Keynote: Phil Torrone and Limor Fried

Loose notes from SXSW 2007 keynote: Phil Torrone and Limor Fried

Phil Torrone is an editor and chief hacker at Make: Magazine; Limor Fried is an MIT electrical engineer and hardware hacker extraordinaire, responsible for, among other things, open source plans for building home-brew cell phone jammers. In this conversation they discussed approaches to building open source hardware, and the many ways in which the process differs from OSS.

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Slides:

House plants that email you when they’re thirsty.
Chandelier made of gummy bears
Subwoofer shaped like the Death Star

The concept of “hardware” has many levels. At one level is the case, where the screws go, etc. You can release this kind of CAD stuff in DXF format. The next level is circuit board design – protel files or other schematics. Limor releases all of her hardware with CC licenses – share-alike format. Then there’s the firmware level – software that can be released in C or Assembly, etc. GPL/BSD license. Release data sheets and parts lists – where can you get the bits and pieces. Radio Shack is likely to stop being a common source for standard electronics parts before long – this is moving to the internet. Document construction processes carefully. On top of firmware there’s “normal” software – which needs open APIs and full documentation.

Some Linksys routers have Linux in the firmware, so users have been able to load modified Linux distros into them, taking a $75 router and giving it $500 router capabilities.

Roomba hacking – tons of people turning them into robotics platform. So the Roomba company removed the vacuum bit and released the “Create” – a starter robotics platform for hackers. But don’t robots push grandmas down the stairs? The Roomba company trusted their robots not to (i.e. they didn’t get all caught up in liability concerns, etc.)

The Green Phone – (Linux phone) – usually there’s just a thin API layer at the top for developers to write to, but with this, you can get to the API all the way down, which gives a lot more flexibility to devs.

Phil: When you have a laser, everything starts to look laser-able (pic of some sushi nori onto which he had lasered instructions on how to make sushi). Then they started a laser wiki covering everything you need to know if you want to start your own laser business. Wikis are an essential component of open source projects – they mirror the openness of the project at every level.

Limor has an open source synthesizer project that emulates a Roland 303. There have been kits before, but they were discontinued – this is the problem with closed source. So Limor had to reverse engineer a 303. Now she’s opened up everything about it, so that won’t happen again.

Make: Weekend Project doing amazing thing with PDF – build diagram for spud gun includes “break-apart” features in PDF I’ve never seen before. Very useful.

Site: Instructables – great example of truly useful user-generated content.

Limor’s cell phone jammer – full documentation. Illegal in the U.S. Legal to build and transport, not legal to actually use it. But many people have. Fits in a pack of cigarettes. But she demo’d it on a live call – cut Torrone’s call off effortlessly. Roughly 10′ range. If you build one, do yourself a favor and call it “RF test equipment” rather than a “cell phone jammer” on your blog.

It’s interesting that you can own property but you can’t own the airspace inside. So maybe you don’t want city-provided WiFi coming into your house, or GPS signal. You can use the jammer to block these as well.

“If you can’t open it, you don’t own it.” -Make Magazine

Sears is selling a 3-D CNC machine for $10k. Put in a 3D object and it’ll carve it out of wood.

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