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Open Source Hardware Certifications For Februrary 2021

You wouldn’t download a car would you? When I was a young engineer in 2005 that is what the advertisements at the start of movies would say. This was the Napster era, and the MPA was actively trying to dissuade people from illegally downloading movies and music. Well, it is 2021 and I am happy to report that thanks to open hardware certification you can now legally download a car. This month a Spanish engineer, Gonzalo P. Chomon, certified his open hardware designs for car, well, more like a personal transport vehicle, called the “JellyBean3D”. This single person, three wheeled vehicle, is powered by a direct drive DC motor and capable of speeds just shy of 30mph with an estimated range somewhere between 40 and 70 km. The exterior is completely 3D printable and requires about 40kg of PLA printed over the course of 400-500 hrs on a single consumer printer. The listed bill of materials puts the unit cost in the neighborhood of three thousand Euros depending on the trim level. What I really love about this project is the level of detail and precision in the build description, or as the author calls it, the JellyBean3D Bible. It is clear the developer of the JellyBean3D wants this project to be a success and much care has gone into the “Bible” for the project. If you’re curious how you can 3D print a car out of 40 kilos of PLA, the developer has a solution: fusing together lots of small parts using dichloromethane. The entire build is broken down into sections that can fit in a consumer 3D printer (below); simply print and then fuse the components. 

February saw a lower certification volume than previous months but there were quite a few stand out projects. One that caught my eye was the Open CIMCoder project by Ege Feyzioglu of Turkey. A CIM is a type of motor commonly used in FIRST robotics competitions; CIM just stands for CCL Industrial Motors, the manufacturer. CIM Motor’s aren’t generally useful for robotics unless you know very precisely how fast the motor shaft is rotating and how many times it has rotated. To measure the speed and total revolutions in a motor shaft you use a sensor called a motor encoder. Encoders are probably one of the most basic robot sensors out there; but they’re not cheap, and can often cost nearly as much as the motor itself. To lower the overall cost of building a FIRST robot Ege decided to roll his own encoder, in this case using a Hall effect sensor. I still remember the first time I learned about Hall effect sensors in college. I was blown away by the elegance of the device as all you need is a magnet and some wire with a voltage across it.  As the magnet moves past the wire it pushes / pulls the electrons around and generates a change in voltage that you can measure with the help of some amplification. As best I can reckon the Open CIMCoder probably costs $4-5 to produce in quantity, which is almost ten times less than the standard piece of kit purchased by FIRST Robotics students. 

Our final projects for the month of February made quite a splash when they were announced and may turn out to be one of the largest commercial open hardware projects to date. If you run in hardware and software developer circles you’ve undoubtedly heard, in more ways than one, about the resurgence of mechanical keyboards. Throwback mechanical keyboards are very hot right now, and System76 has decided to jump on the bandwagon, with one important change: they’re going fully open source. For certified project US001062, System76 released all of the design files, hardware, firmware, and software for their Launch Configurable Keyboard. This keyboard is the fully configurable luxury input device of our nerd dreams. The keycaps and switches, are swappable, and the keyboard supports USB A, B, and C, and it includes configurable LEDs for added blinky. If that isn’t enough for you feel free to fork the design and roll your own version. For me, I am still waiting for a split hand ergonomic keyboard variant with a built in track point. 

But what is a keyboard without the tricked, case modded desktop to hook it up to? Don’t worry, System76 has you covered in that department as well. System76 has also certified their flagship Thelio Mira line of desktops with certification number US001063. These desktops are incredibly beautiful, with a powder coated aluminum sheet metal interior, and finished wood exterior case. They are a far cry of the beige box desktops I grew up with, or even the maximum blinky water cooled rigs that have become common in gamer circles. These are luxurious top of the line desktops that rival those built by “the fruit company.” The desktops are more than just a computer case stocked with your choice of components. System76 has has created and released their own custom hardware to control the thermal components. Dubbed “Thelio IO”, as far as I was able to discern is the power supply and fan controller for the desktop. The marketing copy describes “Thelio IO” as,

“Thelio Io is a System76 designed chassis controller and hard drive backplane that moves proprietary functionality from the mainboard to the open source Thelio Io daughterboard.

Moving chassis and thermal control to Thelio Io enables far more granular performance optimization. Motherboard data, fan speed, and GPU and OS data are used to coordinate optimal airflow.”

What I like about this design is that it gives a nod to the future where we are thoughtful about the lifecycle of consumer electronics. I’ve seen way too many obsolete desktop computers end up in a landfill (especially as various devices have changed their standard footprint). I find the prospect of a desktop computer that supports periodic upgrades for decades, or even longer, very appealing.

If you’re interested in learning more about open source hardware please join us for the Open Hardware Summit on April 9th, 2021. This year’s event will be fully virtual but it will still include a goody bag jam packed with all sorts of open hardware goodies. I helped review all of the talks for this year’s event and I can say that it will have a great mix of inspirational projects and technically satisfying presentations. If you would like to find out more about the summit visit the OSHWA website at OSHWA.org. 

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Katherine Scott

Katherine Scott is the developer advocate for Open Robotics, the makers of Robot Operating System, and a board member of the Open Source Hardware Association.

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