Category Archives: Engineering

Central Texas IEEE Life Members Visit ATX Hackerspace

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IEEELocations – The Austin chapter of the IEEE (The Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) Central Texas Section Life Members group (IEEE members who are at least 65 years old and who have been an active member of IEEE for at least 35 years) met last night at the ATX Hackerspace.

What is ATX Hackerspace? Per their website they are:

We are a collaborative industrial workshop full of people who love to learn and make things! ATX Hackerspace can be found at 9701 Dessau Road, Building 3, Suite 304, Austin TX 78754

We have over 8,000 square feet of space that is perfect for artists, designers, engineers, makers and hackers, fabbers, scientists, musicians, seminars and workshops, co-working, and a ton of other stuff. We’re the perfect place for any project that needs space, involves loud or messy equipment (woodworking, soldering, welding, painting), power (we have 120V, 240V, and 3-phase power), tools that are too expensive or large for your own workshop ( see our laser cutters, CNC mills, and 3D printers ) or meeting with collaborators.

More importantly, we are an established and ever-growing community. Imagine what we can do when we combine our skills, knowledge, ideas, tools, and materials… or see for yourself at our next Open House, every Tuesday evening from 6-10pm.

We’re hackers (thoroughly defined here), which means we create things and we put things together in new and innovative ways. ATX Hackerspace is dedicated to encouraging and promoting technical, scientific, and artistic skills through projects, collaboration, and education by all legal means.

After a brief meeting, we were led on a tour of the ATX Hackerspace facility.

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The first stop was the room with their 3D printers. Unfortunately, some of the folks taking the tour blocked the larger printer in this photo. It is located against the back wall to the right. Smaller printers are on the table to my right out of the photo.

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In addition to the 3D printers, they have a small electronics lab space.

They have two relatively large laser cutters.

Their largest ‘maker space’ is their wood shop. Not shown is their welding area and car shop. The auto area is near the yellow box in the larger of the images above. The welding area is behind the red-curtained portion of the space.

ATX Hackerspace has a number of tools available. You can see the complete list of their tools-resources.

For a $75 fee with 24/7 access to the building, this looks like an inexpensive and well-tooled facility to take your projects from design to reality.


See my other articles about Food & Locations


 

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Upgraded UBTECH Walker Robot Shown at CES 2019

Robots – I read an article about this robot that was shown at CES 2019 this morning. It is the UBTECH Walker. UBTECH Robotics is a Chinese company which has a variety of robots from hobbyist kits to real service robots. Per their website UBTECH;

Founded in 2012, UBTECH is a global leading AI and humanoid robotic company. UBTECH has successfully developed consumer humanoid robots, robots for business use, and JIMU Robot building kits following breakthroughs made in digital servos, the core part of humanoid robots. In 2018, UBTECH achieved a valuation of USD$5 billion following the single largest funding round ever for an artificial intelligence company, underscoring the company’s technological leadership.

The Walker was first demonstrated at CES 2018 and has undergone significant improvements since then. Their press release for the Walker says:

Walker is your agile smart companion—an intelligent, bipedal humanoid robot that aims to one day be an indispensable part of your family. Standing 4.75 feet (1.45 m) tall and weighing 170 lbs (77 kg), the new version of Walker is more advanced than ever, including arms and hands with the ability to grasp and manipulate objects, a refined torso with improved self-balancing, smooth and stable walking in difficult environments, and multi-modal interaction including voice, vision, and touch. Walker has 36 high-performance actuators and a full range of sensing systems that work together to insure smooth and fast walking.

UBTECH seems to have great plans for the Walker. I wonder how long it will be before we see robots in common usage as depicted in the video above? This isn’t science fiction anymore. Robots like these are coming, it is just a matter of how soon.

You can learn more about UBTECH and their plans in the article “UBTECH Shows Off Massive Upgrades to Walker Humanoid Robot” published by IEEE Spectrum.

 

Official Raspberry Pi Beginner’s Guide

BeginnersGuideLinux – I recently saw that the Raspberry Pi Press has just released its official “Raspberry Pi Beginner’s Guide”. This 244-page book is intended to get the reader started with their Raspberry Pi. As they say:

From setting up your Raspberry Pi on day 1 to taking your first steps into writing coding, digital making, and computing, The Official Raspberry Beginner’s Guide is great for users from age 7 to 107!

You can order a hard copy of the book through the Raspberry Pi Press store (£10.00) with free international delivery. If you are willing to settle for an electronic copy, you can download the PDF for free. I have downloaded the PDF and look forward to reading it on my iPad.

Just in case you have been living in a cave somewhere, the Raspberry Pi is:

a small, clever, British-built computer that’s packed with potential. Made using the same technology you find in a smartphone, the Raspberry Pi is designed to help you learn to code, discover how computers work, and build your own amazing things.

One of the great things about the Raspberry Pi is that they are very inexpensive. If you search Amazon, you will find various kits and versions of the Raspberry Pi starting from $27. They are also available in Fry’s Electronic Stores if you are lucky enough to have one of those close by.

The book and the hardware would be a great Christmas present for the clever kid (of any age) in your family.

Intel Drone Display Fills Sky Over Folsom, CA

Robots – This aerial display performed by Intel actually took place last July 15. It was uploaded to YouTube later that month. The video was captured and published by The Sacramento Bee. The synopsis per the YouTube post:

Intel dazzled its Folsom audience on July 15, 2018 with a spectacular light show designed to feature 1,500 drones, in an effort to outdo its previous world record of 1,218 Intel Shooting Star drones. The performance displayed multicolored choreography including bright, fireworks-like orbs. A single pilot mans the entire fleet of light-emitting remotely controlled machines.

This display was designed around 1500 of their Intel Shooting Star drones in an attempt to set a new record. Their prior record was 1218 drones. It was also intended to celebrate Intel’s 50th anniversary on July 18, 2018.

I think that we will see more and more aerial light shows produced by drones in the future. Personally, I would rather see this kind of performance instead of traditional fireworks.

New Automated News Anchors

Robots – China’s state-run news agency Xinhua has unveiled two new robot news anchors. These new anchors will provide English and Chinese language news reports.

While not completely life like the English speaking anchor, at least in the video clip above, does a good job. This kind of technology isn’t going to be replacing your favorite anchors on the local news channels, at least not yet. This does show though that it is possible that robots might become part of the regular news team sooner than you might think!

Listen to Thriller Played by the FLOPPOTRON

I came across this and wanted to share it. I have posted about one other ‘musical’ piece played on the FLOPPOTRON in the past (“FLOPPY DRIVE PLAYS GOT THEME” July 31, 2016). I am amazed at how old really otherwise useless computer hardware can be used to produce art. In this case music.

Clearly, a fair amount of Hardware and Software Engineering went into assembling this ‘musical’ instrument.

What Version of Wi-Fi Do You Have?

Wi-Fi, otherwise officially known as IEEE 802.11, is the communications standard by which we can be wirelessly connected to the Internet. Per Wikipedia:

IEEE 802.11 is a set of media access control (MAC) and physical layer (PHY) specifications for implementing wireless local area network (WLAN) computer communication in the 900 MHz and 2.4, 3.6, 5, and 60 GHz frequency bands.

The IEEE 802.11 standard was created and is maintained by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) LAN/MAN Standards Committee (IEEE 802). This committee is made up of interested volunteers from both the academic and corporate space.

Wi-Fi Version IEEE Standard Speed Released
1 802.11b 11 Mbps 1999
2 802.11a 11 Mbps 1999
3 802.11g 54 Mbps 2003
4 802.11n 600 Mbps [5] 2009
5 802.11ac 3460 Mbps [5] 2014
6 802.11ax target of 4 x version 5 [5] 2019

 

We have been using IEEE 802.11 or Wi-Fi for many years now (since 1999), but the standard has evolved as the technology has matured. Subsequent versions of the standard have steadily increased the data access speeds [4]. (NOTE: the table above shows thearetical maximum speed and is not necessarily what you will achieve) The result is that while we have devices that claim Wi-Fi compatibility, and many locations that offer Wi-Fi access, those ‘Wi-Fi’ are not necessarily the same [3].

Fortunately, each subsequent release of the 802 standard is backwards-compatible with the prior versions. That means if you walk into a coffee shop with an older Wi-Fi access point that is still only 802.11n compatible, your iPhone X with 802.11ac will automatically downgrade its connection to match the access point. Likewise if you have an iPhone 5 that is only 802.11n compatible and you are in a location with an 802.11ac rated access point, the communication will be limited to 802.11n speeds. You can check this site to see what you iPhone is capable of.

WFA_CERTIFIED_Flat_Web_LR.pngThe Wi-Fi Alliance is behind the “Wi-Fi Certified” logo that we see on basically every Wi-Fi enabled device [10]. Up until now, Wi-Fi implementations have been certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance, the non-profit that manages the implementation of Wi-Fi, by numbers and letters associated with the corresponding IEEE standard. It has now simplified the naming scheme by adopting more user comprehensible version numbers, such as Wi-Fi 5 or Wi-Fi 6 [2]. While the Alliance will be certifying devices, there is nothing to force vendors to comply with the new branding [2].

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As vendors adapt their device software to the new naming convention, users should see a visual indication, such as those shown above, to indicate which type of Wi-fi network they are connected to [2].

References:

  1. Wi-Fi 6: What’s Different, and Why it Matters
  2. Wi-Fi is adopting a simplified naming scheme based on version numbers
  3. The next generation of wireless networking will be called WiFi 6
  4. The evolution of WiFi standards: a look at 802.11a/b/g/n/ac
  5. 802.11: Wi-Fi speeds and standards explained
  6. The new version of Wi-Fi is called Wi-Fi 6 because rules don’t matter
  7. Wi-Fi 6 Will Arrive Next Year; Wi-Fi Versions To Get Simpler Names
  8. Wi-Fi versions to get names people can actually understand
  9. Newest WiFi Version Will Be Called WiFi 6
  10. Wi-Fi is adopting version numbers such as WiFi 6

Significant Hardware Hack Alleged Against China

Updated 10/9/18

Cyber Security – I read the article “The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies” and . . . WOW. This reads like the plot to a science fiction thriller.

The idea of hardware being secretly hijacked during the manufacturing process has been around for a while. This allegation, if true, is significant! On the other hand, Apple has denied finding altered hardware in their official statement “What Businessweek got wrong about Apple“.

Since this article was just published October 4, I think there will be a lot of fallout over the next few days, weeks and months. It could have a significant impact on the cost of electronic products as supply chains reconsider off-shore manufacturing.

Added 10/9 – The article “Asian Countries and Industry Players Erupt over the China Spy Chip Controversy first started in the U.S.” still does not confirm the allegations against the Chinese, but it does indicate that there is a significant concern through the electronics sector.

Are You Ready for the Moxi Robot During Your Next Hospital Stay?

Robots – I came across the article “Moxi Prototype from Diligent Robotics Starts Helping Out in Hospitals” this morning. The Moxi is a robot from Diligent Robotics. Moxi is being piloted it right now. As they say about Moxi on the company website:

Moxi is a friendly AI healthcare robot that serves as a vital supporting member of healthcare professional teams by conducting the team’s non-patient facing logistical tasks, so the staff has more time to focus on patient care. 

We were inspired to create Moxi to help support clinical staff members in hospitals with their fast paced and demanding roles. Clinical staff balance patient care with massive loads of manual logistical responsibilities, such as fetching and restocking supplies or setting up patient rooms for new admissions. With an extra hand from Moxi, who autonomously completes those manual logistical tasks end-to-end without assistance, clinical staff focus on what they want to do and what they, as caring human beings, are best at: direct patient care.

So don’t look for Moxi to perform your next operation. It is there to help bring items from storage to patient rooms. Those non-medical, logistical tasks.

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This is Diligent Robotics second iteration of the product, they previously had Poli. I have to say that part of what caught my eye with this article was 1) the fact that the CEO and co-founder Andrea Thomaz is also a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. I am an EE alumnus of UT Austin. And 2) that the company is based in Austin, TX, where my home is.

Part of what impressed me about this robot was how many off-the-shelf component parts they have used to assemble the new Moxi. That says to me that the robotics industry is beginning mature, and more robots will be appearing soon among us. Certainly having robots freeing people from the mundane logistics tasks will allow more focus on patient care.

On the other side of this advancement in tech is the potential displacement of staff that such robots will cause. However, with the costs of health care constantly increasing, finding ways of reducing costs is inevitable.

I will be very curious to hear how the pilots of Moxi go.