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empowering creative people

Orchestral Marble Machine

Here's something a bit different to brighten your day. It's an acoustic instrument that's powered by nothing more than a crank handle and some levers. That's right, there is nothing electronic about it. Strange, blogging about this on a website which has 'electronics' in its name, but it is simply too awesome not to share. This incredible projects, posted by Youtuber Wintergatan is a perfect example of engineering and creativity coming together to make something awesome, an instrument that makes sounds using marbles and gravity.

What's mind blowing is that it's made mostly out of wood! Now think of the possibilities of something like this controlled by an Arduino. You could write symphonies with the thing.

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- By Aidan

Dr Who DIY Arduino Synthesiser

Well Dr Who fans, this one is for you. Youtuber Martin Orman posted a video just before the new year of his very own Dalek synth. He picked up the Dalek toy at a car boot sale, so there's definitely wear and tear, but then he fitted it with an Arduino board complete with audio outputs and controls to bring his software synth to life! 

The best thing about seeing projects like this is the recyclable mentality of it. An old toy which might otherwise get thrown away into a landfill. That and it's a totally fun project for kids and adults alike, create your own synthesiser and learn a bit more about electronic music!

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- By Sam

If you ever wanted flying Lego drones, FlyBrix is for you!

The Maker Revolution is upon us? We're seeing innovative tech pop-up left, right, and center that enables people around the globe to get hands-on with inventing and creating cool projects! We've seen Makey-Makey turn the world around you into a button, littleBits make electronics as easy as Lego and Chibitronics bringing paper circuits to the classroom! It's a truly exciting time to be alive already, wait until you see this.

Flybrix kits allow anyone to create functioning drones, using Lego® bricks for the frame alongside the flybrix control modules and motors. Check out the Wrong Brothers (flybrix' 21st Century take on the Wright Brothers) in this awesome preview of Flybrix below.

At it's heart, Flybrix is an educational technology toy. It's designed to teach the basics of prototyping, flying and electronics. It uses a 96MHz ARM Cortex M4 processor (Arduino-compatible) to control flight. The best part is the whole lot is open source, meaning it's infinitely tweakable!

A super cool addition to any maker's repertoire. Parent's should beware as It is capable of flying, crashing and rebuilding drones in and around the home!

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- By Aidan

Arduino IDE Unified at Last

If you've kept up with the drama that has followed the Arduino brand over the last couple of years, then you'll know all about the Arduino.cc and Arduino.org split that occurred, and the pain that it caused consumers in differentiating between the two brands. If not, check out our other blogs to get caught up, however, today we have good news. Arduino has released a new build of it's IDE (Integrated Development Environment) with IDE 1.8.

The major issue was that Arduino.cc and Arduino.org both released different boards with different chips on them that required different core modules and would often only work with the corresponding IDE, despite being under the 'Arduino' umbrella. All of these headaches should be a thing of the past now with IDE 1.8 supporting cores for both the new AVR based boards and existing SAMD ARM Cortex based boards.

There aren't many changes or features added in this release, but a lot of work has gone into ensuring that this release is a successful step towards bridging the Arduino/Genuino divide that has plagued DIY'ers over the last couple of years.

For a more detailed collection of what 1.8 brings to the table, take a look at the release notes here.

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- By Sam

Turn Your Raspberry Pi Into a Smart Projector

With all my adventuring in Raspberry Pi this year, I've grown to appreciate the little green board and what it can do. I've got a long list of projects in mind for it and seeing other awesome Raspberry Pi projects just fuels that fire. So when I stumbled upon this Raspberry Pi 'smart projector', it sent my mind into overdrive, and just had to write about it.

The Raspberry Pi, of course, has multiple ways to output video, and this makes it perfect for all kinds of modern displays including HDMI screens and LCDs. Seeing the way that 'Novaspirit' uses the Pi Zero's small form factor to pack it into a projector is really cool, and the functionality to turn it into a mobile gaming setup with RetroPie is just too good.

Bear in mind, that if you could find a projector that could fit a Pi 3, you wouldn't need to worry about the USB hub or other soldering, you could simply use the native HDMI and built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to create the ultimate portable rig.

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- By Sam

The Coolest Floating DIY Lab!

So most of us DIY'ers have an assortment of tools, projects, and components lying around which we consolidate into a DIY lab. Some labs have all kinds of wacky and wonderful machines which get used less often than we'd care to admit, and others consist of the bare essentials required to build fantastic things. 

Not content to have an 'average lab', a make by the name of Steve Roberts has created his dream lab, wait for it, on a boat! It's a high-tech, floating lab that he can live on. That's the dream right? But despite possible disconnect that floating in the middle of the ocean may bring, the truth is far from an isolated maker. 


His floating lab packs a punch with a gigabit internet connection, 3D printer, CNC mill, oscilloscopes and power supplies aplenty, plus plans to put a battery on board to compliment the current engine. A hybrid boat you might say.

He gave IEEE Spectrum a full tour, so for more info and inspiration, check out the full article.

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- By Sam

A new front-end for your RetroPie

The typical front end environment that you get stock standard on RetroPie is called Emulation Station. It visually manages your games and emulators using an application similar to that of KODI media center. 

Emulation Station is fantastic too; it's got styleable interfaces for each emulator, you can have overlays on screens, controller config management is done extremely well. 

Well user Floob over on the RetroPi forums decided he wanted to go a step further and make his owm front end to rule them all. He came up with Attract Mode and boy does it attract:

If you're sold on the idea of the Attract Mode visual setup for your retropie, find out more here.

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- By Aidan

Liftware Robotic Spoon

If all you read today is this blog post, then hopefully it was time well spent. May I introduce to you one of the best projects I've seen all year. It's called Liftware and was created to solve a problem that few knew existed.

Whilst there have been plenty of fantastic innovations for those who struggle with physical disabilities, eating, a basic function of human life can still be problematic due to the loss of fine motor control. But no longer.

Liftware is a spoon unlike any other. It consists of a spoon attachment which connects to the handle via a flexible coupling which contains motors. Inside the handle is a combination of gyroscopic and accelerometer sensors which detect the orientation of the handle. The motors then adjust the position of the spoon to ensure it remains level and flat regardless of how the handle is held and negates tremors and accidental movement.

This is a fantastic implementation of electronics and robotics to solve a problem that causes difficulty in the lives of others. The best part about it is that the technology behind it isn't complicated, and could easy be created using components from our store, or you that you might already have lying around.

Hopefully, this inspires the inventor inside of you to create projects that are both fun, and help people with everyday problems!

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- By Sam

Exciting New Features On Teensy 3.5 and 3.6!

So in my exploration of the new Teensy 3.5 and 3.6 boards, one of the features that stood out to me most of all was the addition of a second USB port. This is big news because traditionally with Arduino compatible boards, there is a single USB port of the chip, sometimes not even that (UART-USB conversion). This isn't a physical USB plug, but the port peripherals on the chip which are designed to be configured and connect to a physical USB socket. Now, why does this excite me? The reason is simple.

Teensy 3.6 board

The combination of the 180MHz clock speed and raw power of the Teensy 3.6 makes it the perfect device to create a powerful, polyphonic synthesiser. Yes, I know that this is nothing new and people have done this with previous gen Teensy boards, but normally the only control method is knobs and dials. But the new 3.6 with the 2nd USB port means that it could be configured to work in host mode to connect up external USB MIDI devices such as keyboards and controllers. Sure keyboards with DIN-5 MIDI jacks can be used easily via a UART port, but many keyboards now are exclusively USB.

Paul Stoffregen hasn't created libraries to support this extra USB port yet so it could be months off, but with the maker community being the curious beast that it is, hopefully, next year will be the start of many fancy projects!

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- By Sam

Particle Cloud, Coming to a Raspberry Pi Near You!

So if you don't know what Particle.io is, I highly recommend that you go and check it out now. It's a powerful, cloud-based environment for programming their exceptionally powerful microcontroller boards in any easy to use fashion, that will be familiar to any Arduino user. But the beauty of Particle.io is that not only can you program firmware and send firmware updates OTA, but you can monitor device logs, webhook integrations, and much more. Now this is all well and good, but it's tied to their Photon (Wi-Fi) and Electron (3G) boards. But no more! earlier in November, Particle announced their intention to bring their fantastic cloud platform capabilities to the world's most popular microcomputer; Raspberry Pi. By downloading the Particle agent to your Raspberry Pi, you can terminal level CLI interaction, as well as all of the cloud-side functionality, in the easy to use Wiring abstraction for C++.

Raspberry Pi + Particle

While Particle has only released Beta testing to small numbers of customers so far, an open launch isn't too far away. And you can bet when it does go public, we'll have tutorials and projects ready to go!

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- By Sam

Awesome Raspberry Pi LED Christmas Tree

So, most christmas decorations are kind of lame. Let's be honest here. It's usually just a random assortment of mis-matched baubles and fairy lights with less symmetry than the leaning tower of pisa. Not to mention the christmas tree up against the wall with tinsel only draped accross the visable side to save time. Yes it's true, there has been little innovation in the niche that is Christmas decorations. Until now.

Pi Hut LED Christmas tree

The good people over at The Pi Hut in the UK have released a 3D Christmas Tree circuit board kit, and it looks awesome. You simply solder some LEDs onto the PCb cut-outs, solder the resistors and headers on, and it plugs straight into the header pins on your Raspberry Pi. Such a simple, yet glorious mesh of creativity and fun. While we won't be able to stock them in time for Christmas, it'll be good to see more kits like these which find creative ways to engage kids and adults alike with simple electronic projects.

You can download their sample code to turn the LEDs on in various ways, or write your own!

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- By Sam

littleBits Inventors Workshop #1

NB - if you've arrived via our newsletter then skip straight down to the "On the Horizon" section below!

We've moved location! The new Core Electronics HQ has enough room for all sorts of activities, including a huge vibrant room we've code named "Knowledge Factory". We intend to provide workshops for all ages with all sorts of technologies, our first was on Saturday just gone called "littleBits Inventors Workshop".

Our littleBits Inventors Workshop was a blast. The goal of this workshop was to show young creative minds how to invent - building creations and remixing them in unique ways. We reached out to some local friends and family for volunteers aged between 8-12. At the heart was littleBits; we had kits of all assortments and Clarissa (our wonderful Creative Director @ Knowledge Factory) to help ignite everyone's inner inventor.

Here are some photo highlights of the day, starting from left to right we have:

  • Gareth showing his team's invention - a pinball machine. During the remix phase, Gareth and his team introduced a point scoring system and found ways to fix the "dead ball" zones. Highly addictive and we're still going at each others high scores the following Monday at work.
  • A remote control car built by Sophie and David - Clarissa helped out with some advance gluing techniques!
  • Everyone mid-flight with inventions @ Knowledge Factory

littleBits Workshop #1

On the Horizon

Straight up we're planning workshops for younger makers over the summer holidays. With that said, we've penned workshops for:

  • 3D Printing
  • "Internet of Things" with Particle
  • littleBits
  • Arduino
  • Raspberry Pi
  • LattePanda
  • Maker Skills - Schematics, PCBs & Soldering
  • Maker Skills - Simulation, Test and Measurement, Repair

It's essential that you get in touch with Clarissa if you'd like to register your interest for yourself or your kids over the summer holidays (best suited for those in the Newcastle area, for now!).

If you are not in the Newcastle region and are interested then let us know if you'd like us to drop by your local neighbourhood and we'll see what can be done! Again, essential that you do so we can gauge the interest.

Important - Let us know what age you/the participants are, your postcode, and (this part is optional), if you have a specific technology / skill you'd like to level up on.


If you have any general questions then please do post them below in the comments!

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- By Graham

DIY Magnetic Goo

Ok, so here is something a bit different for you. When I was in school, one of the best toys you could own was a small plastic toilet bowl about the size of your hand containing multi-coloured goo in it. The idea was that you could press it and squish it to produce a variety of amusing noises. However, in true 21st-century style, there's a new toy on the block. Magnetic Goo!

We're not kidding, it's pretty much a slime/goo that can be squished and moulded as you like, with the extra perk of being magnetic. Now by itself, this doesn't sound that awesome, but the real fun is getting some magnets and watching your goo come alive and interact with the magnets. Along with being endlessly entertaining, it's also a fantastic opportunity to learn about magnetic fields and how they interact with other magnetic objects. 

And guess what? You can make your own! This video from BuzzFeed Blue shows you how you can make your own magnetic goo using household materials:

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- By Sam

Real Life Space Invaders

So if you haven't heard of the game 'Space Invaders' before, you're probably in the wrong place (only joking, you're still welcome). But seriously, Space Invaders is one of the most iconic video games in the world, loved my millions for its addictive gameplay, simple graphics, and nostalgic awesomeness. So in loving memory of this, an incredible group of people have created a real-life Space Invaders game using UAV drones, and light sensor based 'laser turret' mounted on moving rails. Simply put, it is absolutely incredible.

Each drone has an LED panel mounted on it, and uses light sensors to detect 'shots' from the ground mounted turret to detect whether it's been hit or not. Drone technology is making incredible, new projects pop up everywhere, and we're excited to see what the maker community will come up with next!

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- By Sam

A Rotary Phone Reinvented!

Do you remember the old rotary phones, the ones where you'd have to spin a little wheel to dial the numbers? If you don't even remember them, the advent of the iPhone and the newest generation of touch-screen smartphones are to blame for that. 

Well Youtube user and maker, Mr. Volt, decided to recreate the glory of the old rotary phone, but with the additions of text messaging and radio. It has this funky old-school-new aesthetic that reminds me of a Steampunk/Back to the future lovechild. 

The crafty Youtuber designed the entire unit himself, and then 3D printed the housing with a Lulzbot Mini! All the tactile feedback of older phones is bundled with all the beeps and clicks of the older style phones. It's also combined with the typical features of a mobile phone these days.

The project was built on an Adafruit Fona Feather and uses a combination of generic maker components to provide the user with its (limited, but still impressive) features. Check out his preview of the phone here, the materials for the project are as below:

  • ABS (3D printed on Lulzbot Mini)
  • Aluminum
  • Brass
  • Padouk
  • Adafruit Fona Feather (Atmega 32u4 and SIMCOM800L)
  • 2000 mAh LiPo
  • 8 ohm 1W speaker
  • 96x64 pixel color OLED display
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- By Aidan

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