One of the things I look forward to the most every September is the Open Hardware Summit. From the first year, the Open Hardware Summit has been a critical event for Mach 30 team members to attend, and 2013 is no exception. This year involved a number of firsts for Mach 30 including our first opportunity to speak at the Summit, another speaker mentioning Mach 30 and its work, and meeting makers who are using Open Design Engine to host their project.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the Open Hardware Summit (at least personally) was being included as a presenter. As part of our work to develop export control policies to deal with ITAR and similar regulations, the Export Control Task Force decided to submit a proposal to give a presentation on export controls and open source hardware. The topic was accepted by the Summit organizers for its timeliness (Defense Distributed’s 3D printed gun has thrust the topic into the limelight) and the quality of the task force’s export controls research. I must say the task force did a great job preparing the materials, and I can’t thank them enough for all of their support. And I am happy to report our message of preemptively addressing export controls was well received. For those who missed the presentation, we expect the Summit organizers to post videos of the presentations and we will be sure to share the video as soon as we see it is posted.
No less exciting for Mach 30 was seeing Open Design Engine (ODE) mentioned in someone else’s presentation. Mach 30 friend Amanda “w0z” Wozniak gave another impressive engineering process presentation . In previous years she has discussed the design process, and this year she discussed project management. As part of her presentation, she discussed the importance of project management tools, highlighting ODE for its lightweight setup and ease of use. She went on to create a project (a laboratory EKG pre-amp) in ODE as a living example of the value of sharing open source hardware projects on sites with builtin project management tools. She even found an answer to an unsolved design problem she had been working on as a side effect of publishing her documentation. Thanks w0z for using ODE and sharing your experience!
Last but not least I got to meet Greg Austic and Robert Zegarac in the Open Hardware Summit Demo Hall. Greg and Robert are working on a hand-held, low cost, open source photosynthesis measurement platform called Photosynq. Photosynq is hosted on ODE, and this was the first time I have been able to see (and touch) hardware developed outside the scope of Mach 30 which is hosted on ODE. It was a real thrill to see hardware come to life which was birthed on our project hosting portal. Congrats to Greg and the whole Photosynq team. Keep up the great work.
So, there you go. It was certainly an exciting year for Mach 30 at the Open Hardware Summit. The only thing which could have made it better is if we had fired off the Shepard Test Stand. Hmmm. Maybe next year…
Over the last couple of months the Mach 30 community has been talking more about the concept of virtual Makerspaces. I’m guessing that most of our readers know what a Makerspace (a.k.a. Hackerspace) is, but just in case, I’ll give you a definition I might use.
Makerspace (n.) – A space, normally a physical room or building, where people come together to share resources such as expertise, manpower and tools. This is done to help complete projects that the makers might not otherwise have the resources for.
Some people come just to hang out and see what’s going on, but most come to work on projects. Whether you’re working on arts and crafts or spaceflight hardware, I have yet to find a Makerspace that didn’t welcome all kinds of projects.
The Mach 30 spaceflight hardware developers are spread across the U.S. and we’re always looking for better ways to collaborate on protects. Traveling would be one way to work together, but that gets expensive. We recently changed our Thursday night Google+ Hangout schedule so that we could have a dedicated hardware (a.k.a. “#EngineerSpeak”) Hangout. This will allow us to partially address our collaboration needs.
The intent was to make it free form so that the things the attendees wanted to work on was what would be worked on. Just like a Makerspace. The first week ended up being more of a normal meeting where I asked for feedback on the Shepard Test Stand software. That was a great Hangout that really helped but the second week’s hardware Hangout ended up feeling much more like a Makerspace, partly because of an engineering challenge that J. Simmons gave us.
The engineering challenge was to see if we could convert the Shepard Test Stand application from Processing to Python in 10 days. That way we could test Python’s viability for use in our Shepard 2.0 kits. As we started that second week’s #EngineerSpeak Hangout, we discovered the need to make some significant changes to the sample code that I wrote to meet part of that challenge.
There were 5 of us in attendance, but Chris Sigman and I were the only two who had accepted J’s challenge. This diversity of interests and focuses had the makings of a great Makerspace environment. Here are a couple of reasons why:
- Even though Chris and I weren’t in the same room, we were able to work on the code collaboratively in real time. We worked through the code, sharing solutions to some problems and talking through possible fixes for others. The only thing that would have made it better is if we had both been logged into a shared code editor so we could have been editing “over each other’s shoulders.”
- Even though they weren’t working on the engineering challenge, the 3 other Hangout members hung around to work on their own projects. This allowed them to comment on what Chris and I were working on and share things about their activities as well.
It was 5 people sharing a space and resources, working together and independently in true Makerspace style. The Hangout ran long, but before it was over Chris and I had fixed the code and I was left with the feeling that this Hardware Hangout stuff might have some major potential. Couple that with the ability to work on our projects collaboratively on Open Design Engine, and we have a couple of powerful tools to allow us to do distributed development.
As time goes on we’ll be developing and refining our methods of distributed collaboration. It’s a critical part of our mission and we hope you’ll join us on the ride. Stay on the lookout for a future post on how we’re starting to use Open Design Engine as a virtual Makerspace as well. If you’re interested in learning more about Mach 30 and our hardware projects, please add Mach 30 to your Google+ circles and request an invite when you see Thursday night Hangout announcements.
As I mentioned in my last post, Mach 30 had a booth at the New Space 2013 Exhibit Hall. This was our first time as an exhibitor at a major space conference, and it was time and money well spent. We got to share our open source mission, demo two of our hardware projects, and meet some really great people.
The display materials in the booth, prepared by our graphic design ninja and board member Rebekah McGrady, covered our mission, open source hardware, Open Design Engine, the Export Control Task Force, and our current open source spaceflight projects. One of the big surprises for me was just how well people responded to our mission. Just a few years ago we would routinely be greeted with blank stares when we explained our mission is to develop open source spaceflight hardware. This week I saw only one blank stare. And everyone else was so excited by open source spaceflight that I got more than one high five.
I think part of the change in attitude was due to the fact that we had hardware to show. Our booth included demos of two of our projects: the Shepard Test Stand and our first ground station prototype. More than a few people stopped mid stride when they saw the hardware on the table. Those were always the best conversations. The feedback we heard from the attendees about our hardware projects was extremely valuable. For Shepard the big lessons were we should stick with the Arduino for our data acquisition system (teachers in STEM environments are already learning about Arduinos) and there is much more interest in Shepard at the collegiate level than I realized was out there. For the ground station the big lesson is just how much demand there is from individuals and educators for this version of the ground station. It is so high, I already have a number of emails already from people asking for a link to the project website.
As is always the case when we attend conferences, I met a number of great people at New Space. First is Liz from the Space Frontier Foundation’s Teachers in Space program. They are running teacher workshops about spaceflight and raising money to send teachers on sub-orbital flights. It’s a great program and we are talking about how the Shepard Test Stand and other Mach 30 open source projects could be used in their workshops. Next is Reuben who I met over drinks Friday night thanks to an introduction by Ethan, a Mach 30 volunteer. Reuben has experience in fundraising and has been sharing links with me for the Revenue Generation Committee.
Finally, last but far from least, is Tim from Southern Stars. Southern Stars KickStarted a cubesat last year, the SkyCube, and he brought the engineering model to the conference. It did not take the two of us long to realize he had a satellite and I had a ground station, and that clearly we should see if they could talk to each other. Within an hour we were sending messages from the SkyCube engineering model on one end of the exhibit hall to the Mach 30 ground station at the other end. And then, as if that was not cool enough, we decided to use the two projects to run an impromptu demo during a panel Tim was on later in the afternoon. Check out the very excited celebration of the demo over on Google+.