Dave Bullock / eecue

photographer, director of engineering: crowdrise, photojournalist, hacker, nerd, geek, human

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Null Space Labs - Los Angeles Hackerspace

Null Space Labs

Recently I joined a hackerspace in Downtown LA called Null Space Labs. What is a hackerspace you ask? A hackerspace is a communal workshop where folks can work on electronics, programming and basically whatever tech stuff they're interested in. NSL was started by a group of people from the local computer security (hacking) scene earlier this year.

Here is the description from the website:

Null Space Labs, a hackerspace in downtown Los Angeles a place for people who do interesting things with tech.

We offer wifi, coworking space, an electronics and hardware lab with soldering stations and rework equipment, a small wet lab, simple wood and metal working tools, public computers, and most of all a creative environment that's open to visitors.

Fields of interest of people you might find at the lab include DIY electronics, hardware hacking, lock picking, game development, entrepreneurship, security, graphics programming, AI, photography, privacy and civil rights, etc....

The group that operates Null Space Labs sees itself solely as an infrastructure provider and exerts little influence over projects and events carried out at the lab. We are trying to be financially independent, and finance our operations through membership fees. The space was opened in May 2010.

I joined NSL a few months ago, and this month I took the plunge and became a keyholder, granting me access whenever I feel like working on my projects. The space is great, there are tons of really knowledgeable people who are always more than willing to assist you with pretty much anything related to electronics, microcontrollers, hardware hacking, network security, and more.

The members of NSL are working on a plethora of interesting projects. You can read all about them on the wiki, but here is a selection of some that are particularly interesting:

We have a ton of great equipment for use by members and non-members alike including over a dozen Metcal soldering stations, hot-air and plate rework equipment, oscilloscopes, function generators, a PCB CNC machine, stereo microscopes and much more. We frequently do group buys on parts and PCBs. We also have a large collection of part in house, available for use in your project (donations appreciated).

If you're in the neighborhood, come by and check out our space. If you want to learn about electronics and soldering we have a fun board you can put together in an hour or two if you're new to SMD soldering. You can tell if we're in by looking at this wiki page or by following the NSL Status twitter stream. Here is our address:

  • Null Space Labs
  • 1015 S Main St - 3rd Floor
  • Los Angeles CA, 90015
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Stellaris Evalbot Review <del>and Giveaway</del> and Winners

TI Stellaris Evalbot

Texas Instruments recently came out with a fun and powerful development robot based on the Stellaris LM3S9B92 microcontroller. The robot, known as the Stellaris Evalbot, is packed with tons of functionality that leverages the LN2S9B92's robust feature set. The Evalbot comes pre-assembled, with the exception of the wheels and bump arms which take just a few minutes to put together.

First of all, let's talk about the function-rich microcontroller at the heart of the Evalbot: the Stellaris LM3S9B92. The Stellaris, created by Luminary Micro (acquired in 2009 by Texas Instruments) is a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M3 MCU which runs at speeds up to 80Mhz. It sports a wide array of features including:

  • 256 kB flash and 96 kB SRAM
  • 32 Channel DMA
  • 32-bit external peripheral interface
  • ROM preloaded with a boot loader, AES and CRC functionality
  • 10/100 Ethernet MAC/PHY
  • 2 CAN controllers
  • USB 2.0 Full Speed OTG/Host/Device
  • 2 SSI / SPI controllers
  • 2 I2C interfaces
  • I2S interface
  • 3 UARTs
  • 8 motion-control PWM outputs with dead-band
  • 2 quadrature encoder inputs
  • 4 fault protection inputs
  • 3 analog comparators
  • 16 channel 10-bit ADC
  • 16 digital comparators
  • 24-bit systick timer
  • 4 32-bit or 8 16-bit timers
  • 2 watchdog timers
  • Low drop-out voltage regulator
  • Up to 65 GPIOs

The Evalbot is the perfect platform for learning about and developing for the LM3S9B92. It takes advantage of nearly every feature included in the Stellaris MCU. The Evalbot is both battery and USB powered, and automatically switches when plugged in to a computer. It features a collection of analog and digital peripherals along with a large amount of breakout pads and headers for I/O expansion. The Evalbot includes:

  • MicroSD card connector
  • USB Host and Device connectors
  • I2S audio codec and speaker
  • RJ45 Ethernet connector
  • Bright 96 x 16 blue OLED display
  • On-board In-Circuit Debug Interface (ICDI)
  • Wireless communication expansion port
  • Two DC gear-motors provide drive and steering
  • Opto-sensors detect wheel rotation with 45° resolution
  • Sensors for bump detection

The Evalbot comes preloaded with the μC/OS-III real-time kernel. The Evalbot includes a time-limited version of the IDE (from IAR) you will need to get started programming the bot. Also included is the source code for the Evalbot and some handy in-circuit debugging tools. It's fairly easy to get set up, but runs on Windows only. I was able to flash a modified version of the firmware after just a few minutes of tinkering. My only complaint is that the software is quite expensive to purchase once the trial period runs out.

The Evalbot retails for $149 for the robot by itself or $200 for the robot and a book about programming the μC/OS-III real-time kernel. If you're looking to learn more about real-time systems and play with a powerful microprocessor I highly recommend the Evalbot. As I mentioned in the headline, I have five Evalbots to giveaway, click here for more info about the giveaway.

Stellaris Evalbot

Giveaway Info:

Texas Instruments was generous enough to send me five Evalbots to give away. I will be drawing drew names from a hat on Black Friday, November 26th. To be entered in the drawing you must [have] meet the following requirements:

  • Have a project idea for the Evalbot
  • Be a paying member of a hackerspace
  • Be willing to share photos and/or a brief writeup once you have completed your project
  • Be a US resident (I have to ship these on my own dime)
  • Post a comment with your project idea and hackerspace affiliation below

To be entered in the drawing, post a comment below describing your project idea. Don't forget to mention which hackerspace you belong to.

Update:

I drew names out of a hat (literally), here are the winners:

  1. Clarence Risher from Freeside in Atlanta, GA
  2. Daryll Strauss from CrashSpace in Culver City, CA.
  3. Erik Arendall from Makers Local 256 in Huntsville, AL.
  4. flea from 23b in Fullerton, CA.
  5. tilver from DenHac in Denver, CO.
  6. Although not drawn out of a hat, members of Null Space Labs in Los Angeles, CA can use mine.
Giant Tube of Kester Solder Paste Soldering a x0xb0x Kit Texas Instruments Stellaris Evalbot TI Stellaris Evalbot Stellaris Evalbot Hantek DSO-2250 USB Scope Null Space Labs Twitter Button Null Space Labs Server Rack Null Space Labs Part Bins Null Space Labs Workbench Null Space Labs MMCA Teaching Hot Plate Soldering AccurateCNC 560H CharlieX Printing Cylons on His AccurateCNC 560H
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SPAWAR - Autonomous Military Robots

A few years ago I toured the U.S. Navy's Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Robotics Lab in San Diego. I shot photos and wrote a piece for Wired about my experience there. What follows are some out-takes along with high-res versions of many of the shots in the piece. Autonomous military robots... what could go wrong?

SAN DIEGO -- The Navy's MDARS-E is an armed robot that can track anything that moves. Told that I was the target, the unmanned vehicle trained its guns on me and ordered, "Stay where you are," in an intimidating robot voice. And yes, it was frightening. Perched atop a strip of cliffs lining a beautiful section of the Pacific Ocean, the Space and Naval Warfare System Command in San Diego develops semiautonomous armed robots for use in combat by the U.S. military. "We're not building Skynet" says Bart Everett, the technical director for robotics at SPAWAR. Though Everett assured me that the use of the robots' on-board weapons is under the strict control of their operators, the lab's bots can navigate and map complicated terrain, work cooperatively with soldiers and identify and confront hostile targets. Sure, they're no Johnny Five, but robots with guns are both creepy and fascinating.

Robart 3E at SPAWAR

Robart 3E at SPAWAR

ROBART III is a prototype platform designed in-house at SPAWAR. If it weren't for the chain gun and missiles, he would be pretty cute. Once he's ready for battle he'll almost certainly don an evil-looking suit of armor. ROBART's sensor array consists of a multitude of cameras, SICK LIDAR (like radar, but with lasers), ultrasonic transducers (gold spots), passive IR (infrared radiation) detectors and more. The weapons are planned to work in unison with a special rifle that would automatically target where a soldier points his weapon.

Laser Guided Chain Gun on Development Robot

Laser Guided Chain Gun on Development Robot

One of ROBART III's weapon systems is this nonlethal pneumatic chain gun. It uses a combination of laser sighting and machine vision to lock in on its target and barrages it with a torrent of 3/16-inch-diameter projectiles. In tests, plastic pellets (like air-soft munitions) and steel darts were used.

Autonomous Machine Gun

Autonomous Machine Gun

This prototype robotic weapon platform is designed to be buried underground for camouflaged deployment. When called to action, the robotic gun pops up and starts shooting. If you're the unlucky soul on the business end of this gun, it's likely curtains for you -- this robot is an extremely accurate shooter. A high-tech night-vision scope permits dead-on targeting even during moonless nights.

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TGIMOBEJ: The Great Internet Migratory Box of Electronics Junk

I just recently recieved one of The Great Internet Migratory Box(es) of Electronics Junk (TGIMBOEJ). The TGIMBOEJ is an awesome box of random electronics that various geeks send to each other. The idea was started by Lenore over at Evil Mad Scientist Labs.

Basically you put your name and contact info on a Wiki page devoted to perspective TGIMBOEJ recipients. Then someone finds your name on said list, and either creates a new box to send you or forwards on the box they currently possess.

The rules are simple, take what you want from the box, add some cool stuff, and then send it on to someone else in the list. You can see the status of the various boxes on this wiki page.

I received a box called Big Box of Electronic Booty started by someone who didn't add their info to the wiki. The box then made it to Jen Grier, who sent if off to Sidney who then sent it to me.

I will be mailing the box off on monday to Logan from Binary Tide.

I picked out a few cool parts including some LEDs, a giant buzzer and some zip-ties. I added a giant LED, a potentiometer and some other cool parts including a 1GB SD card.

The TGIMBOEJ project is awesome, I'm looking forward to receiving another box some time soon!

Buzzer and more

One of the items I kept from the TGIMBOEJ was the big red buzzer (upper left). I haven't hooked it up yet, but I bet it's loud!

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APEX Electronics : Dorkbot Socal

After growing up in the Bay Area, I attended High School in Santa Fe, New Mexico. One day my father, who worked as a programmer at Los Alamos National Laboratory, brought me to, and later got me a job at, a nerd's paradise called The Black Hole. I ended up working there for 3 summers and I think it was probably my favorite job ever, although it only paid $5 an hour. Many of the hours I worked were directly exchanged for random bits of junk, much of which I still have, to my wife's elation, stored away in boxes in our storage closet.

When I saw heathervescent's post about the upcoming Dorkbot Socal trip to APEX Electronics, I knew I had to go. The night before the trip I shot an email out to an especially geeky list that I run and CHS responded that he wanted to come along. We arrived a bit late at Machine Project, and Tom Jennings was mostly finished talking about what to expect. I mentioned my previous employment at The Black Hole and he told me that he make a road trip there every year, saying that it was one of his favorite places in the world.

After a short drive to the highly industrial Sun Valley, we made our way in to the wonderfully techno-detritus rich warehouse known as APEX Electronics. I immediately pulled out my camera, set up my tripod and began photographing the narrow aisles packed high with everything from oscilloscopes to capacitors to vacuum tubes.

Shoe Tester

Colorful Wire

Safety First

Hoses and Valves

APEX reminded me of a 1/10th scale model of The Black Hole, with less nuclear research equipment and more audio recording, broadcast and aviation gear. The organization of APEX is at least an order of magnitude better than The Black Hole, but I guess that having one tenth the amount of junk makes that possible. I should be careful about calling the contents of APEX or TBS junk, as they say, "one man's trash...", and also the collectors of said equipment seem to develop an emotional attachment to their toys.

Most of the aisles held boxes full of components, with a single version taped to the front of the box. Some of the more valuable gear like the microwave wave guides, windows and transmitters were locked up behind glass, which the owner, Don, was nice enough to open for me so I could take a photo. Tom mentioned that one aisle had collapsed in an earthquake almost 2 decades ago, and had yet to be cleaned up.

Outside there were towering piles of scrap aluminum, kegs, airplane wings, cable, and junk. I especially enjoyed the pile of "Safety First" signs that were haphazardly piled together along with what appeared to be a bomb, but was probably an airplane fuel tank.

It is a good thing that I am short on physical space in my loft, otherwise I surely would have purchased more than the $1 clamp that I picked up. If you are building a robot or some other fun project, this would be a great place to pick up those hard to find parts you need. If you are a junk collector, but you don't want to blow all your hard earned money in one place, you should avoid this place at all costs.

Full gallery here.

Update Heathervescent's flickr photo set can be found here, Zoetica's can be found here (Thanks thedaniel).