Author Archives: Bill Ball

Trends in Tech Hardware Entrepreneurship

Ready for a 192 slide PowerPoint? I thought so. This one from the hardware accelerator HAXLR8R is worth it:

If you eyes glaze over on the venture funding slides, just keep going, They really cover the field of new technologies and their very fast cycle of creation, funding, manufacturing, commoditization, and obsolescence. So that great product idea you just had is probably already available in Shenzhen for $1. Oh well.

Make money with bots, or just help build one.

Before the opportunity passes, I wanted to provide an update on the $50 robot project and remind students that they could be paid to work on the project this summer.

First, the money part. I am referring to the Stetson SURE grants. One of these grants provides $2000 for eight weeks of work this summer. There is also travel money available for presenting a project. Eligible students must have at least sophomore standing as of the spring 2015 semester and attend Stetson at least through fall 2015. I think the $50 Robot would be an excellent project to base a SURE grant application on. It could either focus on developing the software libraries (for a computer science student, or at least one with programming experience) or the project development and marketing (for someone in entrepreneurship/marketing). The deadline for applying for a SURE grant is March 11, so please contact me immediately if you are interested in pursuing this opportunity to work on the little money-maker over the summer.

Even if you are not in a position to pursue a SURE grant there are other ways to get involved, from assembly to design to programming and testing. Ultimately it will need a better name than the “$50 robot,” so I am looking for ideas on that as well.

At this point the physical layout is pretty well defined, as is the electronics main board. I am fiddling around with sensors and the basic software to go with them. It kind of works but needs a bit more refinement before setting the basic overall design and components.



The main components of the bot include an Arduino to control it, two geared DC motors running from a motor controller, a piezo speaker, and a suite of obstacle avoidance sensors. At present I have an ultrasonic sensor and two bump switches mounted. But there will be variants.

The goal is to have a set of these bots ready for MakerCon in April. I plan to recruit builders at that event, with some partial kit give-aways as inducements.

Short term tasks include (I could use help on any of these):

  • Building more electronics boards. I have some kits ready to assembly by someone who has done some soldering in the past.
  • Building more bodies & drive assemblies. I am ordering parts for some kits at present.
  • Trying different sensors and add-ons. In particular I want to arrive at MakerCon with a line follower version, a bluetooth enabled version, and a lithium rechargeable version.
  • Developing documentation and thinking through the marketing aspects.

Looking past MarkerCon, I’d really like to get this project to the point where a successful Kickstarter could fund some full kits for people. So there is ample opportunity to be involved on the marketing side.

Finally, I have put up a basic blog at to post the details of the development process for now. Eventually, it will host full documentation, bill of materials, build instructions, 3D and CNC files, example programs, and everything else.

Bill Ball

Soldering workshop

I will be giving an introduction to soldering workshop at Innovation House on Thursday, February 19th at 7 p.m. This is aimed at people with no previous soldering experience.

Learn to solder badge

Make a spiffy learn to solder badge

The workshop is limited to the first 10 people who sign up below. I will offer at least one more workshop for those unable to attend the first one.

The workshop will cover the basics of soldering. You will make and take home your own light up “Learn to Solder Skill Badge” from the people at MakerShed (cable knit sweater not included).

I will cover basic safety issues with soldering.

Learn how NOT to redecorate with a soldering iron.

Learn how to NOT redecorate with a soldering iron.

We will also, for once and for all, resolve the question of whether it is pronounced “soLdering” or “soddering.”

The workshop is first signed up, first come. Use the form below to sign up. I am collecting your e-mail address and cell number to confirm your registration and in case I need to contact you about any last minute information, I won’t be sharing them.

Bill Ball


All-American Makers

I don’t usually endorse TV shows (because the ones I like all tend to get cancelled quickly), but Science Channel’s “All-American Makers” seems especially appropriate for the members of Innovation House. It’s a combination of makers and Shark Tank-style pitch competitions. I though the first episode was rather meh but the second one was much improved. You can check out some clips at: Do  it before they realize I am watching and cancel the series because I seem to be an audience of one :)

By the way, one of the hosts, Brook Drumm, is the guy I bought my 3D printer kit from back when he was just a first-time Kickstarter with no idea how many thousands of units he would sell.








Help me usher in the robot apocalypse

I am looking for people who would like to be part of a project to develop and make available a cheap robotics platform for would-be makers. A concept statement follows:

Robot50 Program Description

Goals for builders

To learn basic maker skills on an inexpensive and extendable starter project to the extent that they may independently pursue new projects. These skills include:

  1. Fabrication (cutting, drilling, assembly). The project will be suitable for fabrication from commonly available materials with hand tools, but with the option for learning basic CNC work and 3D design and printing.
  2. Electronics (introductory soldering and working with both prefabricated electronic modules and basic components and wiring). Parts will be inexpensive, commonly available, and well supported.
  3. Programming (installing a programming environment, setting up drivers, and working within a high-level programming environment). The programming environment will be wildly accessible but allow for professional-level work.
  4. Skill at participating in physical and online support communities of peers.

Goals for developers

To learn how to shepherd a project from idea through prototypes, community building, crowd-sourced funding, to project evolution and support.

The starter project

The program’s initial focal point will be providing access to a small, autonomous robot design that uses the Arduino microcontroller and costs approximately $50 to build.


The target audience is individuals or groups age 16+ who aren’t afraid to learn to use saws, drills, or soldering irons, to install software, share what they learn, or make mistakes.

Project milestones

  1. Construct a series of prototypes of the starter project.
  2. Based on a final prototype, prepare a bill of materials, a list of part vendors, a set of assembly and set up instructions, and basic software libraries.
  3. Disseminate the project online, at maker events, and with local partners to obtain feedback.
  4. Conduct a crowd-sourced funding campaign to finance a run of kits.
  5. Prepare and disseminate the kits. Support the project with robust online information and community.
  6. Generate new starter project ideas advancing the same general goals. Provide a path to graduate builders to developers.
  7. Lather, rinse, repeat.

At this point I am in stage 1. I would like to get to stage 3 for the Tampa Makercon in April and/or Orlando Makerfaire in September. To whet your appetite, here is a picture of the prototype I am currently playing with (i.e. testing to destruction).


There are a number of ways for anyone who is interested to get involved. It would be great if one or two students would like to get seriously involved: building their robots, developing code libraries and helping to populate a website and promote the project. I hope it could lead to a summer SURE grant for somebody (application due 3/11). Maybe a senior project in Computer Science. But there are less intensive ways to get involved also. Anyone who is interested should get in touch with me:

By the way, this is a good commentary on the likelihood of the Robot50 project actually ushering in the robot apocalypse.

Bill Ball,

Workshop: Creating 3D Objects for Printing

Conducted by Bill Ball

4-5:30 pm, Thursday, January 15, 2015

East Room Computer lab, duPont-Ball Library

Learn how to create 3D objects for printing on one of Stetson’s 3D printers using the simple, online and free application Tinkercad. You will be creating objects inside a web browser within a few minutes with no previous experience necessary. Your work will be saved online and you can print out your creation whenever you like. The introduction to Tinkercad will take about 30 minutes, so come by anytime between 4 and 5 to get started.



Wait, wait before you go….

Although we are currently wrapping up the semester, I’d like to get you input on what to do for a workshop series when the spring semester starts. Below is a poll for possible workshops. All of these would be at the introductory level. They would be 60 to 90 minutes in length. Where possible you would leave with a finished product in hand. Please check all of the workshops that you would take. Don’t just check everything, which is of no help, but check just the ones that you would make the time to attend. This will help me prioritize what to offer. The workshops will start the first week of the Spring semester at a time, date, and place to be announced.


Let’s Take the Show on the Road

Stetson has organized successful exhibits at all three of the Orlando MakerFaires. Here is another opportunity to be the cool kids.

On April 18, 2015 Gulf Coast MakerCon will be held at the Florida Fairgrounds (East of Tampa). Although the MakerCon is an hour further away than the Orlando event, it comes at a much better time of year, when you all should have some great projects to showcase. In fact it’s a week after Stetson Showcase so you can double down on anything you prepare for that.gcmc-logo

The event website with more details is at:

They plan to host “80-100 makers, with expanded outdoor exhibits, a large scale *fighting robots *competition, a *ComicCon*, a *Young Makers Corner* and a *Steampunk Ball* after party for makers and guests.” Apparently they are fond of asterisks as well.

If you would like to be part of a Stetson booth at this event, let me know at Don’t worry about transportation or fees, just start thinking about what you might share with Gulf Coast makers.


SHS meeting

Organizer Nathan Hilliard has sent out the follow about a meeting of the Stetson Hacker Space. Everyone involved with Innovation House is invited to attend


Hey all,

So I just wanted to let everyone know that our meeting Thursday will feature John giving a talk on his procedural level generation algorithm based on cellular automata.
We will be meeting in the Innovation House as per usual from 6 to 7.
Following his talk, we’ll discuss getting started with the e-nable project for 3D printing prosthetic hands that we talked about last week.
See you all on Thursday!

E-nabling Innovation House?

E-nable is a project to develop open source designs for prosthetic limbs, print out parts on 3-D printers, assemble them, and provide them to people around the world who need them.

Is there a group of Innovation House members that would like to be part of this project? If there is sufficient interest we can acquire the parts kits and start making and distributing these. If you would like to be involved please e-mail me at