New Kickstarter Promises "World's Most Conductive Filament"



For a few years now, many of us in the 3D Printing community have been eagerly awaiting a highly-conductive filament that would allow us to print circuits as part of our 3D printed projects. Now a new kickstarter is promising a filament that is “1,000 times more electrically conductive” than previous filaments that have come to market. Using a dual extrusion machine and their new filament, the team at Functionalize has already created demos of a 3D printed flashlight and a magnetic levitation device.


3D Printed Levitator Prototype

There are a range of rewards available to backers including 3D printed circuits, spools of filament, and maker kits that include not only filament, but also example circuits. Functionalize is hoping that these rewards – and the promise of being able to print highly functional items – will help them make their requested $100,000 in the next 30 days.

One of the first examples of conductive filaments and their potential came in 2012 as a research paper that released experiments using PCL plastic (Shapelock) mixed with carbon powder. The research included examples of 3D printed flashlights along with printable sensors. Unfortunately, the research from this paper never really brought a conductive material to market, and those who have been interested in testing the possibilities of this technology have been left to wait for something else. Hopefully this kickstarter will be the solution we have been waiting for.


Popular at Public Lab

Out in Zone 5, Liz Barry of Public Lab is sensing strong interest in spectrometry.

The reason: “It’s like a Tricorder for $10!”


Liz Barry of Public Lab

The Public Lab is a community where you can learn how to investigate environmental concerns.

Using inexpensive DIY techniques, Public Labs seeks to change how people see the world in environmental, social, and political terms.

And a good place to start: spectrometry.

“Because you can use it to tell what things are made of,” Liz says.


The desktop spectrometer from Public Lab

Get out to Zone 5 and check it out!

Sphero Goes Extreme with New Ollie



Sphero, the little, round, programmable robot, rolled its way into many hearts since it was released in 2011, confounding pets and expressing a unique form of movement. It was a reimagining of both robots and remote control.

For its second act, the company is reimagining wheels — at least, wheels in the context of robots. So, meet Ollie, which is a Sphero-sized body, elongated slightly, and equipped with a wheel on either end. It’s not quite so omnidirectional as Sphero, but what it lacks in that department it makes up in creative programming that allows it to recognize its position and direction, and maintain its course in the face of bumps, jumps, and flips. But it stays true to — and even improves upon — Sphero’s programmable, hackable nature.

“The robot itself is always keeping track of its tricks, so it always knows how it’s oriented in the air, it knows if it’s in the air, it knows how many spins it’s done in the last certain amount of time. It’s actually doing those calculations on the actual robot, and then it sends the results up to the phone,” says Brandon Dorris, Sphero director of product development.

Earlier this year, Sphero released a video showing off the Ollie with a bunch of skaters and their skateboards. (Note the robot’s skate-inspired name.) The emphasis now is on more extreme play, but it’s still programmable — you can create tricks, the company points out, and Ollie will track its own air time, spins, and more.

Necessary for the zippier acrobatics was a refinement of Bluetooth LE. To get the phone to communicate with the Ollie faster, they needed to use LE, but LE can’t transfer as much information. So, to get the data across, the app sends them in packages of six, explains Dorris.

“It’s constantly checking itself, and its constantly giving feedback to the phone on what’s going on, so the phone can react to what’s actually happening in real life,” he says. “The person is really interacting with the toy, but the toy is interacting with the person at the same time.”

The apps for Sphero will also work with Ollie, including Draw N’ Drive, which follows routes, and Macro Lab, which teaches basic programming. Advanced users can even program in a version of BASIC. And the device itself is hackable, or more so at least than Sphero, which had to be cracked open if you wanted to get at its insides. Ollie opens easier, and later this year Sphero will be releasing a software development kit for it. “You can use it to create your own robots, or create your own things that you want to be able to control with Bluetooth LE,” says Dorris.

OllieProductHR-5562And Ollie is fast, up to 14 miles per hour. It’s that speed, along with the clever wheels that make it more of a driving machine than its predecessor. It drifts too, for those fans of The Fast and the Furious who aren’t ready to do so in their cars.

All that speed makes driving it a bit more challenging. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing: “You get better over time. You learn how to control what you’re doing and get it to do what you want to when you want it to do it,” says Dorris. “It’s kind of this whole idea of mastery, and playing with it for a while. You feel better each time you play with it, because you get better at actually doing it.”

Are you experiencing problems with your new MicroView?

Two MicroView boards running the on-board tutorial. One board (top) powered from a 9V battery, the other (bottom) powered via the USB Programmer.

Two MicroView boards running the on-board tutorial. One board (top) powered from a 9V battery, the other (bottom) powered via the USB Programmer.

Update (21/Aug): A walkthrough of how to fix the problem.

I don’t know about you, but the thing that stays with me from my Christmas mornings when I was a child is the feeling of ripping the wrapping paper from my presents. Not necessarily the presents themselves, but the feeling of discovery, and then the disappointment of finding out that your parents have forgotten to buy the right batteries.

As an adult we rarely experience that feeling, probably because it’s our responsibility to buy the batteries, but right now there are a number of Kickstarter backers that are probably feeling something similar.

The MicroView is a tiny chip-sized, breadboard compatible, Arduino with a built-in OLED display, and along with a number of other people I received my boards yesterday as part of the latest shipment to their Kickstarter backers.

But there was a problem, while the on-board tutorials ran fine I couldn’t use the USB Programmer to upload new code getting a ‘programmer not responding’ error from the board.

The "avrdude: stk500_recv(): programmer is not responding" error

The “avrdude: stk500_recv(): programmer is not responding” error

Anyone that’s played around with Arduino boards for a while knows that there could be half a dozen explanations as to why this error was happening, and most of them didn’t mean there was anything wrong with the board. Most of them in fact meant I was doing something wrong. However, looking at the comments starting to pop up on the MicroView getting started pages it looked like the problem was fairly widespread.

We’ve talked to Marcus Schappi—the CEO of GeekAmmo, and co-creator of the MicroView—before, so I dropped him an email to find out what was going on, and yes there was a problem.

I’ve just received word that on the 18th of July the test code used by SparkFun to quality control the MicroView was modified, and by mistake MicroViews since this time were not flashed with a bootloader.

Unfortunately this is a real problem. Normally with an Arduino board you could just flash the a new bootloader onto the board using the ICSP pins. However the MicroView isn’t designed to be disassembled, and in any case due to their size of the board it doesn’t use the standard 2 by 3 pin layout for the ICSP header.

We talked to Marcus and asked him some questions about the problem,

How did you first hear there was a problem with the MicroView?

We started to get a trickle of emails suggesting that there were faulty MicroView out there. As you’d know from your years of playing with Arduino the stk500 problem can be caused by many things.

What was your first reaction?

What’s causing the issue! Many MicroViews had shipped already and we’ve been only hearing awesome feedback. My thoughts were centered around: Could it be a hardware or is it a software issue? If it’s a software issue why didn’t we have this trouble with the first batch of shipments. Perhaps somebody loaded the wrong reel of oscillators on the pick and place machine, or perhaps SparkFun received a batch of counterfeit parts from their supplier. We have to get our hands on some of these faulty units. We ended driving hundreds of kilometers but we were able to get a couple of bad units and determine that it was a bootloader issue, and not a hardware issue.

How did you go about figuring out what was wrong?

From our experience with Arduino, our first suspect was the bootloader.  Arduino’s bootloader that is used by MicroView, is the software that is being executed first upon power up or reset. This software will wait for a predefined delay waiting for the programmer to issue bootloader command in order for it to enter into bootloading mode. The bad MicroView showed a symptom of not waiting or delaying after power up or reset, it immediately runs the demo without any delay.

How widespread is the problem?

We think there are as many as 1,934 Microview units without a bootloader

What will you do to rectify the problem?

Yes naturally! Backers who are part of the defective batch will receive two units: one that has a broken bootloader (now and in the coming days) and a second replacement that works.

So while an official announcement—both on their Kickstarter page, and by SparkFun—will follow in a few days, Geek Ammo know there’s a problem. If you have a defective MicroView, like me, they’ll be shipping you a new one to replace it as soon as they can—free of charge. Which is what you’d expect.

On the other hand it does leave you with an opportunity, while they aren’t designed to be taken apart, we’re makers, and while they’ll never go back together again I do sort of wonder if I can get mine working. So look out for a post over the next couple of days on that.

Update (21/Aug): Along with pretty much everyone else I’ve been seriously impressed with the response by Geek Ammo—the company behind the MicroView—and by SparkFun—who are manufacturing it—to the problem. However it turns out to be pretty easy to fix the problem yourself, and I’ve provided a walkthrough to do just that.

Digioxide: A Portable Device That Makes Art Out of Environmental Pollution

In an effort to raise public awareness of environmental pollution, artist Dmitry Morozov has basically mashed up a polaroid camera with one of the Ghostbusters’ P.K.E. meters wearing a pair of Groucho Marx glasses to create a cunning device called the Digioxide, which makes digital prints from the pollutants it detects.

Digioxide is a portable wireless device equipped with sensors of air pollution gases and dust particles that is connected to computer via bluetooth. This allows a person with digioxide to freely move around a city, seek out ecologically problematic places and turn their data into digital artworks.

[via the creator’s project]

Internet Connected Necktie with LEDs

Internet connected wearable devices are on the rise. Software writer and self-proclaimed tinkerer, Hector Urtubia has developed the first internet connected necktie. Using the platform Pinoccio along with Adafruit’s Flora RGB Smart Neopixel LEDs, Urtubia has created an entertaining and timeless piece of technology you can wear.

Why Pinoccio? Urtubia claims Pinoccio is the top choice for web enablers.

“I truly think the best platform right now is to use a Pinoccio…I recently picked a kit up and I’ve been impressed by its ease of use. If you have Arduino experience, you can most definitely program a Pinoccio.”

The tie wouldn’t be Urtubia’s complete package without the use of Adafruit’s Flora NeoPixels. These chainable and individually addressable LEDs (with built-in current driver) are designed specifically for wearables. Hector claims a convenient application of one pin on the Pinoccio will leave enough free space for other sensors on the project.

Adafruit has a similar, but not connected, tie. If you don’t know how to sew on a basic level, it’s time to learn!

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Urtubia also wrote a library that extends the Pinnocio scripting language to function with the pixels directly from the web/API. His library is even available for public use.

Now, when the library and sketch are synced with the Pinnocio Scout, all of the purposes of the odd tie are endless! Hector shared some of his creative and silly thought processes:

  • For software builders, light up your tie when builds start failing.
  • For executives at the office, light up your tie 5 minutes before your next meeting.
  • For dancers (count me out), put it on disco mode and be the center of the party!
  • For bikers, increase your visibility at night by putting the tie on your head.
  • Have your tie stream the news in morse code.

Wait, the tie not only lights up but Urtubia has taken one step further and connected his tie to MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) events!

Hector explains in detail how he is experimenting with using the tie for these MIDI events on his blog!

Overall, this fun tie can be assembled with ease using the Pinoccio and Adafruit’s Flora NeoPixels. Now, what else is possible with the use of Pinoccio? Urtubia is anxious to see what other projects people in the community can imagine with this platform in the future. In the meantime, impress your friends or embarrass your date with your new experimental tech-tie!

[via mrbook]

WearableWeek_Badge_small_bur01This week, July 14-19 2014, we’re exploring wearable electronics of all kinds on Make! If it is electronic and belongs on your body, we’d love to hear about it! You can find all of our wearable articles by going here.


How-To: Knit a Working Circuit

Forget about circuit boards and start thinking about circuit stitches with this illuminating tutorial by electronic art professor Jesse Seay on how to knit your own circuitry.

…I developed a method to “print” circuit boards on my knitting machine, with materials that are inexpensive, easily available, and solderable. The method works with both traditional electronic components and with e-textile components. And while I use a knitting machine for rapid production, the materials should work fine for hand knitters.


As Seay explains in the introduction, this tutorial assumes that you already know how to knit and shows you how to integrate wiring into your knitting by design a knitting pattern that will allow you to make connections between electronic components, just like an ordinary circuit board.

Once you get the hang of it, it’s fun to turn “traditional” circuit designs into knitted circuit designs.[…] The knitted fabric is like stripboard, and each row is a track. Planning out the circuit isn’t so different from planning a stripboard circuit.

Then, just solder in your components and connect them to a power source and voilà knitted circuitry!

Building robots and rockets with Javascript

Ron Evans and Adrian Zankich talking about Cylon.js on the Make: Electronics Stage at the 2014 Bay Area Maker Faire

There was a time when turning an LED on and off using a microcontroller took a week, and detailed knowledge of the microcontroller. But that was before Arduino. But even with Arduino people sometimes found it hard to hack together the things the wanted to do, especially when you had to deal with networks, something that was traditionally seen as hard on an Arduino.

Despite that the Arduino, and later the Raspberry Pi, made building things—robots for instance—much easier, primarily due to the huge community that they built up around themselves. It has been those communities that has led the Arduino and the Raspberry Pi to dominate the landscape. If you had a problem, there was someone that had probably already had the same problem and solved it for you.


A Cylon.js controlled Sphero (credit Matthew Bergman)

Enter the web developers, and node.js. For those of you who haven’t come across it yet, node.js is a server-side solution for JavaScript—it’s an event-driven Javascript platform which does non-blocking I/O—and is rapidly gaining popularity, and mindshare amongst the web community. It’s that popularity and the arrival of boards that natively speak Javascript—like the Tessel or the Espruino—that means that a third community is now growing.

This third community doesn’t seem to look at microcontrollers, electronics, and things like building robots, quite the same way as we’ve done in the past, and that makes a lot of sense. Coming from a high level language background, and the web, they put the software stack first, and networking a close second. Their approach leads to frameworks like Cylon.js—a JavaScript framework for robotics, physical computing, and the Internet of Things written for node.js.

I first ran across them at ThingsCon earlier in the year, where they held a workshop using Spheros, Arduinos, and the Leap Motion gestural controller to show how easy it is to hack hardware using Javascript. So when I saw they were talking on the Make: Electronics Stage at the Bay Area Maker Faire a couple of weeks ago, I thought that this was a good chance to sit down and talk  to Ron Evans—one of the creators of Cylon.js—about the Cylon.js framework and where it was going.

So tell me about Cylon.js?

Cylon.js is a open source JavaScript framework for robotics and the Internet of Things. It supports 19 different hardware and software platforms, and multiple platforms at the same time. Our goal is to make developing software for devices as easy as web development.

Why Javascript?

JavaScript is one of the most popular programming languages, and thanks to being built on top of node.js we can handle the real-time I/O and streaming needed to communicate with many different devices.

There seems to be a lot of interest from the Javascript—especially the Node.js community—in hardware, why do you think that is?

There are a couple different reasons. One is that the JS community are very much trail-blazers in terms of exploring new technologies. Another is the influence of my friend Chris Williams—the main organiser of JSConf and the newer RobotsConf—who has been a key player in helping introduce the JS community to hardware hacking.

Why do you think Makers, people that have traditionally been much closer to the hardware, are going to be interested in a Javascript framework?

The ubiquity of JS has made it a lot easier for people to program on different kinds of JS-enabled devices, such as the Beaglebone Black and Raspberry Pi. Working in a higher-level language such as JS allows devs to spend less time of just trying to get things to work, and more time actually making something useful.

The platforms you support seems to be a mix of UI elements, pre-built hardware, software and boards. How do they interact?

We call it “full-stack robotics,” and we have adopted several different software design patterns to integrate different layers together in a seamless way. Similar to how web developers can switch between different database engines, we allow you connect to different devices, and even switch from one platform to another with a minimum number of code changes. We also support “Test-Driven Robotics” to allow devs to write automated tests before writing code on the actual hardware.

How does Cylon.js ‘support’ something like the Arduino or the Digispark that doesn’t speak Javascript?

Cylon.js also supports many different kinds of communication with devices, such as serial or TCP/UDP. In the case of the Arduino we communicate using the Firmata protocol, and in the case of the Digispark we support a protocol named Littlewire created by the brilliant Jenna Fox that runs on even smaller micro-controllers such as the Digispark.

You seem to run a lot of workshops to promote the framework, tell me how those go? Why do you run them?

We have had an amazing response to the robot hacking workshops that we’ve been running at conferences all over the world.

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From people who are already makers, to those who have never had a chance to program any hardware at all, we have seen a really high level of enthusiasm and happiness. We try to incorporate the artistic and creative side as well. For example, at our recent workshops we show people how to make wearable controllers out of Popsicle sticks and conductive foil to drive around Sphero robots.

Where do you see Cylon.js heading?

We are starting to see a very active community growing. At JSConf, we had a group of people that built NodeRockets using Cylon.js, the Raspberry Pi, and Arduino, which they then launched into the sky using compressed air. They had telemetry readings, deployed their parachutes, and everything all using Cylon.js. No surprise that Cylon.js is demonstrating space superiority, of course!

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We are adding new hardware support for more devices, some of which are not released, so we cannot talk about them yet—but more on that in the upcoming months. Our company is the “software company that makes hardware companies look good,” so we’re here to help out both as open source contributors, as well as professionals when we’re needed.

With the ability for them to hack hardware in their native language, I think we’re going to be seeing a lot more hardware hacking from the web developers.

Maker Faire and eBooks, Oh My!

In celebration of Maker Week, which began with MakerCon and moves like an Arduino-powered steam rocket directly towards Maker Faire Bay Area, all Make ebooks and videos are 50% off through May 19.

One of our newest titles takes the ordinary magic of electronics and the new magic of sensors to lead you further into today’s ordinarily magical future.


Make: More Electronics is the sequel to author Charles Platt’s 2009 release, Make: Electronics, which, despite its five years on the shelf, remains a perennial bestseller. (Charles is also the author of another long-tail best-seller, Encyclopedia of Electronic Components Vol. 1. )

Building on the lessons laid out in Make: Electronics, More Electronics takes the reader to an intermediate understanding of electronic concepts.

We are publishing Make: More Electronics in conjunction with this weekend’s Maker Faire Bay Area. If you’re planning to attend, also plan to pick up a hard copy of this new title onsite in our Maker Shed.

According to Charles Platt, the sleepy little topic of hobby-electronics has always been inhabited by people with rigorous, formal education. By contrast, Make: Electronics was written by someone who claims to have no qualifications at all, and who invaded the field with a completely different approach, resulting in a best-seller for four years and counting.

We checked in with Charles, a regular Make: Magazine contributor, recently about this book.

“Other books teach theory and then, maybe, you get to verify it,” Charles laughs. “My book asks the reader to do hands-on work from the start. You put components together, see what happens, and learn from the outcome. I don’t think anyone else teaches electronics this way. Plus, there’s an emphasis on having fun. I don’t take everything seriously.”

Q: Who is Make: More Electronics written for?

Charles: Young people who want the satisfaction of putting components together and making them do amazing things. Also, parents of these young people. (Actually, I suspect that parents are the key audience.) Also, readers of the first volume who want to go deeper into electronics. Really, anyone who enjoys hands-on construction projects will enjoy this book.

Q: What’s the most exciting thing happening in the electronics space?

Charles: The most interesting things in hobby-electronics are sensors. Smart phones have created a huge demand for sensors, and this has driven down the cost. A high-quality microphone, for instance, now costs under $1. In my book, I discuss magnetic, optical, heat, motion, humidity, and other sensors.

Q: What are some of the best take-aways from this book?

Charles: There are many. Here’s a short list:

• With a small handful of components, build a linear feedback shift register that will generate evenly balanced, pseudo-random numbers on the same basis as professional encryption algorithms. Use it to test your telepathic abilities (if you think you have any).

• Build a half-adder and a full-adder with basic logic gates—and then learn an alternative method using nothing but switches.

• Learn about game theory and apply it to three different electronic versions of the old Rock, Paper, Scissors game.

• Make a coin game that consistently gives you a 12.5% advantage over your opponents, after you learn its secret.

• Build “The Rotational Equivocator,” a fortune-telling circuit that offers three predictions: “Maybe,” “Maybe not,” and “I’m not sure.” Ideal for anyone seeking political office.

• Explore the fascinating field of magnetic sensors, optical sensors, heat sensors, and other sensors that you can use in projects of your own.

“The 36 original projects that I have developed are unique,” Charles concludes. “Comparable circuits do not seem to exist elsewhere. Encoders, decoders, multiplexers, counters, and shift registers are all included. Most of all—the projects are games that are fun to play.”

While not everyone can travel to the San Francisco Bay Area to pick up a hard copy of Make: More Electronics hot off the presses at Maker Faire, everyone can take advantage of the great ebook sale live through May 19.

Other New Titles from Make

Make: Sensors The definitive introduction and guide to the sometimes-tricky world of using sensors to monitor the physical world, replete with dozens of projects and experiments. Build sensor projects with both Arduino and Raspberry Pi and learn about touch sensors, light sensors, accelerometers, gyroscopes, magnetic sensors, as well as temperature, humidity, and gas sensors.sensors

Make: Basic Arduino Projects This companion book to MakerShed’s Ultimate Arduino Microcontroller Pack provides 26 clearly explained projects that you can build with this top-selling kit right away–including multicolor flashing lights, timers, tools for testing circuits, sound effects, motor control, and sensor devices.

Make: AVR Programming Atmel’s AVR microcontrollers are the chips that power Arduino, and are the go-to chip for many hobbyist and hardware hacking projects. Set aside the layers of abstraction provided by the Arduino environment and learn how to program AVR microcontrollers directly. In doing so, you’ll get closer to the chip and you’ll be able to squeeze more power and features out of it. Each chapter is centered around projects that incorporate that particular microcontroller topic. Each project includes schematics, code, and illustrations of a working project.

Quickly Prototype Circuits With New Inkjet-Printable Conductive Ink

Japanese startup AgIC is aiming to streamline the circuit prototyping process with a new conductive ink that can be used in ordinary household inkjet printers, and that offers an interesting set of flexible properties.

Normally, breadboarding an envisioned circuit can be a sloppy affair, and when you have it working you’re still left with the task of generating the PCB design, having it made, and verifying that it too will work as desired.

With AgIC’s creation, the process skips straight to the PCB. Create your layout in Eagle, 123D Circuits, or even Illustrator, print it, affix the components, and test it out. If changes are needed, they can be tested in minutes.

agic_1 The inkjet system, currently with a few days remaining on Kickstarter, uses a re-filled cartridge and a Brother inkjet printer. It requires the use of glossy photo paper, or plastic transparencies, and the components can be connected with conductive glue or tape. We even tested the ink with hot solder and were surprised that it held together, although not reliably enough to use normally. Once printed, adding a piece of cardstock to the pack firms it up and lets you replicate the feel of a hard plastic PCB.

But without the hard backing, interesting options open up. The ink has a surprising amount of flexibility, and can be easily bent and folded. With it, creating fast wearables becomes easy, and building circuits into items like paper airplanes offers interesting creative options as well.

And the ink can be manipulated to create resistance, to make paper antenna, and a variety of other electronic aspects.

AGiC also offers the conductive ink in a pen format, similar to the wildly successful Kickstarted CircuitScribe, but the inkjet printing aspect is what has captured our imagination. If you get one, let us know what you make.