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Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Open Hardware Summit 2018 Recap

This past week in Boston was the Open Hardware Summit on the beautiful campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

An estimated 340 people attended based on the number of filled seats for the great presentations that were scheduled across the day.

Alex Camilo and Michael Welling helped create this amazing open source design for an attendee name badge.
OSH Park and Screaming Circuits helped bring this into reality for OHS 2018

Beyond the 17 scheduled educational sessions at the MIT Stratton Student Center, there were also two separate areas for event sponsor demonstrations.

Open Hardware Summit 2018 Highlights

Every attendee received a keepsake "hackable" name tag that includes Wi-Fi connectivity for users to customize the E-Ink display, just like the ones found on the popular Amazon Kindle or in shelf edge displays at Kohl's department store.

More badge functionality can be accessed or enabled by built in FTP or serial connection thanks to the embedded MicroPython based programming along with some additional add on boards also provided to attendees of OHS2018. Other features include temperature sensing, different display fonts, color changing LED lights and SD card storage to name just a few.

The design files, firmware and more details are available on GitHub.  

Additionally, a bag full of goodies including a Photon board, DigiKey ruler, stickers, notebooks and a number of other open source circuit projects were given to each attendee too.

Since a few members of HVDN were in attendance for the official event, here are our collective thoughts on the overall OHS2018 experience.

MIT Stratton Student Center was home to the 2018 Open Hardware Summit

Wednesday Evening Pre-OSHWA Networking & Attendee Swag Bag Assembly Gathering

Held at the premier "maker" space in Boston - Artisan's Asylum hosted tours of the member space and was also the backdrop for a pizza party to fuel the volunteers assisting with the assembly of swag bags for attendees of the next day official event.

Pictures of the pre-event have been withheld to protect the identities of all involved since adult beverages may have been also consumed along side the unique veggie crust pizza

The Artisan Asylum was not just home to electronic hobbyist "makers", but others interested
in all sorts of other design projects such as this rather interesting creation.
More about Artisan's Asylum can be found here
This casual gathering with a purpose was a great way to meet others involved in open source projects with pure hobby backgrounds or a blend of commercial and hobbyist areas of focus.

Thursday OSH2018  Event Sponsor Demo Highlights

There were two separate areas for event sponsors to setup demonstrations and talk with attendees of the event.  This staggered approach made it possible for all attendees to roam around the entire event rather than just stay put in one space.  Some of the sponsors that the HVDN team met with included:

  • Import larger component databases from semiconductor manufacturers through vendors such as DigiKeySparkFun and even more module based offerings.
  • Easier ability to create custom components and pin-out labeling
  • Enhanced trace and layout tools known as "FANOUT"
  • New digital and analog testing tools 
A more detailed explanation and description of updates for version 9.2.0 can be found at   
Many hobbyists seem to have adopted the open source KiCad software or the more simplistic virtual bread-boarding Fritzing program recently, but maybe EAGLE should be reevaluated again by some in the hobby community.

EAGLE is one of many CAD (Computer Assisted Design) programs for those
 interested in EDA (Elecronics Design Automation)

HVDN PERSPECTIVE: As a long time EAGLE user myself looking at alternatives in recent months, faith is now further restored in EAGLE (for now!!) as a commercial oriented program with a great freemium offering for hobbyists or students on a limited budget.
  • - Nice discussion about how Tindie can help its sellers reach an audience looking to purchase or experience authentic products rather than foreign copied versions. 
Plus, how Tindie can help individual sellers better manage customer contact and support. Products such as the N5BOC duplex board that HVDN reviewed can be found on Tindie for example directly benefit by value offered by this online store which is part of SupplyFrame.
Ever wonder how much money gets spent by hobbyist "makers"? 
Here is a view into Japan only spending power. Please note this slide was provided by a
charismatic bunny ear wearing attendee of OSH2018 and is not related to
  • Great Scott Gadgets - Fantastic discussion with the founder of this company (Michael Ossmann) behind products such as the HackRF One SDR platform, YardStick One and an exciting new product aimed at those looking for a peripheral expansion solution for I/O over USB called the GreatFET.
Learn more about the GreatFET by having a look
at the Great Scott Gadgets website.

Further discussion about other products such as sensor based products similar to the HVDN remote field strength project currently under redesign to accommodate a different Wi-Fi module. This to me was one of the highlights of the event in meeting Michael and talking "shop" about similar topics of interest.
  • Red Hat - Handing out premium T-Shirts to those interested in Linux and IoT edge, core compute, or other open source related projects that can harness this robust operating system as an alternative to Microsoft Windows, Apple macOS or other Linux distributions such as Debian or Ubuntu.
OHS2018 HVDN open source hardware software design CAD open source
Open Hardware Summit logo combines a few common electronic hobbyist components
to form an interesting design to promote the mission and focus of the open hardware community.
Learn more at

  • OSH Park - One of the best and US domestic provider of circuit board production services. Very valuable insight on working better with them for various projects and design tips to maximize hobbyist dollars. OSH Park is also known as the "purple board" guys, so that may give a hint as to whom HVDN is working with for some of its current and future projects.
Production space for the 300 attendee badges was made available at Artisan's Asylum.
Badges were being soldered the night before and programmed up until the last minute to make f
or a great personalized attendee experience.

Other sponsors there included hackster.ioMIT Department of Mechanical EngineeringCircuit Maker and Upverter by Altium, OpenBCI, Digilent, ICFOSS, ShopBot, ChibiTronics  and OctoPart but did not have the time to engage in deeper discussion with them.

Of the scheduled presentations, here is a review of  just a few of them:

  • Sara Chipps: C++ API for Kids
Sara provided an excellent overview on how to encourage and inspire children and people of all ages that its never to early (or late) to learn how to code and enable all sorts of projects or dreams. Her company, JewelBots demonstrates the convergence of science, technology, engineering and math also known as STEM.  This is outside of her day job at Stack Overflow.
  • Robin Getz: Open Source Software Defined Radio
Robin works for Analog Devices and provided a great basic understanding of what is software defined radio, its impact on the future of RF design and its ADALM-PLUTO evaluation platform available for purchase through ADI directly or re-sellers such DigiKey

ADALM-PLUTO SDR development board offered by Analog Devices

  • Neil Gershenfeld: How To Make (almost) Anything
Prof. Gershenfeld is director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms and covered the future of manufacturing through the lens of Moores Law limitations, self replicating machines and the third digital revolution. It was a fascinating presentation that generated many questions from the audience and three rounds of applause.
The ubiquity of compute enabled devices highlight the amount of underlying impact
technology has on our expanding global economy
  • Joseph Apuzzo: MicroPython on ESP32 and LoBo
HVDN's own Joe Apuzzo (N1JTA) had the dubious task of following Neil's presentation and covered the convergence of amateur radio, embedded operating systems and low cost STM32 based micro-controller hardware that can offer high relative performance. comparison. The Photon, Electron and soon to be available Argon, Boron
and Xenon boards all support microPython and area all very low cost.

Various applications such as MMDVM or IoT through the easy to adopt programming language known as microPython and its performance enhanced graphical interface system known as LoBo can take advantage of both open source hardware and software.   
  • Jodi Clark: OpenCosplay, Teaching the Next Generation
Jodi took the audience on a journey through her progression of a hobby interest that turned into a life changing series events that ultimately unlocked a tremendous career opportunity.  CosPlay is the hobby of designing detailed costumes or props found in cartoons, anime, comic books and more that are as realistic as possible.  
While many costumers understand how to create amazing things out of fabric and other materials, many do not know how to integrate electronics to create even better costume experiences.  
Jodi has a popular YouTube channel that teaches some of this and a video of her presentation can be found here
  • Nathan Seidle: Founder of Spark Fun (Secret Surprise Speaker)
Nathan was the surprise speaker of the 2018 Open Hardware Summit and shared some recent projects that leveraged or improved upon open source projects.  Nathan first shared how the SparkFun team was able to 3D print different components that formed part of a "safe cracking" robot. 

He then went on to later share in detail how a community of hobbyists helped improve on a machine used in the rapid production of circuit board assembly.  
sparkfun sale hvdn ham radio
Sparkfun offers a range of kits, boards, modules and project ideas for
the modern electronic hobbyist and education community

The company Nathan founded has proved a valuable contributor to the hobbyist community over the years and his presentation certainly was exciting to be present for.
  • Ted Hayes: How to Put A Neural Network on an Arduino and Why
The topic that Ted covered rivaled the big picture thinking and complexity explored in Neil Gershenfeld's earlier discussion. The Arduino is a capable low cost embedded computing option available today to hobbyists.  
Neural networks partially involve a non-binary state of computing that unlocks amazing potential on low cost hardware, just like what Joe Appuzo covered in his microPython presentation. A more detailed article about neural networks can be found here and a recording of Ted's presentation hopefully will hopefully be made available through OSHWA soon, because I really want to go back and watch it.

  • Closing Remarks: Alicia Gibb, OSHWA Director
Alicia thanked so many people who made this event possible and let the audience know that the 2019 Open Source Hardware Summit will likely be in China next year.  HVDN may be organizing a group rate trip for those potentially interested in attending, so please sign up for updates or inquire if there is interest through our various contact forms.
Why Open Hardware Summit & HVDN relate to each other?

Perhaps it would have made sense to explain about what the open hardware movement is all about first before a review of the event, but now I know I have your attention from all the excitement covered above.

Open source design has proven to disrupt and innovate in the data center.
The amateur radio community may be able to innovate by looking at how the open source
hardware movement has already impacted other communication technologies

Within the amateur radio community, there have been heated debates about copying the design of freely available designs for projects such as the ZUMspot.   This is where the opensource overlay into ham radio comes into focus.

This hotspot device was hard to get at times and priced at a level that not everyone could afford for a niche interest.  

These contributed to a friction full experience that hindered adoption and innovation, but at the same time created a competitive opportunity.

Once a few hobbyists copied the original design for this digital hot spot and offered them for sale at more than a 50% price reduction thanks to cheap off shore manufacturing, an entire new market was created that drove additional interest in MMDVM based hotspot purchases thanks to slightly less purchase friction.

hvdn faraday open source ham radio
Will this new project called "Faraday" be the future of amateur radio?
Learn more here at:

Additional components for the copycat versions of the original ZUMspot were now high in demand such as cases, power supplies, better antennas, displays and even oscillators!

This never would have happened had there not been open source hotspot hardware available alongside its opensource software needed to create an interesting piece of communication equipment.

Copy of the original ZUMspot version that Joe N1JTA offered some tips for in the
"MMDVM JumboSPOT board: Mods you may need" article.

Amateur radio operators that had experimented with low cost DMR radios such as the TYT MD-380 or Radioddity GD-77 that did not have local repeaters to communicated with others through now had something entirely new to experiment with thanks to this open source derived experience.

The ZUMspot sparked additional purchases and areas of interest due to its open source
design and the competitive opportunities it created

Open source projects have created tremendous amounts of spending that would not have otherwise happened without this contribution to the hobby.

There is a huge opportunity for the amateur radio community to look towards other hobbyist communities in order to bring expertise they do not have related to licensed wireless communication capability.

Open Hardware Summit showcased so much synergy potential for the renewed relevancy of amateur radio outside of what some most associate with amateur radio.

HVDN wants to help promote experimentation through open source hardware, so please use the search cloud on the HVDN Notebook to find other articles tagged with Open Source Hardware in the future.

Feel free to share some links to your favorite blogs, project pages, re-sellers, etc related to open source hardware.

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