Robert cook make hardware workshop


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  • I’m Robert Cook. I’m a newcomer. I’ve been asked to talk about my experience moving from 30 year career in software to one in hardware. Much like taking the red pill in The Matrix, my transition from the virtual to the physical was a leap of faith and has been filled with surprising challenges. My purpose here is to give you a status report on what I’ve learned in the last 18 months.
  • I started out as a teenager writing computer games on my Apple II. This is my first piece of published software, an obscure game called Gumball. (It would fit in less than 1% of my 30” monitor’s screen real estate and take 0.0006% of my laptop’s available memory.)The early days of the Apple II were a magical time – back then everything felt like invention and information was freely shared. A pimply-faced adolescent like me could create something publishable while sitting in his bedroom.
  • More recently, I founded a company that built a big database of freely licensed practical knowledge, called Freebase. While working on Freebase, I found myself drawn to data about consumer goods, electronics and physical materials.By the time Google bought the company 2 years ago, I felt like I wanted to work on something tangible.
  • So, I’m a bit of a lighting geek.I’ve watched over the last few years LEDs becoming practical alternatives to incandescent and fluorescent bulbs. Within 5 years prices will drop far enough that they will be everywhere.Although I’m excited for the energy efficiency, I can’t help but think there is a large opportunity lost by these simple retrofits.For 120 years we’ve built fixtures to tame hot, omnidirectional light sources. LEDs are cool and can be incorporated into far more form factors we have imagined. Moreover, using microcontrollers, we can dynamically control brightness, the color and even the spectrum of LED lights. We’ve seen how lighting can be used to restaurants and hotels, shaping interior spaces, creating drama or intimacy. I’d like to see homes and offices lit as well as these high end environments. Light can have dramatic psychological and physiological effects, changing mood and sleep patterns.So last year I set up a studio in Oakland with a colleague. We’re now in an early startup phase, building lighting prototypes.
  • In this early prototype,we covered a large surface with a matrix LEDs. In the fully assembled version, a diffuser blends and softens the light.
  • In another, we animated slowly-changing video imagery onto a cylindrical form factor. The support electronics had dropped in price dramatically, particularly microcontrollers, which provided a way for someone with software experience to work competently in hardware.These prototypes helped us discover some practical, mass-producible form factors.
  • For what we wanted to build, we had to have expertise in three areas of design. Fortunately, the first, software, wasn’t a problem.We had some electronics knowledge, but it was pretty outdated.We had the least experience with physical design.
  • For what we wanted to build, we had to have expertise in three areas of design. Fortunately, the first, software, wasn’t a problem.We had some electronics knowledge, but it was pretty outdated. We had the least experience with physical design.
  • For what we wanted to build, we had to have expertise in three areas of design. Fortunately, the first, software, wasn’t a problem.We had some electronics knowledge, but it was pretty outdated.We had the least experience with physical design.
  • Our great breakthrough was the Arduino, which knocks the wall down between hardware and software, saving us from the details of digital and analog electronics. It was the first and last time on my project where I could get up to speed with something in less than an hour.
  • We soon outstripped the capabilities of the Arduino – we needed more processor power, so we tried a few Arduino-like platforms with communities. Most recently we settled on the mBed platform. (Where is the Due?)
  • Beyond microcontrollers, we had a few things to learn in electronics.
  • Based on what we’d seen in mobile devices, we knew that there were powerful single-chip devices but had no idea where to find them or how to use them.And most of these devices were surface mount with tiny packages and even tinier pins, and we had no experience with this kind of soldering.And beyond my etching a simple circuit board when I was 15, we had no idea of how to produce (much less mass-produce) circuit boards with the tight tolerances of surface-mount devices.
  • I discovered and sourced my electronics from dozens of vendors and community sites, many of whom are represented by people in this room.Owners or representatives would personally answer my email. The attitude of these companies and communities reminded me of the microcomputer companies of the late 70s and early 80s.
  • Sparkfun did an incredible job of demystifying surface mount soldering through a set of tutorials. We were particularly dazzled how well an electric griddle works to reflow solder paste.
  • For designing PC Boards, Sparkfun and Instructables pointed us toward Eagle PCB, a cryptic but reasonably priced circuit layout tool. We sent the output files from Eagle to a company in China.
  • And 5 days later received professionally manufactured circuit boards for a pretty reasonable price.
  • I feel like I’ve only begun to gain competence in physical design. There are no Sparkfun or Adafruits of materials, design and construction tools, but progress is happening quickly.
  • The studio space where I’m located is in the same building as the East Bay hacker space Ace Monster Toys, which is filled with friendly, knowledgeable people, many of whom started in software and have gone through the same learning curve. The space has a complete wood shop, and a large format laser cutter.
  • It seems crazy, but I love the TV show How It’s Made. I’ve watched about 30 episodes with my sons, and I now have a practical understanding of many manufacturing processes like vacuum forming and injection molding.
  • Filling in our vocational training, we’ve taken classes at the Crucible and Techshop in welding,metalworking,CAD/CAM, and operating a CNC router.
  • For design, I use the CAD program Rhino 3D. All of my designs are written in a visual programming language called Grasshopper. In this way I can translate my software expertise to the physical realm.
  • And a couple of months ago, we received our Shopbot, seen here just after the unboxing with Vishal, my colleague, who looks about as happy as I did that day. I have to say I’m more excited about the Shopbot than anything I’ve owned since my first Apple II. It may not have the learning curve of an Arduino, but it’s about as good as you can get with a real production tool.
  • Robert cook make hardware workshop

    1. 1. Why I took the red pill Robert Cook
    2. 2. ` software Software physicalelectronics design
    3. 3. ` software Software Electronicselectronics
    4. 4. Software PhysicalElectronics design
    5. 5. Electronics
    6. 6. Device discovery and tutorialsSurface mount devicesPCB design and production
    7. 7. Physical Design
    8. 8. My observations so farMy software-hardware transitionwas greatly aided by open tools.Hardware is going through whatsoftware did 30 years ago.