The hardware and software engineers I have met over the years at conferences such as ESC Design West are odd ducks whose ideas of about fun run the gamut. In the category of ordinary and common place are good conversation, collecting free stuff, participating in contests, and playing with new gizmos.
At the other extreme – at least to the ordinary non-engineer – are taking things apart to see how they work, vigorous no-holds-barred debate, and taking classes, hands-on tinkering and attending talks that make you think so hard it feels good when you stop. Even wandering an exhibit hall full of companies with new tools and building blocks is fun to many of you.
[ Click here to register for DESIGN West 2013 , April22-25 at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center. Options range from an All-AccessPass – which includes Black Hat (security) Conference Session to Free ExpoAdmission].
There are of course, the many classes and hands-on tutorials organized into 22 topical tracks, the details of which many are reviewed in a variety of news and blogs in this week’s Embedded Tech Focus Newsletter on “An embedded engineer’s kind of fun .”
But if classes and courses are the furthest things from your mind, there are a lot of other activities that will contribute to your state of exhaustion at the end of the three days: thought-provoking keynote speakers, hands-on learning and educational panels, as well as celebrations such as the ACE Awards and the 2013 Engineers Choice Awards.
Imaginative sessions and activities
There a lot of chances for some serious fun too.
First, Synapse Wireless has designed and built 250 wireless mesh networked propeller beanie hats. Known collectively as CapNet, these hats are going to make their debut at DESIGN West. The challenges that Synapse engineers faced mounting the beanie-cap's signature propeller to the little DC motor will be explained in detail at a Hands-on Lab at Booth 2144: Program Your Very Own Wireless Mesh Networked Propeller Beanie Hat!
There is also What the Heck is That? Prototyping Tales of Horror where Ben Heck will tell tales about his Element14 Internet video program that has been viewed by about seven million viewers – mostly engineers – worldwide. With 77 episodes in the can and in its third season, it shows engineers how to prototype more than 50 eccentric and off-center built it yourself projects including a mailbox that tells you when it’s got mail, to robot luggage that follows you around the airport hands-free.
In this session he will take you through the prototyping process on some of these odd-ball projects, from concept development to revision stage to managing the inevitable tug-of-war between client and engineer.
And in MCU Hacks: Russian Nixie Tube Clock Design & Mustache Camera , Jason Kridner will tell you about the thinking behind what he calls BeagleStache, the BeagleBone Mustache App which uses a webcam and computer vision to detect faces, superimpose fancy mustaches, and upload the image to Twitter.
Another intriguing session is M2M Garbage or Dr. Who's TARDIS trash can during which Big Belly Solar’s engineers will take the lid off its solar-powered, Internet- enabled trash compactor, and discuss the design path it took to get there. Using a combination of solar power, battery storage, embedded systems, and M2M wireless technology, Big Belly says its solar compactors can be found in place of trash bins on city streets, in parks, and at universities throughout the world.
If you want to make building a prototype a bit easier – and a lot more fun – be sure to attend one of SparkFun’s 45-minute Arduino speed training sessions at DESIGN West. To complement your understanding of what is coming to be called open source hardware be sure to attend the panel discussion on this topic.
Making booth tours more rewarding
As you make your rounds at DESIGN West, stopping in at vendor booths, make sure to participate in the DesignTOUR card game. Visit specific DesignTOUR exhibitor booths to get your card validated during the Expo hours on April 23 -25 for a chance to win prizes including Beats Solo HD On-Ear Headphones, iTunes gift cards, quadricopters, and more.
Other chances at free stuff, prizes and giveaways include chances to win 12 Raspberry Pis that will be raffled off at DESIGN West, as well as LEGO Mindstorm kits, a 64GB SATA III Solid State Drive, dev kits, Apple iPads, an HDTV, and more by various booths on the show floor.
And that’s in addition to the 2013 Technology Tote, sponsored by Microchip and full of free gear. The official 2013 Technology Tote will be distributed at the Tech Tote Booth on the Expo Floor on a first come, first served basis.
Talk, talk, and more talk. But if what it’s all about for you is interesting and congenial conversation – and maybe a little heated, but friendly, debate – stop by Expo Floor Tech Lounge where you’ll find free beer and snacks, plus a great opportunity to network with your peers, exhibitors, and industry luminaries, including myself and a few other lesser known fellows.
Embedded.com Site Editor Bernard Cole is also editor of the twice-a-week Embedded.com newsletters as well as a partner in the TechRite Associates editorial services consultancy. He welcomes your feedback. Send an email to , or call 928-525-9087.