Regarding popular projects in his group, Chakraborty says, “There are a number of interesting projects and we encourage people to form their own teams based on their interest or capabilities. Some of today’s popular themes include automation for home, retail, medical, agriculture and location tracking. My current favourite is a pollution monitoring and reporting system that uses GPS location tracking and mesh networking between the nodes.”
Guarding against pitfalls
The DIY scene is generally charged with enthusiasm and positivity. Despite that, DIYers need to be aware of the potential pitfalls and how to guard their project against them.
Denmead warns, “The biggest pitfall is perhaps that sometimes doing a project yourself may not be the most economical way to achieve it.”
Corporate DIY: Jet Fuel for Innovation
Industry leaders are encouraging a DIY culture amongst their employees. We took a peak at some of the DIY stuff displayed at ARM’s recent tech fest and discussed how DIY helps a company grow…
ARM was all ablaze with excitement as it celebrated ingenuity and innovation at the recently held Technofest 2013. Krishna Kumar Ranganathan, principal engineer, ARM India, had some interesting stuff on platform stabilisation and demonstrated a miniature ‘Segway’ kind of mobile device at the event. “I have a bigger prototype at home and I am keen on building a cost-effective human transportation device,” he said.
Another group of employees showcased a Smart Aquarium project. Their product involved an Android app that could help one remotely monitor an aquarium and program the feeding time.
“ARM has always encouraged employees to innovate and explore the world of technology beyond their regular daily routines. The company provides mbeds to employees to conduct their projects,” says Ranganathan.
The mbed kit is a single-board microcontroller with associated tools for programming the device. It is a rapid prototyping platform that helps complete microprocessor-based system prototypes in a significantly short period of time. The mbed project was initiated by two ARM employees, and later became an official research project within ARM. It is now run and maintained by ARM to help MCU Partners provide their customers with the best way to prototype designs using their microcontrollers. mbed began with NXP LPC 1768 (ARM CortexM3) but now includes NXP LPC11U24 (ARM CortexM0) and FSCL Freedom Board (ARM CortexM0+). ARM also collaborates with universities and high-schools and provides mbed kits to students for learning and experiments.
Apart from mbed, if the employees need any other components or software for their projects, ARM readily funds the projects if it is satisfied with the purpose. For instance, DIY enthusiasts at ARM are now working on building a robot that can navigate its way through their office collecting coffee cups.
Ranganathan explains, “Let’s say I’m at my desk, and I need a cup of coffee. I just have to go to the intranet and request a cup of coffee. The robot will recognise my login and hence know where I am. By default, it comes to my desk but I can also mention if I am elsewhere in the office. The robot goes to the vending machine and brings the cup of coffee that has already been prepared. The robot is basically a smart mobile platform with wheels. The idea is that the robot will navigate from place A to place B within the office avoiding all obstacles and knowing the destination as well. It can also go about collecting empty mugs.”
DIY enthusiasts team at ARM is also interested in adding video conferencing capabilities to the robot.
Guru Ganesan, managing director of ARM India, explains, “DIY projects benefit the organisation as well as the individuals. These help individuals by encouraging them to think out of the box. Some of these projects might actually enhance daily operations, which is beneficial for the company. ARM has always encouraged such employee-led innovation ideas that help them co-create for a shared purpose.”
“In India, DIY is more or less confined to academic interests and hence it is highly constrained by the goals and timelines. Another aspect is how we perceive DIY for engineering problems. It may not be always possible to build a big project from scratch to end in DIY mode. Deterred by this thought, people drop highly-technical projects and go for simple ones. However, the solution is to learn how to modularise or segment a big project to be able to take up a part of it in DIY mode,” says Jayakrishnan.
He also feels that people should get out of the mindset that DIY must involve hardware development—developing an algorithm or finding solutions to mathematical bottlenecks can also be DIY activities!