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A Real Turn Off

3 hours 5 minก่อน

[Newbrain] had a small problem. He’d turn off the TV, but would leave the sound system turned on. Admittedly, not a big problem, but an annoyance, none the less. He realized the TV had a USB port that went off when it did, so he decided to build something that would sense when the USB port died and fake a button press into the amplifier.

He posted a few ideas online and, honestly, the discussion was at least as interesting as the final project. The common thread was to use an optoisolator to sense the 5 V from the USB port. After that, everyone considered a variety of ICs and discretes and even did some Spice modeling.

In the end, though, [Newbrain] took the easy way out. An ATtiny 84 is probably overkill, but it easy enough to press into service. With only three other components, he built the whole thing into a narrow 24-pin socket and taped it to the back of the audio unit’s wired remote control.

The seventh post contains the code for the CPU. It isn’t all that difficult or exciting, but the thought process of evaluating FETs and logic ICs against a cheap CPU is entertaining and maybe even instructive.

The amplifier’s wired remote acted like a potentiometer, interestingly enough, so it was a little different than what you would probably find on another piece of gear. We’ve looked at remote hacking several times. Unsurprisingly, the Arduino features in several of them — a small step up from the ATtiny84 used here.

Filed under: ATtiny Hacks

Line Follower with No Arduino

6 hours 5 minก่อน

There’s hardly a day that passes without an Arduino project that spurs the usual salvo of comments. Half the commenters will complain that the project didn’t need an Arduino. The other half will insist that the project would be better served with a much larger computer ranging from an ARM CPU to a Cray.

[Will Moore] has been interested in BEAM robotics — robots with analog hardware instead of microcontollers. His latest project is a sophisticated line follower. You’ve probably seen “bang-bang” line followers that just use a photocell to turn the robot one way or the other. [Will’s] uses a hardware PID (proportional integral derivative) controller. You can see a video of the result below.

Looking at how [Will] used simulation to devise a PID with opamps and a PWM generator is illustrative. As you can see from the video, the results are good.

We’ve looked at BEAM before. We’ve even seen mutants that combine traditional BEAM circuitry with microcontrollers. But it’s still nice to see the pure analog version running through its paces every once in a while.

Filed under: robots hacks

New Part Day: Wireless BeagleBones On A Chip

9 hours 5 minก่อน

The BeagleBone is a very popular single board computer, best applied to real-time applications where you need to blink LEDs really, really fast. Over the years, the BeagleBone has been used for stand-alone CNC controllers, the brains behind very large LED installations, and on rare occasions has been used to drive CRTs. If you just want a small Linux board, get a Pi. If you want to do something interesting with hardware, get a BeagleBone.

The BeagleBone ecosystem has grown a lot in the last year, from the wireless and Grove connector equipped BeagleBone Green, the robotics-focused BeagleBone Blue, the Zoolander-inspired Blue Steel. Now there’s a new BeagleBone, built around a very interesting System on Module introduced earlier this year.

The new board is called the BeagleBone Black Wireless, and it brings to the table all you know and love about the BeagleBone. There’s a 1GHz ARM355x with two 32-bit 200MHz PRUs for the real-time pin toggling. RAM is set at 512MB, with 4GB of eMMC Flash and Debian pre-installed, and a microSD card for larger storage options. The new feature is wireless connectivity: a TI WiFi and Bluetooth module with provisions for 802.11s replaces the old Ethernet connector.

Taken at face value, the new BeagleBone Black Wireless deserves a mention — it’s a BeagleBone with wireless — but isn’t particularly noteworthy. But when you get to the gigantic brick of resin dropped squarely in the middle of the board does the latest device in the BeagleBone family become very, very interesting. The System on Module for this version of the BeagleBone is the BeagleBone On A Chip released a few months ago. The Octavio Systems OSD335x is, quite literally, a BeagleBone on a chip. It’s a BGA with big balls, making it solderable with hand-applied solder paste and a toaster oven reflow conversion. In fact, the BeagleBone Wireless was designed by [Jason Kridner] in Eagle as a 6-layer board. It’s still a bit beyond the standard capabilities of OSHPark, but the design can still be cut down, and shows how this BeagleBone on a Chip can be applied to other Open Hardware projects.

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, slider

Smart Sutures

10 hours 34 minก่อน

Researchers at Tufts University are experimenting with smart thread sutures that could provide electronic feedback to recovering patients. The paper, entitled “A toolkit of thread-based microfluidics, sensors, and electronics for 3D tissue embedding for medical diagnosis”, is fairly academic, but does describe how threads can work as pH sensors, strain gauges, blood sugar monitors, temperature monitors, and more.

Conductive thread is nothing new but usually thought of as part of a smart garment. In this case, the threads close up wounds and are thus directly in the patient’s body. In many cases, the threads talked to an XBee LilyPad or a Bluetooth Low Energy module so that an ordinary cell phone can collect the data.

Of course, sewing strange conductive thread into your body isn’t something most would try out on their own. Still, some of the thread techniques could be useful in other contexts.

We’ve looked at conductive thread several times in the past. We also saw conductive thread in a jacket to help kids learn to ski (which coincidentally used a Flora, similar to a LilyPad).

Filed under: Medical hacks, wearable hacks

Retrotechtacular: Power Driven Articulated Dummy

12 hours 4 minก่อน

If any of you have ever made a piece of clothing, you’ll know some of the challenges involved. Ensuring a decent and comfortable fit for the wearer, because few real people conform exactly to commercial sizes. It’s as much a matter of style as it is of practicality, because while ill-fitting clothing might be a sartorial fail, it’s hardly serious.

When the piece of clothing is a space suit though, it is a different matter. You are not so much making a piece of clothing as a habitat, and one that will operate in an environment in which a quick change to slip into something more comfortable is not possible. If you get it wrong at best your astronaut will be uncomfortable and at worst their life could be threatened.

PDAD’s arm mechanism, from the contemporary report.

In the early 1960s, NASA needed to quantify the effects of clothing such as a space suit on a human body. They could dress an astronaut in a suit, but while he could give them a subjective view of its comfort he could not quantise the forces it exerted on his body. Their solution to this problem was to construct a force gauge, an instrument designed to measure all the forces exerted by the suit as it simulated the full range of human movement. PDAD, the Power Driven Articulated Dummy, was the hydraulically driven humanoid result.

PDAD was designed to be adjustable to simulate a range of heights and sizes of typical American males, with a range of movement and torque capability as close as possible to those of a human within the constraints of the components available at the time. The actuators were hydraulic, and the control system was a fairly straightforward analogue servo system with an operator performing all the motions from a console. This meant that it was difficult for more than four joints to be in action at once, the limitation being the operator’s dexterity.

A close-up of the PDAD. Image: RR Auctions.

Two PDAD dummies were built during the programme, though problems with hydraulic leaks and overheating plagued their operation. Eventually NASA moved on from the project, and one of the dummies became part of the Smithsonian collection. The other found its way to the University of Maryland and thence to a private buyer, and is featured here because it is being auctioned later this month with an estimated price of $80,000. The auctioneer provides a wealth of photographs of the dummy, as well as PDFs of a contemporary engineering report on the project and period news coverage.

The PDAD dummy for sale is a little battered and worn, and seems to have lost its left elbow, forearm, and hand. There is no sign of the control console and it’s probably safe to guess that it’s not presented as a working example. However it is a fascinating glimpse into the depth and quality of the huge amount of work that went into the early years of human space flight, and if we are lucky it may find its way into another museum so we have the chance to see it at first hand.

The Smithsonian’s PDAD can be seen on their website, and is housed at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, VA. They provide the YouTube video shown below the break, of 1960s engineers testing the dummy.

Surprisingly this is the first time we’ve touched on the development of space suits here at Hackaday. We have however had a huge number of stories about other parts of the Apollo programme, which you can browse through the Apollo tag.

Via New Atlas, thanks: [Michael Boswell] for the tip.

Header image of the PDAD for sale: RR Auctions.

Filed under: classic hacks, Hackaday Columns, Retrotechtacular

3D Printed Acoustic Holograms: Totally Cool, Not Totally Useless

อังคาร, 09/27/2016 - 22:31

If you wave your hand under the water’s surface, you get a pattern of ripples on the surface shortly thereafter. Now imagine working that backwards: you want to produce particular ripples on the surface, so how do you wiggle around the water molecules underneath?

That’s the project that a crew from the University of Navarre in Spain Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems undertook. Working backwards from the desired surface waves to the excitation underwater is “just” a matter of math and physics. The question is then how to produce the right, incredibly irregular, wavefront. The researchers’ answer was 3D printing.

The idea is that, by creating the desired ripples on the water’s surface, the researchers will be able to move things around. We’ve actually seen this done before in air by [mikeselectricstuff], and a more sophisticated version from the University of Navarre in Spain uses multiple ultrasonic transducers and enables researchers to move tiny objects around in mid-air.

What’s cool about the work done underwater by the Navarre Max Planck Institute group is that all they’re doing is printing out a 3D surface and wiggling it up and down to make the waves. The resulting surface wave patterns are limited in comparison to the active systems, but the apparatus is so much simpler that it ought to be useful for hackers with 3D printers. Let the era of novelty pond hacking begin!

Filed under: news

Automatic Resistance: Resistors Controlled by the Environment

อังคาร, 09/27/2016 - 21:01

Resistors are one of the fundamental components used in electronic circuits. They do one thing: resist the flow of electrical current. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is more than one way for a resistor to work. In previous articles I talked about fixed value resistors as well as variable resistors.

There is one other major group of variable resistors which I didn’t get into: resistors which change value without human intervention. These change by environmental means: temperature, voltage, light, magnetic fields and physical strain. They’re commonly used for automation and without them our lives would be very different.


Thermistor, By Ansgar Hellwig [CC BY-SA 2.0 DE], via Wikimedia CommonsAs you can probably tell from part of the name, thermal, meaning “of or relating to heat”, these are resistors whose resistance changes with temperature. While that’s true of all resistors, with thermistors the change is larger and desired.

They come in two types:

  • NTC, or Negative Temperature Coefficient thermistors, where as the temperature increases their resistance decreases, and
  • PTC, or Positive Temperature Coefficient thermistors, where as the temperature increases their resistance increases.

Many Hackaday readers might be familiar with NTC thermistors in 3D printers where they’re used to measure the temperature of the hot end of the extruder. If your printer has a heated bed it is likely also monitored by an NTC.

And there are many more applications where they’re used for measuring temperature such as in digital thermometers, toasters, coffee makers, freezers, and so on.

But in addition to measuring temperature, NTC thermistors are also used for limiting current. As inrush current limiters they limit any rush of high current when a device is first turned on. Basically when the device is turned on, the thermistor is still relatively cool and so acts as a high resistance, limiting the current. Over time, as more current flows through the thermistor, its temperature increases and so its resistance decreases. That allows more current to flow through it, which is fine since the initial rush of high current is finished by that time.

My only experience with NTC thermistors was to play around with one that was part of an automotive sensor. The sensor was to be screwed into the engine compartment possibly for measuring the coolant or oil temperature. Of course this doesn’t measure the temperature directly. Instead a voltage is applied across it. As the temperature changes, the resistance changes and so does the voltage. The vehicle’s computer then uses a table or formula to map that voltage to a temperature.

I couldn’t find the datasheet for the automotive part and didn’t know the relationship between the thermistor’s temperature and resistance so I put it in a pot of water on the stove. As I slowly brought the water to a boil I measured the water temperature and the thermistor’s resistance, obtaining the chart shown here.

Positive Temperature Coefficient (PTC) thermistors, whose resistance increases as temperature increases, also have their uses.

One example is as a replacement for a fuse. As the current in a circuit increases, the temperature of the thermistor increases due to normal resistive heating. This heat is lost to the surroundings. But if the current is higher than it should be then at some point it will heat up faster than it can lose that heat. At that point the resistance will increase, limiting the current.

With the advent of flat panel displays there are fewer and fewer CRT displays around but some readers will remember that PTC thermistors were used in the display’s degaussing coil circuits. The degaussing coil would need to be energized briefly and turned off gradually. The current through the coil would create the needed magnetic field for degaussing, and the current would also heat up the thermistor. As it did, the thermistor’s resistance would increase in the desired gradual manner, reducing the current through the coil until the circuit shut off.


Varistor, By Michael Schmid [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons, and voltage-current graphThe name varistor doesn’t help much as the name’s origin comes from “varying resistor”, which is a description of all the parts covered in this article and the others in the series. A varistor’s resistance varies according to the voltage, so maybe remembering that it starts with a ‘V’ helps. In a varistor the higher the voltage, the lower the resistance, and the direction of the current doesn’t matter. It’s also much like a diode in that up to a certain minimum voltage it’s off and then turns on (see the voltage-current graph).

Most applications for varistors are in surge protection, protecting circuits from mains transients, inductive loads and from lightning. They’re usually placed across the circuit to be protected so that should the voltage rise high enough across it, the varistor will conduct and act as a short for the current, instead of the current going through the circuit.

My own experience with varistors comes from my time as a solar contractor. We’d attach lightning arresters to various components of the solar system: two arresters for the inverter, where one set of wires ran outdoors to a generator and another set went out to the loads in the cottage, and one arrester for the charge controller where wires ran out to the solar panels. These are all wire runs where voltage can be induced to damaging levels by nearby lightning.

Each of these lightning arresters contains a Metal Oxide Varistor (MOV). The varistor is connected between the wires and ground. As long as the voltage is low enough then current doesn’t conduct. But when lightning strikes somewhere nearby, the voltage on the wires rises and reaches a point where the varistor conducts to ground (e.g. 385 volts). This prevents the voltage from rising further. As long as the solar component is able to handle that voltage then it’s protected. With some standards, the solar component is designed to handle up to 2300 volts where these wires are connected.

Photoresistor/LDR Photoresistor

A photoresistor’s resistance decreases as light intensity increases. You may also see it referred to as an LDR (Light Dependent Resistor). Its resistance in the dark can be in the megaohms but with the correct wavelengths and sufficient intensity of light, it can be just a few ohms.

Photoresistors aren’t good for detecting rapid changes in light intensity. In going from complete darkness to light, there can be as much as a 10 millisecond delay before the resistance decreases fully. And when going from light to complete darkness the resistance can take as much as 1 second to increase to the megaohm range. However, there are applications where this delay is desireable such as with audio compression. Here an LED or electroluminescent panel is used to control the resistance of the photoresistor and affect the audio signal gain. Doing so is said to sound smoother by softening the attack and release than doing so without a photoresistor.

Another typical application is for a light sensor to detect if a night light should be turned on.

Laser communicator to photoresistor circuit

In my case I made a laser communicator that used an audio signal to modulate the output of a dollar store toy laser. I then shined that now fluctuating laser beam onto a distant photoresistor. The photoresistor was part of a circuit that fed an amplifier and the result was the audio signal transmitted by light and reproduced on the amplifier’s speaker. This violated what I mentioned above about not using them for rapid changes in light intensity, but it worked well enough as a fun experiment.

Magneto Resistive Sensor Magneto resistive sensor (KMT32B) from Digikey

The resistance of a magneto resistor can be used to detect the position, orientation and strength of a magnetic field. It uses the magnetoresistance effect. The anisotropic magnetoresistance (AMR) effect, discovered in the 1800s is sensitive to the magnetic field strength and the angle between an electric current and the magnetic field. There are other, more recently discovered effects but most conventional resistors use the AMR effect. Magneto resistive sensors that are built around these resistors are available from Digikey and Mouser among others.

I haven’t used magneto resistive sensors myself but one common application is as wheel speed sensors in automobiles. Others are magnetometry, various sensors for angle, rotation and linear positions, and for detecting vehicles on the road.

There is a lot of interesting potential applications for these sensors. At the 2013 Open Hardware Summit a 1-DOF haptick feedback kit called Hapkit was demonstrated by a group from Stanford. They used a magneto resistive sensor to detect a pendulum’s position. That position is then used by a microcontroller to power a motor to make moving the pendulum by hand feel like you’re moving a spring or click wheel.

Strain Gauges

Strain gauge interior, [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia CommonsA strain gauge is an electrical conductor that changes resistance as it’s stretched or compressed, but without breaking, buckling or otherwise permanently deforming it. To get a large enough effect to make a useful change in resistance, the conductor is usually laid out in a zigzag or serpentine pattern with the long ends oriented in the direction of the expected strain.

The change in resistance is very small and so to aid measurement the strain gauge is incorporated in a Wheatstone bridge. A full article could be written about strain gauges and their use in Wheatstone bridges so here’s just a brief overview.

The Wheatstone bridge consists of two voltage dividers, R1 and R2 being one of them, and R3 and R4 being the other one. The input voltage, called the excitation voltage (VEx), is across the outside of the bridge, and the resulting output voltage (Vo) is taken from the centers of the two voltage dividers.

Wheatstone bridge and voltage output formula

The voltage output, Vo, can be calculated using the formula shown. If the ratio R1/R2 is equal to the ratio R4/R3 then calculating Vo you’ll find you get 0 volts. But if one of the resistors is replaced with a strain gauge then when it’s strained, Vo will become non-zero. Further formulas can be used to convert this to a value in a unit actually called ‘strain’.

Multiple strain gauges can also be used to further amplify the values and to compensate for temperature.

Strain gauges are found in load cells and pressure sensors, both often incorporated in Wheatstone bridges. The ones in pressure sensors are usually made with silicon, polysilicon, metal film, thick film or bonded foil.


And that concludes this series on resistors. The other two articles are on fixed value resistors and on variable resistors that are manipulated by human intervention. Check them out if you missed them. And let us know in the comments of any resistors that we missed along the way or of anything you’d like to add.

Filed under: Featured, Interest, Original Art, slider

Ghetto Ribbon Connector

อังคาร, 09/27/2016 - 18:01

[Marcel] was trying to shoehorn a few new parts into his trusty Nexus 5 phone. If you’ve ever opened one of these little marvels up, you know that there’s not much room under the hood to work with. Pulling out some unnecessary parts (like the headphone jack) buys some space, but then how to wire it all up?

[Marcel] needed a multi-wire connector that’s as thin as possible, but he wasn’t going to go the order-Kapton-flex route. Oh no! He built one himself from masking tape and the strands from a stranded wire. Watch the video how-to if that alone isn’t enough instruction.

Since the wires are uninsulated, [Marcel] is a bit careful to separate each strand with tape. While [Marcel] makes a straight connector in the video, we could easily imagine making a pre-formed cable just like the mass-produced flex cables that come with the phone. All in all, this is a great trick to have up your sleeve when space is at a premium.

We’re sure that some of you wire-wrap gurus would be tempted to just let your wires hang loose, but can you imagine how the insides of a phone would look with just a few additional peripherals?

Filed under: Cellphone Hacks, misc hacks

Putting Sand, Water, and Metal into A 3D Print

อังคาร, 09/27/2016 - 15:01

[Adam] over at Makefast Workshop writes about some of the tests they’ve been running on their 3D printer. They experimented with pausing a 3D print midway and inserting various materials into the print. In this case, sand, water, and metal BBs.

The first experiment was a mixture of salt and water used to make a can chiller for soda or beer (the blue thing in the upper right). It took some experimentation to get a print that didn’t leak and was strong. For example, if the water was too cold the print could come off the plate or delaminate. If there was too much water it would splash up while the printer was running and cause bad layer adhesion.

They used what they learned to build on their next experiment, which was filling the print with sand to give it more heft. This is actually a common manufacturing process — for instance, hollow-handled cutlery often has clay, sand, or cement for heft. They eventually found that they had to preheat the sand to get the results they wanted and managed to produce a fairly passable maraca.

The final experiment was a variation on the popular ball bearing prints. Rather than printing plastic balls they designed the print to be paused midway and then placed warmed copper BBs in the print. The printer finished its work and then they spun the BB. It worked pretty well! All in all an interesting read.

Filed under: 3d Printer hacks

The Hackaday Prize: An Open Electric Wheelchair

อังคาร, 09/27/2016 - 12:00

[Irene Sans] and [Alvaro Ferrán Cifuentes] feel that electric wheelchairs are still too expensive. On top of that, as each person’s needs are a little different, usually don’t exactly fit the problems a wheelchair user might face. To this end they’ve begun the process of creating an open wheelchair design which they’ve appropriately dubbed OpenChair.

As has been shown in the Hackaday Prize before, there’s a lot of things left to be desired in the assistive space. Things are generally expensive. This would be fine, but often insurance doesn’t cover it or it’s out of the range of those in developing nations.  As always, the best way to finish is to start, so that’s just what [Irene] and [Alvaro] has done.

They based their initial design on the folding wheel chair we all know. It’s robust enough for daily use and is fairly standard around the world. They designed a set of accessories to make the wheelchair more livable for daily use as well as incorporating the controls.

The next problem was locomotion. Finding an off-the-shelf motor that was powerful enough without breaking the budget was proving  difficult, but they had an epiphany. Why not use mass production toy crap to their advantage. The “hoverboards” that were all the rage this past commerical holiday season were able to roll a person around, so naturally a wheelchair would be within the power range.

They extracted the two 350 watt hub motors, batteries, and control boards. It took a bit of reverse engineering but they were able to get the hub drive motors of the hoverboard integrated with the controls on their wheelchair.

In the end they were able to cut the price of a regular electric wheelchair in half with their first iteration and set the foundation for future work on an open electric wheelchair system. Certainly more work could bring even better improvements.

The HackadayPrize2016 is Sponsored by:
Filed under: The Hackaday Prize


อังคาร, 09/27/2016 - 09:00

[Mike] wanted to drive several SPI peripheral from a PIC32. He shows how much latency his conventional interrupt handlers were taking away from his main task. He needed something more efficient. So he created the SPI channels using DMA. He also made a video (see below) with a very clear explanation about why he did it and shows oscilloscope traces about how it all works.

Although the project is specific to the PIC32, the discussion about DMA applies to any computer with direct memory access. The only thing missing is the code. However, there are plenty of examples on the web you can look at, including a Microchip webinar.

DMA is a powerful technique, although it can be tricky to debug. Big computers have used it for ages for high performance I/O, like disk drives or displays. We’ve covered DMA for the ARM before. Not surprisingly around here, driving LEDs seems to be a common use case for DMA.

Filed under: Microcontrollers

Shop Made Squareness Comparator

อังคาร, 09/27/2016 - 06:00

[Stefan Gotteswinter] has a thing for precision. So it was no surprise when he confessed frustration that he was unable to check the squareness of the things he made in his shop to the degree his heart desired.

He was looking enviously at the squareness comparator that [Tom Lipton] had made when somone on Instagram posted a photo of the comparator they use every day. [Stefan] loved the design and set out to build one of his own. He copied it shamelessly, made a set of drawings, and got to work.

[Stefan]’s videos are always a trove of good machine shop habits and skills. He always shows how being careful, patient, and doing things the right way can result in really astoundingly precise work out of a home machine shop. The workmanship is beautiful and his knack for machining is apparent throughout. We chuckled at one section where he informed the viewer that you could break a tap on the mill when tapping under power if you bottom out. To avoid this he stopped at a distance he felt was safe: 0.5 mm away.

The construction and finishing complete, [Stefan] shows how to use the comparator at the end of the video, viewable after the break.

Filed under: tool hacks

Seeking Treachery in a Questionably Sourced Phone

อังคาร, 09/27/2016 - 03:00

Have you ever considered sourcing an off-brand phone from the China markets? Why, or what stopped you? The answer is data and identity. You are trusting both when you decide to use a smartphone. Let’s face it, smartphones are a personality prosthesis in our society. They know your physical location, what your interests are, the people you hang out with, and how you spend your money. The keys to the castle are shared with these devices and you shouldn’t grant that kind of trust without knowing your phone is worthy of it.

But… what if that phone has amazing features at an equally amazing price? [ijsf] bought the phone and then made it earn the proper level of trust. The model in question is a Blackview BV6000s — pictured above in a tub of soapy water proving it’s IP68 claim. This thing has flagship specs but not a flagship name so [ijsf] took [Dave Jones’] advice and took it apart instead of turning it on. In this case, it is a complete ROM dump and disassembly.

The goals was to find malware — anything that is potentially leaking data. Nothing was found, which we think is because this phone isn’t nearly shady enough. We’d expect the bargain basement models (like this $3 wonder vaporware) to be more in line. That one actually has a carrier behind it which means they plan to recoup on usage charges. But suspiciously cheap phones may be using a business model that makes it back by stealing a chunk of your identity.

Two good things come out of [ijsf’s] writeup. First, it’s a decent guide to dumping and snooping in a ROM. Second, in addition to the fruitless search for thieving apps, the annoying bloatware was removed for a cleaner ‘stock’ image.

Filed under: Android Hacks, security hacks

All Your Displays Are Belong to Us

อังคาร, 09/27/2016 - 01:31

Artist and Hackaday reader [Blair Neal] wrote in with his incredible compendium of “alternative” displays. (Here as PDF.) From Pepper’s Ghost to POV, he’s got it all covered, with emphasis on their uses in art.

There’s an especially large focus on 3D displays. Projecting onto screens, droplets of water, spinning objects, and even plasma combustion are covered. But so are the funny physical displays: flip-dots, pin-cushions, and even servo-driven “pixels”.

Flavien Théry’s La Porte

We really liked the section on LCDs with modified polarization layers — we’ve seen some cool hacks using that gimmick, but the art pieces he dredged up look even better. Makes us want to take a second look at that busted LCD screen in the basement.

We’re big fans of the bright and blinky, so it’s no surprise that [Blair] got a bunch of his examples from these very pages. And we’ve covered [Blair]’s work as well: both his Wobbulator and his “Color a Sound” projects. Hackaday: your one-stop-shop for freaky pixels.

[Blair]’s list looks pretty complete to us, but there’s always more out there. What oddball displays are missing? What’s the strangest or coolest display you’ve ever seen?

Filed under: misc hacks

The Healthy Maker: Tackling Vapors, Fumes And Heavy Metals

อังคาร, 09/27/2016 - 00:01

Fearless makers are conquering ever more fields of engineering and science, finding out that curiosity and common sense is all it takes to tackle any DIY project. Great things can be accomplished, and nothing is rocket science. Except for rocket science of course, and we’re not afraid of that either. Soldering, welding, 3D printing, and the fine art of laminating composites are skills that cannot be unlearned once mastered. Unfortunately, neither can the long-term damage caused by fumes, toxic gasses and heavy metals. Take a moment, read the material safety datasheets, and incorporate the following, simple practices and gears into your projects.

Simple, Yet Effective

For tackling vapors, fumes, and flying bits, there are a few simple pieces of safety equipment that no maker should be without. This is the bare minimum when it comes to the mentioned hazards.

Respiratory Mask Respirator (by Ru-go)

A respiratory mask protects your lungs from fine dust and fumes. Simple, mechanical filters made from non-woven fabrics are ideal sanding wood or drywall. There are dedicated painting masks and multi-purpose respirators, typically with layers of active carbon filter material, that also pull out some volatiles. Ideally, you go for a NIOSH approved respirator, which are classified by their oil resistance (N = nope, R = resistant, P = proof) and by the percentage of airborne particles they are capable of extracting (95 = 95%, 99 = 99%, 100 = 99.98 %). A NIOSH P100 respirator is oil proof and removes 99.98% of particulates if worn right. Yet, be aware that they’re just filters. Some volatiles will still pass right through them.

Gloves Nitrile glove (by Tjwood)

Even if you’re not afraid of getting your hands dirty in the workshop, consider wearing adequate gloves when working with substances that contain solvents, heavy metals or volatile organic compounds. Certain toxic volatiles have no problem entering your bloodstream through your skin, and thin protection gloves stop them reliably.

For fine work with resins or other chemicals, or for cleaning SLA 3D prints, go for nitrile gloves, as shown to the right. Nitrile gloves can also protect from incidental contact with stronger solvents like dichloromethane, but for extended contact with aggressive chemicals, consult a glove selection guide like this one or this one.

Gloves also prevent fine dusts, especially from carbon and glass fiber compounds, from causing skin irritations while sanding of milling. A pair of tough textile gloves will do here. Nevertheless, lathes and heavier drill presses yield a higher risk of injury when operated with loose gloves than without. It’s a compromise.

Safety Goggles The classic duo (by Connie Posites, edited)

There’s an acute danger of putting your eyes out when working with live lasers without filter glasses — or while welding without a welding mask. Nobody would do this, right? Also, grinding wheels, angle grinders, and CNC machines will sporadically send dangerous projectiles their way. Besides that, long-term exposure to fine dusts, fumes and gasses can irritate your eyes and cause inflammations. They also provide easy access to your bloodstream, which is less romantic than it sounds within a cloud of toxic vapors. Just like everything else, safety goggles are standardized, but best maker-practice is keeping a pair of closed goggles and a pair of comfortable open ones. The former helps you out when dealing with strong chemicals (and shattering grinding wheels), and the latter increases the chance that you’re wearing at least something.

The Open Window Outdoor welding class (by Photo Dudes)

Be it while laser cutting, soldering, 3D printing or when working with organic solvents, make sure it’s happening in a well-ventilated area. The simplest and most effective way to reduce the parts per million (ppm) concentration of fumes and vapors is still an open window.

Taking your project outdoors can be even better. Professional work environments feature air cleaning systems and industrial grade protective gear, but workshops set up in poorly ventilated basements, garages or bunkers quickly saturate with toxic fumes and gasses. For the hobbyist, some activities are better done outside, where fumes and vapors dilute quickly.

Our Favorite Fumes

Some of our favorite activities come with hazards we should be aware of. The smell of burnt plastic and molten solder may ignite your creative genius, but the toxicity of these fumes shouldn’t be underestimated either. There are a few simple measurements you can take to minimize your exposure to hazardous fumes, dusts and vapors when working with your favorite tools.

Laser Cutting Laser cutter (by Pete)

Vent. Professional laser cutters feature external ventilation systems and active carbon filters, cheap ones often don’t have a ventilation exhaust. Retrofitting an air cleaning system to the latter is affordable and will pay itself off every second you’re not inhaling plastic fumes.

Despite ventilation, there are materials you don’t want to place inside a laser cutter. Among them are ABS (releases hydrocyanic acid), Polycarbonate (releases benzene), and PVC (releases Lucifer from hell hydrochloric acid). Some of these fumes are also hazardous to your laser optics, effectively limiting the harm that can be done here. Avoid unknown plastics or find out what they are, research new materials, and if you’re laser cutting sheet metal, head down to the welding section of this post.

3D Printing Desktop 3D Printer (by FryskLab)

Desktop? On the one hand, if you’re not using your 3D printer too often, and it probably doesn’t earn its footprint on your desk, on the other hand, if you use it every day, you will certainly want to install the noisy thing far away from your workplace. PLA and PETG are often recommended as a less emissive and practically harmless alternative to ABS and Polycarbonate. But unless you want to stick to natural PLA, you’ll be sitting in a cloud of ultrafine particles and gasses emitted while either the print material itself, additives or colorants decompose during printing. ABS emits hydrocyanic acid and styrene fumes when heated, PC emits benzene, and some PETGs and Nylons contain additives with evenly potentially hazardous decomposition products. Don’t worry – there’s virtually no acute danger that these fumes will fell you instantly – but with continuous exposure in a desktop environment, long-term effects can be at least expected.

If used right, SLA printers can be less emissive than FDM printers. Yet it all depends on the resin. Most stock and third-party resins for 3D printing use are just fine, but on the hunt for photopolymers, look for the zero VOC kinds (less than 5 g/l volatile organic compounds). In case you’re wondering, some (not all) photopolymers indeed contain homeopathic doses of the toxic heavy metal antimony in their photoinitiator. As a trace amount of a trace amount that isn’t released during normal use, it’s certainly the least of your problems. Uncured resins are irritating to the skin, so nitrile gloves for the cleanup and post-curing are the way to go here.

Soldering DIY solder fume extractor (by ooumlout)

Open a window and get a solder fume extractor. Regular solder contains lead, and heating it up produces lead oxide fumes, which yields both short term and long term effects on your health. If you find yourself soldering a lot, a solder fume extractor will pays for itself and save you some headache, one of the common symptoms of lead oxide poisoning. Too costly? It’s just a bunch of fans and an active carbon filter pad, build your own!

Female hackers should mind that increased lead exposure is also linked to infertility, birth defects, and other reproductive harm. Consider lead-free solder as an alternative. Young hackers, and those who guide them, should be aware that even small amounts of lead can affect brain development. It’s better to complete the brains of your first robot lead-free. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing experienced solder-instructors like Mitch Altman at work, you’ll notice that he takes special care to make sure all used materials are lead-free.

You probably prefer using solder wire with flux cores. In presence of lead, rosin-based flux is certainly the least of your problems, but it may cause irritations and yield long-term problems including asthma and dermatitis. Need a snack while you hack? Wash your hands before to avoid ingestion of lead and flux.


Avoid cadmium. Most of what’s true for soldering is also true for brazing. Yet, some silver solder alloys additionally contain cadmium. Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal that can actually knock a naive user out, so opt for zinc or nickel alloys instead.

Welding And Plasma Cutting MIG welding (by W. M. Plate Jr.)

Ideally done outside. Electrowelders, TIG welding units, and plasma-torches have become cheap, and it’s easier to learn than most think. Welding is also an activity that emits plenty of toxic fumes and gasses into midair. Inhaling zinc oxide and magnesium oxide fumes, which emanate from galvanized steel during welding, can cause an illness known as metal fume fever. A respirator helps, although besides toxic fumes, also gasses are emitted from the filler material, other welding consumables and impurities (e.g. paint) on the welded material. Long-term exposure to welding fumes is known to cause lung cancer and a number of other diseases like asthma and pneumonia. Needless to say that welding without a welding mask will affect your eyesight, but good ventilation is equally important. For the hobbyist, all this is ideally done outdoors.

Sanding And Milling

Wear a respirator. Other than gasses and vapors, particulates from sanding or subtractive machining can easily be brought under control by wearing a simple respiratory mask. Additional safety goggles protect your eyes from acute injury and irritating dusts, especially from materials like glass fibers (e.g. from FR4 PCBs), and carbon fiber compounds.

Volatile Substances

There’s nothing as satisfying as using the correct solvent or resin for a given application. If you’ve noticed that a few of them smell funny, that’s your clue to check the backside of the container and do some reading.

Acetone, Turpentine, Naphtha, “Brush Cleaner”

Open a window and wear gloves. Even if you ignore all safety instructions on the container, you’ll probably automatically open a window when working with turpentine or acetone. The latter isn’t considered carcinogenic (anymore), but skin contact with the strong solvent as well as inhalation of its vapors can cause irritations. Turpentine, on the other hand, also commonly used as a brush cleaner, is indeed considered toxic, and its fumes will typically cause a headache, reminding you to take action and get some fresh air. It’s worth mentioning that there are a number of turpentine-replacements, including naphtha-based brush cleaners, that can be carcinogenic as well.

Dichloromethane (DCM) Dichloromethane (by LHcheM)

Avoid it if you can. Beyond the usual suspects, one of the more controversial solvents is dichloromethane. It’s highly volatile can even enter one’s bloodstream not only through vapor inhalation, but also through skin contact. In the EU, it’s banned as toxic and carcinogenic, despite the absence of useful replacements for applications like paint-strippers. It’s commonly used as such in the US and in other parts of the world, where it’s likely to be marked as toxic. It’s toxicity mostly affects workers who are exposed to the solvent unprotected and on a regular basis, rather than the hobbyist who uses it once.

However, it’s often suggested (e.g. here and here) to use dichloromethane to mix polycarbonate slurry as a means of improved build plate adhesion in desktop 3D printers, or to use dichloromethane to smooth prints from polycarbonate. If you plan to do this on a regular basis, maybe even in a desktop environment without further safety considerations like a self-contained breathing apparatus and chemical gloves, you might be facing a similar destiny as more than 14 bathtub refinishers, who the OSHA reports have died since 2000 from repeated dichloromethane exposure.

Polyester Resin

Use epoxy instead. Polyesters and other resins that contain volatile organic compounds (VOC), in particular styrene. If and how much styrene is actually carcinogenic is not entirely clear, but excessive exposure definitely leads to dizziness, with more acute risks when using heavy machinery or conducting vehicles afterward. Think twice if your project really requires polyester resin – epoxy may be more expensive, but it delivers a better mechanical performance and is far less costly in terms of your health.

Toxic Heavy Metals Antimony (by images-of-elements.com, CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Be aware and take care. Toxic heavy metals can be found both in solder and brazing fumes (mostly lead and cadmium), welding fumes (arsenic, chromium), in some photopolymers for 3D (and 2D) printing (antimony), and of course, in mercury switches and antique thermometers. If absorbed by your body, toxic heavy metals have the tendency to accumulate over an entire lifetime. They typically bind to certain organs or vital systems, where they may concentrate to toxic levels over time, causing various diseases from cancer over nervous disorders to diabetes.

Their toxicity depends a lot on their dose and application, as their presence in solder, piping, food packing and dental fillings shows. Still, avoid naive, repetitive exposure. This can be as simple as washing your hands after soldering, or wearing respiratory protection when welding or during other activities that bring you in contact with fumes and dust that contain heavy metals.

Don’t Panic

If you made it so far, a bit of soldering won’t knock you out, a bit of 3D printing won’t harm, and a bit of laser cutting won’t hurt. That’s not what this post is about. We’re not made of glass! Yet, the maker movement is going places, and there’s a growing gray zone where occasional fun projects develop into production-scale undertakings, and where art projects become monumental life works. Repeated and intense exposure to some hazards is a very different game than a little tinkering once in a while, and it really doesn’t take much to prevent long-term consequences. I’m sure many of our readers have great advice to add to this, be it from professional experience with occupational safety standards, or their own implementations to tackling solder fumes. Let us know in the comments!

Filed under: Curated, Hackaday Columns, how-to, Interest, Original Art

A Brief History Of ‘Drone’

จันทร์, 09/26/2016 - 22:30

In the early 1930s, Reginald Denny, an English actor living in Los Angeles, stumbled upon a young boy flying a rubber band-powered airplane. After attempting to help the boy by adjusting the rubber and control surfaces, the plane spun into the ground. Denny promised he would build another plane for the boy, and wrote to a New York model manufacturer for a kit. This first model airplane kit grew into his own hobby shop on Hollywood Boulevard, frequented by Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda.

The business blossomed into Radioplane Co. Inc., where Denny designed and built the first remote controlled military aircraft used by the United States. In 1944, Captain Ronald Reagan of the Army Air Forces’ Motion Picture unit wanted some film of these new flying targets and sent photographer David Conover to the Radioplane factory at the Van Nuys airport. There, Conover met Norma Jeane Dougherty and convinced her to go into modeling. She would later be known as Marilyn Monroe. The nexus of all American culture from 1930 to 1960 was a hobby shop that smelled of balsa sawdust and airplane glue. That hobby shop is now a 7-Eleven just off the 101 freeway.

Science historian James Burke had a TV wonderful show in the early 90s – Connections – where the previous paragraphs would be par for the course. Unfortunately, the timbre of public discourse has changed in the last twenty years and the worldwide revolution in communications allowing people to instantaneously exchange ideas has only led to people instantaneously exchanging opinions. The story of how the Dutch East India Company led to the rubber band led to Jimmy Stewart led to remote control led to Ronald Reagan led to Death of a Salesman has a modern fault: I’d have to use the word ‘drone’.

The word ‘propaganda’ only gained its negative connotation the late 1930s – it’s now ‘public relations’. The phrase ‘global warming’ doesn’t work with idiots in winter, so now it’s called ‘climate change’. Likewise, quadcopter pilots don’t want anyone to think their flying machine can rain hellfire missiles down on a neighborhood, so ‘drone’ is verboten. The preferred term is quadcopters, tricopters, multicopters, flying wings, fixed-wing remote-controlled vehicles, unmanned aerial systems, or toys.

I’m slightly annoyed by this and by the reminder I kindly get in my inbox every time I use the dreaded d-word. The etymology of the word ‘drone’ has nothing to do with spying, firing missiles into hospitals, or illegally killing American civilians. People like to argue, though, and I need something to point to when someone complains about my misuse of the word ‘drone’. Instead of an article on Hollywood starlets, the first remote control systems, and model aviation, you get an article on the etymology of a word. You have no one else to blame but yourself, Internet.

An Introduction, and Why This Article Exists

This article is purely about the etymology of the word ‘drone’. Without exception, every article and blog post I read while researching this topic failed to consider whether an unmanned or remotely piloted aircraft was called a ‘drone’ before its maiden flight, or while it was being developed. For example, numerous articles refer to the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane as the first ‘drone’. For the purposes of this article, this is patently untrue. The word ‘drone’ was first applied to unmanned aircraft in late 1934 or early 1935, and a World War I-era experiment could never be considered a drone by contemporaneous sources. Consider this article a compendium of the evolution of the word ‘drone’ over time.

Why this article belongs on Hackaday should require no explanation. This is one of the Internet’s largest communities of grammar enthusiasts, peculiarly coming from a subculture where linguistic play (and exceptionally dry sarcasm) is encouraged. Truthfully, I am so very tired of hearing people complain about the use of the word ‘drone’ when referring to quadcopters and other remote-controlled toys. To me, this article simply exists as something I can point to when telling off offended quadrotor pilots. I am considering writing a bot to do this automatically. Perhaps I will call this bot a ‘drone’.

The Source of ‘Drone’ c. 1935

Before the word was used to describe aircraft, ‘drone’ had two meanings. First as a continuous low humming sound, and second as a male bee. The male bee does no work, gathers no honey, and only exists for the purpose of impregnating the queen. It’s not hard to see why ‘drone’ is the perfect word to describe a quadcopter — a Phantom is mindless, and sounds like a sack full of bees. Where then did the third definition of ‘drone’ come from, a flying machine without a pilot on board?

The most cited definition of ‘drone’ comes from a 2013 Wall Street Journal article [1] from linguist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer, tracing the first use of the word to 1935. In this year, US Admiral William H. Standley witnessed a British demonstration of the Royal Navy’s new remote-controlled aircraft for target practice. The aircraft used was based on the de Havilland Tiger Moth, a biplane trainer built in huge numbers during the interwar period, redesignated as the Queen Bee. The implication of Zimmer’s article is that the word ‘drone’ comes from the de Havilland Queen Bee. This etymology is repeated in a piece in the New York Times Magazine published just after World War II [2]:

Drones are not new; inventors were experimenting with them twenty-five years ago. Before the war, small specially built radio-controlled planes were used for anti-aircraft purposes – widely in England, where the name “drone” originated, less extensively here…. The form of radio control used in the experimental days was developed and refined so that it could be applied to nearly any type of conventional plane.

I found this obvious primary source for Ben Zimmer’s etymology of drone in five minutes, but it doesn’t tell anyone if the Queen Bee designation of a remote-controlled biplane came about from the word ‘drone’ or vice versa. This etymology doesn’t really give any information about the technical capabilities or the tactical use of these drones. The unmanned aircraft discussed in the New York Times article would be better called a cruise missile, not a drone. Was the Queen Bee an offensive drone, or was it merely a device built for target practice? These are questions that need to be answered if we’re going to tell the people flying Phantoms to buzz off with their drones.

The Queen Bee, with Churchill

Biology sometimes mirrors linguistics, and the best place to look for the history of ‘drone’, then, is to look into the history of the Queen Bee. The Queen Bee – not its original name – was born out of a British Air Ministry specification 18/33. At the time, the Air Ministry issued several specifications every year for different types of aircraft. The Supermarine Spitfire was originally known to the military as F.37/34; a fighter, based on the thirty-seventh specification published in 1934. Therefore, the specification for a ‘radio-controlled fleet gunnery target aircraft’ means the concept of what a ‘drone’ would be was defined in 1933. Drones, at least in the original sense of a military aircraft, are not offensive weapons. They’re target practice, with similar usage entering the US Navy in 1936, and the US Air Force in 1948. The question remains, did ‘drone’ come before the Queen Bee, or is it the other way around?

The first target drone was built between late 1933 and early 1935 at RAF Farnborough by combining the fuselage of the de Havilland Moth Major with the engine, wings, and control surfaces of the de Havalland Tiger Moth [3]. The aircraft was tested from an airbase, and later launched off the HMS Orion for target practice. Gunnery crews noticed a particularly strange effect. This aircraft never turned, never pitched or rolled, and never changed its throttle position: this aircraft droned. It made a loud, low hum as it passed overhead. Drones are named for the hum, and the Queen Bee is just a clever play on words.

The word ‘drone’ does not come from the de Havilland Queen Bee, because the Queen Bee was originally a de Havilland Moth Major and Tiger Moth. ‘Queen Bee’, in fact, comes from ‘drone’, and ‘drone’ comes from the buzzing sound of an airplane flying slowly overhead. There’s a slight refinement of the etymology for you: the Brits brought the bantz, and a de Havilland was deemed a drone.

A ‘Drone’ is for Target Practice, 1936-1959

The word ‘drone’ entered the US Navy’s lexicon in 1936 [4] shortly after US Admiral William H. Standley arrived back from Europe, having viewed a Queen Bee being shot at by gunners on the HMS Orion. This would be the beginning of the US Navy’s use of the phrase, a term that would not officially enter the US Army and US Air Force’s lexicon for another decade.

Beginning in 1922, the US Navy would use an aircraft designation system to signify the role and manufacturer of any aircraft in the fleet. For example, the fourth (4) fighter (F) delivered to the Navy built by Vought (U) was the F4U Corsair. The first patrol bomber (PB) delivered by Consolidated (Y) was the PBY Catalina. In this system, ‘Drone’ makes an appearance in 1936, but only as ‘TD’, target drone, an airplane designed to be shot at for target practice.

A QB-17 drone at Holloman AFB, 1959.

For nearly twenty years following the introduction of the word into military parlance, ‘drone’ meant only a remote controlled aircraft used for target practice. B-17 and PB4Y (B-24) bombers converted to remote control under Operation Aphrodite and Operation Anvil were referred to as ‘guided bombs’. Just a few years after World War II, quite possibly using the same personnel and the same radio control technology that was developed during Operation Aphrodite, war surplus B-17s would be repurposed for use as target practice, where they would be called target drones. Obviously, ‘drone’ meant only target practice until the late 1950s.

If you’re looking for a proper etymology and definition of the most modern sense of the word ‘drone’, there you have it. It’s a remote-controlled plane designed for target practice. For the quadcopter pilots who dabble in lexicography, have an interest in linguistic purity, and are utterly offended by calling their flying camera platform a ‘drone’, there’s the evidence. A ‘drone’ has nothing to do with firing weapons down on a population or spying on civilians from forty thousand feet. In the original sense of the word, a drone is simply a remote-controlled aircraft designed to be shot at.

Language changes, though, and to successfully defend against all critics of my use of the word ‘drone’ as applying to all remote controlled aircraft, I’ll have to trace the usage of the word drone up to modern times.

The Changing Definition of ‘Drone’, 1960-1965

A word used for a quarter century will undoubtedly gain a few more definitions, and in the early 1960s, the definition of ‘drone’ was expanding from an aerial target used by British forces in World War II to a word that could be retroactively applied to the German V-1, an aerial target used by the British forces in World War II.

The next evolution of the word ‘drone’ can be found in the New York Times, November 19, 1964 edition [5], again from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Hanson W. Baldwin. Surely the first reporter on the ‘drone’ beat has more to add to the linguistic history of the word. In the twenty years that passed since Mr. Baldwin introduced the public to the word ‘drone’, a few more capabilities have been added to these unmanned aircraft:

Drone, or unpiloted aircraft, have been used for military and experimental purposes for more than a quarter of a century.

Since the spectacular German V-1, or winged missile, in World War II, advances in electronics and missile-guidance systems have fostered the development of drone aircraft that appear to be almost like piloted craft in their maneuverability.

The description of the capabilities of drones continues on to anti-submarine warfare, battlefield surveillance, and the classic application of target practice. Even in the aerospace industry, the definition of ‘drone’ was changing ever so slightly from a very complex clay pigeon to something slightly more capable.

In the early 1960s, NASA was given the challenge of putting a man on the moon. This challenge requires docking spacecraft, and at the time Kennedy issued this challenge, no one knew how to perform this feat of orbital mechanics. Martin Marietta solved this problem, and they did it with drones.

US patent 3,201,065 solves the problem of docking two spacecraft and does it with a drone.

Orbital docking was a problem NASA needed to solve before getting to the moon, and the solution came from the Gemini program. Beginning with the Gemini program, astronauts would perform an orbital rendezvous and dock with an unmanned spacecraft launched a few hours or days earlier. Later missions used the engine on the Agena to boost their orbit to world altitude records. The first experiments in artificial gravity came from tethering the Gemini capsule to the Agena and spinning the spacecraft around a common point.

The unmanned spacecraft used in the Gemini program, the Agena Target Vehicle, was not a drone. However, years before these rendezvous and docking missions would pave the way to a lunar landing, engineers at Martin Marietta would devise a method of bringing two spacecraft together with a device they called a ‘drone’ [6].

Martin Marietta’s patent 3,201,065 used an autonomous, remote-controlled spacecraft tethered to the nose of a Gemini spacecraft. Laden with a tank of pressurized gas, a few thrusters, and an electromagnet, an astronaut would fly this ‘docking drone’ into a receptacle in the target vehicle, activate the electromagnet, and reel in the tether bringing two spacecraft together. Here the drone was, like the target drones of World War II, remote-controlled. This drone spacecraft never flew, but it does show the expanding use of the word ‘drone’, especially in the aerospace industry.

If you’re looking an unimaginably cool drone that actually took to the air, you need only look at the Lockheed D-21, a reconnaissance aircraft designed to fly over Red China at Mach 3.

The M-21 carrier aircraft and D-21 drone. The M-21 was a variant of the A-12 reconnaissance aircraft, predecessor to the SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft.

The ‘D’ in ‘D-21’ means ‘daughter’, and the carrier aircraft for this unmanned spy plane is the M-21, ‘M’ meaning ‘mother’. Nevertheless, the D-21 was referred to in contemporary sources as a drone. The D-21 was perhaps the first drone referred to as such that was a pure observation aircraft, meant to spy on the enemy.

The 1960s didn’t just give drones the ability to haul a camera over the enemy. 1960 saw the first offensive drone – the first drone called as such that was able to drop homing torpedos into the ocean above enemy submarines.

The Gyrodyne QH-50 – also know as DASH, the Drone Anti-Submarine Helicopter – was the US Navy’s answer to a problem. At the time, the Soviets were building submarines faster than the United States could build anti-submarine frigates. Older ships were available, but these ships weren’t large enough for a full-sized helicopter. The solution was a drone that could launch off the deck, fly a few miles to an interesting ping on the sonar, and drop a torpedo. The solution was the first offensive drone, the first unmanned aircraft capable of delivering a weapon.

The QH-50 was a relatively small coaxial helicopter piloted by remote control. It was big enough to haul one torpedo twenty miles away from a ship and have this self-guided torpedo take care of the rest.

The QH-50 was a historical curiosity born from two realities. The US Navy had anti-submarine ships that could detect Soviet subs dozens of miles away. These anti-submarine ships didn’t have torpedos with that range and didn’t have a flight deck to launch larger helicopters. The QH-50 was the result, but new ships and more capable torpedos made this drone obsolete in less than a decade. An otherwise entirely unremarkable weapons platform, the QH-50 has one claim to fame: it was the first drone, referred to as such in contemporary sources, that could launch a weapon. It was the first offensive drone.

The Confusion of the Tounges, c. 1965-2000

On June 13, 1963, a Reuters article reported a joint venture between Britain and Canada to build an unmanned spy plane, specifically referred to as an ‘unmanned aerial vehicle’ [7]. The reporter, with full knowledge of the previous two decades of unmanned aerospace achievement, said this new project was ‘commonly referred to as a drone.’ By the mid-60s, the word ‘drone’ had its fully modern definition: it was simply any unmanned aerial vehicle, used for any purpose, ostensibly controlled in any manner. This definition was being supplanted by several competing terms, including ‘unmanned aerial vehicle’ and ‘remotely piloted vehicle’.

The term ‘drone’ would be usurped in common parlance for the newer, clumsier term, ‘unmanned aerial vehicle.’ A word that once referred to everything from flying targets to spacecraft subsystems would now be replaced. The term ‘unmanned aerial vehicle’ would make its first public military appearance in the Department of Defense report on Appropriations for 1972. The related term ‘remotely piloted vehicle’ or RPV, would first appear in government documents in the late 1980s. From the word drone, a thousand slightly different terms are born in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Even today, ‘unmanned aerial system’ is the preferred term used by the FAA. This phrase was created less than a decade ago.

Engineers built drones to surveil the Communist Chinese at Mach 3. Engineers patented a drone to dock two spacecraft together. Engineers built drones to hunt and sink submarines. The Air Force took old planes, painted them orange, and called them target drones. So the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the Earth, and they ceased calling their aircraft drones.

In the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, the term ‘drone’ would still be applied to target aircraft, and even today is still the preferred term for unmanned military aircraft used for target practice. Elsewhere in the military, the vast array of new and novel applications of unmanned aircraft heave meant new terms have cropped up.

Why these new terms were created is open to debate and interpretation. The military and aerospace companies have never shied away from a plague of acronyms, and a dizzying array of random letters thrown into a report is the easiest way of ensuring operational security. How can the enemy know what we’re doing if we don’t know ourselves? It’s questionable if the improved capabilities of drones, such as dropping torpedos or relaying video, can account for the vast array of acronyms — it appears these new acronyms were simply the creation of a few captains, majors, and engineers either at the Pentagon or one of a dozen aerospace companies. By the 1990s, the word drone was in a state of disuse, replaced by ‘UAV’, ‘RPV’, ‘UAS’, and a dozen other phrases synonymous with the word drone.

The Era of the Modern Drone, October 21, 2001 – Present

The definitive image of the modern drone is that of the General Atomics MQ-1 Predator laden with a Hellfire anti-tank missile on each wing. The Predator is an unmistakable aircraft featuring a bulbous nose just barely large enough to house the satellite antennae underneath. A small camera pod hangs off its chin. The long, thin wings appear as if they were stolen off a glider. A small propeller is mounted directly on the tail, and the unique inverted v-tail gives the impression this aircraft can never land, lest it be destroyed.

The Predator program began in the mid-1990s and was from the get-go referred to as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, or UAV. This changed on October 21, 2001, in a Washingon Post article from Bob Woodward. In the article, CIA Told to Do ‘Whatever Necessary’ to Kill Bin Laden, Woodward reintroduced the word ‘drone’ into the vernacular [8]. The drone in question was a CIA-operated Predator equipped with, “Hellfire antitank missiles that can be fired at targets of opportunity” Woodward, either through conversations with military officials, remembering the old term for this type of aircraft, needing a new word to describe this weapon delivery system, or simply being fed up with the alphabet soup of acronyms, chose to use the word ‘drone’.

If you’re angry at the word ‘drone’ being applied to a Phantom quadcopter, you have two people to blame. The first is Hanson W. Baldwin, military editor to the New York Times. Over a career of forty years, he introduced the word ‘drone’ to describe everything to target aircraft to cruise missiles. The second is Bob Woodward of the Washington Post. The man who broke Watergate also reintroduced the word ‘drone’ into the American consciousness.

A Briefer History Of ‘Drone’, and an Argument for its Use

The word ‘drone’ was first applied to unmanned aircraft in late 1934 or early 1935 because biplanes flying low overhead sound like a cloud of bees. For twenty-five years, ‘drone’ applied only to aircraft used as target aircraft. Beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the definition of ‘drone’ expanded to included all unmanned aircraft, from cruise missiles to spaceships. Around 1965, acronyms such as ‘UAV’, and ‘RPV’ took over as being either more descriptive or as a function of the military aerospace industry’s obsession with acronyms. In the late 1990s, the US Air Force and CIA began experimenting with Predator UAVs and Hellfire missiles. The first use of this weapons platform was mere weeks after the 9/11 attacks. This weapons platform became known as a Predator ‘drone’ in late 2001 thanks to Bob Woodward. Colloquially, the term ‘drone’ now applies to everything from unmanned military aircraft to quadcopters that fit in the palm of your hand.

The most frequently cited reason for not using the word ‘drone’ to describe everything from racing quadcopters to remote-controlled fixed wing aircraft orbiting a point for hours is linguistic purity. Words have meaning, so the argument goes, and it’s much better to use precise language to describe individual aircraft. A quadcopter is just that — a quadcopter. An autonomous plane used for inspecting pipelines is an unmanned aircraft system.

The argument of linguistic purity fails immediately, as the word ‘drone’ was applied to every conceivable aircraft at some time in history. In the 1960s, a ‘drone’ could mean a spaceship or spy plane. In the 1940s, a ‘drone’ simply meant an aircraft that was indistinguishable in characteristics from a balsa wood, gas powered remote controlled airplane of today. Even accepting the argument of linguistic purity has consequences: ‘drone’ originally meant ‘target drone’, an aircraft flown only for target practice. Sure, keep flying, I’ll go get my 12 gauge.

The argument of not using the word ‘drone’ to apply to what are effectively toys on the basis of language being defined by common parlance fails by tautology. ‘Drone’, critics say, only apply to military aircraft used for spying or raining Hellfires down on the enemy. It’s been this way since 2001, and since language is defined by common usage, the word ‘drone’ should not be applied to a Phantom quadcopter. This argument fails to consider that the word ‘drone’ has been applied to the Phantom since its introduction, and if language is defined by common usage than surely a quadcopter can be called a drone.

Instead of linguistic trickery, I choose to argue for the application of ‘drone’ on a philosophical basis. You are now reading this article on Hackaday, and for the thirty years, a ‘hacker’ is someone who breaks into computer systems, steals money from banks, leaks passwords to the darknet, and other illegal activities. Many other negative appellations apply to these activities; ‘crackers’ are those who simply break stuff, ‘script kiddies’ are responsible for the latest DDOS attack. Overall, though, ‘hackers’ is the collective that causes the most damage, or so the dictionary definition goes.

Obviously, the image of ‘hacking’ being only illegal or immoral is not one we embrace. The word is right there at the top of every page, and every word written here exudes the definition we want. ‘Hacking’, to us, is firmware tomfoolery, and electronic explorations of what should be possible but isn’t available to the public. We own the word ‘hack’ in every word we publish by extolling the virtues of independent study and discovery.

Everyone here learned a very long time ago you don’t impress people with pedantry. You won’t convert anyone from believing hackers stole aunt Mable’s identity to believing ‘hack’ is an inherently neutral term simply by telling them. Be the change you want to see in the world or some other idiotic phrase from a motivational poster, but the point remains. It’s always better to own a term than to insufferably deny it. It’s a lesson we’ve learned over the last decade, and hopefully one the drone community will soon pick up.

[1] http://www.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324110404578625803736954968

[2] The ‘Drone’: Portent Of Push-Button War Hanson W Baldwin, Hanson W. “The ‘Drone’: Portent Of Push-Button War.” New York Times Magazine 5 August, 1946: 10.

[3] De Havilland Philip Birtles – Jane’s – 1984

[4]History of Communications-Electronics in the United States Navy, Captain Linwood S. Howeth, USN, 1963.

[5] Many Uses for Drones, Baldwin, Hanson W. The New York Times 19 November, 1964: 2.

[6] US Patent 3201065.

[7] Britain and Canada Plan A ‘Spy Plane’, (Reuters), The New York Times, 13 June, 1963: 5

[8] CIA Told to Do ‘Whatever Necessary’ to Kill Bin Laden, Woodward, Bob. The Washington Post, 21 October, 2001.

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

Don’t Like the FAA’s Drone Registration? Sue Them!

จันทร์, 09/26/2016 - 21:00

When the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) began requiring registration of quadcopters (“drones”) in the US, it took a number of hobbyists by surprise. After all, the FAA regulates real 747s, not model airplanes. [John Taylor], an RC hobbyist, has done what you do when faced with a law that you believe is unjust: he’s filed a lawsuit in the DC District Court, claiming that the FAA has overstepped their mandate.

Which one is the “aircraft”?

The lawsuit will hinge (as legal battles often do) on the interpretation of words. The FAA’s interpretation of quadcopters to be “aircraft” rather than toys is at the center of the dispute. Putting hobbyists into a catch-22, the FAA also requires recreational RC pilots to stay under a height of 400 feet, while requiring “aircraft” to stay above 500 feet except for emergencies, take-off, or landing. Which do they mean?

The editorial staff at Hackaday is divided about whether the FAA ruling makes no sense at all or is simply making hobbyists “sign their EULA“. This writer has spent enough time inside the Beltway to know an expanse of a mandate when he sees it, and no matter which body of the US government is to blame, regulating toy planes and helicopters as if they were commercial aircraft is an over-reach. Even if the intentions are benign, it’s a poorly thought-out ruling and should be revisited.

If you agree, you now have the chance to put your money where your mouth is. The DC Area Drone User Group is putting together a legal defense fund to push [Taylor]’s case. Nobody would be cynical enough to suggest that one can buy the legal system in the US, but, paraphrasing Diamond Dave, it sure as heck can buy a good enough lawyer to get the law changed.

Filed under: drone hacks, news

Extra-Large Denial of Service Attack Uses DVRs, Webcams

จันทร์, 09/26/2016 - 20:00

Brace yourselves. The rest of the media is going to be calling this an “IoT DDOS” and the hype will spin out of control. Hype aside, the facts on the ground make it look like an extremely large distributed denial-of-service attack (DDOS) was just carried out using mostly household appliances (145,607 of them!) rather than grandma’s old Win XP system running on Pentiums.

Replace computers with DVRs. Slide from this talk by Lisa Plesiutschnig

We can argue all day about whether a digital video recorder (DVR) or an IP webcam is an “IoT” device and whether this DDOS attack is the biggest to date or merely among them, but the class of devices exploited certainly are not traditional computers, and this is a big hit. Most of these devices run firmware out of flash, and it’s up to the end user (who is not a sysadmin) to keep it up to date or face the wrath of hackers. And it’s certainly the case that as more Internet-facing devices get deployed, the hacker’s attack surface will grow.

Why did the DDOS network use these particular devices? We’re speculating, but we’d guess it’s a combination of difficult-to-update firmware and user “convenience” features like uPnP. To quote the FBI “The UPnP describes the process when a device remotely connects and communicates on a network automatically without authentication.” You can see how this would be good for both the non-tech-savvy and hostile attackers, right? (Turn off UPnP on your router now.)

We alternate between Jekyll and Hyde on the IoT. On one hand, we love having everything in our own home hooked up to our local WiFi network and running on Python scripts. On the other hand, connecting each and every device up to the broader Internet and keeping it secure would be a system administration headache. Average users want the convenience of the latter without having to pay the setup and know-how costs of the former. Right now, they’re left out in the cold. And their toasters are taking down ISPs.

Filed under: news, slider

Electronic Message In a Bottle

จันทร์, 09/26/2016 - 18:01

We remember going to grandfather’s garage. There he would be, his tobacco pipe clenched between his teeth, wisps of smoke trailing into the air around him as he focused, bent over another of his creations. Inside of a simple glass bottle was something impossible. Carefully, ever so carefully, he would use his custom tools to twist wire. He would carefully place each lead. Eventually when the time was right he would solder. Finally he’d place it on the shelf next to the others, an LED matrix in a bottle.

Well, maybe not, but [Mariko Kosaka]’s father [Kimio Kosaka] has done it. In order to build the matrix, he needed tools that could reach inside the mouth of the bottle without taking up too much space to allow for precise movement. To do this he bent, brazed, twisted, and filed piano wire into tools that are quite beautiful by themselves. These were used to carefully bend and position the LEDs, wires, and other components inside the bottle.

Once the part was ready, he used a modified Hakko soldering iron to do the final combination. We wonder if he even had to be careful to solder quickly so as not to build up a residue on the inside of the bottle? The electronics are all contained inside the bottle. One of the bottles contained another impressive creation of his: an entire Arduino with only wire, dubbed the Arduino Skeleton. Batteries are attached to the cork so when the power runs low it can be removed and replaced without disturbing the creation.

It’s a ridiculous labor of love, and naturally, we love it. There’s a video of it in operation as well as one with him showing how it was done which is visible after the break. He showed them off at the Tokyo Maker Faire where they were surely a hit.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks, led hacks

Ig Nobel Prizes: GoatMan, Volkswagen, and the Personalities of Rocks

จันทร์, 09/26/2016 - 15:01

Every year, the Journal of Improbable Research issues its prizes for the craziest (published) scientific research: the Ig Nobel Prize. The ceremony took place a couple nights ago, and if you want to see what you missed, we’ve embedded the (long) video below. (Trigger warning: Actual Nobel laureates being goofy.)

The Stinker

It’s hard to pick the best of freaky research, and the committee did a stellar job this year. The trick is that they don’t give the prize away to quacks — you won’t ever get one with your perpetual motion machine, for instance. Nope, the Ig Nobels go to the kookiest science that could actually end up being useful. So we get projects like the effect of wearing polyester on the sexual activity of rodents in “reproduction” and a study on the perceived personalities of different rocks for marketing purposes in “economics”.

The headline photo is of Thomas [GoatMan] Thwaites, a post-humanist who decided to go Capra rather than cyborg. After getting goat prostheses built, he lived with a herd for a week up high in the Swiss alps. He shared the award with Charles [NoNickname] Foster, who lived as a badger, an otter, a deer, a fox, and a bird for the book that he wrote.

The most ironic award, in chemistry, went to Volkswagen for their work on reducing diesel engine emissions. Zing!

If you like your science served silly, you should really go read the entire list, complete with paper citations.

[via the BBC]

Filed under: news