Experiments with Wearable Electronics

Back in January 2014, me and Samata visited MakerFest 2014 at Ahmedabad. At the Makers' Asylum pop up maker space over there, Samata helped make some light-up dresses using LED's.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Samata's LED light-up dress at MakerFest 2014 Samata's LED light-up dress at MakerFest 2014[/caption]


[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Samata at the Makers' Asylum pop-up makerspace at Maker Fest 2014 Samata at the Makers' Asylum pop-up makerspace at Maker Fest 2014[/caption]


Ever since then she's been wanting to make some more wearable electronics. Eventually, I asked my friends over at Wyolum to send me a MAKE: Flora Project kit. The kit came with Kate Hartman's book "Wearable Electronics" along with Adafruit's FLORA board, RGB smartLEDs, LED sequins, conductive thread, LiPo battery and charger. Everything to get some nice wearable stuff built.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="392"]MAKE: Wearables Kit MAKE: FLORA project pack[/caption]

Around the same time, I received our first samples of TinyTiM from seeedstudio - a WS2812B based LED matrix board that we designed at Wyolum. This is a 8x8 matrix of 64 smart pixels that require just one micro-controller pin for 24 bit RGB color, among a couple of other options.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="960"]WyoLum TinyTiM RGB LED Matrix, 8x8 pixels WyoLum TinyTiM RGB LED Matrix, 8x8 pixels[/caption]

With all of these parts in hand, Samata was getting some bright ideas for projects. The initial plan was to try and build a Belt using the TinyTiM. After some more thought, we changed plans and decided to make a Necklace instead. The TinyTiM is about 120mm square, and seemed a tad big for a necklace, but Samata looked confident to pull it off. Once we made up our minds, putting it together was quite straightforward. We fixed the Flora board and a LiPo battery to some stiff paper using double sided tape. The LiPo connects directly to the Flora board. And three wires from the Flora go to the TinyTiM - [+], Data and [-].

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Flora and LiPo fixed behind TinyTiM board Flora and LiPo fixed behind TinyTiM board[/caption]


Once the basic design was tested, Samata got out her sewing kit and covered the LED board with red shiny mesh cloth. The red neck band was stitched using buttons on both sides. It took us just over an hour or so one evening to put it together using  one micro-controller board, a battery and a LED board. Couldn't get any simpler.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="960"]Putting it all together Putting it all together[/caption]


To run the LED's we used Adafruit's excellent NeoPixels library for controlling the LED's with some simple animations and fade effects. There are just a few parameters you need to set up in the well commented code. We don't have any "Fashion" shots yet, but here's what it finally looks like.




Free Goodies, thanks to element14

A couple of months ago, while visiting the element14 community blog, I chanced upon the "Tis the Season for Inventing" contest announcement. The challenge was to submit innovative ideas using either the Arduino, Raspberry-Pi or BeagleBone Black platforms.

Element 14 Package

I had just wrapped up my desktop CNC ShapeOko build and set it up at the Makers' Asylum garage. This build used the Raspberry-Pi as the control computer for the CNC. It was hooked to the network via WiFi, and we could SSH in to it remotely from other computers. This made life easier as it meant we didn't have to have a computer kept in close proximity of the CNC and muck it up with dust from the mill. On top of the Raspberry-Pi sat the AlaMode Arduino clone, that I had helped design along with my buddies at WyoLum. The ShapeOko itself was paid for by WyoLum. Since the build used both - a Raspberry-Pi and an Arduino Clone, I could have entered it in either category. I settled for the Raspberry-Pi category, since most existing CNC controllers already used an Arduino hooked up to an external Computer.

I pretty much forgot about this once I submitted my idea. So it was with great surprise (and a fair amount of dis-belief ) that I read the mail from element14 informing me that I'd won the first prize ! Woot ! Me and my friends at WyoLum decided to gift the Shopping Spree prize to the Makers' Asylum to help kit up our makerspace with useful items.

I ordered out a bunch of stuff via the local retailer of element14 - CrazyPi  - and cool hawtness just landed on my desk today. $1000 worth of goodies for all of you Makers to use at the Asylum.

Let's get Makin' !

Here's some pictures of what's in the Box :

  • An 11" HDMI display
  • Four Raspberry-Pi's
  • Two BeagleBone Black's
  • One Intel Edison
  • Eight Arduino UNO's
  • One Arduino Mega
  • A Robot Kit
  • Some Power adapters, cables and breakout boards and odds and ends.

[gallery type="slideshow" size="large" ids="550,546,545,544,543,542"]

The Score-board

Score board visual sketch

I made this scoreboard a couple of weeks ago. Just picked up a couple of wooden pieces , and leftover from acrylic sheet . It struck me when Vaibhav said let’s have a score-board to track the matches we win and lose against each other . (Vaibhav and me usually end up playing TT by the end of the day. )

ISDI Workshop

Took the material ( plywood , wood pieces , acrylic ) . Sneaked into ISDI woodworking workshop . Learnt how to use the giant woodcutting and finishing machines . Got the frame and acrylic plate cut. It took like 65 mins to complete the entire process.

The Score board

Glued them all with fevicol . Step-by-step. Left it to dry for like a day or two .The final task was to nicely polish the entire frame with sand paper and the score-board was ready to use .

Quad Build Group

The Introductory session

Maker's Asylum arranged an introductory session for the Maker community to understand what a drone is, what it can do, what components go into it and how it is constructed.

The session was also aimed at getting members interested to participate in the Build group that starts next Saturday.

Playing with Drones

Rupin went over the details of each component in detail, these were:

Motors, ESC's, Battery, Frame, Radio controls, Propellers and their types

The community was pretty interested and started to pitch ideas and contributions towards the build.

Collaboratively, the group started to set goals for the build. These were:

  • Minimum 20 minute flying time
  • Ability to generate a total lifting strength of upto 3 kg, including the drone weight.
  • Be possible to do GPS waypoint navigation, and have the ability to be available as a platform for the build contributors to experiment.

In the middle of the week 1, mechanical parts were ordered for the drone. These included:

  • Frame from eBay.
  • Motors (935KV EMax Motors)
  • 30A Simonk ESC's
  • 2200mAh 20C 3S1P Li-poly battery

All the associated hardware like nuts, connectors etc. came bundled with the respective parts. Parts arrived on Friday.

Build Group Day 1

It was decided to meet at 2PM on a Saturday and start building the mechanical parts of the drone, calibrate the motors, and do a speed test on all four motors.

Rupin explained the parts to the participants, and guided them to start building the frame. We had handy instructions on how to assemble the frame, so this was a moderately difficult task. Participants learnt what an allen bolt and screw is ( as opposed to a philips screw), learnt about how to figure out over tightened vs adequately tightened nuts.

Drone Building

The team also installed the landing gear making a mechanically stable quad frame.

Installed landing gear

Once the frame was built, we started of to mount the motors to the frame. Each participant started to mount the motor, and with a few minutes the motors were mounted.

Mounting Motors

The 3.5mm gold bullet connectors were next in line to be soldered on the ESC terminals. Participants used the two iron's available at the Asylum to solder those. They were covered with heat shrink to prevent accidental shorting.

Once the terminals were ready, it was time for ESC calibration. ESC calibrations a process of telling the ESC what the range of throttle is for best performance.

Drone Build

The process is (without props attached)

  1. Connect the ESC to the throttle terminals on the radio RX, with throttle at max position on the Tx
  2. Wait for first two beeps from the motor
  3. Immediately move the stick to a min position, and wait for confirmation tones. (3 beeps)
  4. The ESC has been calibrated Provide a slight input to the throttle to spin the motor and verify there is no deadband.

Once all four ESC's were calibrated, it was time to call it a day.

Week 2

Electronics for the quad were ordered. this included

  • APM 2.6 flight controller board
  • 433 Mhz Telemetry Radio set
  • APM Power module
  • Servo connectors
  • Neo GPS Module and Compass set

Parts arrived in time for the Build Group Day 2.

Build Group Day 2

This was an electronics assembly day. Since this was the last step, we asked the build group participants to arrive at 11:30 AM, just so that we have sufficient light by the time we were ready to test a flight.

A quick 15 minute session about all the parts was conducted so everyone was at speed. Downloads of the APM Mission Planner also was initiated.

Once APM Mission Planner was installed, we started to configure the board using the APM planner wizard. These were the steps we followed

  1. Configure frame type. Ours was a quad with a X configuration
  2. Configure Compass. This involves moving the board in a random orientation and the software logs compass values from the APM board. We capture 1000 samples, and was sufficient to capture the true orientation of the compass.
  3. Calibrating the Accelerometer and Gyro. The wizard asked to orient the board forward, left, right, front, back, down and up. We placed the board on a flat surface during these and calibrated the two sensors.
  4. Radio Callibration- This step is done with the radio RX connected to the board according to pin mappings between the APM and Radio Rx. Once connected, the radio was bound to the Tx and the control sticks were moved in all four orientations so that the APM firmware knew exactly the limits of each channel/stick.
  5. Aux Channel configuration- This is the 5th channel on the Tx, and controls what mode the quad is flying in. We set one of the positions as stabilize, because it is the safest mode to arm the quad to fly. The second was RTL (Return to Launch) and was a failsafe mode to switch to in the event the battery goes weak.

Once we had done the calibration, we placed the board, radios and all electronics safely on the quad. The APM board was mounted using double-sided 3M tape to dampen vibrations from the motors reaching the APM board.

Next was orienting the props. The APM website has clear instructions on what prop (CW or CCW) should be placed on what motor and this is in respect to the forward marked on the board. Members were now instructed that the quad poses a hazard because the props were mounted, and to be safely away from it, until the basics of arming, and flying were figured out. A loose wire could make the prop run in absence of any throttle input.

It was now time to fly! But, the quad wouldn't arm at all.

We connected the quad to the mission planner diagnostics and figured out the radio calibration was unsuccessful. We recalibrated the radio a couple more times but the quad would not arm and there was no error message on the APM console.

We then went back to basics and figure out that our arming sequence ( sequence of stick positions on Tx) was wrong, once we keyed in the quad flew.

We crashed a couple of times, before the battery ran out, and so we called it a day.

Maker Fest 2015

We set out to Ahemdabad from Mumbai on the 9th of Jan via road to setup a pop-up maker space sponsored by ISDI Parson’s University. After a great long drive of 11 hours, we reached Ahemdabad. Sachin, Rupin and I in one car and Samarth in a separate car. The cars were packed with equipment and materials to setup a makerspace. There was a drone, a 3d printer and a lot of other cool stuff, but that didn’t hinder Speed! We blew through the highways with great conversations, talking about things like, What would happen if a bowler threw a ball at 0.9c (speed of light) to a batter. The explosions that would happen and various theories about the universe.
We started early the next day to setup the maker space. Going to Maker Fest was like meeting an extended family. All the makers we had heard of and knew were all packed in one hotel. From the founders of Wit Works to the MIT workshop folks. Day 1 at the makerspace we printed parts for our drone to improve the landing gear, along with some pipe lamp building sessions. We spray painted the maker fest board and made a bow with ISDI wrist bands.
As the day progressed, we had a panel discussion about makerspaces, where I was the moderator. We discussed with other fellow makerspaces in India on how they are sustaining themselves. It was great to know the various approaches that people were trying. From selling kits and material to non-profit approaches, to a regular private company. We heard them all. While this on, in the middle of a crowd of people in cargo pants and tee shirts, Parmesh walked in style, in his colourful attire and white sunglasses and enlightened us with all the stories from Vikhroli, not Mumbai.
Post the discussion, we had some great conversations and during some of them, we decided to make some installations the next day at the makerspace. So we started rounding up some maker troops and started ideating. The Riddle team, with Rupin and Manoj  decided to work on a humanoid robot, so we started looking around for parts, surprised by the sharing nature of all the makers, we had more parts than we needed and the team started growing. Vaibhav from ISDI lead the design on this.
While looking for parts, we managed to excite more people so we started a second project, an interactive light installation, lead by Ankit Daftry and faculty from ASB. Soon we had all the parts that we needed for this installation too thanks to Sohail and the Fab Lab team. Tired from scavenging for parts, we called it an evening and went for dinner to a local street food joint followed by a beautiful ride by the river in Ahmedabad.
Next morning, I woke up with an email from Ankit, the code for the light installation was ready. Excited about the projects, we rushed to CEPT, the Maker Fest venue, to start working on the projects. Both the teams worked with great dedication and kept going. A lot of people came to watch them and some joined in. While they were working on cracking the electronics problems, I met Paul Anand, who is setting up some fab labs in Kelera. He was on this great road trip from Kerela traveling around India finding makers, we connected immediately. When Paul saw what was going on at the makerspace, we started building another installation with Pipes, that were left over from the pipe lamp making session the previous day. We made a frame and put it on the ground and asked people to come join and add to the frame. Soon there were over 6 people working on the frame and taking it forward. It eventually took a shape of an abstract tractor. A bunch of kids took spray cans in their hands and without the fear of getting high gave colour to the grey industrial tractor.
On the other side, the Light installation was all ready, apart from the sensors that failed to work. Attempting to debug for a while, we decided to skip the interactive elements as it was getting dark and we needed some light. So we bypassed the sensors and turned all the bulbs on and started spray painting. We called it modern art!
The 3rd project, the humanoid robot was also ready as the sun went down that evening. It tracked our faces and moved along. A great success. 1 day at a pop up maker space with makers from all across India!
Worn out from the great day, we thought it was a good idea to get some photos and shout at the cameras so the maker fest team went around the CEPT campus and took photos, Aditi gave some ending lines and thank yous and a drone was flown the last time that night to take photos of the maker team and volunteers that made the event possible.
Anna walked up to me at this point, and suggested we sneak out and celebrate with some makers, so we took 3 cars and went out for dinner, that's how they celebrate in a dry state! After a heavy meal and discussions, we were kicked out of the restaurant but it was still too hard to part ways. So we decided to go to the room and continue the conversations over chocolate! The night went late with all of us high on chocolate and great conversations and plans of long journeys ahead, Paul passed out in a corner, we decided to part. This marked the end of a great weekend with our extended family:)