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.
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.)