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Home Brew Vacuum Tubes Are Easier Than You Think

7 hours 23 minก่อน

It all began with a cheap Chinese rotary vane vacuum pump and a desire to learn the witchcraft of DIY vacuum tubes. It ended with a string of successes – a working vacuum chamber, light bulbs, glow tubes, diodes, and eventually this homebrew power triode and the audio amplifier built around it.

[Simplifier]’s workshop seems like a pretty cool place. It must have a bit of an early 20th-century vibe, like the shop that [John Fleming] used for his early work on vacuum tubes. Glass work, metal work, electronics – looks like [Simplifier] has a little bit of everything going on. True to his handle, once [Simplifier] had a cheap but effective vacuum rig he started with the easiest projects – incandescent and gas discharge lamps. Satisfied that he could make solid electrical and physical connections and evacuate the tubes, he moved on to diodes and eventually triodes. The quality of the tubes is pretty impressive – stray gasses are removed with a bake-out oven and induction-heated titanium getters. And the performance is pretty solid, as the video below reveals.

Very impressive overall, and it’s not just the fact that he’s building tubes from scratch – we’ve seen that before. What shines here is that specialized equipment is not needed to make working and reliable tubes – just a MAPP torch, simple hand tools, and a low-end vacuum rig. Anybody could – and probably should – give this a try.

Filed under: classic hacks, misc hacks

An Open Source Lead Tester

10 hours 25 minก่อน

If you’ve ever needed an example of colossal failure of government actors, you need only to look at Flint, Michigan’s water crisis. After the city of Flint changed water supplies from Detroit to the Flint river, city officials failed to add the correct corrosion inhibitors. This meant that lead dissolved into the water, thousands of children were exposed to lead in drinking water, a government coverup ensued, [Erin Brockovich] showed up, the foreman of the Flint water plant was found dead, and the City Hall office containing the water records was broken into.

Perhaps inspired by Flint, [Matthew] is working on an Open Source Lead Tester for his entry into the 2016 Hackaday Prize.

[Matthew]’s lead tester doesn’t test the water directly. Instead, it uses a photodiode and RGB LED to look at the color of a lead test strip. These results are recorded, and with a bit of a software backend, an entire city can be mapped for lead contamination in a few days with just a few of these devices.

One problem [Matthew] has run into is the fact the Pi does not have analog to digital conversion, making reading a photodiode a little harder than just plugging a single part into a pin header and watching an analog value rise and fall. That really shouldn’t be a problem – ADCs are cheap, especially if you only need a single channel of analog input with low resolution. [Matthew] is also looking into using the Pi webcam for measuring the lead test strip. There are a lot of decisions to make, but any functional device that comes out of this project will be very useful in normal, functioning governments. And hopefully in Flint, Michigan too.

The HackadayPrize2016 is Sponsored by:

Filed under: Raspberry Pi, The Hackaday Prize

Soldering Iron Cauterization

13 hours 24 minก่อน

Medical hacks are not for the weak of stomach, so read further at your own risk. [Todd Harrison] shows you how to remove a stubborn skin wart using a good ol’ soldering iron, and a fair endurance for pain. After all, cauterization is a well known and documented medical procedure. If you have the stomach for this, read on, or better, check out his 9 minute video after the break. If there are kids around, turn down the volume between 1:40 to 2:20.

[Todd] had a recurring wart on his right hand index finger, and couldn’t get rid of it despite many attempts. Every time he thought it was gone, it would come back. He even tried some of the expensive commercial kits that claim to get rid of warts by rapidly freezing them, but he had no joy. Finally, he figured it was time to cauterize the sucker. Like any self-respecting engineer, he starts off by cleaning the problem area with some rubbing alcohol. He starts applying the iron at around the 1:48 mark and goes on till about 4:17. At which stage he even evaluates the technique that he used, which ended up causing blistering of the sensitive skin around the wart due to radiated heat, and how it may be better to hold the soldering iron at a different angle and move it around the next time he attempts this procedure.

From then on, it’s a matter of waiting and observing for many days to see how it goes. Day two is obviously not too good, with a swollen blister which is “not the best looking thing”. Around day eight (@5:39), he cuts the skin while doing some yard work, but nothing a band-aid can’t fix. By day fourteen (@6:41), parts of the skin are dried and ready to fall off. He uses his handy and trusted diagonal cutters (naturally!) to snip off the skin with the dead wart. From then on, he’s on his way to full recovery and all back to normal a mere forty days later. He say’s it works for him every time, which means he’s obviously tried this at least a couple of times.

Bonus points to him for wearing the Hackaday shirt while doing the surgery! Thanks [Morris] for tipping us off. [Todd] is no green horn and is an old Hackaday alum. We’ve featured a lot of his exploits earlier, like this DeWalt Radio repair, 1976 Pong Clone repair, and the Scooby-Doo Alarm Clock repair.

Filed under: how-to, Medical hacks

DNA Extraction With A 3D-Printed Centrifuge

16 hours 24 minก่อน

[F.Lab] is really worried that we are going to prepare a DNA sample from saliva, dish soap, and rubbing alcohol in their 3D-printed centrifuge and then drink it like a shot. Perhaps they have learned from an horrific experience, perhaps biologists have different dietary requirements. Either way, their centrifuge is really cool. Just don’t drink the result. (Ed note: it’s the rubbing alcohol.)

The centrifuge was designed in Sketch-Up and then 3D printed. They note to take extra care to get high quality 3D prints so that the rotor isn’t out of balance. To get the high speeds needed for the extraction, they use a brushless motor from a quadcopter. This is combined with an Arduino and an ESC. There are full assembly instructions on Thingiverse.

[F.Lab] has some other DIY lab equipment designs, such as this magnetic stirrer. Which we assume you could use to make a shot if you wanted to. However, it’s probably not a good idea to mix lab supplies and food surfaces. Video after the break.

Filed under: 3d Printer hacks

Retrotechtacular: TV Troubleshooting

19 hours 23 minก่อน

As technology advances, finding the culprit in a malfunctioning device has become somewhat more difficult. As an example, troubleshooting an AM radio is pretty straightforward. There are two basic strategies. First, you can inject a signal in until you can hear it. Then you work backwards to find the stage that is bad. The other way is to trace a signal using a signal tracer or an oscilloscope. When the signal is gone, you’ve found the bad stage. Of course, you still need to figure out what’s wrong with the stage, but that’s usually one or two transistors (or tubes) and a handful of components.

A common signal injector was often a square wave generator that would generate audio frequencies and radio frequency harmonics. It was common to inject at the volume control (easy to find) to determine if the problem was in the RF or audio sections first. If you heard a buzz, you worked backwards into the RF stages. No buzz indicated an audio section problem.

A signal tracer was nothing more than an audio amplifier with a diode demodulator. Starting at the volume control was still a good idea. If you heard radio stations through the signal tracer, the RF section was fine. Television knocked radio off of its pedestal as the primary form of information and entertainment in most households, and thus the TV repair industry was created.

The Columbus Method

Old analog TVs, however, are a little more complicated. You can’t easily trace all the signals in a TV. When TVs used tubes, it was a good bet that one of the tubes gone bad. A dark tube was always a bad sign. Drugstores and other retail shops had tube testers (see right) and actually sold replacement tubes. You could take the back off your TV, test your tubes, buy replacements for any bad tubes, and (probably) fix your TV set.

This style of troubleshooting is often known as “Easter egging” or “the Columbus method” or, simply, “hunt until you find it.” The reason it worked is that tubes were the most likely failure.

TV Station in a Box

Of course, that didn’t always work. With solid state TVs, you probably couldn’t use that option, anyway. Pro repairmen had a lot of tricks. An oscilloscope is great if you know what the signals should look like. You could also get small boxes that created a few test patterns. However, the gold standard for TV repair was the TV Analyst made by B&K (see below).

It might not look like much, but this unassuming box was a little TV station that fit on your bench. Every signal comes out to the front panel so you can inject it. The source of the signal was a CRT and a photo tube. The CRT scanned a transparency of a test image and the photo tube generated the signal. The CRT was actually a special type that emitted UV light that works well with the photo tube and had a short persistence.

Naturally, this was a black and white affair, however, the Analyst also had a color bar generator for working on color sets. These were not cheap, but if you had a lot of TVs you worked on, you could earn the cost back pretty quickly.

Using the analyst was easy. You fed the output to the TV’s input. Presumably, since the TV needed fixing, something would be wrong. The screen might be black or rolling or maybe there was no audio. You’d locate a suspect stage (the audio, or the vertical sync, for example) and use the corresponding output from the analyst to inject the signal into the set. If things started working, you’ve found the problem area. In some cases, you’d move backwards through the circuit until things quit working again to figure out the problem.

Just like radio repair, you still had to figure out what is wrong with the circuit. But narrowing it down to one area was a big help.

How the Other Half Lived

Of course, not everyone had a device like this. In fact, most people who fixed TVs didn’t have one. Realistically, if you were smart enough, you didn’t need anything more than an oscilloscope. You could often get by with even less. Even though the Columbus method wasn’t very helpful for early solid state sets, many later model TVs went modular, so you could Easter egg modules instead of tubes until the TV started working again. If you had enough spare boards, you could just try replacing modules and maybe get lucky.

Of course, analog sets are old tech today. Today’s TVs don’t have tubes, and good luck troubleshooting the circuit boards inside. It is still possible to repair them, of course, but that procedure certainly won’t require a trip to the local drug store.

Retrotechtacular is a column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

Filed under: Retrotechtacular

The Dark Arts: Anonymity

22 hours 23 minก่อน

Love him or hate him, Edward Snowden knew a thing or two about anonymity. In June of 2013, he blew the whistle on the NSA’s out-of-control programs that can target virtually anyone plugged into the digital age. The former CIA employee was working as a contractor for the NSA, where he had access to highly classified documents for many of these general populace surveillance programs. He eventually took off to Hong Kong and released the documents to a handful of reporters. One of these documents was a power point presentation of the NSA complaining about how the TAILS operating system was a major thorn in their side. Naturally, Snowden insisted that the reporters and himself only communicate via the TAILS O/S. He used PGP, which is an encryption method with the highly sophisticated title of “Pretty Good Privacy”, and asked not to be quoted at length for fear of identification via stylometry.

In this article, we’re going to go over the basics of anonymity, and introduce you to methods of staying anonymous while online.

Anonymity vs Privacy

Virtual Private Networks

Let us imagine sending a letter in an enclosed envelope across the country. Once the envelope leaves your house, it’s out in the open. Anyone can see it. Anyone can read the sending and receiving addresses. They cannot, however, see the contents of the envelope, and therefore the information contained within the letter. In this case, you have privacy, but not anonymity.

A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, can provide you with privacy. Like our letter example, the IP addresses of your computer and the server on the VPN side are visible. The data exchanged between the two is encrypted. Remember that a VPN will provide you with privacy, but not anonymity. Many of the LulzSec hackers that we talked about in the first article in this series made use of the popular hidemyass VPN. This kept their activities private from the prying eyes of law enforcement. In order to maintain anonymity, they used fake accounts and paid for the VPN service with anonymous bitcoins.


Going back to our letter example, let us imagine we send the letter with no envelope. The information within the letter is freely available for anyone to read. But we send it in a way that makes it to go through several different places before it reaches its final destination. We do this to the point that it becomes impossible for the receiver to know the sender’s address. They can see the house that sent it to them, but not your house. Now you have anonymity. But because the information within the letter is exposed, you have no privacy.

TOR stands for The Onion Router, and routes internet traffic through various hops between TOR relays in order to hide the origin and destination IP address. But it does not encrypt any data, and anyone who intercepts it coming off the exit relay can read it. They just can’t tell where it came from.

Becoming a Ghost in the Network Adafruit’s open source TOR router

You should be asking yourself if you can use a VPN and TOR together, thereby providing yourself both anonymity and privacy. That answer is yes. There are even VPN services that use TOR. The question is in which order – VPN to TOR or TOR to VPN. This is a hotly debated subject, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. Using TOR through a VPN will keep your ISP from knowing you’re using TOR. Using a VPN through TOR will hide your data from the TOR exit nodes. Either way, you should pay for your VPN service with an anonymous form of payment. [Jake Davis], aka [Topiery], the spokesperson for LulzSec, was outed by his VPN when they were pressed by the UK government. If he had paid for his VPN anonymously, it is likely that he would have never been caught. There is one original LulzSec hacker that remains unknown to this day – [AVUnit]. We can only assume that he or she was able to maintain perfect anonymity…a true ghost on the internet.

There are also TOR enabled routers that will send all traffic through the TOR network. If you don’t trust the commercial options, you can always bake yourself an Onion Pi.

Don’t be Stupid

No form of electronic countermeasures to keep your anonymity intact can save you from dumb decisions. A few years ago, a Harvard student emailed a bomb threat to his university. He sent the threat through the TOR network, but used the university’s WiFi system. The FBI simply correlated the time the threat was sent to the only student using TOR at the time. We’re glad he was caught, it’s one thing to want privacy and anonymity, it’s another to abuse those virtues for the purposes of mayhem.

If you intend to remain anonymous, you cannot put away your common sense. Do not use social media programs, disable Javascript and ensure your browser is sandboxed. Tor and VPNs can give you a cloak of invisibility, but it can be rendered useless in a millisecond if you tear a hole in it with a dumb move.


Darknet: A Beginner’s Guide to Staying Anonymous Online, by Lance Henderson, ISBN-13: 978-1481931380

Tor And VPN | Using Both For Added Security

Hacker’s Guide to Stay out of Jail 7: VPNs vs. TOR

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, Original Art, Raspberry Pi, security hacks, Skills

Not Even Hamsters Are Safe From The Internet Of Things

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 22:30

The internet of things is this strange marketing buzzword that seems to escape from the aether and infect our toasters and refrigerators. Now even a hamster is not safe.

[Mifulapirus]’s hamster, Ham, was living a pleasant hamster life. Then his owner heard about another hamster named Sushi, whose running wheel stats were broadcasted to the internet. Not to be left behind, Ham’s wheel was soon upgraded. Now Ham is burdened by the same social pressures our exercise apps try to encourage us to use. No, we are most certainly not going to tell our friends about two fourteen minute miles with a twenty minute coffee break in the middle, MapMyRun, we are not.

The feat of techno enslavement for the little hamster was accomplished with a custom board, an esp8266, and an arduino as described in the instructable. The arduino can be left out of the project now that the libraries have been ported to the esp8266. A hall effect sensor detects when the 3D printed hamster wheel is spinning.

If you’d like to check in on Ham, the little guy is alive and well, and the twitter is here. It looks like it’s been upgraded since the original article was posted. Now it shows when Ham is awake and running around the cage doing hamster errands.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks

Volkswagen Beetle – The Most Hackable Car

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 21:30

If you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. Of course it helps if your mousetrap is reliable, simple, cheap, and easy to work on. In the car world, look no further than arguably the most successful, and most hackable, car in history: the Volkswagen Type 1, more commonly known as the Beetle. The ways in which this car was modified to suit the needs of a wide range of people over its 65-year-long production run proves that great design, ease of use, and simplicity are the keys to success, regardless of the project or product.

Built by Ferdinand Porsche in 1930’s Germany, the Beetle was designed to be a car for anyone and everyone. Its leader at the time wanted a true “people’s car” (i.e. “Volkswagen”) that was affordable for a German family, could reliably travel at sustained highway speeds on the new German autobahns, and easily be repaired by its owners. The car features an air-cooled engine for simplicity and cost savings: no radiator, water pump, or coolant, plus reduced overall complexity. The engine can be easily removed by disconnecting the fuel line, the throttle cable, and the four bolts that hold it to the transaxle. The entire body is held on to the chassis by eighteen bolts and is also easy to remove by today’s standards. There’s no air conditioning, no power steering, and a rudimentary heater of sorts for the passenger cabin that blows more hot air depending on how fast the engine is running. But possibly the best example of its simplicity is the fact that the windshield washer mechanism is pressurised with air from the over-inflated spare tire, eliminating the need to install another piece of equipment in the car.

It’s not too big of a leap to realize how easily hackable this car is. Even Volkswagen realized this and used the platform to build a number of other vehicles: the Type 2 (otherwise known as the bus, van, hippie van, Kombi, etc.) the eclectic Karmann Ghia, and the Types 3 and 4. Parts of the Type 1 were used to build the Volkswagen 181, commonly referred to as “the Thing”. Ferdinand Porsche also used design elements and other parts of the Type 1 to build the first Porsche, essentially making a souped-up Beetle. The rear-engine, rear-wheel drive layout of modern Porsches is a relic of this distant Beetle cousin. But the real magic is what people started doing to the Beetles in their backyards in the ’60s and 70s: turning them into buggies, off road machines, race cars, and hot rods that are still used today.

At some point around this time, a few people realized that the Beetle was uniquely suited to off-road racing. The type of suspension combined with the rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout meant that even without four-wheel drive, this car could excel in desert racing. There are still classes in this race for stock Beetles and modified Beetles called Baja Bugs.

A “Baja Bug” Races in the Mojave Desert Race (MDR) Series in Southern California. DevkotlanPhotography.com

It’s also very popular to use these cars to build various styles of buggies. The most famous of these is the Meyers Manx, which uses a shortened Beetle chassis and engine but has a different open-style body. The car was an immediate success, winning many off-road races and becoming popular even as a street car. It’s still common today to see these or other buggies that are built in the same style.

The Beetle has been co-opted for use in road racing as well, and not just by Disney for really fun movies (you can probably just skip the second one, but the rest are great). Formula Vee is a class of open-wheel race cars using the engine, wheels, transaxle, and a few other parts from a 1963 Beetle, all installed in a custom tube frame and body. The class is popular due to its relatively low costs and ease of getting into the sport.

The Formula Vee winner Rick Shields at the 2010 SCCA National Championship Runoffs at Road America. Source: Wikimedia Commons via Royalbroil.

Beetles are also popular in drag racing for the same reasons that they make great off-road vehicles: the weight of the engine and transmission is directly over the rear wheels. For this reason they’re prone to doing exciting wheelies. With slight modifications, however, Beetles are still tearing up drag strips, although some have non-Volkswagen engines. In a related race, a mostly-stock Beetle beat a brand new Porsche 911 in a mile-long race, despite the participants’ bias against the Volkswagen.

The ease by which these cars can be modified also makes them popular with hot rod enthusiasts. The “Volksrod” community is very vibrant, with modifications ranging from extensively modified suspensions and new axles to removal of body panels, chop tops, and engine tuning. There are other styles of Beetles that aren’t quite as extreme. Essentially, anything is possible with these cars, parts are readily available, and all of this combined with the car’s uniqueness make it extremely popular for a wide range of reasons.

Hotrodding, Volkswagen-style. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Source

The Beetle isn’t just popular in the garages of car enthusiasts, though. Until 2012, Type 1s were used as taxicabs in Mexico City. In 2006, the trustworthy old Beetle accounted for around half of Mexico City’s taxis, which slowly declined as taxi licenses expired. Beyond taxicabs, the Type 2 has been used extensively as a basis for
trucks, offroad campers, and even ambulances.

The iconic Beetle has made a lasting impression on the automotive landscape. If you’ve ever considered buying or working on a classic car, the Beetle is a great choice for your first one. What started as a cheap family car for German families in the 1930s turned into a diverse array of different vehicles, all because the design focused on simplicity, ease of use and repair, and practicality. The Beetle was the most produced car of any platform with over 21 million cars produced from the ’30s all the way into the current millennium. In fact, the last Volkswagen Type 1 rolled off of the assembly line in 2003, and the world may never see a car as ubiquitous, useful, or hackable again.

Filed under: car hacks, Featured, History, slider

I Am Satoshi Nakamoto

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 20:31

OK, you got me. I’m not. Neither is Dorian Nakamoto, pictured above, and neither is this [Craig White] guy. Or at least, his supposed proof that he is “Satoshi” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Indeed, you can re-create it yourself and pretend to be “Satoshi” too.

If you haven’t been following along, “Satoshi Nakamoto” is the person or group of people who invented Bitcoin, and who holds a decent fortune’s worth of the currency. He’s been exceedingly careful at keeping his identity secret. So much so, that upon hearing another “We Found Satoshi” story in the news, we actually laughed at our wife this morning. But then it was picked up by the BBC and is forthcoming in the Economist. Serious journalism.

Well, if you read the BBC piece, they note that “Security expert Dan Kaminsky said the procedure was almost ‘maliciously resistant’ to validation.” Hint: If Dan “DNSSEC” Kaminsky can’t verify a signature, there’s a good chance it’s not the real deal.

The really embarrassing part is that this [Craig White] character claimed to be Satoshi in December 2015. If he actually were Satoshi, who is probably a cryptographic genius, do you think it would take him five months to figure out a cryptographically sound way of proving his identity? Nope.

So here’s how he did it, according to [Patrick McKenzie]’s GitHub, linked above. There is a hashed secret out there that only “Satoshi” knows. Hashes are one-way functions; they produce a number that’s easy to calculate if you know the original data, but devilishly hard to work from the hash backwards to get the data out. This hashed value is public, and part of the blockchain, so we can be pretty sure that it hasn’t been altered.

[Craig] claimed to have some text from Sartre hashed with “Satoshi’s” key, and that this proves his identity. But instead of providing the hash of the Sartre text, [Craig] apparently substituted a hash from the blockchain. When this supposed Sartre hash is validated against the blockchain, of course, it works. In short, he swapped hashes, and people failed to notice.

So I’m not “Satoshi”, and neither is this guy. Who is? The mystery continues. And given how careful “Satoshi” has been so far, it’s likely to remain so for a long while. But one thing’s for sure, when “he” does choose to reveal himself, it won’t be difficult to verify. After all “Satoshi” knows “Satoshi’s” password.

Image via the BBC, of another guy who isn’t “Satoshi”.

Filed under: news, security hacks, slider

Reverse Engineering An ATM Card Skimmer

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 18:01

While vacationing in Bali, [Matt South] walked into a nice, secure, air-conditioned cubicle housing an ATM. Knowing card skimmers are the bane of every traveller, [Matt] did the sensible thing and jiggled the card reader and the guard that hides your PIN when punching it into the numeric keypad. [Matt] found the PIN pad shield came off very easily and was soon the rightful owner of a block of injection molded plastic, a tiny camera, and a few bits of electronics.

The first thing that tipped [Matt] off to the existence of electronics in this brick of plastic was a single switch and a port with four contacts. These four pins could be anything, but guessing it was USB [Matt] eventually had access to a drive filled with 11GB of video taken from inside this PIN pad shield.

An investigation of the videos and the subsequent teardown of the device itself revealed exactly what you would expect. A tiny pinhole camera, probably taken from a ‘spy camera’ device, takes video whenever movement is detected. Oddly, there’s an audio track to these videos, but [Matt] says that makes sense; the scammers can hear the beeps made by the ATM with every keypress and correlate them to each button pressed.

Of course, the black hats behind this skimmer need two things: the card number, and the PIN. This tiny spy cam only gets the PIN, and there wasn’t a device over or in the card slot in the ATM. How did the scammers get the card number, then? Most likely, the thieves are getting the card number by sniffing the ATM’s connection to the outside world. It’s a bit more complex than sticking a magnetic card reader over the ATM’s card slot, but it’s harder to detect.

Filed under: security hacks

Atmel Removes Full-Swing Crystal Oscillator

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 15:01

It is one of our favorite chips, and the brains behind the Arduino UNO and its clones, and it’s getting a tweak (PDF). The ATmega328 and other megaX8-series chips have undergone a subtle design change that probably won’t affect you, but will cause hours of debugging headaches if it does. So here’s your heads-up. The full-swing oscillator driver circuitry is being removed. As always, there’s good news and bad news.

The older ATmega chips had two different crystal drivers, a low-power one that worked for lower speeds, and higher-current version that would make even recalcitrant crystals with fat loading capacitors sing. This “full-swing” crystal driver was good for 16 MHz and up.

The good news about the change is that the low-power crystal driver has been improved to the point that it’ll drive 16 MHz crystals, so you probably don’t need the full-swing driver anymore unless you’re running the chip at 20 MHz (or higher, you naughty little overclocker).

This is tremendously important for Arduinos, for instance, which run a 16 MHz crystal. Can you imagine the public-relations disaster if future Arduinos just stopped working randomly? Unclear is if this is going to ruin building up a perfboard Arduino as shown in the banner image. The full-swing oscillator was so robust that people were getting away with a lot of hacky designs and sub-optimal loading capacitor choices. Will those continue to work? Time will tell.

The bad news is that if you were using the full-swing oscillator to overcome electrical noise in your environment, you’re going to need to resort to an external oscillator instead of a simple crystal. This will increase parts cost, but might be the right thing to do anyway.

Whenever anyone changes your favorite chip, there’s a predictable kerfuffle on the forums. An Atmel representative said they can get you chips with the full-swing driver with a special order code. We’re thinking that they’re not going to let us special order ten chips, though, so we’re going to have to learn to live with the change.

The ATmega328 has already gotten a makeover, and the new version has improved peripheral devices which are certainly welcome. They don’t have the full-swing oscillator onboard, so you can pick some up now and verify if this change is going to be a problem for you or not. We don’t have any of the new chips to test out just yet.

Thanks to [Ido Gendel] for tipping us off to the change in our comment section! If you have any first-hand experience with the new chips, let us know in the comments and send in a tip anytime you trip over something awesome during your Internet travels.

Filed under: Microcontrollers, news

Detecting Beetles That Kill Trees, Make Great Lumber

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 12:00

All across southern California there are tiny beetles eating their way into trees and burrowing into the wood. The holes made by these beetles are only about 1mm in diameter, making them nigh invisible on any tree with rough bark. Trees infested with these beetles will eventually die, making this one of the largest botanical catastrophes in the state.

Ambrosia maple, the result of these beetles boring into maple trees. Although ambrosia maple is arguable prettier, it is significantly cheaper than hard maple, making trees infested with beetles less valuable. Image source: [ironoakrva]For [Joan]’s project for the 2016 Hackaday Prize, she’s working on a project to detect the polyphagous shothole borer, the beetle that drills into trees and eats them from the inside out. This is a surprisingly hard problem – you can’t look at the inside of a tree without cutting it down – so [Joan] has turned to other means of detecting the beetle, including listening for the beetle’s mastications with a stethoscope.

Although these ambrosia beetles will burrow into trees and kill them, there is another economic advantage to detecting these tiny, tiny beetles. The fungi deposited into these beetle bore holes make very pretty wood, but this wood is less valuable than lumber of the same species that isn’t infested with beetles. It’s a great project for the upcoming Citizen Science portion of the Hackaday Prize, as the best solution for detecting these beetles right now is sending a bunch of grade school students into the woods.

The HackadayPrize2016 is Sponsored by:

Filed under: The Hackaday Prize

Who Needs the MSP430 When You Have TI’s Other Microcontroller, The TI-84?

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 09:00

We’re sure there are more expensive LED controllers out there, but the TI-84 has got to be up there. Unless you have one on hand, then it’s free. And then you’ll doubtless need an SPI library for the famously moddable graphing calculator.

[Ivoah] is using his library, written in assembly for the Z80 processor inside the TI, to control a small strip of DotStar LEDs from Adafruit. The top board in the photograph is an ESP8266 board that just happened to be on the breadboard. The lower Arduino is being used as a 5V power supply, relegated to such duties in the face of such a superior computing device.

Many of us entertained ourselves through boring classes by exploring the features of TI BASIC, but this is certainly a step above. You can see his code here on his GitHub.

After his proof-of-concept, [Ivoah] also made a video of it working and began to program a graphical interface for controlling the LEDs. Video after the break.

Filed under: classic hacks

Simple Robot Arm With Steppers Has Pleasingly Smooth Motion

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 06:00

The usual go-to when building a simple robot arm is the ever-pervasive hobby servo. However, these devices are not precise, and are typically jerky and unreliable. They have their advantages, but if strength is not needed a stepper motor would provide much better motion in the same price range.

Those are the lines along which [Bajdi] was thinking when he forked the Mearm project, and adapted it for small stepper motors. First he tried printing out the servo version on thingiverse. It worked, but the parts were not ideal for 3D printing, and he didn’t like the movement.

So he purchased some 28BYJ-48 motors. These are tiny little geared steppers that tend to show up in the odd project. He modified and simplified the files in FreeCAD. With the addition of a CNC shield and an Arduino he had every thing he needed for the upgrade. A servo is now only used for the gripper.

The robot is almost certainly weaker in its payload ability, but as you can see in the before and after videos after the break, it is dramatically smoother and more accurate.

Filed under: robots hacks

Amazing Oscilloscope Graphics

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 03:01

From what we can understand, [ompuco] has built a 2D audio output on top of the Unity game engine, enabling him to output X and Y values from his stereo soundcard straight to an oscilloscope in XY mode. His code simply scans through all the vertexes in the scene and outputs the right voltages into the left and right audio streams. He’s using this to create some pretty incredible animations. Check out the video “additives” below for an example. (See if you can figure out what’s being “added”.)

As a first demonstration application, [ompuco] wrote an oscilloscope drawing application: electricanvas (demo video). You draw lines and electricanvas converts them into audio, and then it’s off to the scope. And have a look at his pyramid demo.

The work is good enough that he’s inspired another forum user, [Pishtaco] to come up with his own phosphor-vectorscope simulation tool, which also looks pretty sweet. If you don’t have an old phosphor scope around, it’s the next best thing. At least it’s fun to listen to music through; a 45-degree line means that the left and right audio channels are similar. Fuzz guitar in only one channel makes a nice hairy ball. Try it out.

We don’t know anything about Unity, and we’d love to see some of [ompuco]’s wireframe code, because this stuff looks amazing! He wrote us back and said he’d release it after it gets cleaned up. We’ll keep in touch.

Filed under: video hacks

Curiously Delightful Things Done with Lasers and Projectors

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 01:31

Seb Lee-Delisle has built a career around large installations that use powerful lasers and high-end projects to make people happy. It’s a dream job that came to fruition through his multi-discipline skill set, his charismatic energy, and a mindset that drives him to see how he can push the boundaries of what is possible through live interaction.

His talk at the Hackaday | Belgrade conference is about his Laser Light Synth project, but we’re glad he also takes a detour into some of the other installations he’s built. The synth itself involves some very interesting iterative design to end up with a capacitive touch audio keyboard that is lit with addressable LEDs. It controls a laser that projects shapes and images to go along with the music, which sounds great no matter who is at the keyboard thanks to some very creative coding. As the talk unfolds we also hear about his PixelPyros which is essentially a crowd-controlled laser fireworks show.

See his talk below and join us after the break for a few extra details.

If you haven’t yet heard of PixelPyros you are in for a treat. Giant projected digital fireworks alone are pretty cool, but it’s a lot more fun if the audience is controlling the show. And then it begins to get supercharged when you add an 11-Watt laser to the mix. The laser is much more vivid than the projectors and the combination of the two is much more than the sum of their parts. As the fireworks are playing out, infrared cameras are watching the screen from behind to detect the audience touching the screen. When they hit the screen, fireworks launch in real time thanks to Seb’s software.

At this point he considers himself as addicted to using the high powered laser. His work on the Smashing Conference light show in 2014 is breathtaking. The event was held in a cathedral Oxford Town Hall with Seb blending the laser’s intensity to break out of the screen and use the entire space. The VU meter on the organ pipes with particles shooting out the top is magnificent!

All of this is just the preamble to his discussion of the Laser Light Synth project! The finished project is installed in a building featuring massive stone columns. Around the base of each column are user controllers that affect both the music and the laser show which is drawing visualizations on the columns. Although it may be hard for all but the closest spectators to see the keyboards, the columns are visible to all.

The hardware build for the controller is a great story. You see the finished product at the top of the post. Each key is packed with RGB LEDS. The trick was for Seb to establish a way to incorporate all of those LEDs with a capacitive touch controller that doesn’t obscure the light.

He started with a big pad of copper just to make sure the concept worked. He then experimented with adhesive copper tape, conductive paint, and finally settled on cutting the wavy pattern seen here out of copper foil using a vinyl cutter. It is adhered to the keyboard’s acrylic face-plate using transfer tape. The pattern doesn’t block the LEDs, and connects to the circuit boards with an ingenious use of copper pins and copper sequins that are soldered for a robust connection.

The keyboard is great, but Seb was nowhere near done. He really brought the project to life with some amazing code to make everyone a jazz musician. This comes in the form of custom Ableton Live patches which he demonstrated for us using a volunteer from the audience. They utilize the pentatonic scale to make sure the pitches match with what’s already going on in the music. Rhythm is as much a concern as pitch so he also wrote custom patches to arpeggiate the pitches in time with the beat, and to switch up rhythmic interest as the show plays out. You’ve got to watch Dex, the volunteer with no musical experience, rock out.

Seb proves the skills of an artist have no bounds. It’s wonderful to not only see his end product, but to have him share every single aspect of how he did it through concept, prototype, electronics, enclosure, and software. His talk is a shining example of why you should document your builds at every step of the way. The audience gobbled up his presentation and so will you!

[Main image of Laser Light Synth controller was taken by Oleg Pulemjotov]

Filed under: cons, Hackaday Columns, laser hacks, musical hacks

Blue Ribbon Microphone

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 00:01

If you’ve ever seen an old movie or TV show where there was a radio announcer, you’ve probably seen a ribbon microphone. The RCA 44 (see Edmund Lowe, on right) had exceptional sound quality and are still valued today in certain applications. The name ribbon microphone is because the sound pickup is literally a thin strip of aluminum or other conductive material.

Unlike other common microphones, ribbons pick up high frequencies much better due to the high resonant frequency of the metallic ribbon. This is not only better in general, but it means the ribbon mic has a flatter frequency response even at lower frequencies. Another unique feature is that the microphone is bidirectional, hearing sounds from the front or back equally well. It is possible to build them with other directional patterns, although you rarely see that in practice.


In the early 1920s, Walter Schottky and Erwin Gerlach developed the ribbon microphone (and, coincidentally, the first ribbon loudspeaker). Harry Olson at RCA developed a ribbon mic that used coils and permanent magnets which led to the RCA Photophone Type PB-31 in 1931. Because of their superior audio response, they were instant hits and Radio City Music Hall started using the PB-31 in 1932. A newer version appeared in 1933, the 44A, which reduced reverberation.

The BBC and Marconi also made similar microphones including the Type A and the Coles 4038. The Russian version was the Oktava. Although the technology is nearly one hundred years old, many sound engineers still use ribbons because of the fidelity of the recording.

Much of what motivated Olson was recording sound for movies. The sharp directional characteristics of the ribbon were helpful when recording for motion pictures. Noisy cameras could be hidden at the sides of the ribbon microphone, and would be mostly left out of the recording.

How it Works

The ribbon mic is actually just another form of dynamic microphone. A conventional dynamic mic uses a moving coil as a transducer. Of course, the sound has to move the coil, and there is a definite limit to how light you can make the coil.

In a ribbon mic, the ribbon acts as a transducer, of course. The microphone suspends the ribbon between the poles of a permanent magnet. As the ribbon vibrates, the motion and the magnetic field generate a voltage measured by two contacts, one at either end of the ribbon.

Proponents of the ribbon microphone claim that the mechanism is closer to how your ears work, which makes them sound better. The output voltage is generally low compared to a traditional dynamic microphone, necessitating a transformer. However, modern designs often use improved magnets and transformers that can meet or exceed the output voltage of a typical microphone.

About the only downside to the ribbon is it is relatively fragile. Loud instruments (like drums) can damage the ribbon. Even wind can stretch or tear ribbons. Most modern ribbon microphones can handle phantom power intended for dynamic mics, but some can take damage from power on the signal lines.

The video below shows the construction of a modern ribbon microphone.

Ribbons Today

Many singers and musicians appreciate working with ribbon microphones, even today. Everyone from Frank Sinatra (left) to Elvis Presley sang into them, and they are still popular with certain artists and recording engineers.

You can still buy ribbon microphones. In fact, inexpensive imports allow even budget-conscious audiophiles to record using a ribbon microphone. Companies like AEA, Royer Labs, Crowley & Tripp, and many others still make this type of microphone. Some use stronger materials for the ribbon or have different ways of securing it. Some have integrated amplifiers instead of, or in addition to, transformers. Some of those amplifiers even use tubes if you subscribe to the idea that tubes sound better.

A professional instrument can cost thousands of dollars, but others cost well under $100. Original RCA mics are still prized and usually quite expensive. A very serviceable mic should run you no more than $200.

If you want to hear a comparison of a dynamic, a condenser, and a ribbon microphone, check out the video below. You may or may not think the ribbon mics sound better, but you can certainly tell the difference between the three types with your ears.

Filed under: Featured, History, musical hacks, Original Art

These 20 Projects Won $1000 In The Hackaday Prize

จันทร์, 05/02/2016 - 23:01

Since March, hundreds of hardware hackers around the globe have been hard at work designing and planning their entry into this year’s Hackaday Prize. The second challenge is now under way, a brand new chance for you to enter your own project. For inspiration, here are the top twenty entries from the first part of the Hackaday Prize.

The first challenge, Design Your Concept had 555 entries which we’ve spent the past week poring over. Now it’s time to reward the best of that first round with $1000 and a chance at winning the Hackaday Prize – $150,000 and a residency at the Supplyframe Design Lab in Pasadena.

The winners of Design Your Concept, in no particular order, are:

These twenty projects continue on to compete in the last phase of the Hackaday Prize. Congrats! Now get to work: you have a lot to do before the Hackaday Prize finals in October.

If your project didn’t make the cut – or you haven’t started one yet – don’t worry. Until the end of May we’re running the second challenge for this year’s Hackaday Prize. Anything Goes in this round and we’re looking for the craziest, most ostentatious, and most nonconformist project out there. Want to put the Internet of Socks on the blockchain? This challenge is right up your alley.

Anything Goes is a brand new challenge to solve a problem with technology and Build Something That Matters. Until the end of May, we’re opening up the gates for hackers, designers, and engineers to build whatever they want.

If you don’t have a project up on Hackaday.io, you can start one right now and submit it to The Hackaday Prize. If you already have a project up, add it to the Anything Goes challenge using the dropdown menu on the left sidebar of your project page.

The HackadayPrize2016 is Sponsored by:

Filed under: Featured, The Hackaday Prize

UV Photographic Printer Lets You Use Strange Chemistries

จันทร์, 05/02/2016 - 22:01

There is a family of old photographic chemistries based on iron compounds which, like the blueprint, are exposed using UV light. Ironically, the digital camera revolution which has made everything else in our photographic lives much easier, has made it harder to experiment around with these alternative methods. [David Brown] is making a UV photographic printer to change that.

[David]’s application has a lot in common with PCB printers that use a UV-sensitive resist, only [David] needs greyscale, and it might also be nice if it could work with wet paper. This makes it a more challenging project than you might think, but we like the cut of [David]’s jib.

Like some of the other UV exposer projects, [David]’s uses a rotating mirror to scan across the to-be photograph’s surface. Unlike the other ones that we’ve seen, the exposer hangs from two linear rails. Other printers move the paper underneath a stationary scanning head, which seems a mechanically simpler arrangement. We’re excited to see how this goes.

There’s a lot of interest in UV PCB printers right now. We’ve seen one made from junked CD-ROM drives on one end of the spectrum to one made by retrofitting a delta robot on the other. And don’t disregard the work done by folks interested in UV-curing 3D printers, either.

Filed under: laser hacks

Debunking the Drone Versus Plane Hysteria

จันทร์, 05/02/2016 - 21:01

The mass media are funny in the way they deal with new technology. First it’s all “Wow, that’s Cool!”, then it’s “Ooh, that’s scary”, and finally it’s “BURN THE WITCH!”. Then a year or so later it’s part of normal life and they treat it as such. We’ve seen the same pattern repeated time and time again over the years.

The mass media tech story cycle. Our apologies to Gartner. Curve image: Jeremykemp [ CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia CommonsSeasoned readers may remember silly stories in the papers claiming that the Soviets could somehow use the technology in Western 8-bit home computers for nefarious purposes, since then a myriad breathless exclusives have predicted a youth meltdown which never materialised as the inevitable result of computer gaming, and more recently groundless panics have erupted over 3D printing of gun parts. There might be a British flavour to the examples in this piece because that’s where it is being written, but it’s a universal phenomenon wherever in the world technologically clueless journalists are required to fill column inches on technical stories.

The latest piece of technology to feel the heat in this way is the multirotor. Popularly referred to as the drone, you will probably be most familiar with them as model-sized aircraft usually with four rotors. We have been fed a continuous stream of stories involving tales of near-misses between commercial aircraft and drones, and there is a subtext in the air that Something Must Be Done.

The catalyst for this piece is the recent story of a collision with a British Airways plane 1700ft over West London approaching London Heathrow. The ever-hyperbolic Daily Mail sets the tabloid tone for the story as a drone strike, while the BBC’s coverage is more measured and holds a handy list of links to near-miss reports from other recent incidents. This incident is notable in particular because a Government minister announced that it is now believed to have been caused by a plastic bag, and since there is already appropriate legislation there was little need for more. A rare piece of sense on a drone story from a politician. The multirotor community is awash with plastic bag jokes but this important twist did not seem to receive the same level of media attention as the original collision.

Are multirotors unfairly being given bad press? It certainly seems that way as the common thread among all the stories is a complete and utter lack of proof. But before we rush to their defence it’s worth taking a look at the recent stories and examining their credibility. After all if there really are a set of irresponsible owners flying into commercial aircraft then they should rightly be bought to book and it would do us no favours to defend them. So let’s examine each of those incident reports from that BBC story.

At this point, not being multirotor experts we did what every sane writer should when faced with that situation but few do. We sought someone with the expert knowledge to shed some light on the matter. A friend of Hackaday is a multirotor flier and builder of many years experience, and as we continue it is his input that informs the writing here.

Analyzing Incident Reports

So, that out of the way, on to the incident reports. These are proximity reports from the UK Airbrox Board, the body whose task is to apply any of the lessons that can be gleaned from any such incidents to air safety. They are all downloadable in PDF format.

Hyde, Greater Manchester. The incident location should be somewhere towards the hills in the background. Smabs Sputzer (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr.

Our first is Airprox Report No. 2015141. A Dornier 328 was above Hyde approaching Manchester Airport on the afternoon of 27th August 2015, at 2800 feet above sea level (about 1500 feet above local ground level) with a speed of 180 knots (207.141 mph). The drone was seen by the pilot, and was a royal blue trirotor, about 50cm in diameter.

As the report notes, this drone would certainly have been breaking the law by flying over the legal 400 feet, and the operator would almost certainly have been using an FPV camera. But let’s return to the report, at 50cm this is not a big machine. If it was a drone, its chances of carrying enough battery power to take it to 2800 feet while also both carrying and powering an FPV camera and transmitter could not be very high at all. Even at ground level these machines don’t have very long flight times, and climbing to that altitude is a power-hungry task. Remember that multirotors have propellers designed for efficiency in the thick air of ground level, and as they climb they have to work ever harder.

There is also the question of it being reported as a trirotor. This is not an unknown multirotor configuration, but such a machine is highly unusual in the UK. Unusual enough for anyone operating one to be noticed, we think.

12 o’clock to 1 o’clock on a reciprocal track. Petr Adam Dohnálek [CC0] (Wikimedia)/Andreas 06 [PD] (Wikimedia)Moving on, we have Airprox Report No. 2015155, a Boeing 737 departing Stansted Airport at 4000 feet and 250 knots (287.696mph) in the late afternoon of the 13th of September 2015. The aircraft reported as a drone had a fuselage 2m in length, the air crew could not say whether it was jet or propeller powered. It was reported as going from the 12 o’clock position to the 1 o’clock position in a reciprocal track.

Reading this report, we find it difficult to understand how it could responsibly be attributed to a multirotor by any of the media outlets. This describes an aircraft capable of making an extremely tight turn (refer to this page about clock positions in aviation to appreciate this if our diagram isn’t enough) over an airliner traveling at nearly 300mph at 4000 feet (Stansted is a lot closer to sea level than the terrain surrounding Manchester). We’re not fast jet specialists here at Hackaday, but wouldn’t that kind of turn be impressive performance even for a military fighter? Disregarding all the stuff from our discussion of the previous report about the difficulty of a battery powered multirotor achieving that altitude, even in their wildest dreams a multirotor owner can’t make their machine perform like that!

The UK Houses of Parliament. Mike Gimelfarb [Public domain], Wikimedia Our credulity now stretched, we move on to Airprox Reprt No. 2015157, an Embraer E170 approaching London City Airport at 2000 feet and 160 knots (184.125 mph) around midday on the 13th of September 2015. The aircrew reported “a silver drone with a ‘balloon-like’ centre and 4 small rotors on each corner”, and air traffic control confirmed the pilot had reported the incident while over the Houses of Parliament.

A balloon-like drone would be an unusual machine, but while it may be out of the ordinary it is not an unknown configuration. The Festo machine we have just linked to for example was so unusual as to have received worldwide coverage when it was announced. But like the previous reports the problem we find with this report is the altitude. The power required to get a machine to 2000 feet and stay there without running out of juice and plummeting to earth would push the abilities of multirotor battery technology to the limit. If you notice in the Festo demonstration, it is all performed indoors, without weather or significant altitude.

The real kicker here though is the location. Over the UK Houses of Parliament. If you wanted to run an experiment in how quickly you could get a free ride in a British police car, we’d suggest you try flying an unexpected multirotor in this airspace. It is some of the most tightly-monitored space in the country, full of twitchy security people fueled by The War Against Terror, and one of very few places in the UK where you’ll see police officers carrying guns. Couldn’t it just be that the pilot in fact saw an escaped novelty helium balloon, not entirely impossible over one of the most populated parts of the country?

Datchet from the air. se71 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) via Flickr.

Next on the list is Airprox Report No. 2015162, a Boeing 777 over Datchet climbing out of London Heathrow at 2000 feet and with a speed not reported. We’d expect the aircraft to be under acceleration at this point, so it is likely that it would be moving at a similar speed to the earlier Stansted incident.

The 777 pilot described a quadcopter, about 12 to 18 inches in diameter, and with motors the size of Coke cans on each corner. The encounter was fleeting, only a very few seconds as the 777 was in a steep climb.

There are plenty of off-the-shelf quadcopters that are about 12 to 18 inches in diameter. Container loads of them arrive from China every day, and they would have delighted a million children when unwrapped on Christmas morning. But a couple of things bother us about this report. First there is the weight and power issue we’ve mentioned when discussing the previous reports. A machine that size would not be capable in our view of reaching 2000 feet under control with an FPV camera and staying there for any appreciable time and then returning under its own power. Batteries simply are not available which are light enough to both hold that amount of power and to enable them to do this. Our second concern though comes from those motors. There are large motors for multirotors, it is true. They have higher power output and correspondingly larger electrical power demands, and you might see them on much larger machines driving larger rotors. But would it make sense to fit them to such a small airframe? We just can’t see it. Our friendly expert’s comment on this report was that it sounded as though someone who had seen a picture of a multirotor but had never handled one was trying to describe what they thought one was.

Our next incident is Airprox Report No. 2015172, an Airbus 319 over Poyle on final approach to London Heathrow at 500 feet and 140 knots (161.110 mph) on the morning of the 30th of September 2015. The pilot reported a small drone-like helicopter hovering close to the centre line. He estimated that it passed within 20 to 30 feet of his aircraft.

Unlike the previous reports, this one does not stretch the possibilities of what a multirotor or model helicopter could achieve. A toy drone or helicopter might struggle, but there are enough more capable machines available. It is not at an altitude difficult to reach with a battery-powered aircraft, nor is it beyond the possibility of controlling such an aircraft from the ground. It also finds the Airbus at its point of most vulnerability, when as an aircraft approaching the runway it lacks both the airspeed and airspace to evade another craft or to recover itself in the event of an incident.

There is however one anomaly about this incident which we feel bears further investigation. A multirotor is a small and lightweight machine, and if it were to pass within 20 feet of an airliner at low altitude traveling at 160mph it is likely that it would experience significant turbulence. In simple terms, it would be knocked out of control by the wash of the passing high speed airliner, and there is a significant likelihood that it would not have been able to remain in the air. It is certain that an investigation would have immediately begun to find any wreckage of a crashed drone, yet none was found.

Gatwick airport from the air. Phillip Capper (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr

Our final case is Airprox Report No. 2015212, An Airbus A321 in the final stages of approach to Gatwick Airport in the early afternoon of the 28th of November 2015. The co-pilot reported seeing a stationary drone hovering at about 100 feet over the touchdown zone. The airliner passed underneath it and the co-pilot lost sight of the drone when he was at about 20 feet above ground level.

As with the previous report, this does not push the boundaries of multirotor flight. All but the most ineffectual drones should be capable of hovering at 100 feet above ground level, indeed since it is below the UK 400 foot altitude limit they could do so perfectly legally away from somewhere like Gatwick.

There is however a troubling side to the story that we would like to see an explanation for. Unlike all the other reports, this incident took place within the confines of an active and busy international airport. Airports are crawling with people doing a multitude of jobs, and yet nobody else saw the drone. The incident happened at 13:45 and the police were on the scene at 13:52, an astoundingly quick response for UK police, yet there was no drone. If you take a look at the Gatwick touchdown zone on Google Maps, you will see it is hardly close to the perimeter of the airport, to make a successful escape in that time the drone would have had to fly rather quickly, have an excessive amount of battery power, and somehow be invisible to everyone in the area surrounding the airport. We come back to our theoretical experiment in how quickly a drone pilot could get a free ride in a British police car, we strongly suspect the reality would be that any real drone pilot doing so at Gatwick would find themselves eating porridge in a very short time indeed. If this turns out not to be the case, shouldn’t questions be being raised about the airport’s security?

We Need Better Reports

It is very important to stress that flying a multirotor or any other kind of aircraft in proximity to a commercial airliner is a crime. It’s a particularly dangerous crime, and one which can have disastrous consequences in the event of a collision. We’d go further, and suggest that if anyone is found to have been doing it they should be locked up. Throw away the key, no collecting $200 or passing Go, all the clichés. It’s a crime, and any perpetrators should face all the consequences with maximum prejudice.

We are however concerned by the tone of all the reports listed above, both as they appear in the media and as they are reported in the official incident documentation. It is reported as indisputable fact that they are all multirotors being flown illegally, yet the only evidence presented are somewhat dubious eyewitness reports, either of extremely fleeting views of the craft in question or of craft that very obviously can not be electric hobby multirotors. At no point has anyone produced a real multirotor as evidence, in fact the only incident that featured a collision was found to be with a plastic bag. We feel that reporting these incidents in this way is irresponsible, and not consistent with the high standards we would expect from an aeronautical investigative body.

Unidentified objects in the air have been a feature of aviation since the first fliers took to the skies. They have been variously explained at different times as birds, weather balloons, secret Nazi weapons, Russian spies, or even alien invaders, but the common thread when you come down to it is that nobody has a clue what they really are. It seems that the current Flavour Of The Month when you have a sighting is to blame it on a drone, but that default identification seems about as meaningful in this context as it was when people were blaming aliens.

It was reassuring to hear the UK Government response that no new legislation was required, at least those of our community in the UK whose interests lie in multirotors will be spared hasty legislation driven by tabloid newspaper outrage like the disastrously ill-conceived Dangerous Dogs Act. But as we mentioned at the start of this piece, though we’ve used UK examples to illustrate here, this is not an issue confined to one country. If we want to keep our ability to fly it’s important that we expose any bogus truths behind drone panic stories wherever we find them, help bring to book any pilots we find breaking the rules we have at the moment, and continue to fly with care and consideration for other users of the airspace.

Filed under: Current Events, drone hacks, Featured, news, Original Art, slider