Archive for January, 2018


Charles’ CES 2018 Insanity Tour, Part III: Deck the Halls with Chinesium

Jan 23, 2018 in Events

Sup everyone! It’s now like a week and some after CES, and I clearly couldn’t be bothered to post about it as soon as I got back. Maybe it’s because I don’t get paid to write clickbait articles for the millennial divisions of aging news publications. Nah, I’m here to write postmodern shit-takes on the nature and origins of barely-functional demo products!

Or rather, I turned right around from CES and helped run the 9th-ever MassDestruction literally the morning I landed, and then proceeded to go back to launching my vaping company.


There’s an interesting story about that actually – I designed the new MassDestruction arena in the roughly week and a half before CES, leaving all my friends to scramble to build it in the week thereof, making me the most deadbeat possible dad. I went to Vegas to get shitfaced and party instead! Okay, to be entirely fair, I also scrambled to make sure the materials and supply/tool chain were in place, but they did all the physical labor – of which there was a lot!

I’d like to write up the full arena design pretty soon, since I think the construction technique was pretty innovative.

Back to CES! This post covers basically the adventures of Wednesday and Thursday, and is basically the extent of my exploration at CES minus a breeze through the “Normie Hall” (aka Central hall where all the huge consumer companies set up).  I was particularly excited for Wednesday, because I wandered the depths of what is basically Chinesium Alley:

 They called this the “Design and Sourcing pavilion” but really it’s where they scooch all the Chinese (and other countries, but China by vast majority) vendors. It was in a massive tent set in the south parking lot of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Inside is Chinesium of every possible composition you can imagine.

You know what? I can come to CES just for this and be happy. It’s not even an industrial/commercial trade show and there was this much Chinesium. Y’all know me – I skip right over the 8K fruit rollup TVs and smart toilets and prefer to see the behind-the-scenes clockwork instead. Like, seriously – you guys are an industry trade show, not open to the public, and I am an industry attendee who knows maybe just a little more than the public. Stop trying to sell me the magic.

If there’s one lesson that can be taken from my website (somehow), it’s probably that nothing is actually made of magic and even the best-planned products always fail in some way first. To come from an environment where I tried my darndest to have my students understand that, to one where the wool-pulling is not only expected, but automated and internet-connected with its own app, means I probably have a more abrasive approach to the show than most.

But the Chinesium hall was honest.

Maybe, uhh, a little too honest.

Possibly even blatant at times.

What I mean is the vendors here had no face to lose if if their pre-hyped smart home product failed to smart in front of an Afrojack concert knockoff and left their CEO a rambling mess on the stage. They brought products and services, and they were there to trade information if you were looking for it. If anything, isn’t this  what CES should be about?

(ok, not literally Maserati-stickered scooters, but you understand my perspective, no?)

Chinesium does beget some pretty Chinesium names, though. Some of them were pretty entertaining, including this one.

Chinesium marketing was in full force here too. So you named your three small outrunners after historical Chinese warlord kingdoms? What does this make the 150 and 200mm outrunners then!? We’re getting into some Yuan Dynasty and Mongol Empire shit now….

Silly scooters of all kinds abounded! Interestingly enough, there were some products I recognized from the main convention center floors. I wonder which came first…

This one in particular I can welcome, but the wheels are really and truly too small for the design, especially with those long forks. I actually walked up thinking it had no wheels at first and was just a frame, like a sample of what the company constructs for an OEM of the actual scooter. Nope – those are the wheels, the same 8″ generic scooter rims I’ve used on a dozen builds.  I’d still rock one though.

Some kind of Pharah Simulator. I didn’t wait to try this one, because at this point, I had already almost wrecked one VR simulator…

Yeah, I blame my van control loop being too tightly tuned. Notice how hard I try to cut the steering wheel multiple times, since Mikuvan, despite its most sincere wishes, is not a sports car and takes several turns to go lock-to-lock in either direction, and my experience driving in snow makes me near-automatically crank the steering wheel to quickly counter-steer as soon as I think a slide is beginning. The VR steering gear was much more sensitive, and also the lack of actual acceleration and body forces was confusing.

This was a great example of having to de-train yourself from something in order to be good at a nominally similar skill. I bet I could get used to the VR simulator if I had an hour or so with it.

This thing. Could I just get this as a simulator for real life? Ladies and Gentlemen, the U.S. Federal Government will not let me own and then operate such a device on public roads, and that is a travesty of justice and freedom. This is all the truck most of America actually needs. This object would handle 99.9% of my daily transit and hauling needs. Why can’t we have these?

(Okay, it’s kind of claustrophobic inside even for me, and I’m not that big, but my point stands)

This thing, too, was adorable. I wasn’t entirely sure what was being sold here – it didn’t seem to be the microcar-quadricycle, but a service or battery charging station. Either way, if you haven’t heard of them, these things abound in China and in some regions of Europe, such as France. They’re often driven by senior citizens, at least in the parts of China I’ve seen them.

Suddenly, WAIFUS.

Who would buy a Haru-chan mousepad for BattleBots #Season3 whenever we get around to it!? I have a supplier!


You’re not Mikuvan.


Thursday was a sweep through the automotive displays in the central and north plaza where the autonomous driving demos were centered, and then also a course through the LVCC for the indoor automotive displays as well as the 3D printing and drones areas.  All of this touring outside can be condensed down to one photo of me inspecting the Byton Concept:

is that a bosch smg or are you excited to see me

Sadly, this model was a static display model – it had no drivertrain, just steel pegs to hold the wheels on.

The autonomous shuttle that got hit by a truck has returned! The whole outdoor demo area was one big “Buy Velodyne Stock NOW” advertisement. NVidia is probably making a killing right now – basically every single demo prototype uses NVidia gear.

Inside the automotive area of the LVCC – there were a lot of future spacecar concepts being shown here. This is the Toyota booth, whose displays were quite cheery and festive. I guess it’s at least someone’s birthday who walks by, so maybe they’ll be inclined to believe that Toyota already knows everything about them!

All I can think of is why would you put a screen exactly where the bumper should go???

I’m really bad at this “future of automobiles” thing. I maintain we need a return to the days of prismatic vans.

I took a creepshot of the actual Byton Concept model with drivetrain gear. Sadly, it’s skid plated all the way, so there’s nothing really worthwhile here besides “Yeah, it has suspension links”. I was then chased away by one of the booth operators, who directed me to a powertrain engineer to answer all my questions instead of trying to perform live industrial espionage to find out.

I learned from Mr. Powertrain (who clearly doesn’t believe any of his own company’s marketing) that the running gear is all Bosch, including the inverter and traction motor, and the batteries are prismatic LG Chemical modules.

Overall, this reinforced my idea that the car itself is very generic and lego-blocked, and that the company more emphasizes the lifestyle and the app experience.

nice corvette

This is the Fisker eMotion. The relation betwen all the parts of Fisker is too complicated for me to understand, but this is basically zombie Fisker’s new product, created from scratch after the failure of Fisker Automotive. It’s not to be confused with….

….the Karma Revero, which is a relaunched Fisker Karma shaped object using the previous bankrupted company’s IP and assets.  What?! Okay, on this episode of fancy spacecar family feud….

Y’all aren’t vans. I know it’s “easy” to make a high performance EV these days, so I’m just waiting for the chance to do one up  myself because it doesn’t look like any of you guys are going to.

YOU’RE NOT A VAN EITHER. But you’re close! My favorite whipping child of the Silicon Valley automotive startup industry is now parked in front of me! This is a real live Faraday Future FF91, in Matte Black.

Faraday’s had a rough year, so they didn’t even have a CES presence besides this one unit giving test rides. Wait, test rides!? I waited about 45 minutes after hearing this on the Internet at where they were staged, at the Renaissance Hotel immediately adjacent to the LVCC.

Nope, press and VIPs only. It turns out I was neither one. Who knew!? Anyways, I rag on Faraday a whole lot, but I would like to see this thing become a production model even if (and I prefer it this way) it ends up outside of any kind of lifestyle ecosystem like the kind Byton is trying to stir up.

And if not, I will try my hardest to be at the liquidation auction.

And that’s it. There’s no lesson or takeaway for me from CES. It was great to see where the industry congregates and get a look at a lot of the startups. Many companies are vying for the chance to entertain only a few markets and industries. For me, the joy of CES (besides the days worth of Chinesium) was more like… seeing everyone’s different (yet similar) approaches and takes on appealing to their mental model of their customer base.

I like to think that my two or three product lines were very successful at hitting my target customers,w ith RageBridge2 now basically a standard in the robot fighting world, Brushless Rage sales going quite steadily, and somehow moving several thousand Hall Effect sensor rigs already in the past 5 years – seriously, I never expected to sell them past roughly 2013-2014, but a few go out every week! Then again, I’m also not on purpose trying to become a multi-million or billion dollar company, so my priorities are different.

Back to your normally scheduled robot content hopefully soon!


Charles’ CES 2018 Insanity Tour Part II: Revenge of the 30-Foot Wearable Blockchain Vape-as-a-Service

Jan 12, 2018 in Events

Pre-order today!

-everyone, presumably

Here we go! Following up on my CES adventures on Sunday and Monday, here’s a rundown on everything which I selectively came across on Tuesday through Wednesday when I went exhibit floor touring. It’s currently Friday the 12th PST, so the last part will probably come after I escape the Las Vegas moral deficiency field. Trust me, I have plenty to report about.

Like, have you ever been to CES? If you haven’t, then boy do I have the rundown for you! CES is more or a less a 6-figure-attendance professional-oriented orgy of…

it’s a company-making company which gets companies in the company of other companies. buffalo

…ambiguous sounding business plans…

…autonomusly delivering things which probably don’t need autonomous delivery, and…


…adding buzzwords to your product architecture because ok, why the hell not, literally everyone around me is doing it. Seriously, Blockchain-Everything is the cool kid thing to do this year. I made sure to ask basically every blockchain-based service I came across why a blockchain architecture would make their service different or improved from others. I’m actually not sure if I received a satisfactory answer, at least a clear and upfront one.

By the way, I was seriously confused about the size of the Robomart for a moment – they began pitching to me when I saw the scale model on the display stand, and it took a few moments for me to realize it was supposed to be the size of a small bus, due to my previous familiarity with smaller delivery rovers. I had asked them what prevents thieves from simply making off with the unit (assuming it was the size shown).

And then, the vaping.

There were plenty of ways to vape all kinds of things. I know I joke about vaping a lot on this website in the context of millennial-centered hardware hobbies (such as drones, cryptocurrency mining, VR/AR, literal vaping. etc.), but it was getting to be almost comically self-reinforcing here. Recall my photo from last time which showcased a custom flavored vape juice mixer. Shown above is a company which promises to let you vape your medicines. One guess as to which ‘medicine’ they’re launching with.

I was not permitted to take a photo of their top secret medical vape, however. That would be, you know, potentially leaking information to competitors.

Wait, you mean renting a $5,000+ trade show booth with traffic of nearly 200,000 cumulative people and putting your devices on display in a glass case front and center…. isn’t? Right then. Take another hit, brave souls!

So onto the things I came here for! We begin with a tour of cute scooters. Do you remember when I had to make my own adorable scooters by hand right here on this website?

Now I don’t even have to do anything! The story of first-world consumerism.

This one was found actually at the SureFly demo – it’s a Hover-1 XLS, which seems to have come out mid last year. Maybe you can get one with your SureFly when you place a pre-order.

This thing seems inspired by the Honda Moto Compo scooter in some way. It’s actually two-wheel drive, using two 10″ wheels with hub motors.


Right next to them is a Scooters-as-a-Service company. If you thought throngs of tourists riding city-sponsored rent-a-bikes were terrifying…

The scooters in question are a commoditized (genericized) design that uses 6″ wheels with a single rear hub motor, usually 350W rated. Similar in size (a bit bigger) to my own RazEr Revolution with its 5″ wheels.

I liked this thing a lot. It collapses down by having its wheels fold into the binocular-looking frame, and then the handle and seat also telescope downwards!

Did you notice that every cute scooter on display used small hub motors? Remember when I had to make my own small hub mot…. ahhh, fuck it.

Really though – the hoverboard fad of yesteryear and electric longboard craze before that truly commoditized the small electric hub motor and made designing compact derpy vehicles incredibly easy. Before that, making said vehicles was tough because of the need to house power transmission components. I really want to see a return of older concepts like the Motorboard which were hampered by having to be DC motored and nickel or even lead-batteried.


Oh, now we’re talking. This thing is made by Vandenhall, and is effectively two Zero Motorcycles joined at the ass. Sadly, no test rides!


And then there’s…. uhhh…. How the hell did you guys even get this up here on the second floor of the LVCC?

Alright, it took me a little while to figure out what was going on, but apparently this RV appliance company has decided to break into the mech racing industry with these Theo Jansen-esque piloted machines. That’s a hell of a pivot. All you need to complete it is a pinch of blockchain and to demo it at Burning Man… Or you go FULL KODAK.


It’s like y’all made the whole thing from shock absorbers. To be fair, it probably needs them.

I spent quite a while staring at this thing actually, at the steel work and geometry of all the legs and how they attach across joints. This is no small feat, and I admire the work put into it. In fact, I might have taken some notes for Overhaul 3 my vaping rig.

As overproduced and dramatized as their promotion video is, I still have a soft spot for impractical machines made just because. I mean, I practically got my degree in it….

Speaking of impractical machines, boy have I got the impractical machine for you.

Behold, the amazing flying mushroom, #YOLOCOPTER Volocopter (you left that one wide open, guys).

From its humble beginnings as a German guy bouncing on a yoga ball, it’s become the current poster child of the nascent personal drone & air taxi industry. I watched this thing grow up on Youtube, shedding its yoga ball (….watched its balls drop?), gain somehow even more propellers – now 18 instead of 12, and I’m finally standing in front of it.

I remember when I was younger and “invented” or conceptualized things I wanted to build using my then limited engineering knowledge and parts experience. Once I gained more experience, I realized that they were usually not how you’d do something practically or economically at all, but DAMMIT THEY WERE THE ROMANTIC WAY.

I will one day build an electric car with a 2 foot diameter custom-made ironless double-sided-rotor outrunner. And you can’t stop me.

What I’m saying is, I’m jaded. I can’t help but wonder nowadays if there is a better solution than rotor spam. I’m a little more in the SureFly camp here, I think – use larger industrial EV parts for this kind of thing rather than a blockchain of smaller distributed hobby motors.

Those are some adorable Hacker Q150s you have there. 18 of them. Wait, that’s $2160 USD as of right now, per motor…. That’s like $40,000 of Hacker motors. I’m sure they are getting a quantity deal, but add in another $40,000 of Hacker ESCs needed to run these, because I’m sure they are using matched Hacker or at least other German ESCs, and a load of batteries…. and you’re looking at 6-figures just for the little spores that go on the mushroom, nevermind all the polished white carbon fiber work.

I can’t even begin to even the intelligence of producing this as-is, but I love it. It’s what high school Charles would have done, and he is always correct.

Marketing bros claimed their propellers were fully custom-made in house. Well, they were partially correct I guess. This super-long perv-shot I took revealed a propeller part number from a manufacturer called Helix. However, it seems to be custom by them, given the non-presence of a 1.8 meter option and the “VC” in the part number.


I’ll part this one with the greatest device presented at CES, laddercopter. See the toolbox wedged between the two ladder rungs in the middle? That’s the batteries. And yep – you’re supposed to ride it. The creators, however, have yet to be fortitudinous to actually try that.

Charles’ CES 2018 Insanity Tour: Everything is a Lie and Nothing Actually Works

Jan 10, 2018 in Events

Alright, so through a series of unfortunate events, I found myself at CES 2018.

Yes, that CES, the prestigious yearly industry-wide conference for bungling product reveals and overpromising while underdelivering. So basically 2.009, The Convention! As not everyone just gets to trip on the sidewalk and land in the middle of CES, I shall of course provide you all with my hot and fresh take on the world of the vaguely-consumer, mostly-electronics industry (as CES is basically turning into a car show, but more on that soon).

The event is ongoing this whole week – I’ve been operational here since Sunday the 7th and really have only found a moment to stop and write (Who reads blogs any more!?) about it now. [EDIT: Here’s Part 2, covering the middle of the week.]

Ah, I’ve barely left the airport and already we see a shining example of contemporary hardware product design: Try to make people pay for a service which, with some minuscule amount of effort, can be found for free! Thank you, brave hero.

Vegas is ridiculous. Why do people come here voluntarily again?

can confirm this place does their namesake very well

We lodged first at the SLS Las Vegas, but only for the weekend since rates went insane as soon as CES began.

“Where is your 3D Printing room? Do you have a laser sintering station?”  “….Sorry?”



After spending the previous evening goofing off, we got up early to witness the premier of the Byton. A couple of weeks ago, this company came out of basically nowhere to compete for the prestigious title of “Faraday Future of 2018“.

bewbs sell cars u kno

Okay, okay. I shouldn’t be so harsh. But it’s my opinion that Faraday ruined the overproduced app-car premier for everyone by bombing so hard in the intervening year, so I and a lot of others went in with a full vape tank of skepticism. It doesn’t help that they’re also Chinese backed, German-helmed, and allegedly poached a bunch of top Silicon Valley talent. This whole story is becoming very familiar.

And their presentation did not help me get rid of that preconception.

First, I turned the corner into the exhibit hall and was faced with this scene….

Wow, did I just join a cult or am I going to a premier event?!







Next up, the Tiësto concert presentation. Gentle EDM played for around 20 minutes with lasers, projected spotlights, and all.

Alright, I’ll skip the descriptions of the cinematics and ostentatious description of the most perfect urban white collar life ever, including straight up blatantly namedropping Whole Foods. This is the thing.

It follows the current trend of automotive design of being a large, flattish SUV-like form, so I wasn’t too into it. The front is rather Range Rover Evoque, the rear a little bit…. Nissan Maxima? Overall, not a very aggressive concept, which is fine. Because all indications were that the car part was the least important, this being a next generation Smart Device, a Smart Intuitive Vehicle if you will.

Their words, not mine.


It didn’t help that everyone was reading off these HUGE teleprompters at the back of the audience.

I give the German native CEO/CIOs some wiggle room, but nobody else had any excuse for doing so. Come on, guys. The delivery of everyone else involved just felt incredibly forced and dishonest. Those of you who were there would know the two ‘customer’ segments I was talking about.  You’re at a fucking hardware premier – tell me about that hardware, not try to sell it to me infomercial style off the bat.

You know when someone’s just reading off a screen. As a former lecturer who spent enormous emounts of efforts to make his class content deliver fluidly because I couldn’t stand professors who dryly read off Powerpoint lectures, I was quite dismayed here.


I wasn’t sure if this was supposed to be a good thing or not.


Overall, rather little proportional attention was paid to the technical specs and capabilities of the car, much less its design. Again, less car and more app. The information given made it seem like nothing very impressive – which, again, is totally okay, so as long as you own it. I, for one, absolutely love mediocre vehicles!

This photo of a partial frame rendering/cutaway was one of the only elements relevant to the car’s design at all. I’m completely not expecting showing me your entire CAD model, but damn, would a little discussion about the drivetrain kill the illusion?

(It probably does.)


Oh, this is gonna be good.

I went all the way out to Boulder City Airport – within a good diarrheic spurt of the Hoover Dam (which I did not realize I was so close to, since I had never thought about where it was) to see the first manned flight of the Workhourse SureFly passenger drone.

I like flying vans and basically want one as a life goal, so this was especially relevant to my interests! Just look at how close it is to a flying Mikuvan! Fun fact: About 8 years ago, I tried designing a flying van. The results were disappointing, because at the time, Emraxes had not yet been invented yet.

And this thing had EIGHT OF THEM! What more could I ask for!?

IT’S THE THING! This was as close as we were permitted to get due to some mysterious hand-waving. It’s a neat design – an X8 type configuration, and also allegdly hybrid. Though I gathered from the engineers present that it was flying without the generator, just an additional battery where it’s supposed to go.

What did it do!?


That was it. It did a few small bunny hops while chained to the ground.

The official story given was that the media ended up deciding to not show due to the company potentially calling a rain delay (for some reason, it decided to start raining in just these most recent two days). So they were just going to test a few little things anyway and we were free to watch. Well that’s interesting – it seems like the media might have gotten it backwards, because the BBC seems to say it was told not to show up! WHAT’S EVEN THE TRUTH ANY MORE!? In this age of Alternative Facts…

I’ll say that it seemed less than ready. The bunny hops were more lurches than anything else – I don’t think, based on watching my own video, that it really ever left the ground once. They had trouble getting all the motors to spool up during their first attempt. There was around 15 minutes of downtime as they dug around inside, then it was resumed. I’m inclined to believe that the rainout was a cover story to fix some kind of flight control issue, as by the time I got there, it was decidedly not very rainy. The ground was wet from earlier rain, though.

I will give that the thing sounds absolutely glorous once all 8 props are up and at it. I just wished it were at least somewhat okay at its job, and that I didn’t drop $40 on an Uber to get out there.

Dejected from seeing this vaping rig fail to put out some p h a t c l o u d z , I went back to the main convention to check out the other vaping rigs.



More to come! I can’t guarantee the ability to report daily, but there is more juicy flying van content among other things to come.