Tag Archives: Make

Nellie is a 3D-printed weed-picking robot

This Arduino-powered bot may one day help farmers stay weed-free. 

Other than shoveling several inches of snow, there’s one outdoor chore that anyone would surely welcome robotic assistance: weeding. While there are already a number of plowing bots out in existence today, thanks to one Maker, the daunting lawn care task may soon be taken care of as well.


A recent entry in MAKE: Magazine and Cornell University’s Pitch Your Prototype competition, Maker Mike Rigsby has developed a 3D-printed robot capable of, you guessed it, pulling out weeds! While at first this may sound like yet another mechanism to increase laziness, weeds are actually a serious problem for farmers all around the world — and it’s only getting worse. Take for instance Pigweed, which grows up to three inches per day and has become resistant to the dominant weed killers, threatening the nation’s soybean and corn crops.

“This is a serious attempt to address an agricultural problem,” Rigsby told the magazine. “I suspected that robots could handle the weeds and that the time to start working on such a solution is now, before the weeds develop further resistance to chemicals.”

And so Nellie was born. The robot spots and plucks them the old-fashioned way, one at a time. The current proof-of-concept is powered by a trio of Arduino Unos (ATmega328), a pair of Arduino motor shields, a Pixy camera, a Ping ultrasonic sensor, eleven AA NiMh batteries, a servo motor, a four-wheel drive base, along with some custom 3D-printed parts that were constructed using two AVR powered MakerBot Replicator 2.


How it works is relatively simple. The Pixy camera spots a weed, then feeds the data over to the Arduino processors which relay the commands to the motor controller module to activate the grabber and close the pincer. Meanwhile, the Arduino-controlled motor shield enables the robot to move about the land in the right direction. At the moment, the device is only designed to roll over carpet.

Should the Maker win the contest’s grand prize, however, Rigsby hopes to use the winnings to devise another working prototype with a little more oomph, which can navigate a farm’s terrain. And who knows, perhaps in the coming months, everyday gardeners will be able to take advantage of Nellie, too.


“To advance the project requires money for parts. Nellie’s daughters and sons will need a heavy duty chassis that will run between rows of plants, reaching to the side to eliminate offensive weeds. They need multiple cameras and better vision to pinpoint the target. Weeds will be eliminated by pulling, burning, cutting, digging, electrocuting or some combination of methods,” Rigsby adds.

Until then, you can watch it in action below. Now this would make for a great Hackay Prize entry as well. Just sayin’.

DIY spaceship bedroom is a young Maker’s dream

All dads are terrific, but this one is just out of the world amazing. After devising a Mission Control Desk for his older son a few months ago, Maker dad Jeff Highsmith decided to compliment his earlier creation with a spaceship for his younger son’s room using Atmel-based Arduino boards.


According to MAKE Magazine, the spaceship features a control panel “full of interesting displays and whiz-bang space sounds” along with a joystick capable of controlling lights and sounds for the engine and thrusters. The payload bay has a motorized hatch and contains a robot arm that can be remotely operated over video feed to deploy payloads like toy satellites. Headsets provide an audio link between the spacecraft and Mission Control in the other room, so Highsmith’s sons can practice collaborating on their space missions. The room is equipped with LED lights, real switches and inputs that not only flash but trigger sound effects. To add to the NASA-like simulator, Highsmith even included a bass shaker in the floor so his sons could actually feel the rocket taking off.


To really give the project the NASA effect, Highsmith added a few space shuttle features such as the payload bay with a robotic arm. Using the remote video screen and remote controller mounted on the the control panel in the crew compartment, the “astronaut” can control the arm to deploy or retrieve payloads, the Maker dad notes. The power supplies for the control panel and LCDs also rest in the payload bay, in addition to the Raspberry Pi and Arduino for the joystick.


“The main engine’s nozzle houses the audio mixer and bass amplifier. On the bottom of the nozzle, I mounted a strand of GE Color Effects LED Christmas lights. I programmed an Arduino to control the strand, whipping up a simple color-changing pattern that resembles the flames of a rocket. This Arduino also controls the red LEDs in each of my thrusters. Command of the engine lights and and thruster lights is done through a USB joystick. I programmed a Raspberry Pi to read the joystick. The Pi maps the different axes of the joystick to different directions, and commands the Arduino to light the appropriate LEDs at a brightness commensurate with how far the joystick is pushed in each of the directions. The Pi also plays rocket sounds through the ship’s sound system, with the sound volume tied to the severity of the motion. In other words, if you push the joystick a little bit, you’ll get a dim light and a soft sound. As you move the stick further in that direction, the light gets brighter and the sound gets louder.”

Highsmith describes in the video below how the sequences programmed into the desk and ship are meant to spark imaginative not competitive play, and says he hopes the work he put into the setup will inspire his sons to be Makers as well.

To see the entire step-by-step breakdown of this project, soar on over to MAKE’s writeup here.

Never be late again with the S.M.A.R.T. Alarm Clock

This DIY Internet-connected alarm clock automatically sets itself based on your calendar. 

Have you ever slept through a crucial meeting, missed a flight or showed up late to an exam due to a faulty alarm? Fear no more as the S.M.A.R.T (Setup for Meetings, Appointments, Reminders, and Tasks) Alarm Clock is here to solve all of your problems! Designed by Adafruit’s Tony DiCola and recently featured on MAKE: Magazine, the connected DIY alarm clock sought out to provide users with the ability to enjoy a more restful sleep knowing they’ve solved the nightmare of regulating their alarms.


The S.M.A.R.T. Alarm Clock uses the dual processor-based Arduino Yún. While one processor runs an embedded version of Linux and is connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi or Ethernet, the other processor utilizes the same chip as the Arduino Leonardo (ATmega32U4), thereby enabling the Yún to work with most Arduino shields and accessories.

By using the Arduino Yún, the bedside gadget can talk to complex web services with the Linux processor, and interface with hardware — an LCD touchscreen — on the second processor. The DIY device can sync with your Google Calendar, contacts and e-mail through the Temboo platform, an Arduino-friendly development tool that streamlines access to a variety of web services.

In addition to having both a Google and Temboo account and the Yún with a power adapter, the project calls for a microSD card, a TFT touchscreen Arduino shield, and a USB speaker. The TFT shield is tasked with displaying the clock interface, while the USB speaker sounds that alarm.

The advantage to a device like the S.M.A.R.T. Alarm Clock is that you no longer have to stress about making sure your alarms are correctly set for AM or PM, or are designated for certain days of the week. The clock’s web communication, facilitated by Temboo, assures that you will never miss a beat (or a meeting!) again. The homemade gadget can even pleasantly (or unpleasantly) wake you up to your own MP3 when receiving an important e-mail from a co-worker or relative.

If you want to follow along with the device’s full tutorial and create your own S.M.A.R.T. Clock, simply head on over to MAKE.

Why the DIY business is booming

Writing for Electronic Design, Lou Frenzel confirms that the DIY hardware business is booming.

“Over the past several  years there has be a major increase in those interested in building, hacking and playing around with electronic things,” he explains.

“There is serious interest in making robots and experimenting with the Arduino and [other] embedded computers. Electronics seems to be fun again.”

As Frenzel notes, part of this re-emergence can be attributed to the influence of the popular magazine Make by publisher O’Reilly Media, now Maker Media.

“With well over 100K readers, Make is bringing back the popularity of making stuff, electronic, mechanical, wood and otherwise. Their Maker Faire events attract thousands who can show off their latest creations and consort with other makers and learn new skills and techniques. Robots are a major focus of the DIYers,” writes Frenzel.

“Another influencer has been the push to bring more kids into engineering with the various STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programs. STEM efforts hope to lure more students to college technical degrees to help build the U.S.’s engineering capability.”

In addition, says Frenzel, a big part of the experimentation resurgence is the availability of books supporting it.

“There have always been hobby electronic books but a new batch has helped many get started.  Some examples are Gordon McComb and Earl Boysen’s Electronics for Dummies (Wiley, 2005) and Earl Boysen and Nancy Muir’s Electronic Projects for Dummies (Wiley, 2006),” he adds.

“Even my own book, Electronics Explained (Newnes/Elsevier, 2010), has done well with the DIYers.  But the real best seller has been Charles Platt’s Make: Electronics (O’Reilly, 2009). Platt is a contributing editor to Make magazine. The book is printed in full color on quality paper and puts forth a wide range of build-it-yourself electronic projects.  All these books have one thing in common:  help a person learn electronics and have fun making electronic games, gadgets and unusually useful items.”

Interested in learning more about the DIY Maker Movement? The full text of “Make More Electronics: The DIY Business is Booming” by Lou Frenzel is available here. Readers may also want to check out our Bits & Pieces article archive on the subject here.

Understanding the state of 3D printing

The folks at MAKE recently conducted a survey on the current state of desktop 3D printing – offering readers access to a quick snapshot of the rapidly growing industry.

According to MAKE’s Anna Kaziunas France, the majority of respondents classified themselves as hobbyists (65%) who used their printers for personal projects (61%).

However, “mixed” or dual-use of desktop 3D printers, which included some business activity combined with personal use, weighed in at 39 percent. Meanwhile, almost half of those surveyed (46%) already own or have access to a 3D printer.

“Detractors of consumer 3D printing often describe desktop machines as tchotchke factories, but we found that the vast majority of respondents were printing useful, working items,” wrote France. “76 percent were using additive machines to create prototypes for projects, 75 percent were making functional models and parts and 64 percent were whipping up fixes for broken things.”

France also noted that two of the most important factors for consumers thinking about buying a 3D printer were value for the money (85%) and durability/integrity of the product (83%). Other high ranking features included output quality (82%), ease-of-use (67%) and the ability to just hit print and confidently walk away from the printer (64%).

Electronics User Experience with Sally Carson, co-founder of Pinoccio

By Eric Weddington, Marketing Manager, Open Source & Community

Sally Carson, co-founder of Pinoccio

Sally Carson, co-founder of Pinoccio

Sally Carson, co-founder of Pinoccio

In February I did an interview with Eric Jennings, co-founder of Pinoccio. Pinoccio is a new Open Source Hardware business, building “a complete ecosystem for the Internet of Things”. The Pinoccio is a pocket-sized microcontroller board, with wireless networking, rechargeable LiPo battery, sensors, and the ability to expand its capabilities through shields, much like an Arduino board. It features the new Atmel ATmega256RFR2, a single-chip AVR 8-bit processor with low power 2.4GHz transceiver for IEEE 802.15.4 communications.

Pinoccio featuring new Atmel ATmega256RFR2

Pinoccio featuring new Atmel ATmega256RFR2

Eric Jennings, along with his partner Sally Carson, co-founded Pinoccio. In my interview with Eric Jennings he said:

Eric Jennings: Sally Carson, Pinoccio’s other co-founder, is an expert in the intersection between humans and technology.  What I mean by that is that she thinks very deeply and carefully about the psychology of humans interacting with computers.  Human-computer interaction, user experience, and usability all fall under her umbrella.  I consider her contribution a secret weapon in what we’re trying to achieve with Pinoccio.

A Secret Weapon?!… I had to find out more what Eric meant, and just what exactly is Pinoccio’s Secret Weapon. I contacted Sally Carson and asked her about the intersection of User Experience (UX) with electronics and the design of the Pinoccio. Along the way, I learned some good lessons on why Design is important, even to just a set of electronics.

Eric Weddington (EW): What intrigued you about the Pinoccio to co-found a hardware startup company?

Sally Carson (SC): Well, I was always a creative kid, always drawing or making something. And, I always loved fiddling around with gadgets and electronics. In high school, I became an audio/video nerd. I got into skateboarding and playing in bands with friends. But, a huge part of both of these hobbies was the A/V part. So, for example, I filmed tons of footage of my friends and I skating. I would make these skate videos, editing the footage down using two VCRs. I’d use a 4-track to mix in audio, or I’d splice in the audio from an old Nintendo, like from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Every time we ollied or did a trick, there would be the “bloop” sound of a turtle jumping. So, I wasn’t like, busting out the soldering iron, but I was trying to find all of the different ways I could combine the electronics that I had access to.

Later on, I became a Web Designer and suddenly all of my creative output was virtual and done on a computer. I missed the physicality of using my hands to make things. Tim O’Reilly was a big influence on me, and I tried to keep up with whatever O’Reilly Media was putting out. I cut my teeth on the Web Design In a Nutshell book. I listened to podcasts of ETech and the Web 2.0 Conference.

Around 2004, I started to specialize in Interaction Design, and I was really interested in the Interaction Design Institute of Ivrea — where Massimo Banzi was teaching, and where Arduino was being developed. They were teaching Interaction Designers to prototype and test their product ideas by quickly building a physical prototype. This was fascinating to me — you could still be a Tech nerd but also build things with your hands. That blending of physical and virtual was super compelling; I always thought I had to choose one or the other.

Then, I got the first issue of Make when it came out, and I was totally enchanted. Make had found this incredible group of people who were tech geeks like me, but who knew how to build real things with their hands. I filled sketchbooks with ideas for DIY projects that I personally wanted to build. But, I still felt this barrier to entry and I hadn’t yet found a community of Makers who could help me. Every project I wanted to build needed to be wireless and Web-enabled, but that seemed totally out of reach for someone like me who wasn’t deeply technical.

I think there are a lot of people out there like me, who are somewhat geeky, but not super “deep geeks.” They want to build wireless, web-enabled projects but they don’t know how and they’re not sure it’s even possible. With Pinoccio, we’re providing all of that scaffolding for you. Your board is talking to the Web wirelessly within minutes of taking it out of the box. It already has a rechargeable battery that can last for weeks or months. From there, it’s up to you to start imagining possibilities for this platform. We want you to focus on the specifics of your project, instead of losing momentum trying to figure out all that other stuff.

So, with Pinoccio, I got really excited about enabling other people to build cool projects like the ones I had been dreaming about for years. There’s something really magical about creating a tool that enables other creative, talented folks — there’s this amazing multiplier effect.

EW: The Pinoccio could be looked at just the electronic guts of a larger system, as just a set of functions to be implemented. You and Eric Jennings see a need to approach the problem differently with Pinoccio. What led you to do this differently?

SC: The two most basic questions that I ask when I’m designing a product are: “Is it useful?” and “Is it desirable?” I want the answer to both questions to be yes.

If we had approached Pinoccio as “just a set of functions to be implemented,” we would have been building something useful, but not desirable. And that’s when you run the risk of commoditization. Your customers won’t have any particular loyalty to you, they’ll simply comparison shop between functionally similar products and choose whatever’s cheapest. Even if you’re first to market, this makes you vulnerable to cheaper knock-offs in the future.

So we want to be both useful *and* desirable. What does that look like? Let’s take Sugru as an example. Sugru is this magic, self-curing rubber that you can use to fix or modify practically anything — tools, electronics, everyday objects around the house. I had a sample packet laying around for a few months. I understood what it was, I understood the usefulness of it, but it wasn’t yet desirable in my mind.

Once Fall rolled around, I was commuting by bike at night, and I was frustrated with my new headlight. It had this recessed on/off button that was nearly impossible to press with thick gloves on. I used Sugru to fatten up the button and make it taller. The next day, once the Sugru had cured, I tried turning my light on and off with gloves and it was way, way better. I FELT SO SMART AND AWESOME! That was the moment that I fell in love with Sugru, because of how it made me feel about myself. I felt clever, capable, and industrious.

Now Sugru is both useful and desirable to me. I want to use it again, because I want to feel smart and awesome again. I want to show off what I “made” to my friends. It’s less about the Sugru, it’s more about how it made me feel. That “a-ha!” moment is what we’re shooting for with Pinoccio. We want to build a useful tool that makes people feel smart and awesome. We want to reduce those frustrating barriers to entry so you maintain your motivation to see a project through to completion. Then we want you to share what you built, show it off online, and collaborate with others who are working on similar projects.

EW: How is the process of designing the User Experience for the Pinoccio different than for other products?

SC: When I’m designing for the Web, I try to put together a functional prototype as quickly as possible, even if it’s just a clickable simulation comprised of sketches. Then I test it with real users. But, this is harder to do with hardware, it takes a lot longer to get to the functional prototype phase.

So, we used conferences like the Open Source Hardware Summit as an opportunity to interview potential customers and ask them about what they have actually done in the past. Have they tried to build a web-enabled project? How were they powering their projects? What tools did they use? What was frustrating? What worked well? This is a lot different than asking them if they think they would use Pinoccio, or asking them what features they’d like to see. We tried to identify existing pain points, based on the actual previous experiences of our target audience, then shape features around those insights.

EW: What part of the design process of the Pinoccio surprised you?

SC: I wouldn’t say I was surprised by this exactly, but I am constantly amazed by how awesome our community is. They’re brilliant, creative, and determined. They’re also incredibly generous and it’s super fun to see them sharing ideas and helping each other. I guess it surprised me how much idea exchange is already happening between members of the Community. It’s really rewarding to see that happening, and being an open source hardware company made it possible.

EW: What was the biggest challenge of the design process of the Pinoccio, and how did you overcome it?

SC: Well, for Web-based products, we try to build a Minimal Viable Product, get something into the hands of users as quickly as possible, see how they respond, then iterate and evolve the product organically from there. That’s a lot easier to do with software, because it’s relatively fast and cheap to put together an MVP.

Hardware is slower, it’s more expensive, and it’s inherently a “Waterfall” process — meaning there are a series of linear dependencies and the project can’t advance until each phase is complete. For each iteration, you have to make design changes to the board, order components, order PCBs, get the boards assembled, test them, rinse and repeat. It’s a weeks-to-months iteration cycle, instead of the hours-to-days cycles that we enjoy in Web Development.

I think the way that we address this is to bring assembly in-house. That will really allow us to take advantage of these Agile methodologies that we’re used to — rapid iterations of testing and refining. It will let us tighten up those cycles of iteration.

EW: What are some common mistakes that you see in hardware product design, that don’t take into account User Experience?

SC: Well, I think for any tech product, be it hardware or software, it’s tempting to think about features first, and to create a list of technical requirements as a starting point.

What we try to do instead is to think deeply about who our customer is. We think about what Peter Merholz calls their “emotional requirements.” What are their needs, motivations, and goals? What excites them? What frustrates them? How does Pinoccio fit into their lives, and how does it fit into a typical day? We answer these questions via different methods of qualitative research, including ethnography and interviews. It’s not enough to ask your target audience if they think they would like a particular product or feature. People are famously bad about self-reporting, it’s better to observe what they actually do, as opposed to asking them what they think they might do or might like.

Let’s go back to my bicycle light again. I’m going to hypothesize around what happened. The designers knew they were designing a light. They decided on some features — it’s possible they even asked customers what features they’d like — and they decided the light should have three modes: blink (for visibility and longer battery life), steady/low beam, and steady/high beam. They explored the interface — how do you use a single button to turn it on/off and to cycle through the three modes? The single button may come from a cost constraint. The flat, rubber button may have been an attempt to waterproof the light for riding in the rain. But did they observe real customers actually using the product? Not just in a lab setting, but in the real-world, during a typical day? Here in the States, in the late Fall, daylight saving ends and suddenly we’re all biking home in the dark. This is the time of the year that I start using my bike light. And because of the colder weather, I’m usually wearing gloves. If they had observed customers like me, in everyday conditions, they would have seen how hard it is to press that button with gloves on. And they would have seen me cursing under my breath, vowing to never buy a light from them again.

I think the best products make their customers feel smart. When you’re building complex technology products, if you do a bad job with the User Experience, the customer will blame themselves, “I suck at computers.” But it’s not their fault, it’s yours. And no one wants to keep using a product that makes them feel dumb. Frustration, hacks, and work-arounds are all super valuable insights. These are signals that a need that’s not being met. When I used Sugru to make the button easier to push, this was a work-around that signaled a need was not being met.

The key is to learn who your customer is, and to build empathy for them. Let that shape your product.

EW: How do you extend User Experience to the Pinoccio shields that are being developed?

SC: We talk to customers, we try to identify pain points that they’ve experienced with existing tools out there. We also talk to them about what they’re planning on building with Pinoccio. So, we just sent out a survey to our IndieGogo campaign funders asking them what their first Pinoccio project would be. Their answers will inform which shields we produce first. Then, once we have some shields produced, we’ll conduct qualitative research — observe actual customers using them during a typical day, in a typical setting. For example, we might go to a Makerspace where we know someone is building a project with Pinoccio, and just be a fly on the wall while they’re working on their project. Where do they get stuck? Where do they feel frustrated, or need help? That will help us refine the experience for the next iteration.

EW: There are many different solutions in the Wireless field, and the networking of objects that communicate wirelessly. What are some of the challenges of the user experience in this area, and what is Pinoccio doing to help users in this area?

SC: I think to-date, most solutions out there are either (1) so technical that only deep geeks can make use of them, or (2) they’re user-friendly but they’re constrained to a very specific use case, like home automation.

Our challenge is to build an extensible enough system that can support a variety of use cases, a robust enough system that we don’t lose the interest of those deep geeks, and yet still offer something that is easy for less technical folks to understand and use. For that final piece, we’ll be building a series of web-based tools that will help get those less technical folks up and running quickly and easily.

EW: You and Eric Jennings are located in different parts of the country, yet you have a start-up company together. What are the tools that you use to work together?

SC: Yep, Eric’s in Reno, and I’m in Ann Arbor. Eric and I use a number of tools, and have found a set up that works really well for us. We usually have IM running in the background, and ping each other throughout the day. We also do a daily Google Hangout — basically our “Stand Up” meeting in the Scrum parlance. Because we’re a young company, we’re happy to let these calls go long, and meander from detailed product decisions, all the way to long-term roadmap stuff.

We use Git for collaborating on code. We also have an internal documentation site that we use for asynchronous communication. It’s just a WordPress install running the P2 theme — it’s well-suited for short updates that can grow organically into longer discussions. We can archive pages that have evergreen info, and can easily search for and reference them later:


EW: What are your future goals with Pinoccio?

SC: I want Pinoccio to become just another tool in the average person’s workshop, makerspace, or art studio, sitting there right next to the duct tape. When they have an idea, they’ll grab a couple of Pinoccios and quickly throw together a prototype. I want this to feel totally unremarkable. Pinoccio is just another tool at their disposal that expands their capabilities. The object — the board itself — is less important. What’s important is that it enables them to build what they want to build, and it makes them feel smart, industrious, and clever (which they are!).