Pets, Plants, and Computer Vision

I’ve caught my breath. Time to start another company.

March 10th, 2014 | Posted by admin in automation | computer vision | Electronics | entrepreneurship | Internet of Things | TempoAutomation - (Comments Off on I’ve caught my breath. Time to start another company.)

I quit my well paying job as a hired gun for post-funding start-up in a Boston to return to the world of eating boiled news papers and sleeping on the floor of a hacker squat. I feel like I have caught my breath and I am ready to try again. After a drawn out courtship I have decided to come on as the software lead and co-founder of Tempo Automation. We’re after the very seductive idea of building robots and helping individuals and other engineers build, design, and test their own printed circuit boards (PCBs). The immediate goal is to put a pick and place robot that can go in every hacker space and engineering office around the world. Every shop with a 3D printer and a laser cutter should have one of our machines. The end-game is to convert these simple robots from merely a pick-and-place to a one stop PCB factory that does milling, solder deposition, pick and place, reflow, and ultimately AOI, programing, and testing. Raw materials go in one side, PCBs come out the other side. Idea bits get converted into atoms. We want to do for electrical engineering what the Rep-Rap and Makerbot did for mechanical engineering.

Tempo -- Maker Faire NYC 2013

Tempo — Maker Faire NYC 2013

I am really, truly, excited to be working on an interdisciplinary team once again. Robotics is a field where people still take pride in using the word “engineer” in their title. When I say engineer I mean people who want to fix problems; not just wax brass on the Titanic by writing bank software or slick advertising webpages. Being a big “E” engineer means you get to put down the mouse, pick up a multimeter and some hex keys, and build some awesome. I feel like I couldn’t have found a better set of co-founders. Jeff McAlvay embodies everything I want in a non-technical founder: he knows how to run a business but he doesn’t want to be an executive. Jeff is sincere about the things that are important: solving the problem, learning the technology, and helping the customers. I am also in awe of Jeff’s time at McMaster-Carr; McMaster is such a great organization and I want to learn more about how people like Jeff made it run so perfectly. I am also excited to be working with Tempo’s other co-founder and mechanical lead, Jesse Koenig. Jesse serves as a great counter balance to my personality. He is detail orientated where I would be hand wavy, he likes to work on the books while I do community stuff, and he seems to know just when to force me to listen and when to leave me alone and code. If this were a guy-cop-buddy movie Jesse would be the good cop to my bad cop, and Jeff would be the affable but stern police commisioner providing us with the resources to clean up the mean streets of PCB City. Rounding out our team are Prof. Peter Vajda a visiting Computer Vision professor at Stanford and Jon Thorne, one of the best all around mechanical engineers I’ve met. Ted Blackman and Cody Daniels, from the 3Scan crew are also lending us their software and hardware expertise.

I am also amazed by the community that Jeff and Jesse have chosen to surround themselves with. The people at MI7 and Langton Labs are fantastic and it reminds me so much of home at Arbor Vitae. The first thing I said when I walked into the office is that it felt like home. Jeff has also done a fantastic job of organizing and growing a hardware community in San Francisco and I am really excited to not just work on this project but get the privilege to share it with others.

Finally, I am really excited about our technology stack as it lets me use my knowledge of computer vision within a suite of new software. Things are still solidifying but it looks like I will be working not just with a lot of open software but also a lot of open hardware (and hopefully building a lot of it too). I am looking forwarded to learning a lot about Meteor, javascript, bottle/flask, and potentially ROS in the coming weeks. There is still a lot of code to write but I can already see the parts coming together.

Will this venture make us so insanely rich that we can jump Tesla’s off our yachts? Probably not, but it is an idea with a market need where we can grow a reasonable business. We also won’t ever have to talk about our “product” as being the end-all and be-all social/mobile/local/viral cloud analytics marketplace as a service. We’re doing something that matters. Something that helps make the world a better place by enabling people to build their dreams and needs. To be sure we can’t make a business if we don’t make money, and I am sure we can, but what is more important is that we’re spending every waking moment doing something we love and that we feel really matters. Most important of all I get to spend the next few years teaching people how to build electronics and use robots to make their ideas a reality. I haven’t been this happy in a long time.


July 1st, 2013 | Posted by admin in audio | demo | Detroit | Electronics | FIRST | Fun! | Maker Faire | pics or it didn't happen | RaspberryPi | robots - (Comments Off on DRAGON BOT IS GO!)
Dragon Bot Scale Model

Dragon Bot Scale Model

FRC 830 has been collaborating with FRC 3322 to build a giant dragon robot for Maker Faire Detroit. I just got back from my trip and a chance to check in with the kids. The goal is to have a giant robot that plays sounds, shoots smoke rings, drives, lights up, and has animatronic eyes and eye brows. The students have prototyped an eye assembly using some servos controlled by the PWM ports on the cRIO side car. The eyes are controlled using the analog joy sticks on the gamepad. After a little bit of debugging we were able to get the animatronic eye assembly running this afternoon.

Another one of the students was able to build a small GPIO driven relay system to control the smoke machine which we plan to power using a second battery and a car inverter. In my spare time this week I was able to cook up a client-server system using RabbitMQ and get it running on the RaspberryPi. The only real trick was setting up the RabbitMQ conf file to run on the space constrained RaspberryPi. This is a little bit outside the scope of the kids ability, but now that I have a sketch working they should be able to take over. The hope is that we can use PyGame and ServervoBlaster to control the lights and sounds on the robot. I want to roll a GUI front end for this using pyGTK. The result looks like this (I now have the GTK gui running).

Mwaaaaahahahha. by @kscottz

Controlling an LED Light Strip with a RaspberryPi.

April 4th, 2013 | Posted by admin in demo | Electronics | Fun! | Open Source | pics or it didn't happen | RaspberryPi - (Comments Off on Controlling an LED Light Strip with a RaspberryPi.)


I got a RaspberryPi at PyCon and I had a LED light strip laying around. I wanted to see if I could make the two play nice together. The GPIO pins on the Pi can talk pulse width modulation (PWM) and so did the LED light strip I had, so I figured I could get the two to talk. I found this really awesome tutorial that walked me through the process. The gist of the tutorial is that you use low current signals from the RaspberryPi to control high current signals coming from some wires plugged into an AC adapter (in this case a 12V/1A switchable AC adapter I picked up at Radio Shack). You do this by using a Darlington transistor, specifically a TIP120 transistor, which you can pick up at your local Radio Shack for $1.69. The transistor is basically a voltage controlled current source. To control the transistors you use the ServoBlaster C library. This library basically does the PWM and tells the RaspberryPi to set a particular pin high or low. You call the ServoBlaster module via the command line. The author of the original tutorial uses a swell little python script to repeatedly make command line calls and then sleep the python program.

You can see the results below. The track playing in the background is Marijuana by Chrome Sparks.

The next step is to use SimpleCV to acquire images from a USB camera and peg the LED colors to the average image color. I would also like to use a few buttons to start and stop the lights as well as some MP3s (think instant dance party).

If you are curious I am using a $25 LCD for the screen of the RaspberryPi. It didn’t come with an AC Adapter or a composite video cable so I had to buy those separate. I also picked up a USB wireless card and a powered USB hub which come in really handy. I was really pleased when the wireless card worked out of the box with the Raspbian OS Wheezy release. My mini panvice is great for holding the pi. I also picked up a set of male/female jumper cables that made wiring everything a snap.