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Help us pick the carbon fiber weave

We’re trying to pick the best color for the carbon fiber weave on M4.  CF will be used for the faux tank (i.e. electronics box), fenders, skid plate, and a few other parts.  Shoot me an email with your choice.   Upper left is pure carbon fiber.  The two on the right are carbon fiber/kevlar co-weaves.  The one at the lower left is kevlar.



More rock stars

Bunnie Huang of Hacking the X-box and Chumby fame dropped by HAXLR8R last night.  Cool guy.  Here is he is  (in the middle) with Zach Smith of MakerBot on the right and Bunnie’s colleague Sean (I didn’t get Sean’s last name).

Bunnie and Sean are living in Shenzhen for a few weeks trolling the electronics market and hacking stuff in their hotel room.  He said his soldering iron failed at 9 pm and he was able to find a replacement in minutes.  That’s Shenzhen.

Sorry the picture is of such low quality but all I had was the lame camera on my phone.





Partying with the rock stars…

…of the geek sort anyway.  Zach Smith, the inventor of the MakerBot, came by HAXLR8R last Friday.  Man does he do a mean karaoke to Chinese pop music!  By his description, he started the company almost by accident.  As a software engineer Zach became obsessed with getting software to make physical stuff and before he knew it there was a company (now with >$10M in funding).

Impressions of China

I’ll use this post as a running list of my impressions of China (or at least Shenzhen).  As a preface, Shenzhen (SZ) is the wealthiest city in the country and fairly wealthy even on international standards, so what I’m seeing here probably doesn’t represent much of the country as a whole.

Here are some starters:

1.  Air quality.  I was expecting a truly horrible situation but so far it doesn’t seem too bad.  I saw some real-time stats comparing SZ to Beijing with SZ being a whole lot better.  When we ventured about 50 miles out of town to the industrial district it was pretty nasty, however.

2.  Pedestrians.  There’s a clear pecking order: cars, motor bikes, bicycles, pedestrians.  With no safe havens for the latter — not even on the sidewalks.  So taking a leisurely stroll isn’t a happenin’ thing around here.  I saw an electric motorbike plow into a pedestrian in a crosswalk ( and we had the green light); the pedestrian then apologized!

3.  Internet.  It sucks.  Sorta hard to figure out in the most technologically advanced city in the country.

4.  Song birds.  Way more than home, so waking up is a treat.  Maybe it’s because there don’t seem to be any pet cats.

5.  Smoking.  I was bracing myself for a full frontal assault on my lungs like I always suffer in Europe.  Au contraire — it appears that fewer Chinese smoke than Americans.  While it’s not verboten to smoke in restaurants and coffee shops it just doesn’t happen much.  Cool.

6.  Driving.  I’ve seen some wild stuff riding my motorcycle through a bunch of Asian countries — but the Chinese are bat shit crazy when they get behind the wheel.  An unavoidable consequence are a ton of collisions.  I haven’t seen any horrible ones, but lots and lots of totalled cars.

I’ll add more as I add them to my notebook.

Our new model name?

Should we call our bike the ZerBram?  (sorry, you’d have to be an e-moto geek to get that lame joke…).

Star Prototyping

M4, our production candidate bike, would have been done six months ago if it weren’t for the troubles we’ve had getting the plastic parts – fenders, instrument console box, etc – made.  So our top priority here in China is find places to fabricate ABS plastic and carbon fiber parts for us.  We were super excited to get a chance to visit Star Prototype across the Pearl River from Shenzhen.  Gordon Styles sold his rapid prototyping business in the UK in 2000, and came to China to do the same thing here.

We hear constant stories both in the popular press at home and on the street here about the tendency of some Chinese suppliers to change a product’s specs and/or swap in cheaper parts.  Gordon is bound and determined to make world-class quality parts at his shop.  And from what we saw from our two-hour visit, it looks like he’s doing it.  The second photo shows the main machine shop floor in the prototyping facility – it looks as clean and organized as anything I’ve seen in the US.  Then he took us in the QC room where he has an amazing suite of high-tech machinery to check the quality of incoming parts and materials.  The laser scanner in the third photo can do a 3D scan on a part to determine shape to within 0.001 inch.   The gun in the fourth photo analyzes the composition of a metal sample and return the alloy type.  Ned shoved his wristwatch into the fellow’s hand and had him analyze the back plate.  The operator warned him that the watch may come back slightly degraded (i.e. destroyed) but Ned gave the go-ahead.  Sure enough, the alloy was 304 stainless steel — and the watch is still ticking.

The last photo shows Ned trying to land a job making urethane plastic parts with a silicone mold.  Gordon said his productivity was too low and so he was going to stick with the Chinese staff.

Printed circuit board factory visit

On Wednesday afternoon a bus came to fetch us and we drove about 1.5 hrs north to a printed circuit board (PCB) factory.  Visiting the factory wasn’t really all that critical to our operation since we just send our PCB files (Gerber files) out to a fab house and the shiny new boards come back a while later.  In fact, there is a fab house in Colorado that can make prototype quantities almost as cheap as China so there not much need for us to offshore the circuit boards.  Nonetheless it was fun to see the operation.

The general sequence is to clean the copper-cad fiberglass board (first photo), drill the holes, do a photo process to lay down the circuit lines, etch off the unwanted copper in a gigantic robot-operated acid bath (second photo), mill the individual boards from the big panels (third photo), and silk screen the image (final photo).  I’m leaving out a bunch of steps, but you get the general idea.

A few general observations.  First, I’ve NEVER seen an industrial operation anywhere in the world that allows visitors to snap cameras away at will.  Second, while I expect this PCB fab house was better than a typical Chinese industrial shop it was still pretty rough: no eye protection, no noise protection, and the fumes from the etching operation was pretty strong with little or no ventilation.

There was a bit of drama on the way back.  Ned, Blair, and I had a dinner meeting with a Beijing attorney at 6:30 and at 5:30 we were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic with no hope of getting there remotely on time.  No worries — we’re in China.  The bus driver opened the bus door in the middle of a six-lane highway, we dodged traffic to get to the side, jumped a fence, and got on the subway.  Ten minutes late to dinner!  Image a bus driver doing that at home…