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empowering creative people

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

3D Printed Pinball Machine

Something that never ceases to amaze me is the way that as technology grows and develops more and more, people seem to be using it to dive further and further back into the past. It's fascinating to see the number of retro-gaming projects based on Raspberry Pi and Arduino, and the rise of 3D printing is no exception. May I introduce to you the genius behind this 3D printed, full-size pinball machine:

Tony from 3DFilaPrint is the guy responsible for this amazing contraption, and one of the coolest things about it is that apart from the electronics, it's all 3D printed! They've used rubberised filaments, flexible filaments, as well as conductive filaments for various elements of the machine. It's powered by two Arduino boards and 3.5 Kilometers of filament which took over 1200 hours to print.

We love seeing people reinvent the classics using modern technology, and we'd love to see what our community is working on the bring classics back to life, so get the conversation started below!

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- By Sam

Self Assembling Robots

So robots come in all different shapes and sizes, some are huge, and some are tiny, but the thing that they all have in common is that a robot has to be built by someone/something. It has to be assembled. Generally, a robot is created to perform a specific function, but in this modern age, as robots continue to evolve, so do the tasks they're required to perform. So one of the big advancements in robotic science is the notion of 'self-assembling' robots. Robots that are made up of smaller building blocks that can re-arrange themselves to create different shapes and machines.

Whilst we're a little way off having a miniature transformer for a mobile phone, researchers are getting closer to multifunctional robots that can assemble themselves in different ways according to the task they're required to carry out. Check out this awesome swarm of miniature robots which are incredibly simple and work together to create complex shapes that would otherwise be impossible for a single unit to create. 

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- By Sam

MirrorOS: RPi Smart Mirror

What do you get if you combine a mirror with a Raspberry Pi and touch screen? A Smart, IoT Mirror of course! You'll be able to take a typical computer setup and with a few tweaks, load it up with a selection of applications for a personalized interactive mirror!

You can control using a touch screen and/or a mobile device. It's a fantastic project for anyone who is a little crafty and looking to get their paws wet with the Raspberry Pi. 

Josep Khan decided to build a smart mirror and leverage all the previous smart mirrors before him into a fresher look at what we can do with IoT mirrors. He ended up with a voice-recognising, gesture-controlled smart mirror that has a full web app API to install any web app you'd like directly to it. Enough talking about it, though, take a look below!

There is a full presentation available on Google Drive

Here's a video of the project working

And the obligatory Imgur album.

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- By Aidan

DIY Daft Punk Helmets

Ahhh, Halloween time, the highly debated holiday over this side of the Pacific ocean. Well, it's just gone past us pretty fast. Luckily, there is a massive influx of fantastic costumes and props that people around the world have been sharing. This particular project stood out to me, though; maybe it's cause it's made by a regular guy who decided to take advantage of the portability of electronics, or maybe cause it's Daft Punk helmets that you can make at home. It's probably the Daft Punk thing, to be honest.


I'm continuously impressed by the ingenuity of people that have the maker toolset and how they create awesome things like this project. That's easily doubled when the sheer amount of effort shines through, and the overall aesthetic of the finished project just amazes you. That's what ViralTHM did when he went to the effort of fabricating the helmets; leveraging all sorts of techniques such as the visor tinting, LED matrix displays, chrome finishing and the rest.

If you want to see the full project build, it's been uploaded here with annotations, comments, schematics etc.

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- By Aidan

Light Based Data Network: Li-Fi

So y'all know about Wi-Fi yeah? It's the magic network which lets you watch Netflix in bed and browse Facebook on the toilet (be honest). Well a little while ago at a TEDGlobal event, Harold Haas demonstrated the concept for a localised alternative to the traditional wireless network.

Current standards such as Wi-Fi operate using 2.4Ghz/5Ghz electromagnetic energy which can pass through certain kinds of materials, and gives us the convenient internet access we known and love. However, there are many long-standing issues with Wi-Fi technology including the speed restrictions and power consumption. So the proposed alternative called Li-Fi does away with electromagnetism for communication, and instead uses LED lights, flickering at incredibly high speeds, way faster than the human eye can perceive, to transmit data optically. This opens up the doors for it's usage in controlled environments such as aviation, medical areas, and much more. To read more about how Li-Fi works, what the main benefits are of using it, and more, check out the article from Science Alert.

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- By Sam

3D Printable Mechanical Tenctacles

So for some reason, around this time of year, we start to see all kinds of weird and wonderful creations published on the internet and something that recently caught my eye is this two-stage tentacle which is controlled via two joystick-like control arms. Joshua Vasquez created this masterpiece on Hackaday using a combination of 3D printed/laser cut parts and easily available components found online. How easy it is to actually control I have no idea, but colour me impressed at the CAD design and mechanical motion of this project. The entire project and build can be found here.

Two-stage tentacle gif

Something that makes this even more awesome is the fact that Joshua created some incredibly well-documented instructions with detailed images and animations, as well as uploading the various files and CAD files that he created for this project. So if you have a 3D printer, you can make most of these parts yourself, or a local CNC shop can easily manufacture them for you. It’s the perfect weird gift to someone to freak them out just a little bit. Imagine attaching a laser pointer or camera to the end of it to make an ultimate robot tentacle!

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- By Sam

Transistor Amplifiers Explained

So the modern computing age that we all know and enjoy is pretty much all thanks to the development of the transistor by Bell Labs. The semiconductor enabled this technology to take off and it’s only been on the up and up ever since. Transistors are the backbone of electronics and are found inside every electronic device, from discrete components to the billions that are crammed into your computer. But for a lot of makers, transistors can be quite tricky, and using them in projects and circuits often seems daunting. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

Essentially, a transistor is an electronic switch where you can use an electronic signal to control another. This allows them to be used to create audio amplifiers among many other uses, however getting an understanding on exactly how these devices can be used to amplify signals often eludes makers and DIY enthusiasts. Many of you might have heard of, or seen audio amplifiers labeled as Class A, Class B, Class C, Class AB etc. and wondered what it actually means. Well, fortunately, the wonderful YouTuber Allan (known as W2AEW) has created a great video on how transistors work and how the different operating modes in amplifiers affects the ‘class’ of the amplifier.

I’m the first to admit that you have to be a certain type of person to find these type of videos engaging, but it’s an incredibly valuable lesson on understanding more about the components that make our world tick.

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- By Sam

Build a Life-size BB-8 with Arduino!

I’m a Star Wars nerd it’s true, and so when JJ Abrams goes and releases a new movie with what is possibly the coolest robot/droid in Hollywood history, it just speaks to me. So of course I’ve had in the back of my mind to make one. I had to stop my wife impulse buying one of the Sphero BB-8 toys when they first came out, however Angleo, who is an amazing inventor on Instructables (goes by ASCAS), has taken the term ‘toy’ a step further and created a life-size replica BB-8 that moves and looks the same as his movie counterpart. It’s based on the Arduino platform and built with easily available, affordable electronics, and typical household parts. One of the best things about the Star Wars movies is the amount of props and electro-mechanical creations that they use rather than resorting to CGI effects. That’s right, that loveable, rolling ball of metal you see on screen is a real life robot. But anyway, here is a link to Angelo’s amazingly thrifty instructable which gives you all the steps you need to create your very own BB-8!

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- By Sam

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