrod mini! I learned how to fly model airplanes with those! I still have my [cloned] Hotrod with original Axi motor, thing is almost 9-10 years old now. I always knew Pete was a good dude.

  • This may be a bit too hard for you guys, but…

    Right now, at the Fukushima power plant cleanup, all those fancy robots are tethered, instead of being controlled by radio. And the tethers are consistently at risk of being run over by trucks.

    The problem? The various levels of the Japanese Government do not cooperate with one another with regards to allowing the “high power radiation exposure” from the high-power military radios the robots usually use.

    So… the challenge? Design a radio capable of the necessary bandwidth transmission that operates over the necessary distances required within the power output limits considered acceptable by the Japanese government. Open Source Hardware probably better, if only so they can build and test the hardware themselves, to ease government paranoia, and get the damn things approved for cleanup use.

  • How about a mass-produced pedal generator for the third world?

    You bolt the casing containing the pedal and its generator in front of a suitable seat. The motor is internal to the casing, and has selectable power outputs for common voltages.

    Geeks on volunteer missions can take one for their gadgets, and leave it behind for the needs of the villagers.

    • This is the sort of thing I’d like to have and really like to participate in creating, much like this bucket. Hey, speaking of that– you like making kits, right? Well, right there is a mix of things that can be scrounged and things that have to be precision machined or bought– like the magnets. You could start with those then throw in so many pre-made axles, plenty of epoxy, some printed core templates with adhesive backing, and something like the solar charge controller plans included in their build manual.

      Though to be honest, pedalling interests me more than hydro. I ride a bike and when I got over the silliness of trying to put a decent motor on it using leftovers, I realized a generator would be easier to get working and more beneficial anyway– instead of charging some lithium off the wall in order to go faster or easier, I can charge some lithium off my own middle by getting more exercise.

  • The Arduino Fio and the Pro Mini/Micros have no shields. Exacerbating the problem is that the Fio and the Pro Mini/Micros don’t share the same pin ordering, meaning for a shield to be compatible with both Fio and Pro Mini/Micros, it would have to get pretty silly. I suggest you organize an effort to standardize the pinout so that it will make more sense to make shields for these great Arduinos that don’t otherwise have any.

  • Indoor robot localization is a major challenge. Just saying.

  • The venerable servo has been around for ages, but in many ways, it’s unsuitable for modern needs. We could really use something new. It would be better if we had something that can be given position, velocity, and acceleration values, specifying precise motions, reporting status of that motion, and reporting failure if that motion has not reached its targets on time. SparkFun is in a unique position to deliver a product of this sort.

  • How about mass producing these (https://sites.google.com/site/affordableeducationrobot/home/hardware) so poor kids in Africa (http://robotics-africa.org/afron-design-challenges/ultra-affordable-educational-robot-project.html), and everyone, really, can have robots too?

  • barryjh / last year * / 1

    Autonomous Mission Quad-copter and Charging Station

    I don’t have Quad-copter experience, but I am working on a Java control system framework to allow sensors to be coupled with actuators via distributed applications. One of the advanced use cases I have thought of for actuators is a quad-copter that can be given an mission instruction over a network API and it takes off from its charging station, completes the mission and then returns to the base station. Although the copter would be initially an actuator to the control system, it would also supply sensor data from the mission back to the base station which would be accessible via the base station API.

    The base station would host network connection, charging (AC with Solar option), and handle the API to allow remote mission dispatch.

    Example Mission Use Cases:

    Dynamic Security System - An external sensor network detects motion somewhere on the users property, the external control system issues a “investigate mission to GPS coordinates”. The copter takes off and sends back images from the location.

    Security Guard System - On a periodic basis an external system issues a “reconnaissance mission” to fly over a designated area and send back images or infrared images which the requesting external application can compare against previous images to detect something out of the ordinary.

    Those are just a few, but really the use cases are limited only by imagination. Imagine configuring the “just for fun mission” where the copter grabs a beer and brings it over to your neighbors back yard when your first one is empty.

    Yes its a stretch goal here, but it seems it could be done somewhat incrementally. The first not so useful step would be to learn the base station GPS location and take off and land back on the station. The first useful step would be to make it learn the perimeter of an area to fly over then be able to issue a mission to fly the perimeter and return to the base. As I am writing this it seems you could make one way of learning a perimeter be the “follow me” function where the copter would follow someone walking around the flight path. That makes me think this could also have promise as being the next “goFlyPro” that would follow you while motorcycling, ATVing, etc… Anyway, some food for thought.

  • From your Open-Source idea, I would definitely like to see an open source platform for home automation. I think it would be great if there were something I could swap a light switch out with a product that had both a switch, and the ability to remotely turn it on and off, using an electric imp or other wifi device. How about something that monitors your amp usage for all the wires coming out of your home’s circuit breaker box, maybe there you can also shut off power too. Big warning on high voltage part though…

    • I like this idea too, although it’s very selfishly coming up just because I’m going through the motions myself now… There are already several open source automation projects, but I really haven’t found one that does “everything”.. And, by everything, I don’t mean that it has to do everything out of the box, I mean that really all I’m looking for is a framework that I can extend to anything I think of now or in the future. Whether it’s a module to interface to x10, or a module to accept input from an arduino based home-made temperature sensor, or a Bluetooth input to detect when my phone is in the living room, I think what is missing is an extensible core that can correlate different states of arbitrary sensors, and make decisions for other endpoints.. Having the logic and control distributed would be a bonus, This would/could/should interface into something like the sparkfun cloud data structure to store the state of every device in the network, so anything can make decisions based on any other device. You could then have rules like “Turn on the coffee pot at 6:00am, but only on weekdays when the iphone is still on the charger and the garage door hasn’t already opened and closed”.. I think once the framework for something like that was built, the extensibility into ANY type of sensor or output device would make this a really cool project.

  • I personally am a great admirer of stand alone power, meaning: create your own electricity and use the excess to power your neighbors homes. The problem that exists is the cost; I can spend 6,000 dollars to put up a wind generator that will pay itself off in about 7 years (plus the cost of the tower to mount it on), I can spend 9,000 dollars on a solar system that will pay itself off in 5 years… but I will spend another 1200 on integrating that system into commercial electricity or even just 4,000 on turning it into 110AC to power my home with no revenue. This is a huge turnoff for most people as they want to see the profits immediately. The problem here is 2-fold: first that the source of power is not the solar panel or wind generator, but that it is the “semi-finished” product of a panel that costs twice what it is worth because someone in a factory far far away spent some time soldering it together and mounting it in a pretty package, the second issue is the conversion of .65V, 12V or 24V DC power into the 110AC that our appliances are designed for. Let us instead design a system of solar CELLS that can be assembled and joined in a manner that suits the end user (with their own skill) into something that can be easily joined into their existing home. Let’s create the ability for skilled home DIY users to create a panel that is 7 cells, 38 cells, 92 cells or 283 cells linked together to suit the size of their furnishings with a “suit the size” format that is economical and efficient. Then we can make available to them the schematics to create a Sin wave AC transformer that can be easily integrated into their current building power structure. We can cut the parts cost in half and the labor cost would drop down to the price of having a certified electrician join the renewable power into the building infrastructure. The state and federal tax cuts would still augment the initial cost of installation and the end-user could get a foreseeable surplus in 2 years instead of 5 to 7. These are the kinds of large projects that we need to start looking at in the future and the way to get them economical is not to force current power plants to become “60 percent renewable” but more simply to allow the individual home/business/shop/office/pub owner the easily accessible ability to become energy independent.

  • What about sending a Raspberry Pi with a camera to space, which then streams live! :)

  • You could do like Amazon did and patent something revolutionary like taking a photo with a white background. http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/amazon-patents-technique-seamless-white-background-article-1.1808939

  • Have you ever looked into Ingress? It’s a worldwide puzzle hunt and capture the flag rolled into one.

    • I just started playing Ingress last week, and while I enjoy it greatly, I don’t see how it answers the question.

      • Well, let’s take a sec to actually read the OP.

        Ideas bounced around included giant interactive pieces at landmarks (with city approval) or helping an artist realize a lofty piece.

        How about the Binoculars in Los Angeles, a portal that lights up depending on faction control and flashes on attacks?

        What I once thought was shady (and frequent) drug deals happening in a bush in front of our building was actually people Geocaching. With all the excitement of a modern-day treasure hunt, we thought of ideas to make it more interesting. One of which I personally liked was a Geocache that’s never in the same place for each visitor. Ideas outside of Geocaching were pitched as well, something that could go city to city.

        Like artifacts that travel between portals via links? Or how about media items that can only be acquired at specific portals, or at anomalies?

        Ingress has a ton of stealable ideas. I’ve been playing for nearly two years, and I don’t see how it doesn’t answer the question.

  • Perhaps something that could be modular, networked, applied and uses all of the various boards and sensors… You could retrofit a co-ed seascout ship with modern sensors, actuators, controllers, mobile ethernet, GPS and weather is a way that both teaches and performs. Most of their ships (at least out here in California) are 1960’s era navy and coast guard patrol boats ( 80-120') where everything is museum class analog right down to the sound powered phones. Very steampunk but good for teach maritime skills. There is no ethernet, can or other networks right now but they do have there own generators and mobile platform that would be unique for tech applications. Could a plotter be converted with GPS to track the location both on the screen and on paper maps? Could mobile updates to social media be incorporated with automatic connection to open wifi with directional antennas? Imagine, an 82 foot robotic platform that teaches….Here is an example - https://www.facebook.com/ssspointweber

  • For me it would be to develop devices to simulate inputs into a PLC control system using Arudino or other microcontroller for dynamic software testing. Actually you could use these devices to simulate inputs into an Arudino also.

    In particular RTD’s, thermocouples, and AC frequency for speed simulation.

    There are some crude ways to somewhat simulate these devices but they have limitations. There are calibrators ($$$) on the market that can do these things but they require you manually setting the output using a keypad.

    For example, there is nothing to take a 4-20mA (very common) input and produce a simulated bipolar mV output signal for input into a PLC for testing . You can use a 1 ohm resistor to get positive mV values but not negative mV values.

    Basically it would be developing the “Signal Simulator” as show below…

    Simulator PLC (4-20mA Out) –> (4-20mA In) [Signal Simulator] (mV OUT) –>(mV IN) PLC Under Test

    I have started writing a control specification thinking I might submit to CSU (I live in Fort Collins) for a Senior project for a student.

    Interested??? 

    • I think you might be able to do that just by offsetting the signal from the 1-ohm resistor downward using an op-amp.

    • I second this one, the digital mA / mV source alone would save me a lot time, frustration, and money.

  • What about a chipper/shredder to turn plastics(PLA, ABS, possibly others) into filament that can go back through the 3d printer?

    • Or maybe a print head that would take the much more economical pellets that are used in the plastics industry instead of requiring filaments?

      • That would be pretty cool. I think the main difficulty with that is that it would be harder to extrude a specific volume of plastic with pellets than with filament. People do make their own filament out of pellets, though, in which case minor variations in extrusion rate don’t matter.

    • This has been done.

  • I’m gonna throw out there a wearable Simon says. A set of jackets/wearables that monitors the “Simon’s” movements and then gives a limited time thereafter for others to replicate. Perhaps it could end up more like twister with buttons on elbows, knees, forehead, hands, and feet. Anyhow, engage a group, in a simple game.

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