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trip to nyc / adafruit industries / founder of hackaday!

trip to nyc / visit adafruit industries / meet founder of hackaday and talk to ladyada herself!
with charles guan and cynthia lu and hanna lin

10 am: depart
2 pm: arrive

left to right: charles, cynthia, and hanna
arrive in CHINA wait sorry flushing district of New York City

look what we found in chinatown! an AVR manual IN CHINESE. @___@
and a MasterCAM X book. This was at the WJ bookstore
we ate at Taste of Shanghai on prince street. delicciousss
Cynthia sketches ladyada chibi! Ladyada was super happy about this when she got it.
this picture from Charles! Not mine!
We arrive!
The magical workings of adafruit heavy metal industries. Err. Adafruit industries.
$150k+ pick and place machine! IT IS SO SHINY. Apparently it is or is a relative of the ones Samsung uses to manufacture phones, and that this is something Foxconn / Apple would never do, sell you the machines that make machines at a conference
Assembly station! At adafruit industries they do it by product and not as a procedural task with multiple people per product. The guy is Philip Torrone, founder of hackaday and editor at large at MAKE magazine while he works with adafruit on everything awesome.
The ladyada shrine 🙂
Hydraulic wooden arm spotted! d’aww
And finally, on the air on ask-an-engineer! We are sitting in the background, as Charles is the main guest (we sort of surprise showed up). Left: Phil; Middle: Ladyada; Right: Charles
The episode is archived at and

Phil and Ladyada were amazingly open about everything we could ever possibly want to know. I learned that:

  • adafruit industries took on no outside investment and was entirely bootstrapped
  • it started in just one apartment, then two apartments, and finally they moved to a warehouse
  • their first pick ‘n place was picked because it was the only one that fit through their apartment door, and was $35k. they are now donating this to nycresistor with the condition that no questions come their way about how to use it or anything
  • after 8 years, they are at 50 employees, 1/3 in shipping, and at 10-15 million dollars in revenue and they are tripling every year. 
  • They wrote their barcode/shipping software in python and ship ~1000 packages a day. The software notifies the buyer and charges their credit card when items ship 
  • In fact, they are the largest shipper in lower Manhattan.
  • they grew specifically so that ladyada could do all the engineering, and it sounds like they have a few consultants from around the world that help with the engineering but ladyada essentially solo beasts all the products (it sounded like)
  • they chose to keep all manufacturing in house instead of outsourced
  • they used a black and decker IR oven, equipped with arduino, for reflow for a long time. In the new space, with the real reflow oven and new pick ‘n place, they are finally able to keep up with demand
  • Their latest video show has 3 year-olds making lemon batteries o____O Each 2-3 minute video takes over 80 hours to produce. Phil is the one manipulating the giant plushie LEDs / figures under the table
  • they are thinking about adding translations to, hopefully crowdsourced, as there is a lot of demand from germany, japan, china, and italy
  • gets about 11 million visits (either daily or monthly) after 8 years of relentless quality documentation
  • the new move from docuwiki to their own system has cut down documentation time by about a third
  • but each tutorial still takes anywhere from 6 hours to 2 days
  • Their PCB stencils are done by hand. They found that people can do it better when trained and get over 99% yield, such that they almost think they don’t need an optical checker
  • Testing rigs for circuitboards! Ladyada actually designs products with testing in mind
  • They worked with companies like Eagle to make girl scout/boy scout-esque badges, and Eagle was very happy about it
  • They helped Jay Silver with MakeyMakey, who really just needed encouragement that a market exists
  • Ladyada did not market ressearch nor business plan. She believed in the product strongly enough that she created a market / demand for it. Execute.
  • ladyada reminisced about her time at MITERS and how it used to very much by Tim Anderson’s shop, and also about her Bridgeport mill which is still in active use at MITERS

ALSO. I GOT A 555 PLUSHIE. d’awwwww it is an octopod ^__^ heart cousin of hexapods

And a final note on fail.

I wanted to draw ladyada’s face with our robot arm but sadly we were not at a stage to make a recognizable drawing and I think ladyada was just like, WTF. ;__; SORRY LADYADA one day we will draw better faces with our el cheapo 9g miniservos and then give you a portrait. we probably should have stuck to the adafruit logo or something.

edge detected from the WIRED magazine cover
draw out… yea… it does not resemble ladyada at all x___x

Ah well. So it goes, so it goes.

That’s all for tonight folks! Getting ready to teach Intro to Robot Arms, class #2, in a few hours (for MIT HSSP. Let me know if you all have any questions.

Oh, an easy one — I don’t know how this came about. I think Charles emailed Ladyada saying he would be in NYC and wanted to visit, and he was then invited as a guest onto the show. He was going to by in NYC for a mikuvan trip including us, so we tagged along to visit adafruit industries. All quite strange and befuddling.

Hunt for cheap steppers cont’d: VID teardown, datasheets

Steppers I mentioned in previous post came within a few days! They’re not as small as I’d thought, but they are very flat. I bought them off of amazon by searching for “stepper motor gauge”:
6 Stepper Motor Chevy AVALANCHE V8 5.3 8.1 2003-2006 Gauge Cluster Speedo Speedometer x6
$16.5 for 6, or $2.75 each.

The inscription says VID29-02P.

Well, I decided to take one apart.

They’re geared steppers and you can see the end stop (top right) that prevents the gear from rotating and this stepper from being continuous. It has 315deg of travel according to the datasheet.

If you take it apart, you see that the four leads of the stepper go to the four poles of two coils of wire, switching the electromagnet on and off.
That’s all there is to it!

Time to find a datasheet.
Here is one for a similar one, the MR series:
which is where I get my guess of VID’s “Angle of rotation of motor with internal stop” as equal to 315 degrees from.

Here’s a note of the rather obscure manufacturers:
For instance, in our case:

Hong Kong based VID also manufacture a range of similar motors. Their motors are black, and have a black model number starting with “vid”.

Well, anyway.
I also decided to buy (off of ebay) some less strangely shaped and hopefully easier to couple to stepper motors. They turn out to be cheaper too!

[x] img src, ebay iawoo
28BYJ-48 – 5V Stepper Motor Datasheet
“New 1pc 5V 4-phase 5-wire Stepper Motor Gear Motor 28BYJ-48”
$8.72 for 4, or $2.18 each.

Those should get here in two weeks. It’s nice to just order fun things ahead of time and feel like I am getting good deals.

That’s all for now.

References “Quick Start for Beginners to Drive a Stepper Motor”

MIT summer housing research

$160/week for a single (one person, one room)
$140/week for a walk-though single (one person, one room)*
$120/week per person for a double (two people, one room)

 * A walk-through single is a room that is accessed by walking through someone else’s room, or that someone must walk through to get to her room.

-> 12 weeks = $2160 to $1680
Single 2171
Double 1910

It will cost $722 or $622 per month, depending on the room. You do not need to rent for all three months.
$1866 to $2166 for 3 months


These approximate prices are for the entire summer and include food. 🙂
Quad: $1050 
x2 = 2100, except pika has a waiting list and probably only I can get in, not my friend (not from MIT)…?
Triple: $1200
Double: $1450
x2 = $2900, again kind of risky
Single: $1800

rough it out: free
TAing @ $16/hr, 20hr/wk, Jun10-Aug10 = 61 days not including end date (9 weeks) = $2880. Eek. Haha. Time to start selling things on etsy or something…
Possibly factors: novelty (not stay in same place again)
I’ve been spending this week mostly on applications and looking for funding. In one way, mathematically, this is a good idea — spend a bit of time to get thousands of dollars versus work all summer to get the same amount of money. However, I am wary that I’m spending too much time on this — time is money too.
Alternative ways to make money: finish persistence of vision yoyo and sell some. This would happen at the end of May. Con: takes up precious time, again.

Update 4/18/13: Got on the pika waitlist, so… time to look for other options
EC undergrad housing, 2171/summer, May 28 – August 11 (75 days).
~870/month (30 days)

MIT Guest housing, $38.50 per night,
$1154/30 days

x12 weeks, 120/wk, $1440 (480/month)
x2 people, $2880

Frat housing
Looks like about $1700 each for the summer for a double. $1350 ea. if we are okay living in a quadruple.