Featured Engineer

Interview with Ian Lesnet

Ian Lesnet

Ian Lesnet - Dangerous Prototypes

How did you get into electronics and when did you start?

Soldering circuits from books and programming computers has been a passion as long as I can remember. When the internet came around I started developing a lot of online tools and utilities for research.

In the last several years the availability of cheap and readily accessible microcontrollers has exploded. I was fascinated by all the cool stuff people were doing, and started working on projects that extend the internet to acquire data from the physical word.

Have you had any interesting experiences/projects as an engineering professional?

Working in open hardware, where we share all our design and code openly, has been an amazing experience. Thousands of developers, all much smarter than me, help evaluate and contribute to the projects we develop at Dangerous Prototypes.

What are your favorite hardware tools?

Logic Analyzer – It shows invisible signals on a pretty graph. Debugging digital circuits without seeing the signal is like banging your head against a wall. Our team has built several open source versions that we use to debug our work.

Hot air rework station – Combined hot air tool and adjustable soldering iron. For prototype assembly and making quick fixes to boards under development.

Solder flux – My best friend, makes all things possible.

What are your favorite software tools?

Any command line, a HEX editor for browsing the contents of binary dumps and firmware, and the GCC free compiler.

What is on your bookshelf?

Reels, binders, and drawers of electronic components. Big boxes of circuit boards to give away to interested builders. My trusty Proxxon mini-drill press for breaking traces and reworking PCBs.

What has been your favorite project?

Creating the Bus Pirate, a tool for ‘talking’ to serial chips from a computer terminal has been one of my favorite projects. People actually find it useful! This project has grown a community that contributed way more that I could have ever done alone. I’ve meet a so many incredible people working on it, and it stands as evidence open hardware can work.

Do you have any note-worthy engineering experiences?

I am a hardware geek triple threat. I conquered the three most note-worthy electronic component wholesale markets in the world – Akihabara (Tokyo, Japan), Huaqiangbei (Shenzhen, China), and Yongsan/Cheonggycheon (Seoul, South Korea) – and made documentaries about them.

Do you have any experiential stories you would like to share?

The most popular hardware I’ve worked on, the Bus Pirate, started as a hobby project I posted on the web. Afterwards, I was approached by Seeed Studio, a Chinese hardware manufacturer, about building the design. They said they could build as few as 20, but I laughed and said they’d be stuck with 19 in the warehouse. Instead, we sold 1000 in a week. Sometimes simple side projects are really useful to other people too.

What are you currently working on?

There are 20 new projects and 10 revisions currently active in our workshop.

My favorite is something new, a complete educational package for learning about different chips and sensors using the Bus Pirate

What direction do you see yourself heading in the next few years?

Our projects have always had an educational component, usually full documentation of how the hardware works and our design strategy. In the coming year we’re going to start building educational kits around these projects that teach mid- to advanced digital electronics concepts.

What challenges do you foresee in our industry?

Open source hardware seems to be getting a lot of mainstream support. It will be interesting to see if it stays confined to a boutique, niche market. There is also tension in the community around open hardware projects becoming more closed when there’s a lot on the line or when investors get twitchy.

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