B-Squares


The above video shows B-Squares, an awesome project from Jordan McRae. B-Square is a modular electronics system that makes playing around with electronics a snap. Each square has magnetic corners with positive or negative connections, so hooking up two (or however many) squares is as simple as pushing them together.

There are then different squares, each with a unique function. The solar-square acts as a small solar panel. The battery-square has three rechargeable internal AAA batteries. The Arduino-Square has the functionality of an Arduino Pro and the iPhone-square allows you to connect an iPhone. There is also a speaker-square (to, ya know, use a speaker) and a Proto-Square that lets you design your own B-Square.

The entire system is very well designed and has tons of potential. It's awesome to see how easy it is to connect a few squares together and create an instant circuit. Check out Jordan's KickStarter page for more information on this project. Awesome work!


Comments 31 comments

  • I guess that’s pretty cool, but those cells are so small and wouldn’t provide much power.
    Speaking of power are they aware of current(voltage) curves to maximize power output?

  • What’s SparkFuns stake in this?

  • I gotta say, I am in utter awe of the funding this has gotten on “Kickstarter” so far.
    The Comments page on Kickstarter asks a question: “What does the B in B-Squares mean?"
    I think it means "Bio”. As in Bio-Squares. The analogy being that the squares are a metaphor for modular bio luminescence. Basically, a way to stick blocks together to make a light show.
    Kickstarter is sheer genius. I have to assume that Amazon actually owns them, as they are so deeply integrated. As such, they get… like… 8% (5% to Kickstarter, 2.9% plus change to Amazon directly.) of the pledge amounts for ‘funded’ projects with zero risk whatsoever. Not too shabby! That equates to over a million dollars a year in actual profit. That’s not a million dollars in sales, that’s profit. With no inventory to manage whatsoever. Sheer… Genius…
    I gotta figure out a way to make this work for me…

  • What about including wireless communication next? You might be able to do something with Bluetooth to “simplify” the physical side of communication.

    • Bluetooth would drive the price up, and you’d have to deal with pairing. I think the interface needs to be physical: it matters what square is adjacent to which square. And more complicated squares might have faces with different functions/purposes.
      I think serial is the way to go. You can have an RX and TX terminal across each face. That would mirror each pair so you get a full-duplex path. Of course, most micros don’t have 4 UARTs to throw around, so either you don’t get a serial link on every face, or you wire-or multiple interfaces and cope with collisions from multiple transmitters. You’d want a protocol for ID'ing and chatting with your neighbors, as well as forwarding to their neighbors.
      If you are worried about reliability of the data contacts, just use checksummed packets and retransmit if you get see noise. You could use IR LEDs/detectors instead of electrical contacts, though that would cost a bit more and consume more power.
      Cheers,
      - Dean

  • Hi emcee,
    would this project be worth showcasing on the homepage on sparkfun ?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dP16EDbXbg&feature=player_profilepage
    Thanks,
    Ram

  • This is Shawn, the other ½ of B-Squares. Thanks for the comments, especially the hilarious ones about Jordan – keep them coming.
    But don’t be sad. Like Jordan said, B-Squares is power today, data tomorrow. We needed to devise a strategy to get enough mass appeal and scale to fund tooling up, and that’s what you see in Rev. 1.0 launching on Kickstarter. But we are building in enough flexibility into the core B-Squares tooling and frames so that Rev 2.0 around the corner will do as you command.
    We’re pushing this as fast as a few guys can, but want to make this into something useful for makers at every level. So, if you’re a new maker, let us know what you want to see in B-Squares. And if you’re a more experienced one, let us know how we can make this better. Thanks.

    • After looking at your websites (octo23 / humdingerwind / Haddock Invention), it’s clear you describe yourselves as an “invention company”, that is, you patent stuff, and then offer it to licensees for a fee/royalty, locking out everyone else in the process and encumbering the field for anyone willing to explore in the same direction.
      By using Kickstarter, you found a way to even get others to finance what you do. Ethically questionable, but pretty clever.
      What you do is legal, but it’s as far as one can possibly be from open hardware, and as such, please at least only patent/restrict technology that you invented, not stuff that you want others to come up with for you to patent !
      This is the same practice (with JEDEC) that earned Rambus it’s reputation !
      BTW, others have already gone further, such as Ayah Bdeir Littlebits.

  • This bears a striking resemblance to Siftables.
    Don’t expect too much from that solar cell…

  • Wait a minute. How the heck can this even work?
    Ok, I get that the corners have opposite polarity DC power, and each corner also integrates 2 magnets with the magnetic polarity swapped on any 2 adjacent magnets.
    But the battery square requires input AND output voltage levels. How do you construct a 3D block like the “Optimus Prime” without connecting the battery’s charger input to the battery output itself AND powering all modules with the battery?
    Well, I’m sure Jordan, who is apparently the “Lead Aerospace Engineer” at Humdinger Wind energy LLC in Hong Kong, and, as such, is clearly smarter than I, has figured it out.

  • Too much emphasis on form over function. It looks neat, and the potential is there, but without an interconnect for communication it just doesn’t do much. Sticking an arduino in a square looks like it’s more for show, to make the project appear microcontroller-enabled. The communication interconnect is where the real meat of this project is going to be; I hope they get to implement this in version 2.0. Some kind of shared bus ought to do it, with a bit of logic in the squares to talk to the bus. Once someone could have, for example, an arduino square talking to a LCD square and a keyboard square, that’s when interesting things will happen.

    • Maybe if the arduino IO or comms was broken out onto more little magnetic couplings, that would be great

      • The problem with a center terminal would be it’s inherent unreliability. It can’t be magnetic because it would have different polarity depending on orientation. at least with the corners, they would have a chance to repel the other square if you tried to connect it ‘wrong’ (I.E. One upside down.). With 4 corners, edgewise connections are assured, and even ‘stacking’ them assures 3 connections to be co-planar. Add more connections, and reliability goes down.

        • The polarity of a “command” or controller square would be achieved by the corner magnets themselves as you said. The contacts for the communication could be in the middle of one or two (maybe even all) of the sides. They could operate similar to contacts on MagSafe
          It’s adding complexity, but hey, I want my stuff to do stuff.
          Off topic, Jordan works for a company named Humdinger? I wonder who came up with that name?

          • The MagSafe has pins, a planar surface that allows rotation on a 90 degree plane does not. As such, an alignment error of a thousandth of an inch is sufficient to render the B-Square contacts unconnected if the error is in the Z axis of the plane of connection.
            It’s impossible to maintain that many points of contact in a plane without complex crap like springs and shit.

            • The MagSafe uses “complex” springs. And who said the edge of the BSquare has to be planar? If they were rounded, then the contacts could be spring-loaded and go around the edges.

          • You didn’t know? Humdinger has reinvented Wind Energy with their non-turbine Wind Power Harvesting technology.
            Here’s their web site:
            http://www.humdingerwind.com/
            I didn’t know either! And now we know, and knowing is half the battle! G.I. Joe!
            Jordan is also pioneering Underwater Optical Communications through his Octo23 Technologies site:
            http://www.octo23.com/octotalk.html

      • actually now that i’ve had a chance to think about my reply, the Arduino square isn’t so silly. you can use the squares to power the arduino that you have done something else with, maybe if you could use some of the arduino outputs (or inputs) to switch the power couplings on each side on and off it could be used to switch power on and off to other squares… and then you could have button squares etc for inputs.
        maybe a re design of the square could include 3 contacts per side, +ve on the outside and a ground in the centre???

    • I agree with this and other above comments. I think that there is a lot of potential here, it needs to be taken that step further. Maybe I2C lines or some sort of configurable I/O contacts.
      Let me know when this can do more than just provide power and then I’ll take a look.
      edit: It looks as though the iPod and speaker squares might have more functionality.

      • Even if it’s just power I think they are cool enough that it would be sufficiently entertaining on my office desk. Think like a more complex magnetic bucky ball set (getbuckyballs.com). What if the LED blocks had a muli-select slide switch on the side for setting different flashing patterns?
        If they add communication then it would be more expensive and simply a copy of Cubelets (modrobotics.com) or Bug Labs (buglabs.net) which have both been done quite well!

        • If office desk entertainment was enough, then I would have to see the final cost. I could see this as more of a novelty item in that case, but it doesn’t seem to be promoted that way.
          When I first saw this, I thought it was a variation on Cubelets.

  • My favorite is the ‘recipe’ consisting of a .25 watt solar cell connected via clips to a battery powered clock.
    I’m not trying to be negative, but I just don’t see why I would be excited about this.
    Without communication, the Arduino block is just a prop. It might as well be plugged into a breadboard.

  • This is Jordan from B-Squares. With the current design the focus has been on easily powering various applications so most of the squares use the corner contacts as positive and negative power terminals. With the proto-Square, if you’re building your own B-Square, you can use those contacts for whatever signal you like.
    That being said, we’re super excited about the response we had in such a short time. We plan to use the remaining time we have before our kickstarter campaign ends to improve the design and bring in more versatility. Already, we’ve adjusted the design to accommodate for additional access ports. Having data contacts is just one of many features that this will enable.
    Please keep the questions/comments coming…we’d love to get your feedback, especially on different recipes you’d like to see!

  • So if I hooked the arduino square up to the iPod square would they be able to communicate?

    • There is no indication of any communication going on, nor is there any mention of that on the Kickstarer page. It appears that you would just be charging the device off the batteries in the battery square.

      • Correct. It’s just for power/charging.

        • Waiting for apple to sue them for patent violations.
          http://www.google.com/patents?id=vR-pAAAAEBAJ

          • Unlikely, all the claims held under the patent would have to be met to infringe ; there’s at least two that this does not.
            One of the biggest claims that is not met is the last one, claim number 32:
            32. The power adapter of claim 28, further comprising means for establishing at least three separate paths of electrical communication between the internal electronics and the transformer regardless of which of the two orientations the connectors are coupled together.
            Also, the connector itself has a chip inside to control the color of the LED, which is off when the supply is idle at ~6V, green when the output’s 16V-19V, and red when the laptop is charging. The lead cable, however, is only two conductor; a central positive lead and a braided ground, so all this happens inside the connector.
            The wall-side of the supply has a microcontroller and a DC ammeter to monitor the current flow. When it’s >1A, the output voltage is approx 6V. Between 1A and 2A it’s ~16V, and 19V under heavy load.

            • I believe to infringe a product need only have all the elements of ONE claim. i think each claim is legally enforceable independent of any other claims.

  • These are pretty cool for kids. It reminds me of the http://www.sparkfun.com/news/528


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