When first stepping through the door, the University of Michigan’s Walter E. Wilson Student Team Project Center feels familiar, like a well-equipped hackerspace/makerspace. A Haas vertical mill dominates the main floor, more modern than i3′s but otherwise similar. In the back are manual mills and lathes, and a nontraditional vehicle (in this case, a solar car) hangs from the ceiling. Upstairs, an electronics lab is giving rise to the next generation of self-contained autonomous quadrotor helicopters. There’s a feeling of easy camaraderie and a subtle sense that the future is taking shape within these walls.
What’s different about the Wilson STPC is that there’s no hobby activity here — no couch, no gaming, no rogue bumper stickers, no tinkering for the sake of tinkering. Use of the Center is for students only, of course, but beyond that, it’s restricted to official student teams competing in various events. Among them is the Michigan Autonomous Aerial Vehicles team, competing in the International Aerial Robotics Competition. Dissatisfied with the suitability of commercially available UAV platforms, MAAV is building their own, and they were kind enough to give i3 Detroit a behind-the-scenes tour on Sunday.
Unlike the internet-darling quadrotors performing aerobatics in a sensor-studded room, MAAV’s machines are almost entirely self-contained, designed to operate in an uncontrolled environment. So in addition to the obvious motors and rotors and batteries, they’re flying sensor platforms, with two onboard LIDAR units, accelerometers, gyroscopes, cameras, and several processors to handle the numerous tasks required. That’s all fixed to an astonishingly strong carbon-fiber frame, home-brewed using a novel molding technique.
i3 Detroit’s tour group got to meet several MAAV team members, check out various early and current hardware versions, and ask tons of questions. As several of our members have robotics and quadrotor experience, there was idea-sharing in both directions.
To demonstrate the stability of the quadrotor’s control system, our guide Jonathan told it to take off and hover at a particular position, and then grabbed one corner of the machine and pulled it several feet out-of-place. It returned immediately to its commanded position and held there, steady as a hummingbird, until commanded to go somewhere else. See the full video of the demonstration here.
After leaving the STPC, half of our group continued on to the day’s second destination, a datacenter by the name of MACC: the Michigan Academic Computing Center. Housing servers and equipment for numerous university departments, it’s a rack-mounted forest of Infiniband cables, storage arrays, and machines with names like “dixiedynamite”. We compared notes about power and cooling, talked about fiber optics and interconnect latency, and hunted down a lone GPS time server.
There are plenty of interesting places in southeast Michigan, and with these field trips, we’re exploring some of them. Stay tuned!
A: Chris Peplin’s sweet ride, with a prototype OpenXC translator plugged into it!
On Friday, i3 Detroit’s first car hacking meetup brought a good turnout, with pizza and drinks and solder and software and tons of fascinating ideas. The mix of attendees included several industry experts, some hobbyists of varying experience, and a few curious newbies.
We were treated to the first public demonstration of the recently-released OpenXC platform, a standard API for interfacing aftermarket software into vehicles. Unlike common OBD2 interfaces that only work with a limited set of messages, OpenXC decodes the live CAN traffic and reveals lots more data, neatly formatted as JSON for your apps to parse.
What sort of apps? Well, that’s up to you — come to the next car hacking meetup (fourth Fridays) and get involved!
Q: What has four wheels and fifteen computers?
A: Your car!
For years, I’ve described hackers as “greasemonkeys with cleaner fingernails”. The eagerness to dive into a complex system, the urge to squeeze more performance out of one’s daily-driver, the itch to tinker with something that already “works just fine”. Sound familiar?
As the computer industry and the auto industry continue to overlap, we find ourselves in an interesting spot: Cars are increasingly “street-legal cellphones”, with more and more of their functionality controlled by software, connected through data networks, and accessible to anyone with the right tools and know-how.
Tools and know-how are more powerful when they’re shared, and that’s where i3 Detroit comes in! From logic analyzers to CANbus interfaces, our members and guest community enjoy access to a growing complement of car-hacking tools. But people are the other half of the equation, so Friday’s meetup has two main goals:
1. To connect interested individuals, both within and outside i3′s membership.
2. To familiarize everyone with the tools available and projects afoot, including (tentatively) a demonstration of the OpenXC Platform.
This is the first in a recurring series of car-hacking meetups, which happen monthly on the fourth Friday at i3 Detroit. Come play.
When I first came into i3Detroit, I didn’t know what to expect. I never thought in a million years that I would be doing the things that I do when I spend time at the space. Clearly I was the odd “man” out. I was surrounded with individuals versed in things I had never even dreamed of; things I never thought i could comprehend and understand. I took a very basic electronics class, and was fascinated that i actually could understand and retain the information. It blew me away that an individual would take the time to teach me something I knew nothing about; it blew me away that an individual had the patience to teach me things I had never even heard of. I came to find that i3Detroit was full of people like this; sharing ideas an knowledge, and having a genuine want to teach you mindset. I quickly found a home where I was accepted, even though I didn’t quite “fit the mold”.
For Valentine’s day this year, I created my very first circuit board. I found the idea here while I was searching for “heart shape circuit board” images on Google I had planned on doing something more in my realm of knowledge. I was going to create circuit board flowers out of e-waste that can always be found floating in our graveyard.
The concept seemed simple; a circuit board that blinks a few LED’s in some pretty neat patterns.
I quickly found the process to be much more complicated than I had anticipated; but in this process, I learned how to solder, and got a crash course in how to use our PCB Mill. I connected with fellow members, and spent some fun late nights at the space. I felt at home. I felt smart. I felt awesome. (granted two of the LED’s need some tweaking, but let’s not get down on that.)
When I hit that switch for the first time, I was reminded of how passionate I was about this place, and the people in it. This is my home, and these people are my family. This place makes my Heart Blink.
Below is the video of my reaction. <3
One of the central principles of hackerspaces/makerspaces is to make it easier for each other to accomplish things by sharing resources and ideas. It should therefore come as no surprise that, as a relatively old and well-established space, we get a steady stream of queries from founders of new spaces, asking for advice, and that we freely share the lessons we’ve learned.
Apparently that’s knowledge worth sharing more broadly, because MAKE: Magazine and Artisan’s Asylum put together an event to do just that! It’s taking place this weekend, and i3′s past president Matt Oehrlein was invited to contribute our perspective.
Matt joins roughly 180 other participants, including leaders of established spaces, founders of new efforts, and experts in related fields such as government and insurance. We look forward to further collaboration with the broader community!
phone: (248) 906-8473
For tours, just drop in before a meeting (Tuesdays 5-7pm) or any Friday evening (5-9pm).
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