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Public Lab Research note

UMass Open Hardware Workshop

by cfastie | July 18, 2012 01:29 18 Jul 01:29 | #2848 | #2848

I attended a terrific event on Saturday in Amherst, Massachusetts. The Open Science Hardware Workshop at the University of Massachusetts focused on inexpensive, open source devices for sensing and controlling many types of processes and equipment. Many participants were interested in applying open source microcontrollers based on the Arduino standard. Arduinos are complete computers with CPU, memory, and I/O, and vary in size from smaller than- to a bit larger than a smart phone. They are easily programmable and support multiple output channels for controlling other devices and multiple input channels for feedback and for connecting sensors. A basic Arduino costs $30-$50. We were treated to several elaborate demonstrations of: precise control and reporting of temperature (Craig Versek), camera control to capture split-second events (Jiansheng Feng), wireless control of remote devices (Matthew Brockmann and Don Blair), 3D printing (Ben Gamari) and robotic execution of repetitive tasks (Don Blair). Each of these demonstrations used microcontroller electronics which cost less than $200.

I was even allowed to demonstrate the PLOTS Near-infrared Camera Tool and challenge the group to find a simple way to receive feedback from the flying camera rig so I would know whether the cameras had stopped clicking away when they are 1000 feet up the kite line. There were several intriguing proposals, although I remain convinced that the solution involving two tin cans with a taught line between them may have special applicability here.

The workshop grew out a recent realization that there is a critical mass of people at UMass, most of them graduate students in the physics department, who share an interest in leveraging the power of inexpensive, open source microcontrollers to solve problems faced by researchers and others. The commitment of this group to share their energy and expertise is manifest in their organization of this workshop (without funding) and their current effort to establish regular hacker gatherings to brainstorm and prototype solutions for anyone with appropriate problems. There is some obvious opportunity for collaboration with PLOTS, and the UMass group is currently searching for good projects in need of their help. If you think you have a problem in need of a state of the art open-source hardware solution, contact Don Blair, who played a leading role in Saturday’s workshop, or visit the UMass Open Science Hardware website.

Caption for main photo above: A third of the audience captured by simultaneous shots from the PLOTS infrared camera tool during my demonstration. Data from one channel from each camera were used to compute the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) which has absolutely no meaning in this context.


Very cool! I'm so glad at least some PLOTS folks made it out there. I wasn't able to get back from Maine in time but am hoping to connect with folks there soon about the PLOTS spectrometer design.

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Chris --

Thanks for the fanatastic write-up! And for the great presentation you made on kite aerial photography, and on PLOTS. Everyone there loved it -- and now all of my friends are coming up with a million reasons to place cameras on balloons. You also really helped to focus the discussion at the end of the workshop on what this local group of open hardware aficionados might do next. Looking forward to us all meeting up again soon!

Jeff --

It'd be great to talk about the spectrometer design. Chris sent along an email pointing to your PLOTS research note on the 3D printed housing; Ben Gamari is our local RepRap expert, and is really handy with e.g. Open Scad; I'll post some related comments / questions after your research note ... have you already posted the 3D scad / obj / etc files somewhere? It'd be a lot of fun to work on this together ...

And thanks to everyone at PLOTS for the enthusiastic response on the google group and otherwise during the early planning stages of this workshop -- it was a major part of what folks here that such a workshop was worth pursuing in the first place!

Cheers, Don

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Hi Mathew --

Thanks for the link -- I'll go download the sketchup file, and I'll go post some comments / questions now after the "Failed 3D Print of Spectrometer" research note.

Cheers! Don

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