The stuff that dream benches are made of

tl;dr: We won some amazing Keysight gear (and software!) in a contest. They’re running the contest again with an even sweeter prize pack, and entries close in a few days. It’s the real deal and you could win some crazy stuff for yourself or your space. Go enter here, right now.

Okay. Done? Seriously, don’t read any further until you enter the contest, trust me on this! Alright. Continuing on:17986614885_0e03a5dde3_k

When Keysight (you might remember them as Agilent or HP) announced the Dream Bench sweepstakes back in January, the grand prize caught notice. It was almost too good. Up for grabs was an incredible pile of electronics gear — a top-of-the-line oscilloscope, a workhorse power supply, a waveform generator with way too much memory, and a multimeter so full-featured it thinks it’s a little oscilloscope sometimes. On top of it, all the gear is PC-controllable, and the prize pack features a full license for the new BenchVue software, to tie it all together in one interface. (Just go watch the video, it’s all sorts of nifty.)

That’s a seriously nice bench full of equipment, and when I looked at the sweepstakes, I figured there were two likely outcomes: It would either be won by a student/hobbyist, who would surely appreciate it but might not find time to use it often (or to its full potential), or by a professional designer with access to similar stuff in a commercial lab.

However, that’s not how it turned out!

If you’re reading this, you know there’s a third possibility: That the prize might go to a hackerspace/makerspace. Run by and for the DIY community, i3Detroit’s member-volunteers have spent the last 6 years sharing resources and inspiration, with an almost-impossibly-broad scope: A visitor will find the expected laser cutters and 3D printers, but also embroidery and jewelry equipment, woodworking, welding, ceramics, and a dozen other disciplines represented, all under one roof. Not least of which is an electronics lab which just got a pretty significant equipment upgrade.

This breadth of capabilities is reflected in the diversity of membership, too: Costume designers collaborate with radio engineers to make remote-controlled animated wearable art. Traditional wood marquetry techniques get a boost from laser speed and precision. Lasers do a great job on leather, too, and another ancient art moves into the 21st century. A handful of successful crowdfunded projects have made their prototypes or production hardware here, and independent inventors and entrepreneurs find a place in the community too.

Even within a single discipline, members run the gamut from total beginners working on tutorials, to accomplished designers debugging production hardware. Unlike the labs found in schools or in industry, there’s no set focus here, and no vendor monoculture. Keysight’s finest goes up against (or, fits in seamlessly with) equipment from numerous other nameplates (though of course, HP and Agilent make up a significant chunk of those too), and an ever-maturing suite of open-source tools produced by the hacker/maker community. It’s used by students on their way into industry, of course (and the number of people who’ve gotten job connections here is dizzying), but projects here are driven by curiosity and passion, not top-down management. (Even the lab coordinator is appointed by the membership.)

On any given day, the oscilloscope’s VGA-out might be hooked to a projector, so music-synth students can see the instructor’s waveforms on the big screen. The next day, it might be in math mode, working with the function generator to characterize the frequency response of an amplifier or filter. Just yesterday, the PSU and DMM were paired up on either end of a little power converter, getting final alignment before going into a prototype phone accessory. Tools at i3Detroit get a workout! What will you do with them next?

(Note: The prize pack we won had 4 main pieces of gear: The oscilloscope, PSU, DMM, and Arb. That’s insane but it’s now considered the “runner-up” prize, and the grand prize in this iteration of the contest is an even-crazier pack that includes all that plus a spectrum analyzer, DC power analyzer, and DAQ box. And BenchVue licenses for all of the above, of course.)

Bombs Away! Watermelon Drop Recap

An after-school program group for teens from the Muslim Community of Western Suburbs Center (MCWS) came by i3Detroit for a special event. We wanted to do an event that involved a team challenge, brainstorming, designing, and building. A lot of schools and organizations do egg drop contests. The goal would be to design some mechanism to protect and egg falling from a 10ft or higher. We wanted to amp it up to something a little more bigger and badder — a watermelon drop contest.

The group divided up into 3 teams. Each team had a coach from i3Detroit to assist with some of the more dangerous fabrication.


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Pumpkin Carving and Party Recap

We had a pumpkin carving class on October 25th. These always have a ton of participation and everyone has a good time. What a great excuse to unnecessarily use power tools.  After being carved, the pumpkins were judged at the annual halloween party. The winners won prizes like a bouquet of flowers and candy.  Follow the break to see more pictures!


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Would you like to play a game?

IMG_0462A few days ago, Arduino co-inventor Massimo Banzi spoke at the University of Michigan, as part of a lecture series sponsored by the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design.  In addition to throngs of art students, there were indeed a few die-hard electronics nerds in the audience. It seemed like the perfect time to do two things:

1: Give away a bunch of little laser-cut Arduino protectors. Attached to the bottom of the otherwise-bare Arduino board, this is a cheap-and-cheerful way to avoid short circuits when absentmindedly setting the board down.

2: Tease some of the clever folks in the audience into playing a little puzzle, which was previously hinted at. The reward for the first to finish is a month of membership at i3Detroit.

Here’s where you come in: Even with a free month of membership on the line, nobody’s solved all of the steps yet! So it’s time to officially open it up to players who weren’t at the lecture.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • The puzzle is open to any non-member, no purchase or anything necessary, but you’ll need to be local and 18+ to claim the prize. If not, feel free to play for fun anyway!
  • If you want to co-solve with a physical friend, that’s cool, but please don’t share solutions over the internet. (Let ’em work for it!)
  • You’ll probably need to get your hands on an Arduino to solve one of the steps. If you don’t own one, perhaps you could use one at a nearby hackerspace….

[updated 4/21 to reflect that current i3detroit members can play for fun but not claim the prize.]

What you need to know about participating in the Red Bull madness

What’s this insanity all about?

Last year, i3 Detroit did so well in all 3 phases of the Red Bull Creation challenge (the puzzle board, the Chronotune, and the final 72-hour build in New York City), that we automatically prequalified for the finals this year. But unlike last year’s 4-person teams, this year anyone can — and should — participate!

So who’s going to New York?

Nobody! This year, the Creation takes place at individual spaces across the country. Red Bull sent us some video equipment to stream our build. That means that anyone who walks into i3 Detroit this weekend is part of it!

What are we making?

We don’t know yet! The theme will be revealed at 9:00 tonight. Then the clock starts, and we have 72 hours to conceive and create … whatever!

What should I expect if I drop in?

Expect to be involved! Whatever skills you have, they might be useful, and the only way to find out is to show up and dive in..

Also, expect a bit of paperwork! In addition to i3’s guest waiver, Red Bull’s production company has a release/waiver form that must be signed by anyone who might appear in our video stream. Please review it before dropping in. Regardless, expect around-the-clock activity, as we design and build and scramble for parts. There may be food, there may be news crews, it’s anyone’s guess!


Guts, glory, and cash: The prize purse is $10,000. And for the same reason we do anything else — because it’s just plain fun!