2017/04/21 World’s Most Powerful Emulator of Radio-Signal Traffic Opens for Business

Image Caption: In this photo illustration, a few dozen of the 256 software defined radio units, which comprise the heart of DARPA’s Colosseum—the world’s largest “channel emulator” for simulating electromagnetic communication in different peacetime and contested contexts—rise up from the original Roman Colosseum after which the electronic testbed is named. Click on image below for high-resolution.

Today is the grand opening of the Colosseum. We are not referring here to the storied concrete Colosseum in Rome, which was completed in 80 A.D. and remains famous for its ancient gladiatorial spectacles. We are talking here about DARPA’s Colosseum, a next-generation electronic emulator of the invisible electromagnetic world. Though it resides in a mere 30-foot by 20-foot server room on the campus of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, MD, the Colosseum is capable of creating a much larger, and critically important wireless world.


2017/04/14 System to Turn Deadly Chemicals into Harmless Dirt Makes Advances

Image Caption: The ACDC soil-scrubber (left) was recently connected to the Tactical Plasma Arc Chemical Warfare Agents Destruction System (right), successfully demonstrating a greater than 99.9999% removal of chemical warfare agent simulants, without creating any hazardous waste by-products. Click on image below for high-resolution.

A DARPA program that is developing a field-deployable system for onsite neutralization of bulk stores of chemical warfare agents (CWA) has successfully demonstrated a novel waterless soil-scrubbing technology that safely neutralized toxic chemicals simulating sarin, soman, and mustard agents. Created under the Agency’s Agnostic Compact Demilitarization of Chemical Agents (ACDC) program, the technology demonstrated greater than 99.9999% removal of the simulants, without creating any hazardous waste by-products.


2017/04/11 TTO 2017 Virtual Proposers Day Seeks Revolutionary Technology Concepts to Transform Future Military Capabilities

TTO Proposers Day

DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office (TTO) focuses on conceiving, designing, developing, and testing advanced technology platforms that provide U.S. forces with overwhelming tactical and strategic advantage, including vehicles, weapons, and other full-scale, potentially field-deployable systems. Whether designed to operate on the ground, at sea, in the air, in space or across domains, TTO platforms and supporting technologies have a common origin: as innovative ideas generated by program managers (PMs), companies, or individuals.


2017/04/10 Baking Hack Resistance Directly into Hardware

Image Caption: A new DARPA program, SSITH, aims to develop novel design techniques that lead to protection against cyberintruder at the hardware and circuit level, rather than relying only on software-based security patches.

Military and civilian technological systems, from fighter aircraft to networked household appliances, are becoming ever more dependent upon software systems inherently vulnerable to electronic intruders. To meet its mission of preventing technological surprise and increasing national security, DARPA has advanced a number of technologies to make software more secure. But what if hardware could be recruited to do a bigger share of that work? That’s the question DARPA’s new System Security Integrated Through Hardware and Firmware (SSITH) program aims to answer.


2017/04/07 Putting Social Science Modeling Through Its Paces

Ground Truth

The social sciences can play important roles in assisting military planners and decision-makers who are trying to understand complex human social behaviors and systems, potentially facilitating a wide range of missions including humanitarian, stability, and counter-insurgency operations. Current social science approaches to studying behavior rely on a variety of modeling methods-both qualitative and quantitative-which seek to make inferences about the causes of social phenomena on the basis of observations in the real-world.


20 Maker-Made Projects For Earth Day

First celebrated in 1970, Earth Day was declared as a day to honor our amazing planet, consider the environmental issues it faces, and focus on formulating viable solutions. Who better to throw a hat in the ring but makers? The formidable cleverness, creativity, and compassion of makers shines bright in the arena of Earth-loving projects. Here is but a sampling of 20 good-for-the-planet projects that will be at the 12th annual Maker Faire Bay Area, the biggest DIY festival on Earth, taking place on May 19–20 at the San Mateo Fairgrounds. Plus, read on to learn how to join the Maker Faire Green Travelers and help reduce waste at the Faire.

Green Skies Vertical Farm

Green Skies Vertical Farm is an urban micro-farm in West Oakland, Calif., that uses soil and hydroponic methods to produce the freshest certified organic herbs, microgreens, and salad greens. Part of the Future Food Institute, Green Skies will be exhibiting the ways they grow food, including their microgreens production in rain gutters.

Hamama Microgreens

Hamama‘s first product line, the MicroGrow Kit with Seed Quilts, makes growing healthy microgreens indoors attainable for all. No prep, no mess, and you only water once. Microgreens are the seedling versions of your favorite veggies. They’re up to 40x more nutritiously dense than their mature counterparts, according to USDA research. The exhibit will raise awareness about all the types of nutritious microgreens you can eat and also showcase living art, including “paintings” and sculptures made out of microgreens grown with the Seed Quilt technology.

Compass Green Mobile Greenhouse

Compass Green is a mobile education project that teaches sustainable agriculture, inspires creative solutions to food security issues, and demonstrates an environmentally responsible way of living, all from the back of a mobile greenhouse. Tour the greenhouse and see demonstrations of various aspects of the deeply researched technique of biointensive sustainable agriculture, such as deep soil preparation, companion planting, seed saving, and composting. Compass Green’s school programs focus on educating young consumers about the dangerous impact that conventional agriculture is having on our planet and empowering them to make a real difference in our environment and their own health by supporting sustainable agriculture.

WaterWorks Backyard Hydroponic Gardens

WaterWorks chronicles Bruce Gee’s hydroponic journey over the past two years. Learn how to grow and harvest 10 heads of lettuce per week in a backyard hydroponic system. Grow fresh vegetables using 90% less water than typical gardening. This system can be built using standard parts from a hardware store.

Bug Hotel

UCCE Master Gardeners show you how to build a Bug Hotel using recycled materials (such as used wine crates, old bird houses, large tin cans, bamboo, branches, and other nesting material) to attract beneficial insects to your garden. Learn to identify “good bugs” and how to deter “bad bugs” and other garden pests in a sustainable way.

Local Greens Indoor Farm

Local Greens is an indoor hydroponic organic produce farm in Berkeley, Calif., that utilize the latest technology to grow thousands of pounds of microgreens, sprouts, and basil monthly for 40 Bay Area grocery markets. Come see how they do it.


BioPile is a completely autonomous vertical hydroponic indoor growing system. BioPile units are stacked vertically, enabling them to provide food for many people while occupying minimum space. Grow 30 different vegetables in the space of a person! The water reserve lasts a month and the system can work anywhere, thanks to the energy-efficient lighting and ventilation systems.

Grow Bucket Life

Come learn about growing food in your home, no matter how little space you have, and assemble a free seed germinating bag to start your own sprouts! Grow Bucket kits come with lighting, ventilation, and a timer.

Root Hydroponics

Root is a smart in-home hydroponic system that helps you effortlessly grow and maintain fresh herbs, produce, and flowers of your own. Root is great for anyone interested in cultivating their own food, from beginners to professionals.

CalSol: UC Berkeley Solar Vehicle Team

CalSol, the UC Berkeley Solar Vehicle Team, is a non-profit organization whose purpose is to design, build, test, and race fully solar-powered vehicles. Composed of over 50 undergraduate students from a variety of disciplines, CalSol provides students with hands-on experience with real world engineering, project management, and business aptitude. They will display their 7th-generation car named Impulse, which placed 4th in the 2012 American Solar Challenge.

Solving Climate Change with Biomass

To solve climate change, we need to do more than just plug in solar panels — we have to get carbon out of the sky and back into the ground. Biomass gasifiers do that by turning organic waste into on-demand, renewable, carbon-negative energy. All Power Labs will bring a compact biomass gasifier genset, which will turn waste nutshells into electricity. The remaining residue, known as biochar, is a great fertilizer — they’ll offer free sample ziplock bags to the public to put in their gardens.

Siege X-Stove

Come try the Siege X-Stove, the most versatile, rugged, and affordable camping and survival stove system on the planet. In addition to being the favorite stove of countless outdoors enthusiasts, campers, backpackers, preppers, and bushcraft/survival instructors, the California-made Siege Stove is also uniquely suited to developing nations and disaster relief. Its efficient use of minimal biofuel wood scraps (instead of bulky, expensive resource-intensive gas and synthetic fuels) can help reduce deforestation, with the unique benefit of giving common cans a second life (reuse is even better than recycling!). This and its ability to make a cleaner-burning gasifier stove from two interlocking cans gives it advantages that no other stove has. Siege X-Stove is also practically indestructible, unlike most other proposed cooking solutions.

Homemade Microbial Fuel Cells

Los Gatos High School student Cassandra Melax will showcase how to make simple microbial fuel cells mostly with materials one can find at home. All you need is a plastic container, mud, wires, and thin sheets of carbon cloth. She’ll be bringing a few fully functioning fuel cells as well as the individual parts to explain how it’s set up. The exhibit will include an explanation of how bacteria power these fuel cells, how batteries generally work (including those that use salt bridges), and the types of environmentally friendly energy production that are available today.

Biomass Rocket Stoves

InStove (Institutional Stove Solutions.) is a nonprofit that designs institutional biomass rocket stoves and allied technologies for use where fossil fuels or electricity are insufficient or unavailable. Come learn about how biomass can be used to sustainably meet energy needs at home and abroad! InStove (Institutional Stove Solutions) is dedicated to relieving suffering, improving health, and reducing harm to the environment through renewable energy technology and education.

The BellyRacer

Behold this electric go-cart where you lay on your belly. Originally built for Burning man by lifelong maker Karen Schwartz, this go-kart initially ran off of a lithium-ion battery but it has gone solar and now uses a 250-watt solar panel.


Come ride with Cyclecide’s pedal-powered carnival! They’ll have the Bike Coral, 20 modified bikes, including tall bikes, choppers, sidecar bikes, bumper bikes, swing bikes, and more! Plus, check out the 32-foot-high Axe-Grinder, the four-person Cyclo-fuge, the Whirl-n-Hurl, and the Kiddie Carousel.


What if you could ride a bike that was sort of like a car with most of a car’s features and few of the drawbacks? Meet Frankentrike, the all-purpose ideal form of personal transport for the dense urban environment. Frankentrike is all about showing people that we can get around without a car in our cities, but in a way where the benefits far outweigh the challenges.

The Pedal-Powered Stage

Rock the Bike invites you to come pedal-power live music performances from talented local bands and take part in the Energy Challenges, where you can go head-to-head with common electrical devices, trying to power them with your legs. This year, the Pedal-Powered Stage will feature 24 bikes, all kid-friendly, plus four adult-specific bikes.

Green Engineers: The Tool Chain

For the last two years, Steven Mosbrucker’s main focus at his one-man invention shop The Green Engineers has been the Tool Chain, a recycling micro fab including a shredder for recycling thermoplastics (The Reclaimer), a filament maker (Multistruder/FilaFactory) to turn the recycled thermoplastics into 3D printer filament, and a 3D printer (Simple Cubic) to use the recycled filament. With these three machines, you’ll either be able to make endless filament and print from pellets or go completely green by recycling plastic or recycling failed prints.

The Super-Amazing Plastic Bottle Boat

The Super Amazing Plastic Bottle Boat Project team is comprised of four 2nd-grade students from Oak Knoll Elementary in Menlo Park, California (plus one little brother). They tested the best way to tie string together in order to build a boat out of plastic bottles, string, and twine.

Join the Maker Faire Green Travelers as a zero-waste expert to teach young makers the way to preserve our environmental resources and remind all to think before they throw by teaching people to identify compostable/recyclable/non-recyclable items at waste stations located throughout the Faire!

Our Green Travelers help set up and maintain the on-site recycling and composting program, as well as other sustainability functions throughout the Faire. Last year, our Green Traveler team is credited with making the following happen:

• Total waste diversion rate of 80%
• 5.98 tons total waste diverted to recycling
• 5.67 tons of waste collected for compost
• 1,250 lbs. of materials collected for reuse at local makerspaces, schools, etc.
• 1.6 tons of cooking oil collected for conversion to biofuel

Volunteer your time with this program and in exchange get some great perks, including a free pass to the Faire. A variety of shifts are available. Sign up today!


Filament Friday: NinjaFlex Squishy Fun

So far in our Filament Fridays we’ve concentrated on rigid filaments that leave you with hard parts. This week, things are getting squishy with NinjaFlex – the most popular of the flexible filaments. NinjaFlex was originally created by Frenner Drives, a company that specializes in belt drive systems. The Frenner team discovered that one of the materials they used for making belts could be used for 3D printing also, and now we have NinjaFlex. The popularity of NinjaFlex helped Frenner split off the NinjaFlex brand into its own company: NinjaTek.

Flexible filaments fall into two classes of material: TPUs (Thermoplastic Polyurethanes) or TPEs (Thermoplastic Elastomers). These filaments need specific print requirements and more tuned-in settings to print correctly, as they will do everything they can to wiggle out of your extruder instead of printing.

While not giving a perfect surface quality, a tuned in machine can print NinjaFlex very well. Overhangs can be an issue along with stringing during jumps. Be careful printing flexibles on PEI build platforms, as you may end up with a hole in your coating. Using a little PVA based glue to coat your bed will provide a protective film. Bowden style extruders are also difficult to print flexibles with; if you are getting started, stick with direct drive.

Beyond just the fun of making rubbery models, NijaFlex can be thermally bonded to rigid materials like PLA or ABS. Dual extrusion prints can be made with both rigid and flexible elements. You can also create things like your own belt drives, tank treads, gaskets and more.

If there is one flexible filament to try, NinjaFlex is it.

Check back every Friday for weekly reviews on 3D printing filament.

If you have a filament you would like us to try out or are a producer of filament, email me at [email protected] and we will try to make it an upcoming installment of Filament Friday!


PCB Board Design: Why You Should Care About Fiducial Marks

If you come from the banking and finance world, then you have heard about fiduciary responsibility. Since not many people jump from finance to electronics design, it is not a terribly important term to remember in the technological manufacturing world. However, change the “ry” to “l,” and you end up with fiducial — which can be quite important to electronics designers.

Purpose of a Fiducial Mark

Fiducial marks come into play when you have a PC board assembled by automated pick and place machinery — robots that put the components on your board. Automated assembly machinery requires incredible precision to accurately place a 0201 size resistor or 2mm x 2mm chip scale micro BGA. The machines have to know exactly where your board is.

A fiducial is an alignment mark for surface mount assembly machines. The marks ensure that your board is oriented in the correct direction and aligned as close to perfect as possible. Assembly machines use cameras to locate fiducial marks, and then adjust component placement based on the exact position of the board. The whole process typically requires more than one fiducial mark in a non-reversible pattern.

Take a look at the following two images. In both examples, one with three marks and one with two, it will be clear to the machine if the boards are upside down or sideways. The three mark pattern is recommended by the IPC, the keeper of industry standards. The second pattern, though it only has two marks and thus cannot be reversed, is seen often enough and also works.

Photo from Screaming Circuits

Photo from Screaming Circuits

When to Use a Fiducial Mark

High volume assembly always requires fiducial marks to ensure accurate registration and parts placement. Low volume assembly, like you would find at a low-volume or prototype specialist, does not always require them. However, since some low volume shops rely on them, ask before assuming. Even if fiducial marks are not required for assembling your particular product, they still help and are always a good idea. The only time that you can know for sure that fiducial marks are unnecessary is when you are placing your parts by hand.

In the image below, you can see three small metal dots (upper left, upper right, and lower right areas of the board). Those are the fiducial marks. If the electronics for this board were being placed by hand, the marks would not be necessary. However, because hundreds of copies of this board are being produced in an assembly line, it is important that the machines know the difference between the top/bottom and sides of the board. You do not want the electronics placed in a way that does not follow the designated pattern.

Photo from Screaming Circuits

Construction of a Fiducial Mark

In terms of the specific construction of fiducial marks, two things are most important: position accuracy and contrast.

Position Accuracy

A fiducial must be created in the top copper layer. Why copper, when theoretically using a silk screen or drill hole would work? The answer is registration. All of the top copper is put down in one operation. Therefore, positional accuracy of a surface mount pad relative to a copper fiducial will always be the same. Silk screen and drill holes are added in separate operations, so there is always a chance that registration will vary from board to board.

A typical 0.4mm pitch BGA has a pad size of .254 mm (.01”), and has a space of .15 mm (.0059”) between pads. Silkscreen and drill holes simply do not have the precision needed for alignment at those geometries.


The cameras in the machine need good contrast, which is why the mark has to be bare copper. Solder mask on top of a copper pad will lower the contrast to the point that the camera may not be able to see it. Solder mask has the same registration issues as silkscreen, so you need to make sure that no part of the pad is obscured.

Make the copper pad 1 to 2 mm in diameter. The mask opening should be 2 – 5 mm larger than the copper. Some CAD packages have fiducial marks in their components library. That would be the easiest route.

Shape of a Fiducial Mark

The next image shows closeup detail of a fiducial used on the board shown above. This particular fiducial mark uses a square cutout in the silk screen. Most use a round cutout, but the shape is not all that important. That being said, the copper pad should be round.

Image from Screaming Circuits

If your board will come from the fab house in a panel, you can put the fiducial marks on the panel rails. If you are receiving your boards as individuals, then put the fiducial marks on the boards themselves. If you are not sure, it is not a bad idea to do both. That way, whether the boards are assembled as a panel or the boards need to be depanelized before assembly, you are covered.

Remember, fiducial marks are not always required at low volumes. However, even if they are not required, they are still a good idea. A lot of quality in electronics is closely tied to risk reduction, and that starts with a good PC board design.


Reverse Engineering a Ravioli Rolling Pin

Have you ever noticed how much the most popular and consistently creative makers are driven by their curiosity? Spend any time watching people like Izzy Swan, Jimmy DiResta, Laura Kampf, John Edgar Park, and their ilk, and you’ll see them constantly trying out new tools and techniques, taking on projects slightly out of their depth just to see if they can figure them out, and generally letting their curiosity run the show.

A great example of this curiosity in action is Bob Clagett of I Like to Make Stuff. He recently saw a ravioli rolling pin for the first time and was surprised to discover how ravioli is actually made (me, too!). He decided to try and reverse engineer such a rolling pin in his shop and the result is this video.

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To make the notched disks for his pin, he first glued blocks of cherry together to create some turning stock for his lathe. Before turning the glued-up block on the lathe to create a long cylinder from which to cut the disks for the rolling pin, he dado’d the grooves into the block where the horizontal pieces for the roller will go. He then cut these horizontal pieces out of some teak he had on hand. Once the cylinder was turned and then cut into the five disks, it was simply a matter of gluing everything up and finishing it. To finish his pin, he used a combination of bees wax and mineral oil.



And it worked! Bob is more of a sweet than savory guy, so he was more interested in making dessert raviolis over pasta ravioli. Given this, a mistake that he made in the dimensions of the openings on the pin ended up making more elongated rectangular pieces, perfect for creating nice little fruit pie shapes. Yum.