We won Sheffield Soup Funding for our expansion!

Sheff Soup Case of Money

Earlier this week I (Bugs) went along to talk at Sheffield Soup, a local crowdfunding event. A sell-out crowd of 150 Sheffield locals, plus representatives of local media, got together to hear four people pitch their ideas for a project to benefit the city. After each group gave a four minute talk and answered four questions for the crowd, there was time to eat, drink, listen to some great live music, and wander around chatting before the final vote.

Bugs speaking at Sheffield Soup

The attendees made for a very welcoming and insightful audience, with some great questions asked of all four projects, and a lot of interest in what we do and how to join. We’re looking forward to welcoming a lot of new people to the hackspace over the next few weeks! (If you’re one of them, look at our Calendar and just call into any of the Open Sessions. Or if you prefer, contact us to say hi and ask any questions.)

In the end, the audience voted to give us the £800 prize money, to fund our upcoming Hackspace expansion project! Expanding into the cellar beneath our current space with roughly double the amount of room we have to work in, and give us a dediated “dirty workshop” for stuff like woodworking, metalwork, glasswork, screen printing… anything our members want to try that needs a lot of space and makes a mess! Just as well: our weekly sessions are starting to feel decidedly crowded, which is a great problem to have and a sign that the hackspace project is going well.

So, look out for an upcoming post with more about our expansion plans. If you want to have a say in what those are, join the group and start chatting! And, of course, as we’re completely volunteer-run, we’d appreciate all hands on deck when it comes time to scrub the cellar walls and start building some workbenches…


Homemade smoke machine liquid!

A quick experiment by one of our members, in preparation for making a gun that shoots smoke rings.

(for anyone playing along at home: Mix 30% glycerol (also called glycerin) with 70% distilled water, and heat. Ideally, don’t do it in a small hackspace where the windows don’t open and other people are trying to make stuff. Oops.)

A few lasercut pieces…

Did we mention we have a lasercutter? We have a lasercutter. It runs off the open source LAOS controller board, and couldn’t be simpler to get your designs into.

We’ve been getting to grips with it, and our members are turning out things like leather bookmarks

…project boxes, tensegrity balls…
Tensegrity Ball

…rubber stamps
SHHM Logo stamp

…and quite a few other bits and pieces. What do you want to build? Come along to one of our scheduled sessions and say hello!

Simply Crochet Robot

[Post by SHHM member Sarah Cullen]

I enjoy mixing traditional crafts with tech. A while ago I decided to teach myself crochet, mostly using YouTube and a couple of crochet books. I found a pattern for a crochet robot toy and decided that instead of just crocheting buttons and a light, I’d use sewable electronics instead.

The crochet pattern came from Issue 16 of Simply Crochet.

I used a CR32 coin cell battery holder, battery, sewable steel thread and a large red LED for the light on the robot’s head.
To sew the light on, I pushed the legs of the LED through the top of the crocheted head and then used round nose pliers to coil each leg out to the side, flat against the crochet. On the inside of the head, I stitched from the negative terminal of the battery holder, lightly through half of the thickness of the crochet (so the thread didn’t show on the outside of the robot) to the negative leg of the LED. When sewing through the coil of the leg of the LED, I sewed knots as I went, as the steel thread has a bit of spring to it, and so wants to open up, but this can break the connections in your circuit. I did the same thing, with a separate piece of steel thread, for the positive side of the LED and battery.

The buttons on the front of the robot are a bit more involved. They needed 2 battery’s worth of power and a LilyTiny circuit board to create the flashing. The batteries are connected to the LilyTiny and then the LilyTiny is connected to the LEDs. Although the LilyTiny is designed for 4 LEDs, I connected more, in parallel, as I had more than 4 buttons that needed illuminating. The default patterns programmed into the LilyTiny were fine, so I didn’t need to reprogramme it.

The end result is here:

More LED crochet
I followed that project up with some a monkey & ninja from the Creepy But Cute crochet book and a pirate pattern from the author’s website. Rather than sewing their expressions on, I gave them sewable LED eyes. These were added behind the felt patches that are their faces. The battery holder is under each creature, which has meant I’ve needed to add a ring of chain stitch to the base, to hide the holder and stabilise each creature.

More recently, I made the robot from the Creepy But Cute book. Gee made a small circuit with cyclon style red LEDs that I used for its eyes. As these aren’t sewable LEDs and they’re tiny, it needed the crochet cutting so that they’d show through the felt face. The felt face stops the crochet from unravelling, so no problems there. At some point I may remake this but use a Adafruit Gemma / Flora to control sewable LEDs for the cyclon effect but I’ll need to find the time first!
The complete set is here:

They get taken to Make Faires with Pimoroni and recently featured in Makezine’s photos of the Berlin Faire.

All sewable electronics parts for the various projects came from Adafruit / Sparkfun / Kitronik via Pimoroni.

Indoor environment sensor with ESP8266

Burnell Bot Breadboard

As part of our hacking the space project, we’re building a network of sensors and effectors in our space. Communicating over WiFi using the MQTT protocol, the idea is to make lots of data about the hackspace easily available for members to use in their projects, and to make it easy for members to add their own data streams to the space’s network of things.

One of these is the Burnell Bot, responsible for monitoring motion and light intensity, plus temperature and humidity. These data will end up being used to automate the hackspace’s lights and heating, as well as forming part of our security system. In the meantime, they’re flying over the WiFi in our hackspace ready for members to monitor and use however they want.

At its heart is an ESP8266-12E, sitting on a handy breakout board; you can see its silver enclosure covering most of the board, plus the etched WiFi antenna. This takes input from a BH1750 light sensor over I2C, a passive infra-red motion sensor that sends a digital HIGH signal in response to movement, and the DHT22 temperature and humidity sensor. Thanks to the support for ESP8266 in the latest Arduino IDE, the BH1750 and DHT22 are used via their existing Arduino libraries. A couple of warning messages pop up when compiling, but the code runs without issue. The motion sensor, of course, is monitored by simply checking the status of a GPIO pin set to input. Data from each sensor are transmitted over MQTT in their appropriate topics, subject to dampening (e.g. change in light level must exceed a certain threshold before being reported) and throttling of message rates.

Now that our planning permission has gone through (the downside of being hosted in such a great, historic building is dealing with its listed status) and we’ve refurbished our ceilings ready for the wiring grids to be installed, expect to see a few of these appearing in the space and start thinking of things to do with the data!

Personally, I want to add sensors for carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide and particulates, to keep an eye on our air quality and to try to get a sense of whether the reported effects of high CO2 / low O2 in classrooms (impaired concentration, amongst other things) affects our hacking. If you want to get involved in this or other projects, get in touch or just look at our calendar and turn up to a session!

Sous Vide cooking with ESP8266

sousvide controller breadboard

We have a couple of members interested in the geeky side of cookery, and our experimental foods day a little while ago was a great success.

Along these lines, I wanted to try sous vide cooking, a style of cooking in which foods are held at an accurately regulated temperature in order to favour some cooking reactions over others. It’s most commonly used when cooking meats, resulting in amazingly tender, juicy meat even from the toughest cuts. People with an interest in food chemistry — as a biologist by training, I’m definitely one of them — can also have a fascinating time experimenting with the cooking of, for example, the humble egg.

This project was to turn my slow cooker into a sous vide water bath. Along with several other SHH&M members, I’ve been playing with the ESP8266 microcontroller: a great little chip with easy WiFi connectivity, a decent number of GPIO pins and, fairly recently, support in the Arduino IDE, making it very easily accessible to anyone with some passing familiarity with using Arduino. As part of our hackspace renovation project we’re setting up a system of sensors and effectors that communicate using the excellent MQTT messaging protocol; there’s a great Arduino libraries for MQTT, so getting my sous vide controller to report its heating activity and my food’s temperature over WiFi was simple.

On the breadboard, you can see a ESP8266-12E with a silvery enclosure and the etched WiFi antenna. It takes input from a waterproof DS18B20 temperature probe using the standard Arduino library, which works perfectly with the ESP despite some warnings thrown up by the compiler. The ESP gets its power from a switch-mode (“bucky”) voltage regulator set to 3.3v; a second voltage regulator next to it provides 5v to the 240v AC relay. Both are fed from a 12v, 1A wall wart, not shown here. The relay, isolated from touch and moisture in its lunchbox housing, controls the power running through a short extension lead and happily accepts the 3.3v control signal from one of the ESP’s GPIO pins. The cluster of unused wires in the top right of the breadboard are in place to connect with my USB->serial board, in case I need to reflash firmware or debug over serial.

In use, the slow cooker is turned to “high” and plugged into the modified extension lead. The ESP8266 monitors the temperature in the slow cooker via the waterproof temperature probe and, by switching the relay, controls the heating. The logic is managed by a popular Arduino PID library, based heavily on their example code for relay-controlled systems.

Temperature data from about 20 hours of sous vide cooking

Temperature data from about 20 hours of sous vide cooking

PID algorithm output -- in each 10 second chunk of time, for how many seconds the heating element was receiving power, over about 20 hours of sous vide cooking

PID algorithm output — in each 10 second chunk of time, for how many seconds the heating element was receiving power, over about 20 hours of sous vide cooking

Data from the sous vide controller is reported over WiFi via MQTT, meaning that I could keep an eye on the two critical parameters (current temperature and how hard it was working to increase the temperature) using my laptop, phone, or, in principle, other ESP or Arduino devices connected to my flat’s WiFi. The excellent MQTT Spy even generates handy graphs from your incoming data in real time, bringing the food geekery to new heights. In future, also sending the data to something like data.sparkfun, to easily monitor and graph data when I’m out of the flat, should be straightforward.

The most important part of the post: The resulting food is amazing! So far I’ve only used it for meat, although there are plenty of interesting things like eggs and custards that I’m keen to try. Traditionally tough cuts of meat — shoulder of lamb, beef brisket — come out rare, tender, and juicy, with their distinctive flavours intact. More tender cuts, like sirloin steak, are done to perfection every time and, really, have to be tried to be believed. This was a quick and hacky project, but the results are fantastic. Definitely a success, and well worth making yourself.

The PID algorithm needs tweaking to improve temperature regulation to within a degree or two (easy but time consuming, and in the current warm weather I’m trying to avoid having a bath of hot water sitting in my well-insulated flat for hours on end), it needs to go in a case, and it needs a better control mechanism than re-flashing the firmware to change the target temperature. Getting the ESP to host a simple web page displaying controls — or even to just accept commands over MQTT — should be simple enough.

If you’re interested in learning to make this sort of project — or already know how, and want to meet up or work with others who do — come along to SHH&M! Get in touch with us here, or look at our calendar and just turn up to one of our scheduled meetings and introduce yourself.

Janine interviewed by Oomlout

Janine at Halifax

Aaron (of Oomlout fame), interviewed SHH&M member and trustee Janine about our hackspace and what we do here. It’s a nice writeup, with Janine giving a great introduction to our group and a few of the projects that we took along to the Halifax Mini Maker Faire. You can read the interview, and see some nice photos of the projects we took to Halifax, here.

As ever: if you’re interested in what we do, get in touch, or look at the calendar and just turn up to a meeting to meet us.

A quick snapshot

Busy times here at SHH&M! A few snapshots of things our members have been working on recently in the hackspace:

Project Snapshots



Some of the stuff we’ve been up to lately includes:

  • Upgrading one of our 3D printers
  • Building comfy deckchairs for slow afternoons in the coutyard
  • Ultra-lightweight aircraft for indoor flying
  • Building and upgrading our network and servers
  • Running workshops, including amazing ice-cream!
  • Arduino and ESP8266 programming
  • Prototyping a pocket-sized (taking-to-the-pub-sized!) boardgame
  • Learning woodworking and joinery
  • …plus our high altitude balloon project, catching up with friends and being inspired by cool projects at the Halifax Mini Maker Faire, further work on our RFID entry system, and a hundred other things that I don’t have photos of.

It’s been another good month, and it’s only going to get better! If you’re interested in joining in, at any skill level (NB: “any” definitely includes “complete beginner”), get in touch or look at our calendar and just turn up to a session!