OnQ Blog

No hardware experience? No problem. San Diego Maker Faire is the perfect introduction.

29. Okt. 2015

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

“How can I learn hardware programming now that the cost of development boards is so low?”

“How are drones and robotics evolving?”

“What’s the latest in 3D printing?”

Maker Faire is designed to answer questions like those and to demonstrate to everyone how easy it has become to translate cool ideas into real-world hardware. Attending the two-day San Diego Maker Faire were thousands of software developers, high school robotics teams, hardware designers, school children, crafters and anybody who just wanted to know how to make stuff.

Qualcomm was the premier sponsor of the San Diego Maker Faire, spread across 14 different zones and museums in the city’s storied Balboa Park. More than 25,000 visitors, 250 makers and 300 volunteers filled zones showing off projects like drones, open source, modeling, imaging, sustainability, marshmallow shooters and slime. How could any maker resist all that? Among the highlights:

  • A 30-foot-tall robot moved its head and limbs, shooting flames from its arms.
  • Students hustled through timed tasks in First Tech competitions, raising cargo boxes and shooting tennis balls – all while improvising fixes to keep their robots running.
  • Youngsters piloted Snapdragon™ Micro Rovers wirelessly from mobile devices at the Qualcomm Experience tent in the Plaza de Panamá.
  • Visitors flew small drones inside a net cage.

The allure of Maker Faire lies in hardware and everything you can do with it. With prices coming down and capabilities going up, hardware of all kinds is becoming more accessible. It’s getting as easy to make physical things as it is to make logical things in software. We put together a DragonBoard™ 410c workshop that demonstrated that.

DragonBoard 410c Workshop  

To introduce the DragonBoard 410c development kit by Arrow Electronics to everyone from school kids to software developers, we ran workshops continuously in the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center.

All day long, participants took their turn connecting a color sensor and a gesture sensor to the DragonBoard 410c over a simple breadboard. They added a Bluetooth keyboard with trackpad, powered up the kit, booted Android 5.1 and output video to a monitor. We then showed them how to interact with the sensors to affect graphical objects in a reference app preloaded onto the DragonBoard 410c, giving them a taste of the multimedia capabilities thanks to the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 410 processor on the board.

The younger the maker, the less surprise at how much Snapdragon functionality they could access on the DragonBoard 410c. But grown-up software developers were plenty impressed at seeing such a simple development kit demonstrate as much power as the smartphone in their pocket.

The workshop got more than a few wheels turning in the minds of makers.

TrikeWriter And Qualcomm Inventor Lab

Meanwhile, three other wheels were turning on El Prado, the main walkway among the museums. Nicholas Hanna of the Qualcomm Inventor Lab was pedaling his TrikeWriter back and forth, asking attendees to send him a message at trikewriter.com, which his trike then wrote out in drops of water on the pavement.

While living in Beijing five years ago, Hanna became inspired by calligraphers who paint Chinese characters with water on streets and sidewalks. Using a laptop and an Arduino board, he put together a Water Calligraphy Device that used jets to dot-print characters behind a trike. He recently pitched the idea to people in the Inventor Lab, who encouraged him to build out a more robust version of the trike around Qualcomm technologies and chipsets. The resulting TrikeWriter is a maker’s dream:

  1. Passersby visit trikewriter.com on their own phone and submit a message through a standard website form.
  2. The message goes to a node.js cloud-based app running on Heroku that uses PostgreSQL to add it to a database.
  3. A Qualcomm employee approves or rejects each message.
  4. TrikeWriter uses an LTE connection through a MiFi wireless modem to poll the database for new messages.
  5. Incoming messages go to a DragonBoard 410c in the trike. A typographic engine that Nicholas wrote in Python converts each character into a pattern of dots.
  6. The DragonBoard 410c queues the messages as dot patterns in a line, then opens and closes the water jets as TrikeWriter moves forward.

“I’m more of a maker than a programmer, which is why I like scripting in Python,” says Hanna. “It’s not a production language like C, but it’s a good choice for an artistic project like TrikeWriter. On the China project, I had to work within the tight processing constraints of the Arduino, but the DragonBoard 410c is a full computer, which means I can use tools like Python without those constraints. It manages the web connection to the database, converts inbound messages into a dot pattern, handles the connection to the valves and responds to the request for the next letter in the message.” 

What’s Next?

If you’re in the mood to make, take a page out of Hanna’s book: “It’s best to start with a specifi project in mind. You’ll enjoy a lot more progress if you start with something you want to make and then figure out how to make it, rather than learning how to make things and then deciding what to make.”