Gas station without pumps

2017 February 18

Digilent’s OpenScope

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:08
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Digilent, which makes the excellent Analog Discovery 2 USB oscilloscope, which I have praised in several previous post, is running a Kickstarter campaign for a lower-cost oscilloscope: OpenScope: Instrumentation for Everyone by Digilent — Kickstarter.

I’m a little confused about this design, though, as is it is a much lower-quality instrument without a much lower price tag (they’re looking at $100 instead of the $180 or $280 price of the Analog Discovery 2, so it is cheaper, but the specs are much, much worse). The OpenScope looks like a hobbyist attempt at an oscilloscope, unlike the very professional work of the Analog Discovery 2—it is a real step backwards for Digilent.

Hardware Limitations:

  • only a 2MHz bandwidth and 6.25MHz sampling rate (much lower than the 30MHz bandwidth and 100MHz sampling of the Analog Discovery 2)
  • 2 analog channels with shared ground (instead of differential channels)
  • 12-bit resolution (instead of 14-bit)
  • 1 function generator with 1MHz bandwidth and 10MHz sampling (instead of 2 channels 14MHz bandwidth, 100MHz sampling)
  • ±4V programmable power supply up to 50mA (instead of ±5V up to 700mA)
  • no case (you have to 3D print one, or buy one separately)

On the plus side, it looks like they’ll be basing their interface on the Waveforms software that they use for their real USB oscilloscope, which is a decent user interface (unlike many other USB oscilloscopes).  They’ll be doing it all in web browsers though, which makes cross-platform compatibility easier, at the expense of really messy programming and possibly difficulty in handling files well.  The capabilities they list for the software are much more limited than Waveforms 2015, so this may be a somewhat crippled interface.

I would certainly recommend to students and educators that the $180 for the Analog Discovery 2 is a much, much better investment than the rather limited capabilities of the OpenScope.  For a hobbyist who can’t get the academic discount, $280 for the Analog Discovery 2 is probably still a better deal than $100 for the OpenScope. The Analog Discovery 2 and a laptop can replace most of an electronics bench for audio and low-frequency RF work, but the OpenScope is much less capable.

The only hobbyist advantage I can see for the OpenScope (other than the slightly lower price) is that they are opening up the software and firmware, so that hobbyists can hack it.  The hardware is so much more limited, though, that this is not as enticing as it might be.

Some people might be attracted by the WiFi capability, but since power has to be supplied by either USB or a wall wart, I don’t see this as being a huge win.  I suppose there are some battery-powered applications for which not being tethered could make a difference (an oscilloscope built into a mobile robot, for example).

Going from a high-quality professional USB scope to a merely adequate hobbyist scope for not much less money makes no sense to me. It would have made more sense to me if they had come out with OpenScope 5 years ago, and later developed the Analog Discovery 2 as a greatly improved upgrade.

2016 September 27

Teensy 3.5 & 3.6 Kickstarter

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 16:59
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As many of the followers of my blog know, the Teensy 3.1 and Teensy LC have been my favorite microcontroller boards for the past couple of years.  The Teensy 3.1 has since been replaced by the slightly better Teensy 3.2, which has a better voltage regulator but is otherwise pretty much the same as the 3.1.  I’ve been using the Teensy LC with PteroDAQ software for my electronics course.

I’ve just noticed that PJRC has a Kickstarter campaign for a new set of boards the Teensy 3.5 and 3.6.  These will be much more powerful ARM processors (120MHz and 180MHz Cortex M4 processors with floating-point units, so at least 2.5 times faster than the Teensy 3.2, more if floating-point is used much).  The form factor is similar to before, but the boards are longer, taking up 24 rows of a breadboard, instead of just 14.  The extra board space is mainly to provide more I/O, but there is also a MicroSD card slot.

The designer is still dedicated to making the Teensy boards run in the Arduino environment, and the breadboard-friendly layout is very good for experimenting.

PJRC is positioning the new boards between the old Teensy boards and the Linux-based boards like the Raspberry Pi boards. The new Teensy boards will have a lot of raw power, but not an operating system, though I suspect that people outside PJRC will try porting one of the small real-time operating systems to the board.

The new boards are a bit pricey compared to the Teensy LC ($23–28 instead of under $12 for the Teensy LC), but still reasonable for what they provide.  PJRC also has a history of providing good software for their boards.

I probably need to get both a Teensy 3.5 and a 3.6 to port PteroDAQ to them—that looks like a $50 purchase. If the boards and the software are available in time for me do development on PteroDAQ by December, I might get it done—any later than that and I’ll have no time, as I have a very heavy teaching and service load for Winter quarter.

I suspect that the new Teensyduino software will need a newer version of the Arduino development environment, which in turn would require a newer version of the Mac operating system (my laptop is still running 10.6.8), which in turn probably means a new laptop.

I’m waiting to see if Apple releases a new, usable MacBook Pro in October, so there is a bit of built-in delay in the whole process. I’m not impressed with their recent design choices for iPhones and MacBook Air—I need connections to my laptop—so there is a strong possibility that I may be having to leave the Macintosh family of products after having been a loyal user since 1984 (that’s 32 years now).

Update 2016 Sep 27: I just watched the Kickstarter video.  They used the Karplus-Strong algorithm as a demo.  Of course, that demo could have been done on a Z80 chip from 1976 (though not easily—the sampling rate suffered a bit to run 4 strings on the Z80, and only 8-bit DACs were affordable in those days).  It would have been more instructive to do an FM synthesis algorithm, which takes a lot more processor power than Karplus-Strong.

2015 May 21

Limited Edition Kinetics have arrived!

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:55
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I received my order of Limited Edition Kinetic lights from Futuristic Lights today! I suspect that others who ordered Limited Edition sets will be getting theirs in the mail very soon also (the company started shipping on Tuesday—I got mine fast because I’m in the same county as they shipped from).

Here is what comes in the set: 2 gloves, 10 lights with cases, diffusers, and batteries, a folded instruction card, and a black drawstring bag with the company logo printed subtly on it.

Here is what comes in the set: 2 gloves, 10 lights with cases, diffusers, and batteries, a folded instruction card, and a black drawstring bag with the company logo printed subtly on it.

Note that there are 64 items that need to be assembled for each set: 2 gloves, 10 Kinetic boards, 10 cases, 10 diffusers, 20 batteries, 10 battery tabs, a drawstring bag, and an instruction card.  Even working very efficiently, it is probably going to take them a couple of weeks to get all the preorders shipped.  There’s no way that they could have afforded a standard “fulfillment” service for doing the shipping, as those generally set their prices based in large part on how many items need to be assembled for each order.

Component sourcing, manufacturing, packaging, and shipping have all been much more difficult than they anticipated, and they are shipping at the end of their estimated delivery time (even though they thought that they had allowed lots and lots of extra time—I thought that they would be able to ship in March, which shows how little help I was in anticipating what might go wrong for them). As it is, they are shipping without the boxes they had ordered, because the box printer was taking far longer to print the boxes than they had allowed for (and they hadn’t put a penalty clause in the order for late delivery). I suspect that they won’t be ordering from that box manufacturer again.

The amount that the founders of Futuristic Lights have learned from their first commercial product is amazing (way more than most engineering and business students get in four years of college), and they haven’t lost their enthusiasm for the process—they have already started work on the next 2 or 3 products. For those products, they’ll apply the lessons they learned on the Kinetics—they’ll have more realistic manufacturing lead times and will (probably) be able to reduce the manufacturing costs through better part procurement and different manufacturing partners.

Perhaps even more amazingly, my son has managed to maintain his part in the manufacturing and engineering effort while excelling on a full load of computer science and math courses at UCSB (in Winter quarter he had 24 units, instead of the standard 16, but he decided that the load was too much on top of all the engineering work he was doing for Futuristic Lights and dropped back to a saner load for Spring quarter). So far, most of his courses have been extensions of stuff he has learned partially on his own, and not all-new material. I suspect that courses may be a little more difficult next year as he tackles parts of computer science that he hasn’t already nearly mastered.

For this summer, he’ll be working on new products for Futuristic Lights, except for two weeks of summer Shakespeare with WEST Performing Arts, one week of which will be watching plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, the other week of which will be a conservatory with WEST and Santa Cruz Shakespeare.  He’s done both before, and is looking forward to it again this summer.

2015 January 11

Kickstarter campaign finished at 307%

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 13:01
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kinetic_big

In Kickstarter campaign continues strong, I predicted

I’m expecting to see a bit of tick upwards on Boxing Day (26 December) as people are given monetary presents and decide to get themselves the lights, and perhaps another uptick on Jan 2 or Jan 5, as people go back to work.

In Kickstarter campaign still slowly gaining, I said

The first of those predictions was not met.  According to Kicktraq, there were only 2 backers ($378) on Dec 26, the second smallest day they’ve had (Dec 23 was 2 backers and $338).

In Kickstarter campaign predictions partly right, I said

The $55k stretch goal is no longer looking likely, but still possible—they would need to raise $780/day for the five and half remaining days.  But they have already announced on the Kickstarter site that they’ll be doing clear bulbs for everyone even if the stretch goal isn’t met—so there is no special incentive for the stretch goal any more.

I’m very happy to have been wrong.  I managed to time my contribution to put them over their $55k stretch goal a couple of days ago, and they ended up with $61,337, well over the minimum of $20k they needed to get funded and to do a small production run. I estimate that they’ve sold about 3370 boards (adding up the number of backers at each level may be a slight underestimate, as some backers may have ordered multiple sets).

It was interesting watching the progress on Kickspy, which provides a history of their predictions of where the campaign would end up (on the original site, mouseovers give you the daily funding and prediction figures):

Kickspy was always a bit too optimistic, with a low of $63,144 (2.9% too high) and a high of $79,054 (28.9% too high).  The predictions are better than I would have made, though (I was much more pessimistic).

Kickspy was always a bit too optimistic, with a low of $63,144 (2.9% too high) and a high of $79,054 (28.9% too high). The predictions are better than I would have made, though (I was much more pessimistic).

Kicktraq‘s predictions fluctuated a lot, and they don’t report their history of predictions for a single project (probably because it is such a wild swing back and forth).  But they do report the daily funding:

The big burst on the first day was the big surprise for the campaign, but I was also surprised by the negative days in the middle, where more money was withdrawn from the campaign than added.

The big burst on the first day was the big surprise for the campaign, but I was also surprised by the negative days in the middle, where more money was withdrawn from the campaign than added.

They did a good job of their promotion campaign, which was mainly done through their Facebook page (and lots of social media sharing). This was not a “family and friends” fund-raising—most of the backers were people that were previously unknown, who were genuinely excited by the product. The campaign also benefited from some good press coverage, particularly by the Santa Cruz Sentinel, which covered them in three separate articles during the month. I’ve collected the media reports I’ve been able to find onto a Futuristic Lights media page.

The Futuristic Lights campaign succeeded much better than I would have imagined (better than the founders thought it would also). Of course, they don’t get the full amount, as Kickstarter and Amazon take out their fees—they probably get a little over 90% of what was pledged. They’re thinking that for the next product they will probably skip Kickstarter and introduce the product directly, funding initial production out of proceeds from the Kinetic sales. That’s still some time in the future, though—for now they have to focus on getting the Kinetics manufactured and shipped.

I think that they are planning one more round of prototypes to confirm a couple of improvements that they came up with during the current prototype run, then full production! They’re still looking at small-batch production (probably 7000 boards, unless they’ve gotten a big wholesale order), but they should get somewhat better pricing than at the 1000-board level (and much better than the 100-board level, which is the biggest prototype run they’ve done). There are generally price breaks at 10000, though, which I don’t think that they can quite reach (again, unless they got a wholesale order).

 

2015 January 5

Kickstarter campaign predictions partly right

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:32
Tags: , , ,

 

kinetic_big

In Kickstarter campaign continues strong, I predicted

I’m expecting to see a bit of tick upwards on Boxing Day (26 December) as people are given monetary presents and decide to get themselves the lights, and perhaps another uptick on Jan 2 or Jan 5, as people go back to work.

I Kickstarter campaign still slowly gaining, I said

The first of those predictions was not met.  According to Kicktraq, there were only 2 backers ($378) on Dec 26, the second smallest day they’ve had (Dec 23 was 2 backers and $338).

The Jan 2 and Jan 5 predictions were better: both were good days at $897 and $1492. But I hadn’t predicted that there would be negative days, where more backers withdrew than contributed (–$123, –$149, and –$492 on Dec 29, Dec 30, and Jan 4), so they hovered around $48k–$49k for quite a while. Kicktraq and Kickspy projections have diverged even further, with Kicktraq suggesting $53k–$56k and Kickspy  more optimistic ($66.7k). (Yesterday Kicktraq was even lower, and Kickspy was higher—we’ll see who got it right next week.)

I don’t know how much of the uptick on Jan 5 is due to the back-to-work phenomenon, and how much is due to an article about the company in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. That article is pretty good, though they make it sound like Abe J. joined the company before Abe K., and that Abe J. contributed to the software on the Kinetic (he’s been working on other product ideas and on the web store that the company plans to open). I’ve added that link and a few others I’ve found to the Futuristic Lights media page I’m keeping (as an outsider, not for the company, though they are welcome to copy it to their site).

The $55k stretch goal is no longer looking likely, but still possible—they would need to raise $780/day for the five and half remaining days.  But they have already announced on the Kickstarter site that they’ll be doing clear bulbs for everyone even if the stretch goal isn’t met—so there is no special incentive for the stretch goal any more.

They’re now up to 2782 boards pre-sold, so I’m pretty sure they’ll make at least 6000 (more if they can get a wholesale order before they have to commit to manufacturing).

They expect now to pay off all the loans to the company and have enough of the Kinetic manufactured to open their web store after the Kickstarter orders have all been fulfilled. They won’t be paying themselves yet—still plowing all proceeds into growing the company. They do have other ideas for products, which they plan to develop and release at a rate of one or two a year—I don’t know whether they’ll be able to do that with Abe K. being a full-time college student (taking an overload of courses this quarter—3 computer science, 2 math, and 1 acting class, plus joining the Multicultural Drama Company at UCSB). My son corrects me, to say that it is 4 ¼ CS, 1 math, and 1 acting.

 

If you haven’t checked out their Kickstarter page, please do so—they really have created the best of the microlights on the market, and their web page describing the product is quite well done.

 

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