Making stuff in Shenzhen – The Grillino

A few weeks ago I’ve had the great opportunity to attend the awesome Hacker Camp in Shenzhen, hosted by Ian Lesnet from DangerousPrototypes. I could say a lot about that incredible experience, so I’ll start by sharing an experiment I did to explore Shenzhen’s manufacturing ecosystem.

The idea
Shenzhen is a big city where you can find entire buildings packed with people selling and buying all kind of electronic components. A lot has been written about the markets, like Bunnie’s poem, but no words, pictures or videos can describe what you’ll find there.

Making stuff in Shenzhen – The Grillino

So, I had a few spare days to hang around in this city while waiting for some money to be transfered and I decided to see if I could develop an electronic device from idea to product in 24 hours. I also had the perfect device in mind, a very simple clone of the classic Annoy-A-Tron, making cricket sounds at random times, to hide inside my friend’s house when he got married a week after I got back from China. The first name I came up for the project was a boring “AnnoyingThing”, but I later decided to name it “Grillino” instead as a mix of “Grillo” (cricket in italian) and “Arduino”. It’s also a word play on my real surname and a nickname for people following a certain italian political group, so I can sleep at night knowing that this post will never come up on Google’s first result page when people look for it!

A microcontroller, a battery and a piezo speaker is all that’s needed for a project like that; after briefly checking around the internet for similar projects, I found a few examples and decided to base my device on a small micro like the ATTiny85. That’s way overpowered for the task but will help me recycle the project after the joke gets old.
With a rough idea in my mind, at 10:00 I headed to the markets to buy an arduino and some piezo speakers to test the design.

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Things got quickly out of hand, and by 12:00 I found myself with a bag full of arduinos and breadboards. Curiosly, even here in the world’s electronics capital, there is only a relatively small hackerspace, and the reason is simple: you can buy your own tools and build your own hackerspace (with blackjack and hookers) in your hotel room with a few hundred euros! And that may lead to some interesting hacks:

By the way, after some quick breadboard tests I decided this code was the best and started designing a PCB. I have mixed feelings about that website because the code is presented with just a screenshot; my heart wants to say “fuck you very much for making me mess around with OCRs”, but my brain knows that while difficult to access and index, I have to be thankful because it’s still open source and free… Oh well. I always listen to my brain anyway.

PCB design and manufacture
At about 14: 00 my PCB design was ready! I wanted a very small buzzer, and being very impressed by my LiPo monitor loudness I used a similar device in the design, even if I didn’t test it before.


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