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GNU is Not Unix Idle Science Technology

Man Creates Open Source Flashlight 172

Posted by samzenpus
from the things-we-don't-need dept.
DeviceGuru writes "Not content with revealing the source code to his mom's banana bread, two-time BattleBots champion Christian Carlberg has developed an open source flashlight. Carlberg first achieved notoriety shredding competitors' robots with Minion's 14-inch saw blade on BattleBots. Now he's all fired up to begin shipping what they say could be the 'world's first open source flashlight.' But why in the world would you want a reprogrammable flashlight?"
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Man Creates Open Source Flashlight

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  • by Missing.Matter (1845576) on Tuesday June 07, 2011 @11:05AM (#36362518)
    Well one that looks like this, I can think of a couple uses for it...
    • Well one that looks like this, I can think of a couple uses for it...

      No! No! No! TMI!

    • by Tx (96709)

      FTA: My primary goal is to put as much of your pledge money into what really matters for a light- the LED, the electronics, optics, and the battery.

      It seems that the programmability, and thus the open-source nature of said programmability, is really incidental. The thing needs a microcontroller to implement flashing modes etc, and since the guy's a nerd, hey, why not open it up, might get a bit of extra publicity that way. But primarily the guy's trying to make a better flashlight.

      • Huh, when I read the headline I assumed the CAD files for the housing, electronics, etc would all be available. Looking closer it seems like you're right, which is a little disappointing (although not much since I'd never build one of these anyway).
        • by QuasiSteve (2042606) on Tuesday June 07, 2011 @11:34AM (#36362816)

          Huh, when I read the headline I assumed the CAD files for the housing, electronics, etc would all be available.

          From one of Christian's comments:

          We are thinking about releasing the drawing for the body ("open source") so folks like you can design whatever accessories you want for it.

          Also, in response to the following question:

          Is it just the source code that is open source, or is the PCB/Schematic also open source?

          He answered:

          We think we are going to lead a paradigm shift in the flashlight world and open it all up.

          So, yes, it does appear that he's planning on making it 100% open source.

          • That's interesting, I guess, but that sort of thing is trivial to reverse engineer if you wanted to change the design. If I'm going to make a or alter flashlight, the only reason I would do so is if there isn't one close to what I needed, and I'd make my own design because it's not complicated to start from scratch here.

            • That's interesting, I guess, but that sort of thing is trivial to reverse engineer if you wanted to change the design.

              Absolutely. But it's far more trivial to load a CAD file than to re-trace one. Be that the 3D CAD for the housing or the PCB cad for the board.

              If I'm going to make a or alter flashlight, the only reason I would do so is if there isn't one close to what I needed, and I'd make my own design because it's not complicated to start from scratch here.

              But it would take you much more effort and pr

            • So why haven't you done it?

              CPF [candlepowerforums.com] has a large community of flashlight geeks. Some of them have been at it a long time and are very competent (see McGizmo), but there isn't really anything like what this guy proposes.

              Building a suitable housing and mating a good switch and reflector and emitter and driver and lens and power source, have all been done many times over. There is a lack of good, readily programmable, software. Making the thing blink in different patterns is not exactly rocket science, but a few cli

              • by dr2chase (653338)

                Kinda depends upon what you mean by "software" and what it is responsible for. I built a standlight for my bicycle. There's software in it that watches the wheel go round (AC from the hub), turns on a battery, watches the wheel not go around for a while, and turns off the battery. Latest "innovation" was adding blink-when-stopped (wait a second, turn off the battery and let the voltage sag to 8v, turn on the battery, repeat). But the controller is NOT doing the heavy lifting of implementing switching-su

          • by sdguero (1112795)
            Last time I checked, a flashlight is an accessory. Usually for a gun.
        • by vlm (69642)

          Huh, when I read the headline I assumed the CAD files for the housing, electronics, etc would all be available. Looking closer it seems like you're right, which is a little disappointing (although not much since I'd never build one of these anyway).

          Unless I'm missing something, it's open source, the same way that a windows gaming box is open source, because the Jameco catalog had a very general article about selecting and assembling various sub assemblies to "make yer own PC", and it even named by model number one of the parts.

          All five pieces of the machine of course are closed source, and both overall and detail blueprints are closed source.

          I'm expecting the next breathless admission to be that when he says it has 48 candle power, or whatever, it tur

    • by Hatta (162192) on Tuesday June 07, 2011 @11:29AM (#36362768) Journal

      I'd want one with a wireless beacon so I can find it if I lose it. I've lost half a dozen maglites throughout the years.

      • by mrmeval (662166)

        Have it chirp and flash if it gets too far away from your phone. Have your phone chirp as well when it's too far away.

        Then you'd lose both of them. ;)

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      My initial reaction was... "Who the hell wants a programmable flashlight?" I already have several maglites around the house now - durable, fairly rugged, and bright. But then... the batteries often die, and the bulbs often get weaker. This looks like a pretty good improvement.

      So I pledged $220 to the project. Four programmable lights, 500 lumens, rechargeable, heavy duty bar stock casing? Yes please - 2 for camping, 1 for the house, 1 for the car. A persuasive pitch, and it looks like a heck of a prod

    • by torgis (840592)
      Reprogrammable flashlight? Useless. Reprogrammable fleshlight? Priceless.
  • by DaMattster (977781) on Tuesday June 07, 2011 @11:11AM (#36362588)
    The idea is really a good one because, as the embedded videos in the article point out, not everyone has the same needs for a flashlight. The product allows customization through your computer. I really like the idea that you can charge the light over USB and program it too. This product really defines the saying, "Build a better mousetrap and world will beat a path to your door."
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by hipp5 (1635263)

      I really like the idea that you can charge the light over USB and program it too.

      I'm not really sure I like that idea. My uses for flashlights tend to be a) camping, and b) when the power goes out. Unfortunately with USB charging I would get one charge's worth of use in those situations. With regular old batteries I can replace them to infinity, and if I forgot some I can pick them up at a gas station on my way to the woods.

      • I'm not really sure I like that idea. My uses for flashlights tend to be a) camping, and b) when the power goes out. Unfortunately with USB charging I would get one charge's worth of use in those situations.

        http://www.google.com/search?q=mobile+phone+charger+aa [google.com]

        With regular old batteries I can replace them to infinity, and if I forgot some I can pick them up at a gas station on my way to the woods.

        See again above. Alternatively, note that there are two different HexBrights. The HexBright Prime uses CR123a

        • by vlm (69642)

          With regular old batteries I can replace them to infinity, and if I forgot some I can pick them up at a gas station on my way to the woods.

          I think you still don't get it... When my flashlight does dark, I can have light again in about 30 to 60 seconds because I have a pack of AA batteries waiting for it, or whatever other AA powered device runs out of juice. If it takes overnight to charge off my car, that kinda defeats the purpose of using a flashlight at night while backpack camping... Also a lovely circular fail mode when using the flashlight to see what I'm doing while jumpstarting my car in the dark, if I had the juice to charge the lig

          • Not sure if you meant to reply to me - but for what it's worth, I was pointing specifically to the fact that one of the two types takes reasonably standard batteries, albeit not AA, and the other (the actually programmable one, the HexBright Flex) will happily run off of one of those AA-based mobile phone chargers. Just don't expect it to run for very long because the 1.5V has to go through a boost first to get up to the USB voltage required (5V) and the battery's mAh rating decreases accordingly. But giv

          • Well, if you wanted to use it while jumpstarting your car at night, you could always plug it into whatever you are using to jumpstart your car. Unless somehow you can jumpstart your car without electricity . . .

            I'm assuming, like most things that charge by USB, that you can use it while it's charging.
          • Any flashlight that takes 18650 batteries can also use CR123a batteries at a 2-for-1 ratio (2xCR123a = 1x18650 Li-Ion). So if you're that worried buy a 10-pack of CR123s at walmart.
        • by julesh (229690)

          The 18650 used in the HexBright Flex is less common

          Hmmm... 18650 is the closest thing there is to a standard size for rechargeable li-ions. The fact that there isn't much market for standard-sized rechargeable li-ions is probably the only reason you don't see them more often. They are quite readily available on ebay, from most electronics components shops, etc.

      • by nschubach (922175)

        Sure, but there are already portable USB chargers for use with cell phones so you could plug your light into one of those in a pinch. You could also charge the flashlight from a cigarette lighter. Sure, it's carrying more batteries but there are tradeoffs to everything.

        • Sure, but there are already portable USB chargers for use with cell phones so you could plug your light into one of those in a pinch. You could also charge the flashlight from a cigarette lighter.

          You miss the point - the issue isn't charging, it's availability. With conventional AA/AAA powered flashlights (or other devices), you can carry or trivially obtain spares (rechargeable or non) and then swap them out for constant availability. With USB charging, when your device goes dead - it's dead and unavaila

          • by nschubach (922175)

            I didn't really miss the point. I guess it mainly depends on battery life. If the flashlight lasts an hour and then dies then there's a major problem. If you can plug the thing into your USB slot in your house or car (I'm sure more cars will have them... if not, they charging slots can be added for minimal effort) and charge it constantly and it lasts for 10-15 hours on a charge then it's not really that big of a concern, is it?

      • I'm not really sure I like that idea. My uses for flashlights tend to be a) camping, and b) when the power goes out. Unfortunately with USB charging I would get one charge's worth of use in those situations. With regular old batteries I can replace them to infinity, and if I forgot some I can pick them up at a gas station on my way to the woods.

        One of the bigger issues with flashlights is that the batteries are often flat when you finally decide to use it. With replaceable batteries you can, of course, go buy new ones but many a time that's inconvenient (right after the tornado hits). A USB powered flashlight has some potential advantages - you can charge it pretty much anywhere these days. Plug in charger (I can see 4 USB chargers from where I'm sitting now), pretty much any computer made since 2000, many cars. USB is becoming more ubiquitous

        • The use case I imagined right away was charging it up from a laptop battery in the event of power failure. But in other situations I think the adaptation of USB as a standard device charging format makes a lot of sense (USB being Universal and all).
        • by Dan Ost (415913)

          As for the programming, it seems to be a bit overkill. I just built a similar, dumber circuit out of a 555 timer because I had an old filament powered headlamp that I wanted to convert to LED and a bunch of bright LEDs. But if it floats your boat, go for it. Same with the over engineered aluminum case.

          A non-programmable light has to cater it's mode selection to the most commonly desired configuration (and defining that configuration is non-trivial). A programmable light can be tailored by the user to meet their specific needs or desires.

          I've got several programmable flashlights and I'm very pleased with them.

      • by Abstrackt (609015)

        If you're worried about batteries just get a flashlight with a crank or one of those ones you shake to charge. You can also apply some glow in the dark paint so the flashlight glows if and when the power goes out.

      • by karnal (22275)

        Got an idea - get a 12v to usb adapter (cig lighter/power port - whatever you want to call it) for your vehicle. Covers both scenarios:
        a. camping. Someone has a vehicle around, and even if you don't start the car you can get a bunch of charges into the light.
        b. power goes out - again, there is a car somewhere.
        Anyhow; my main point here is this - in Ohio we had the power go out maybe 3 years ago - pretty bad wind storms. Most of the stores nearby were shut down due to lack of power, so getting batteries

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        I'm not really sure I like that idea. My uses for flashlights tend to be a) camping, and b) when the power goes out. Unfortunately with USB charging I would get one charge's worth of use in those situations.

        Well, I bought a solar USB charger [scosche.com] at Wal Mart for thirty bucks. Good enough to charge cell phones and iPods and still have juice left ... not quite up to the task of charging my Tom Tom without being completely depleted. (In fact, I've got two of them, and they're fairly rugged and come with carabiner

        • by Coren22 (1625475)

          My son recently bridged into Boy Scouts, so I have been looking at devices like this. How good is your experience with these? How quickly does it recharge in good sunlight? Do you find it works pretty well even with high draw items such as cell phones (Droid X, standard battery)?

          • by gstoddart (321705)

            My son recently bridged into Boy Scouts, so I have been looking at devices like this. How good is your experience with these? How quickly does it recharge in good sunlight? Do you find it works pretty well even with high draw items such as cell phones (Droid X, standard battery)?

            I put it in the "pretty good" range.

            To fully recharge from depleted, it can take a couple of days (according to the web, depending on light etc) to recharge with modest sunlight (which is why I have two). It will recharge from a wa

    • I *almost* threw down for the basic model until I realized it took non standard batteries. Would it have been that difficult to design one around AA batteries?

    • by brit74 (831798)
      > "Build a better mousetrap and world will beat a path to your door."
      Ironically, that statement isn't true because there's already a lot of good, cheap mousetraps available on the market. (A while back, This American Life did an short clip on building a better mousetrap - and how people keep trying to build better ones, even though there isn't really a need for better ones. "The world actually does not need a better mousetrap. The world will not beat a path to that person's door." http://www.thisamer [thisamericanlife.org]
      • How about a portable strobe light (dim the power from 500 lumens and select your own flash rate)? You can also use it for stop motion analysis, or for some interesting photography effects. Program SOS Morse code into it and see who shows up? Get a few of them, set random blink rates, put them on a remote control helicopter, and go have some fun with the UFO enthusiasts?

        It's a bright flashlight that can be used to blind an attacker at night, plus it fits into your hand in case you need to hit back (sim
        • by Ced_Ex (789138)

          How about a portable strobe light (dim the power from 500 lumens and select your own flash rate)? You can also use it for stop motion analysis, or for some interesting photography effects. Program SOS Morse code into it and see who shows up? Get a few of them, set random blink rates, put them on a remote control helicopter, and go have some fun with the UFO enthusiasts?

          It's a bright flashlight that can be used to blind an attacker at night, plus it fits into your hand in case you need to hit back (similar to holding a roll of quarters, but more useful).

          I think the idea is to see what programs or uses people can come up with for an easy to program high powered flashlight.

          I think there should be a setting to induce photosensitive epilepsy.

          All I would need is 4 settings, high, low, blinky, and seizure induction.

      • by Dan Ost (415913)

        I've got a programmable light that can run from 0.07L up to 100L. The level I use 90% of the time is about 3L. I almost never use it higher than 30L.

        Try looking at something close with your "dumb" light at night without ruining your night vision. You can't even do it via ceiling bounce.

    • I really like the idea that you can charge the light over USB and program it too.

      As with the poster above, that doesn't sound as much useful as it does geek marketing hype.

      My 'system', such as it is, is already built around rechargeable AA batteries. As I have a pool of charged spares, that means I always have fresh batteries if a device dies, or can cannibalize between devices at need - and immediately have that device available. Having to wait to charge the flashlight and requiring an USB charge

      • Except a USB charger that can use AA batteries could be used to charge your phone, and any other number of things that can be powered by USB: netbooks, some tablets, handheld gps units, etc.

        I keep one at home in case the power goes out and I need to recharge my phone, and one in my car in case my phone is dying and I have to leave my car and take it with me. Since I can put rechargeable AA batteries in them, in makes perfect sense.

        Also, who says you have to wait to charge the flashlight? Most things
  • It looks pretty basic to me.

    If it had a bunch of sensors stuck to it, you could reprogram something pretty cool, but as it is, what are you going to do with it?

    • Re:Well (Score:4, Insightful)

      by QuasiSteve (2042606) on Tuesday June 07, 2011 @11:15AM (#36362640)

      Program it to do whatever you want?

      give it a strobe function, a slow fade in function, an SOS function, set the levels of lighting the way you want them and not the manufacturer default of "off / barely bright enough to find my way around the house at night / ARGH MY EYES", etc.

      Add further capabilities with RGB version down the line.

      Also, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the data pins on the microcontroller go unused and if he's smart-ish, he'll break those out for you so you can hook up sensors.

      Alternatively, perhaps you can work through the existing USB interface, though that requires more work on your part.

    • If it had a bunch of sensors stuck to it

      Three buttons, humidity, temperature and motion sensors plus several LEDs all controllable separately and this would garner a whole lot more interest; you'd actually be able to do some neat tricks with it then.

      • by Haedrian (1676506)

        If it had a light sensor stuck to it, you could program the bulb to give a light output depending on how dark the surroundings are. That might be fun to play with, you could pretty much choose how light the surroundings are.

  • I wonder if they are going to open source the entire project, hardware and all? I guess I'll hold out and wait and see what kind of license they use on this before I "donate"...

    • From one of Christian's comments:

      We are thinking about releasing the drawing for the body ("open source") so folks like you can design whatever accessories you want for it.

      Note that he will be using stock components for some bits of the hardware. It's not up to him to 'open source' the microcontoller or Cree's LED solutions, for example. So in that manner of speaking, no, it's not 100% open source. Nor is a typical computer running Linux. But anybody can build a Linux-capable machine without knowing ho

  • by Mongoose Disciple (722373) on Tuesday June 07, 2011 @11:19AM (#36362666)

    Did anyone else read this headline as "Man Creates Open Source Fleshlight"?

    Because man, what a different article that would be.

  • Flashlight looks cool. I have a friend with a full machine shop in his garage, so if he ever decides to make a flashlight it's nice to know he can just grab the documents and freely make one like this. I can think of reasons why you might want to program a flashlight ... maybe you want a combo flashlight/strobe/disco ball ... Julie Open Source Subnet [networkworld.com]
  • For just one low payment of $35 (Canadians add $10 S&H) you can get this SPECIAL flashlight (retail value 54.95!!) that can, uh... "run up and down mathematical equations". If you program a chip. Which you could probably do with any flashlight if you know how to do that. I kinda feel bad for all the exploited nerds funding this...

    Oblig. Penny Arcade on Kickstarter [penny-arcade.com]
  • I could program: 1. SOS 2. One flash if by Land, two flashes if by Sea, (and to update it 3 if by air, 4 if by subway) 3. Binary transmission of it's own source code. 4. Binary transmission of p0rn. Brings a whole new meaning to the word "Flasher" 5. Step 1. Buy One million of them, Step 2. Put red filters on 1/3 of them, green on another 1/3 and blue on the rest. Step 3. Put them in an array, Step 4. Get the biggest HD TV in the UNIVERSE.
  • I machined the body out of 1-inch aluminum hex bar stock.

    He actually machined out the center of hex bar stock. Boring a large-diameter hole lengthwise through bar stock is a slow job, and 80% of the metal ends up as chips. You don't do that in a production product. (Well, Apple once did it for one model of laptop, but that didn't catch on.) The outside machining doesn't look all that tough. It's lathe work, either manual or CNC. There's a lot of excess metal there, though, which runs the weight up.

    If you want a good flashlight, get one of the MagLite models. [maglite.com] T

    • If you'd read the KickStarter page, you would've come across this part:

      Also, I need to make molds and aluminum extrusion dies to reduce manufacturing costs. I machined my original HexBright Prime out of solid hex-bar stock, but if I can have the bar stock made with a hole in the middle I save a ton of time and money

      Which pretty much addresses half your post.

      Your corrosion and wiring concerns are valid enough, but I'm confident that both will be treated appropriately. My only concern is actually with regar

    • by imroy (755)

      He actually machined out the center of hex bar stock. Boring a large-diameter hole lengthwise through bar stock is a slow job, and 80% of the metal ends up as chips. You don't do that in a production product.

      If you'd watched the video (WTFV? looks too much like 'WTF'...) you would know that he acknowledges this problem and says that he'd like to replace that machining step by extruding a hollow hex bar. But to do that he needs to make a mould and do a production run large enough to keep the per-unit price down. That requires money and pre-orders, which is partly why he set up the Kickstarter project.

    • by Coren22 (1625475)

      Yes, you could get a 3 D-Cell mag-light (10x the size?) that outputs 1/5 the light for about the same money...sounds like a great idea, you go out and do that, I will get the 500 lumen flashlight for $80.

      • by Coren22 (1625475)

        Wow, even better, I misread the price, it is $60, or $75 with laser etched words of your choice.

  • The best idea I've heard so far for programming is to use the first click to turn the LED on to ~100 lumens then to use the button as a momentary switch to crank it all the way to 500. Let off and it returns to 100. Makes sense in a lot of situations where you might need a lot of light quickly and don't want to be flipping through brightness modes to get there - with the plus that it would also help runtime.
  • Because you have a fetish for the over complicated
    You love the sound of the word "overengineered"
    It's the perfect flashlight for working on your W140 Mercedes. [wikipedia.org]

Parts that positively cannot be assembled in improper order will be.

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