E5 Engineering

Making Ideas Happen

E5 Engineering is a Tampa based engineering technology resource company. We solve problems by utilizing and developing technology.  Our company provides systems integration, prototyping, manufacturing, and technical consulting to a variety of markets. We aim to provide economically feasible solutions that have the largest impact for the client.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is Really Just “Things”

I know someone will likely toss a shoe my way but I don’t buy into the idea that the IoT is in itself a “novel” concept. With the forecast of IoT technologies topping exponential growth the hype has never been stronger. Recently, I walked into my local Home Depot and was greeted with a barrage of internet connected gizmos. Some of the devices useful, but most providing limited value to the consumer considering the cost. The problem with IoT is that is only a tool, not a business model. Many of the companies you see on display present valiant efforts of hardware products but are not based on providing a solid value proposition beyond their novelty. The bubble exists, and will retract to a sane level of connectivity, but why is the revolution occurring?

Much of the technology has been available since the 80s. What has changed however, is the market forces that allow IoT to flourish. Specifically, the cost the the internet infrastructure and the falling cost of microprocessor based systems due to chip integration. More recently, we have been seeing devices produced by companies like Atmel that provide both a fully functional 32 bit microcontroller coupled to a WIFI front-end. The Smart Direct chip provided by Atmel provides an M0 processor mashed together with a WiFi Subsystem (WiFi Direct).

In addition, the cost of internet access in the industrialized world is falling rapidly. This market force bringing the flow of information and data to the lowest form of computational hardware, the microprocessor.

What this means for the long-term growth is still yet to be decided. In my opinion, the revolution will continue but internet connected will just become the norm. It will be like “batteries included” and just assumed.  Internet of Things will just be “things”. But a major roadblock still exists, the current standards and techniques for connecting IoT devices to the web prevents my 70 year old aunt from connecting her thermostat to the cloud. The infrastructure must change to enable rapid, secure, and repeatable connectivity to these devices.

As embedded device professionals why do we care? From a business model standpoint, IoT devices lend themselves to recurring revenue. Just as companies like Gillette and Keurig have learned, this model works well and stands today.



Brain-Controlled Exoskeleton Gives the First Kick at World Cup, But No One Knows.

Today Juliano Pinto, a young 29 year old paraplegic Brazilian stood up and gave the opening kick at the World Cup, but you wouldn't know because it wasn't broadcast on any major network during the opening celebration. The exposition was a demonstration of existing technology and a glimpse of what is to come from science. The mastermind behind the project is San Paulo’s very own professor Miguel Nicolelis who has devoted his life and career to decoding the complex signals of the brain. Unfortunately, Jennifer Lopez and Pitbull were the center of attention during the opening ceremonies. The multi-million dollar effort culminating years of research was not even shown on TV during the ceremony. I feel so bad for Dr. Nicolelis’s BMI team. It was like the wright flyer taking off for the first time with no one watching.

Professor Nicolelis, a great mind of our era, possesses both a PhD and a medical doctorate, and uses them both equally.  Dr. Nicolelis has been probing the brain’s movement pathways for his entire career. Dr. Nicolelis has received a significant amount of push back from the scientific community for his top-down approach to neuroscience.

In science, this approach seems to work well. Systems are generally studied starting with the lowest known form of the system and built-up to form a model. A good example of this is the study of the atom. In order understand the atom in the early 19th century researchers begun to probe the sub-atomic particles that it was known to contain. Out of this work, a much deeper understanding of the atomic model was formed and modern innovations like nuclear power were developed.

The neuroscience community often takes a similar approach and studies the building blocks of neurons and synaptic connections that make up the brains “parts”. While this is an extremely important field, Dr. Nicolelis has rebelliously shown that the brain is different. This system could be modeled as a complex system in an “integrative approach”. By “reverse engineering” the brain, the outputs of whole neural populations are studied and a model is developed. The process works, and the more sample points of the population the better. Dr. Nicolelis has proven this on several occasions by interfacing monkeys to robotic arms using implantable electrodes.

The feat today was a demonstration of the technical ability gained in less than a decade of processing but now isn’t considered “the state of the art”. Generally, Dr. Nicolelis’s work uses implantable electrodes but regulatory hurdles kept young Juliano from receiving the implant. Instead, electrodes placed on the scalp were used to read the motor signals for movement. Unfortunately, this technique is like trying to pick out a single screaming voice in a sea of sports fans and thereby causes slow and choppy movement seen in the demonstration. If an implantable system was used the young man would have waltzed onto the field smoothly. Soon (likely in just a few years), many of the hurdles that restrict these implants will be cleared and nearly everyone with severe disabilities will walk again. This, is much more exciting than Pitbull and Jennifer Lopez. 

See the Animated Gif of the kick at


Quantum Locking Will Blow Your Mind.

A video has been going around Youtube that was so amazing that its validity was disputed. After some research, we are here to tell you that quantum locking is a real phenomena Quantum locking is a close relative of the Meissner effect experiment that is a common demonstration in a university physics class.  A rare-earth magnet floats above a superconductor due to a current in the surface of the magnet that "pushes back" against the rare earth magnet above. 

When you change the material of the magnet to a certain material that "pins" the magnetic flux lines in place the result pinch will keep the top magnet in place with every new move. This is the secret sauce. The floating magnet is pinned in 3d space above the semiconductor and is completely reposition able. Crazy!

Magnetic Flux lines pinned in place. 

Magnetic Flux lines pinned in place. 

Watch the video! 

How to Make an Inexpesive Electric Bike

Most nerds have dreamed of building their own electric car, although this could be a glorious DIY project (this guy did it), its also can be extremely costly due to the current battery technology. A much more achievable goal is to build your own electric bike to whiz around town at slightly less hair raising speeds. Its a good time to do it too, manufacturing technology is catching up resulting in cheaper parts. Mass manufactured hub motors and lithium polymer battery packs have helped bring down the cost. If you follow the tips herein you can do the project for a few hundred dollars. But First, lets manage those wild expectations.

The Electric bikes two major component systems.

Frame /Standard Chain Drive - Yes, that's right ladies and gentlemen you need to start with...a plane ole' bicycle. Although nearly any frame will work, you want to avoid road bikes with skinny tires as they complicate the subsequent motor implementation.  Also, the frame material is also a concern. Aluminum frames may be lighter but may crack and fail due to vibration and other fatigue. To minimize this risk, It is recommended that you use a steel frame. The good news is that steel frames are generally cheaper anyway. Keep in mind that you may be carrying in excess of 40 lbs strapped, bolted, and zip-tied to your new metal steed so having shelve and rack space (i.e over the back wheel) helps. If your considering building an electric "beast" over 500W that would do over 20 MPH I would also highly recommend getting a frame with a disk-breaks so that you don't go flying into a ravine.

2. Power system -As mentioned before, integrated "wheel motors" or hub motors are used now commonly on electric bikes. These designs greatly simply the power transfer to the wheel by BECOMING the wheel. The practical implantation looks like this.

The hub motor is a replacement for the existing wheel hub and includes spokes. The outside of the hub motor spins while the inside is kept fixed to the frame,

The hub motor is a replacement for the existing wheel hub and includes spokes. The outside of the hub motor spins while the inside is kept fixed to the frame,

If you want to take the fastest lap around your block, great, get the baddest motor (and supporting electronics) you can afford, but enjoy the nearly unavoidable 4 hour+ recharge time after your thirty seconds of fame. Electric bikes are a balance between duration and speed due to limited battery capacity.

You should think of the electric drive on the bike as an electric "assist" and not the primary mover (you are). It's easier to think about it in terms of energy. One gallon of gasoline contains approximately 33.7 KWH (kilowatt hours) of energy. To put this into perspective, your home air conditioner uses about 5KW to just run for a single hour. Generally, you would be LUCKY if you fit one KWH of batteries on the back of a bike. Therefore, your total energy here is very poor. It goes without saying that if the electric bike concept is going to work well you either need to stuff it with expensive batteries (thus blowing the point of this project) or use energy as wisely as possible. So how do we do the latter?

We size the entire power system to a comfortable cruising speed and thus obtain a more usable distance for a given energy. Everything here is an optimization problem with the systems tuning point generally set as the most range possible.  If you really want to nerd out on the numbers head over to the e-bike simulator at ebikes.ca to see how varying the motor, controller, battery and even the wheel diameter very the efficiency and duration. We really had fun playing with the calculator and seeing the large effect some small parameter tweaks can have.

The power system is the electrical part of the bike composed of the motor, speed control, battery, and throttle grip. Here are some things to know when spec'ing out these peices for your new toy.

Battery Voltage - This is set by the battery itself. Just like a car battery is about "12 volts" whatever battery you buy will have a nominal voltage. For E-Bikes, this is generally set at either 24V, 36V or 48V. For the sake of a balance in cost and simplicity we recommend you build with a 36V system. These batteries are available on ebay for about $150ish. Try and get at least 12aH at 36V. More if you can afford it. Keep in mind that when ordering batteries from foreign manufactures the posted ratings may be somewhat exaggerated.

Motor Wattage- Again due to the optimization of things its hard to define exactly what this parameter does but a good rule of thumb is that larger riders need more power. A 200lb adult on a 500w motor can tool along at around 20mph on a 36v system. If you have been dipping into the girl scout cookies, maybe you need more power here. For our test case we go with 500W.

Motor Controller and throttle- Often these days this is purchased with the motor but can be found separate on amazon and eBay. Just be sure that the controller is rated for the voltage/wattage of the motor and battery. The controller comes with a twist grip throttle and switch.

Now that you have all the pieces wire it all up, (wiring will vary on the controller used) and head off. Here is a quick video of someone who used this method to make a very inexpensive e-bike. This will give you a good idea of how it comes together.

AK47 Firing Under Water

Will a gun fire underwater? Dustin from "Smarter Every Day" asked the question. To sweeten the deal he used an AK-47 and filmed it in super slow motion at 27,450 frames per second.

Guns are fully mechanical devices. The fluid that they operate in changes the mechanical resistance somewhat but they are generally unhindered. The footage taken in this video is really beautiful and worth watching. A surprising result even happens when the collapsing bubbles seem to magically re-expand due to oscillating shock waves.

Getting started in Embedded Electronics

To make a printed circuit board you go through a process called “layout” where you place the component “footprints” on a drawing of the board outline. The footprint is just a representation of what the component would look like when placed on the board. This is normally done after a schematic drawing of the circuit but for very simple circuits with only a few components you can skip that step and start part layout.

Eagle PCB layout view

Eagle PCB layout view

Here at E5 Engineering we have tried many PCB layout tools but we find that for most home hobbyist Cadsoft Eagle is one of the best for small projects. Eagle has a free hobbyist version and a super-large user base online which leads to a plethora of YouTube videos that can walk you through the entire process.

To get started you need to

1.      Download Cadsoft Eagle 6.5 from, it has a PC, Mac, and a Linux version. We have tried all of them and while the mac version seems a bit buggy sometimes it still works.

2.      Now you have a program that can make PCBs, but the parts library that Eagle comes with is generally very limited so it’s a good idea to expand it. Sparkfun has a great super-huge parts library available online for free on GitHub.

A good video tutorial with screen video is available from Ben Heck on Youtube. He walks through making a board from start to finish in great detail.

Once your board is designed you must then generate a layout files in Eagle that can be sent to a manufacture for processing. This is outlined in the video as well but basically the program generates 2D artwork called “Gerber” files. The Gerbers have art for each “layer” of the board including the silkscreen, or white printing seen on most PCBs.

Once you have all the files the next stap is the creation of the board. With lots of patients and persistence, Fabrication of PCBs can be done by a hobbyist with etching chemicals and transfers. Although this is a good exercise in DIY, PCB board manufactures are fast and provide a level of quality nearly unobtainable by a hobbyist. We tend to use Advanced Circuits for US-based quick turn orders, however, a really good trick is to submit your board to an overseas service. Often these manufacturers have extra room on a panel and can run your boards extremely inexpensively (as low as $5/board). So if you want to save quite a bit of money you can try on of these services. Our favorite is Seed Studio. Seed has provided consistently tight, error free, boards at a fraction of the cost. We aren't paid by them, I was just that impressed. We recently had a board that had a tight clearance spec that Advanced could not do for less than $1500, Seed was able to produce the same board for $20 per unit.


Make a Cheap $10 Microscope Stand for Your Smartphone

Buying a microscope for your personal lab or classroom can be expensive. We at E5 are constantly looking at tiny components and structures for projects. By using just $10 of supplies you can build a microscope stand that provides ample magnification for most tasks. All that is required for this setup is a piece of plywood, some Plexiglass, the lens from a laser pointer, small LED light, and some nuts and bolts to hold it together.