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Radio and Phone Speaker has Style

พฤ, 02/23/2017 - 10:00

Building a crystal radio isn’t exactly rocket science. Some people who build them go for pushing them technically as far as they can go. Others, like [Billy Cheung], go for style points. The modular radio and phone speaker looks like it came out of the movie Brazil. The metallic gramophone-like speaker horn adds to the appeal and mechanically amplifies the sound, too.

The video (see below) isn’t exactly a how-to, but if you watch to the end there is enough information that you could probably reproduce something at least similar. There are actually several horns. One is made from copper, another from paper, and one from a plastic bottle.

There’s also a socket to take different detectors. The radio appears to have a great frequency range, although you’ll have to squint at the video to see the schematic. We are hoping [Billy] will have it posted on his blog, too, eventually. Same goes for the templates for cutting out and assembling the horns. However, if you freeze the video, you can see most, if not all, of the major components.

We’ve seen [Billy] around here before with simple crystal radios. If you want to see just how far you can go with a crystal radio obsession, look no further than this.

Filed under: radio hacks

Touch Sensitive Cement with Just a Dash of Neon

พฤ, 02/23/2017 - 07:00

For quite some time now we’ve seen people casting their own countertops and other surfaces out of cement. It’s a combination of mold-making and surface finishing that produces a smooth and durable surface at quite a low cost, if you don’t factor in damage done to your back when lifting the thing for installation.

This offering is a little bit different. [Elliott Spelman] built his own touch sensitive cement table top. When you place your grubby hands on the polished surface, a loop of neon lighting is switched on. This is thanks to a 4:1 mix of quick setting cement and iron oxide powder. Bare copper wire was laid around the edges of the surface to be encased by the cement for making connections later.

There were some sad moments when [Elliott] was removing the cast surface from the mold. He ended up cracking it and suggests others be liberal with their use of both wax on the mold before casting, and patience in removing the cement afterward. We might also suggest a strengthening agent like fiber reinforcement. The edges and surface can be sanded to the finish desired and in this case, attaching table legs was easy since the wooden underside of the mold remains on the bottom of the cement.

The neon lighting adds a retro touch to this build. It’s sad to see this technology dying away, so a resurgence of artisanal neon is great in our book. [Elliott] found a Bay Area arts collective called the Crucible which does a lot of art glass education to help him make two hoops of glass tube and fill them with the appropriate gasses. A capacitive touch sensor (once Atmel, now Microchip part) AT42QT2120 (datasheet) monitors the wire coming from the slab and switches the power supply for the tubes using a combination of relay board and Arduino Uno.

We find the prospect of positional sensing in doped cement fascinating. Anyone have ideas for adapting this technique so that a more long and narrow slab could have positional awareness within, say, a few inches? Let us know in the comments.

If you’re looking for other interesting adventures in cement casting, this Thwomp-themed Raspberry Pi proves that what can go wrong will, yet persistence prevails.

Filed under: home hacks

Tales Of A Cheap Chinese Laser Cutter

พฤ, 02/23/2017 - 04:00

The star turn of most hackspaces and other community workshops is usually a laser cutter. An expensive and fiddly device that it makes much more sense to own collectively than to buy yourself.

This isn’t to say that laser cutters are outside the budget of the experimenter though, we’re all familiar with the inexpensive table-top machines from China. Blue and white boxes that can be yours for a few hundred dollars, and hold the promise of a real laser cutter on your table.

Owning one of these machines is not always smooth sailing though, because their construction and choice of components are often highly variable. A thorough check and often a session of fixing the non-functional parts is a must before first power-on.

[Extreme Electronics] bought one, and in a series of posts documented the process from unboxing to cutting. Starting with a full description of the machine and what to watch for out of the box, then a look at the software. A plugin for Corel Draw was supplied, along with a dubious copy of Corel Draw itself. Finally we see the machine in operation, and the process of finding the proper height for beam focus by cutting an inclined plane of acrylic.

The series rounds off with a list of useful links, and should make interesting reading for anyone, whether they are in the market for a cutter or not.

These cutters/engravers have featured here before many times. Among many others we’ve seen one working with the Mach3 CNC software, or another driven by a SmoothieBoard.

Filed under: laser hacks

From Zero to Nano

พฤ, 02/23/2017 - 02:31

Have you ever wanted to build your own Arduino from scratch? [Pratik Makwana] shares the entire process of designing, building and flashing an Arduino Nano clone. This is not an entry-level project and requires some knowledge of soldering to succeed with such small components, but it is highly rewarding to make. Although it’s a cheap build, it’s probably cheaper to just buy a Nano. That’s not the point.

The goal here and the interesting part of the project is that you can follow the entire process of making the board. You can use the knowledge to design your own board, your own variant or even a completely different project.

[Pratik Makwana] starts by showing how to design the circuit schematic diagram in an EDA tool (Eagle) and the corresponding PCB layout design. He then uses the toner transfer method and a laminator to imprint the circuit into the copper board for later etching and drilling. The challenging soldering process is not detailed, if you need some help soldering SMD sized components we covered some different processes before, from a toaster oven to a drag soldering process with Kapton tape.

Last but not least, the bootloader firmware. This was done using an Arduino UNO working as master and the newly created the Arduino Nano clone as target. After that you’re set to go. To run an actual sketch, just use your standard USB to UART converter to burn it and proceed as usual.

Voilá, from zero to Nano:

If you still want to build an Arduino but the difficulty level is a bit high for you, maybe a good idea is to start with the Shrimp.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks

Harmonographs Generate Geometric Images Unique as Fingerprints

พฤ, 02/23/2017 - 01:01

When my elder brother and I were kids back in the late 1970’s, our hacker Dad showed us this 1960-61 catalog of the Atlas Lighting Co (later Thorn Lighting) with an interesting graphic design on the cover. He told us to do a thought experiment, asking us to figure out how it would be possible to have a machine that would draw the design on that catalog cover.

Incorrectly, our first thought was that the design was created with a Spirograph. A spirograph has two main parts: a large ring with gear teeth on the inside and outside circumferences and a set of smaller, toothed wheels with holes in them for inserting a drawing instrument — usually a ball point pen. You hold the big ring, insert the pen in the smaller wheel, and then mesh and rotate the smaller wheel around the big ring. But spirographs can’t be used to draw irregular, asymmetrical figures. You could always recreate a design. Because of the nature of gears, none of them were unique, one off, designs.

A spirograph set like this cannot make the image above [Image credit: Multicherry CC-BY-SA 3.0]We figured adding some lever arms, and additional geared wheels (compound gears) could achieve the desired result. It turns out that such a machine is called a Cycloid Drawing Machine. But even with this kind of machine, it was possible to replicate a design as often as required. You would fix the gears and levers and draw a design. If the settings are not disturbed, you can make another copy. Here’s a video of a motorized version of the cycloid machine.

The eventual answer for making such designs was to use a contraption called as the harmonograph. The harmonograph is unique in the sense that while you can make similar looking designs, it would be practically impossible to exactly replicate them — no two will be exactly the same. This thought experiment eventually led to my brother building his own harmonograph. This was way back when the only internet we had was the Library, which was all the way across town and not convenient to pop in on a whim and fancy. This limited our access to information about the device, but eventually, after a couple of months, the project was complete.

Getting the Swing of Things

It quickly dawned on us that using gears wasn’t the solution to this problem. A pendulum clock gave us some pointers about a plausible solution. Much later we learned that the earliest ‘lateral’ harmonographs consisted of single axis pendulums. One moved the pen laterally along the drawing platform, while the other moved the drawing platform perpendicular to the pen. Their limited movement resulted in Lissajous curves. If the pendulums were instead allowed more degrees of movement by fixing them to gimbals, more complex designs were possible.

Harmonograph seen at BAMF 2016 (video)

But getting from theory to practice isn’t always easy. We could tie string to a pen and weigh it down with some weights, attach it to a hook, and swing it around. That might work, but we would need a spherical (concave) surface for the pen to make constant contact. Here’s an example that shows paint streaming out of a nozzle from a swinging container. Or we could use a free floating or spring damped pen which is able to move freely in the vertical axis to ensure that it is in contact with the paper while the pendulum swings around. [Jonathan Lansey] describes the construction of such a single pendulum harmonograph with a floating pen mechanism, along with a detailed mathematical analysis.

Our Prototype

After some more time with our thinking caps on, we finally had a good idea of how to build our device — a dual pendulum design, with one pendulum moving the pen and the other one moving the drawing platform. We could attach a rigid pendulum to a gimbal, fix a hinged lever on top of it and a pen at the end of the lever. Move the pendulum and the pen will move too, but will stay in constant contact with the paper because of the hinged lever. All we had in terms of plans was hand drawn sketches. We tried using material we had lying around, so there were a lot of changes going from sketches to finished parts. It helped that we had our own workshop with all the tools and machines needed to build it.

Our final design consisted of a welded steel frame that could be cantilevered to the edge of a table, so it wasn’t a self-standing design. The frame held two gimbals, each having a pendulum. One carried the pen lever with its counter weight, while the other was used to move the drawing platform. Adjusting the pendulum height changed the time constant, and adjusting the pen lever counter weight controlled how firmly the pen pushed on the paper. More weight caused friction, slowing down the pendulum faster. Less weight and the pen lines became whisker thin. The new version, seen in the video below, was built a couple of years back and is similar to the one we built in the ‘70’s, except it is completely self standing and portable.

Harmonograph Design Improvements

It’s possible to add additional degrees of movement to create even more stunning art. Instead of moving the pen via a single pendulum, you could use two pendulums and get the pen to move in an even more complex motion. [Karl Sims] describes the construction of such a three pendulum design which is simple to fabricate. Or you can attach two, or even three, pens and create multi-colored designs.

In 2017, with the comfort of having instant access to practically any kind of information, it’s easy to learn a lot more about the harmonograph than we could back in the ’70’s. For example, Vol 100, Issue 1389 of the New Scientist from 1983 features a nice one page overview of the harmonograph, giving some insight into its past history. And [Anthony Ashton]’s book Harmonograph: A Visual Guide to the Mathematics of Music is considered a definitive reference on this subject. Do a cursory search for harmonograph images in any search engine and you will have hundreds of beautiful pictures to admire.

We featured a three pendulum harmonograph, built using [Karl Sims]’s plans a long while ago and were wondering if any of you hackers out there have built another one? Let us know.

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, misc hacks

Friday Hack Chat: Security for IoT

พฤ, 02/23/2017 - 00:01

Over the last few weeks, our weekly Hack Chats on hackaday.io have gathered a crowd. This week, we’re talking about the greatest threat humanity has ever faced: toasters with web browsers.

The topic of this week’s Hack Chat is Security for IoT, because someone shut down the Internet with improperly configured webcams.

This chat is hosted by the Big Crypto Team at the University of Pittsburgh. [Wenchen Wang], [Ziyue Sun], [Brandon Contino], and [Nick Albanese] will be taking questions about lightweight devices connected to the Internet. Discussion will include building things that connect to larger networks securely.

The Big Crypto team at UP are thinking about the roadblocks people have to implement security in their projects, and if apathy or ignorance is the main reason security isn’t even considered in the worst IoT offenders.

The Hack Chat is scheduled for Friday, February 24th at noon PST (20:00 GMT).

Here’s How To Take Part:

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging.

Log into Hackaday.io, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Upcoming Hack Chats

These Hack Chats are becoming very popular, and that’s due in no small part to the excellent lineup of speakers we’ve hosted. Already, we’ve had [Lady Ada], [Sprite_tm], and [bunnie] — engineers, hackers, and developers who are at the apex of their field. We’re not resting on our laurels, though: in a few weeks we’ll be hosting Hack Chats with [Roger Thornton], an engineer with Raspberry Pi, and Fictiv, masters of mechanical manufacturing.

Filed under: Hackaday Columns

MicroVox Puts the 80’s Back into Your Computer’s Voice

พุธ, 02/22/2017 - 23:00

[Monta Elkins] got it in his mind that he wanted to try out an old-style speech synthesizer with the SC-01 (or SC-01A) chip, one that uses phonemes to produce speech. After searching online he found a MicroVox text-to-speech synthesizer from the 1980s based around the chip, and after putting together a makeshift serial cable, he connected it up to an Arduino Uno and tried it out. It has that 8-bit artificial voice that many of us remember fondly and is fairly understandable.

The SC-01, and then the SC-01A, were made by Votrax International, Inc. In addition to the MicroVox, the SC-01 and SC-01A were used in the Heath Hero robot, the VS-100 synthesizer add-on for TRS-80s, various arcade games such as Qbert and Krull, and in a variety of other products. Its input determines which phonemes to play and where it shines is in producing good transitions between them to come up with decent speech, much better than you’d get if you just play the phonemes one after the other.

The MicroVox has a 25-pin RS-232 serial port as well as a parallel port and a speaker jack. In addition to the SC-01A, it has a 6502 under the hood. [Monta] was lucky to also receive the manual, and what a manual it is! In addition to a list of the supported phonemes and words, it also contains the schematics, parts list and details for the serial port which alone would make for fun reading. We really liked the taped-in note seen in this screenshot. It has a hand-written noted that says “Factory Corrected 10/18/82”.

Following along with [Monta] in the video below, he finds the serial port’s input buffer chip datasheet online and verifies the voltage levels. Next he opens up the case and uses dips switches to set baud rate, data bits, parity, stop bits and so on. After hooking up the speakers, putting together a makeshift cable for RX, TX and ground, and writing a little Arduino code, he sends it text and out comes the speech.

The SP-01 wasn’t the only speech chip from the 1980s we’ve come across. [Marquis de Geek] used the SP0256 to make what he calls a homemade Stephen Hawking. And Votrax themselves had their own speech box, the Type ‘N Talk, which was often used to give a voice to the VIC-20. But [Jan] didn’t have one so he used an Android phone instead to give voice to old text adventure games running on his VIC-20.

Filed under: classic hacks

Interview: Nacer Chahat Designs Antennas for Mars CubeSats

พุธ, 02/22/2017 - 22:01

You have a shoe box sized computer that you want to use in a Mars fly by. How do you communicate with it? The answer is a very clever set of antennas. I got to sit down with Nacer Chahat, one of the engineers on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory team responsible for antenna design on Mars Cube One (MarCO). Two of these CubeSats that will soon be used to help a lander reach Mars. We talked about the work that went into MarCO, the deployable radar antenna he’s worked on for the RainCube project, and the early progress on OMERA, the One Meter Reflectarray.

This is a fascinating discussion of dealing with a multitude of engineering challenges including lack of available space for the antenna components, and power and weight limitations. Check out the video interview to see how the people at JPL fit it all into this, and other tiny satellites, then join us below for more details.

Bent Pipe Communications Small scale model of MarCO

It is difficult for vehicles on the surface of Mars to communicate directly with Earth, but much easier for satellites in Mars orbit to do so. There is already one large satellite orbiting the planet, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) which entered orbit in 2006. It is in contact with Earth but sometimes doesn’t have line of sight because it is behind Mars. This means windows of time when communications are not available.

NASA plans to launch InSight — a lander that will dig below the surface of the red planet — in 2018. Two 6U CubeSats will be along for the ride, separating from the rest of the payload as they approach Mars. These satellites will communicate with InSight during entry descent and landing on UHF, and communicate back to Earth on X-band. This is an important because the MRO will be behind Mars during that time, unable to perform this task.

The ‘Bent Pipe’ refers to the ability of these CubeSats to be in contact with both the lander and Earth, relaying data in real time at the same rate it is received from the lander. Once the lander has touched down the MarCO satellites will have performed their task and will fly by the planet, but will not enter orbit.

This is a fascinating development for several reasons. Currently, the MRO is capable of both UHF and X-band communications but not at the same time. The CubeSats, which are cheaper and faster to build, can communicate on both bands at the same time and will provide the data relay during InSight’s EDL.

A Very Small Target a Very Long Distance Away

On average, Mars is about 225,000,000 kilometers away from earth. The communication link JPL is building between the two is the size of a shoebox. A 6U CubeSat measures about 10x20x30 cm. This is an incredible engineering challenge. The satellites need to be self sufficient, able to orient themselves correctly, be able to survive the trip from one planet to another, and have the radio equipment necessary to communicate over that distance. This is where the team Nacer works with comes into the picture.

Antenna engineers and mechanical engineers work together with the rest of the CubeSat teams to design and build the communications array. In this case, a brand new radio called IRIS was developed to help meet the power and size constraints. There almost no room inside the vehicle left for an antenna array so the reflectors were built to fold flat on the outside of the vehicle. The UHF antenna, which communicates with the Mars ground vehicles, sits flat on the bottom of the satellite but pops out like a jack-in-the-box.

The X-band antenna that transmits back to earth folds into three panels. When deployed, the reflector array is wider than it is tall so the signal source also has an array to utilize the full reflector. Interestingly, the pattern you can see on the reflector array helps the flat panels act more like a parabolic reflector. MarCO is also capable of receiving X-band from Earth using the array seen on the front face of the folded model above. These CubeSats are unable to transmit on the UHF band, they only receive the UHF communications from ground vehicles.

MarCO antenna team at JPL poses with the prototypes Bigger Reflectors, Same 6U Form Factor RainCube Ka-band reflector in deployed configuration

I originally met Nacer after I toured NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory back in December. I had marveled at the deployable antenna for SMAP — a full sized satellite — and he contacted me to mention how awesome deployables are in these CubeSats. He wasn’t kidding. He has also worked on the RainCube project which will orbit earth collecting precipitation data using radar.

RainCube includes a 0.5 meter parabolic reflector for Ka-band operation. The reflector still needs to fit inside the 10x20x30 cm satellite. Specifically, the design team was allotted a 10x10x15 centimeter storage area for the reflector and the arm that holds the subreflector.

The result is this fantastic two-stage parabolic reflector which extends out of the canister at one end of the CubeSat and then unfolds a second stage. The subreflector arm then pops out to the appropriate position, about 0.24 meters from the main reflector. A demonstration of the deployment is shown during the video interview.

You Call That a Challenge? Nacer Chahat poses next to OMERA fixed protoype in one of JPL’s anechoic chambers

It seems that a half-meter reflector isn’t a big enough challenge for the JPL team. They are now working on a project called OMERA. I could find very little information available for this project so I am happy that Nacer was able to share. This acronym stands for the One Meter Reflectarray, a square reflector that measures one meter on each side.

The team has just finished building a fixed model of the reflector design and you can see Nacer posing with the OMERA prototype in one of JPL’s anechoic chambers. This prototype doesn’t fold, but having proven the RF properties of the system the next step is for the mechanical engineers to add hinges to the fifteen panels and develop a deployment system. The feed for this reflector array needs to extend about 0.7 meters from the array which is itself no small feat. This operates on the Ka-band so the surface accuracy is much less forgiving than with X-band communications.

The work going into these CubeSats is fantastic! It’s amazing to see both the constraints that these engineers face and their solutions. The programs cost less to see through than ever before, which we hope means more hardware in less time. It also has the effect of energizing the engineers like Nacer who work on these programs as everywhere you turn there is a new and exciting challenge to take on.

If you’re part of your own awesome engineering project we’d love to talk to you too. Make sure to let us know what you’re up to by contacting us on the Hackaday Tips Line.

Filed under: Engineering, Featured, Interviews, radio hacks, slider

T-Rex Runner Runs on Transistor Tester

พุธ, 02/22/2017 - 19:01

If you’ve ever spent time online buying electronic doodads — which would mean almost all of us — then sooner or later, the websites get wind of your buying sprees and start offering “suggested” advertisements for buying more useless stuff. One commonly offered popular product seems to be a universal component tester, often referred to as a “Mega328 Transistor Tester Diode Triode Capacitance ESR Meter”. These consist of an ATmega328, an SPI LCD display, a Button, a ZIF socket and a few other components. Almost all of them are cheap clones of the splendid AVR-TransistorTester project by [Markus Frejek]. [Robson Couto] got one of these clone component testers, and after playing with it for a while, decided to hack it and write a T-Rex runner game for it.

The T-Rex runner game is Chrome’s offering for you to while away your time when it can’t connect to the internet. It needs just one button to play. This is just the kind of simple game that can be easily ported to the Component Tester. The nice take away from [Robson]’s blog post is not that he wrote a simple game for an ATmega connected to an LCD display, but the detailed walk through he provides of the process which can be useful to anyone else wanting to dip their feet in the world of writing games.

After a bit of online sleuthing and some multimeter testing, he was able to figure out that the LCD controller chip was connected to Port D of the ATmega, which meant the use of software SPI via bit-banging. He then looked inside the disassembled firmware to find writes to Port D to figure out pin assignments. Of course not long after all this work he found a config.h file with the pin mappings.

Armed with this information he was able to use the Adafruit ST7565 library to drive the LCD, but not before having to flip the image. The modified fork of his ST7565 library is available on GitHub. His game code is also available, but reading through the development process is pretty interesting. Check out a video of the Runner game in action after the break.

In an earlier post, we did a product review of one of these cheap Transistor Testers, and if you have one of these lying around, give [Robson]’s game a spin — it could be handy while you wait for your reflow oven to finish its soldering cycle.

Filed under: tool hacks

Moving Microns with a High Precision Linear Stage

พุธ, 02/22/2017 - 16:01

As anyone who has experimented with their own home-made CNC machinery will tell you, precision isn’t cheap. You can assemble a gantry mill using off-the-shelf threading and kitchen drawer slides. But it’s a safe assumption that if you put the tool at a particular position it won’t be quite at the same position next time you return. But if you take your budget from dirt cheap to reasonably priced you can do much better. [Adam Bender] designs high-precision automation systems for a living, so when he needed a precision linear stage for a personal project he achieved micron level accuracy for under $500.

Red parts are the two spring-loaded nuts

He explains the problem of backlash with an inexpensive lead screw — the wiggle between threaded components that cause positional chaos. His solution uses two nuts preloaded against each other with a spring. There is still a stick-slip issue; a tendency to move in lurches due to differences between the coefficients of static and dynamic friction between the materials. Careful choice of machining stock for the nut to picking materials in which these coefficients were almost identical reduced the stick-slip to as little as possible.

He goes into significant detail on the design, manufacture, and testing of all the components of his stage, its body, sealing system, and control. If you are a precision CNC guru maybe you’ll find it interesting as a cleverly designed component, but if you are a mere dilettante you’ll find it fascinating to read a comprehensive but accessible write-up from a professional in the field.

This build probably goes a step beyond most we’ve featured in the past, but that’s not to say we’ve not seen some pretty good efforts.

Filed under: tool hacks

Zork Comes to Custom FPGA CPU (Again)

พุธ, 02/22/2017 - 13:00

[Robert Baruch] wanted to tackle a CPU project using an FPGA. One problem you always have is you can either mimic something that has tools and applications or  you can go your own way and just build everything from scratch (which is much harder).

[Robert] took the mimic approach–sort of. He built a CPU with the express idea of running Infocom’s Z-machine virtual machine, which allows it to play Zork. So at least when you are done, you don’t have to explain to your non-tech friends that it only blinks an LED. Check out the video, below, for more details.

If it were just the Z-machine on an FPGA, we’ve seen that before. We’ve also seen people take the long road and build up everything around their custom CPUs. What makes this interesting is a very detailed set of videos describing the CPU and how it came to life.

We don’t mean there’s a five-minute video describing the CPU. Each of the six videos are substantial (most are longer than 40 minutes) and [Robert] walks through the Verilog code, using the Xilinx tools, and simulation. There are more videos to go, but with about four hours of video in the can, you might want to get a head start and watch them now.

If you’ve ever wanted to watch over someone’s shoulder while they are doing a significant Verilog FPGA design, this is your chance. We’ve seen the end result done before. If you want a peek at how it is to build the CPU and all new tools, A2Z is a good example of that. Maybe someone will port Zork to it soon.

Filed under: FPGA

Decimal Oscilloclock harks back to 1927 movie

พุธ, 02/22/2017 - 10:00

Metropolis is a classic, silent film produced in 1927 and was one of the very first full length feature films of the science fiction genre, and very influential. (C-3PO was inspired by Maria, the “Machine human” in Metropolis.) Within the first couple of minutes in the film, we get to see two clocks — one with a 24-hour dial and another larger one with a 10-hour dial. The human overlords of Metropolis lived a utopian 24 hour day, while the worker scum who were forced to live and work underground, were subjected to work in two ten-hour shifts during the same period.

[Aaron]’s client was setting up a Metropolis themed man-cave and commissioned him to build a Metropolis Oscilloclock which would not only show the 24 hour and 10 hour clocks from the film, but also accurately reproduce the clock movements and its fonts. [Aaron]’s Oscilloclock is his latest project in the series of bespoke CRT clocks which he has been building since he was a teen.

The clock is built around a Toshiba ST-1248D vintage oscilloscope that has been beautifully restored. There are some modern additions – such as LED glow indicators for the various valves and an external X-Y input to allow rendering Lissajous figures on the CRT. He’s also added some animations derived from the original poster of the film. Doing a project of this magnitude is not trivial and its taken him almost eight months to bring it from concept to reality. We recommend looking through some of his other blog posts too, where he describes how oscilloclocks work, how he builds the HV power supplies needed to drive the CRT’s, and how he ensures vibration and noise damping for the cooling fans used for the HV power supplies. It’s this attention to detail which results in such well-built clocks. Check out some of [Aaron]’s other awesome Oscilloclock builds that we have featured over the years.

The film itself has undergone several restoration attempts, with most of it being recovered from prints which were discovered in old archives. If you wish to go down that rabbit hole, check out Wikipedia for more details and then head over to YouTube where several versions appear to be hosted.

http://oscilloclock.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Metropolis-10-hour-time.mp4 http://oscilloclock.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Metropolis-external-XY-input-L.mp4


Filed under: clock hacks

Reverse Engineering Enables Slick Bluetooth Solution for Old Car Stereo

พุธ, 02/22/2017 - 07:00

Those of us who prefer to drive older cars often have to make sacrifices in the entertainment system department to realize the benefits of not having a car payment. The latest cars have all the bells and whistles, while the cars of us tightwads predate the iPod revolution and many lack even an auxiliary input jack. Tightwads who are also hackers often remedy this with conversion projects, like this very slick Bluetooth conversion on a Jeep radio.

There are plenty of ways to go about piping your favorite tunes from a phone to an old car stereo, but few are as nicely integrated as [Parker Dillmann]’s project. An aftermarket radio of newer vintage than the OEM stereo in his 1999 Jeep would be one way to go, but there’s no sport in that, and besides, fancy stereos are easy pickings from soft-top vehicles. [Parker] was so determined to hack the original stereo that he bought a duplicate unit off eBay so he could reverse engineer it on the bench. What’s really impressive is the way [Parker] integrates the Bluetooth without any change to OEM functionality, which required a custom PCB to host an audio level shifter and input switch. He documents his efforts very thoroughly in the video after the break, but fair warning of a Rickroll near the end.

So many of these hacks highjack the tape deck or CD input, but thanks to his sleuthing and building skills, [Parker] has added functionality without sacrificing anything.

Filed under: car hacks, portable audio hacks

A Real Star Trek Communicator Badge

พุธ, 02/22/2017 - 04:00

Star Trek has never let technology get in the way of a good story. Gene Roddenberry and the writers of the show thought up some amazing gadgets, from transporters to replicators to the warp core itself. Star Trek: The Next Generation brought us the iconic communicator badge. In 1987, a long-range radio device which could fit in a pin was science fiction. [Joe] is bringing these badges a bit closer to the real world with his entry in the 2017 Hackaday Sci-Fi Contest.

The first problem [Joe] dealt with was finding a radio which could run from watch batteries, and provide decently long-range operations. He chose the HopeRF RFM69HCW. Bringing fiction a bit closer to reality, this module has been used for orbital communications with low-cost satellites.

The Badge’s processor is a Teensy LC. [Joe] is rolling his own Teensy, which means using bootloader chips from PJRC, as well as the main microcontroller. Kicking the main micro into operation is where [Joe] is stuck right now. Somewhere between the breadboard and the first spin of the surface mount PCB things went a bit sideways. The oscillators are running, but there are no USB communications. [Joe] is trying another board spin. He made a few improvements and already has new boards on the way. Switching to a toaster oven or skillet paste and solder setup would definitely help him get the new badges up and running.

Filed under: contests, radio hacks

Microchip Launches New Family Of PICs

พุธ, 02/22/2017 - 02:30

Over the last few years, we’ve seen projects and products slowly move from 8-bit microcontrollers to more powerful ARM microcontrollers. The reason for this is simple — if you want to do more stuff, like an Internet-connected toaster, you need more bits, more Flash, and more processing power. This doesn’t mean 8-bit microcontrollers are dead, though. Eight bit micros are still going strong, and this week Microchip announced their latest family of 8-bit microcontrollers.

The PIC16F15386 family of microcontrollers is Microchip’s latest addition to their portfolio of 8-bit chips. This family of microcontrollers is Microchip’s ‘everything and the kitchen sink’ 8-bit offering. Other families of PICs have included features such as a complementary waveform generator, numerically controlled oscillator, a configurable logic controller, power saving functionality and the extreme low power features, but never before in one piece of silicon.

This feature-packed 8-bit includes a few new tricks not seen before in previous Microchip offerings. Of note are power management features (IDLE and DOZE modes), and a Device Information Area on the chip that contains factory-calibrated data (ADC voltage calibration and a fixed voltage reference) and an ID unique to each individual chip.

As you would expect from a new family of PICs, the 16F15386 is compatible with the MPLAB Xpress IDE and the MPLAB Code Configurator, a graphical programming environment. The products in the family range from 8-pin packages (including DIP!) with 3.5kB of program Flash to 48-pin QFPs with 28kB of program Flash. The goal for Microchip is to provide a wide offering, allowing designers to expand their builds without having to change microcontroller families.

All of these chips can be sampled now, although the lower pin count devices won’t be available through normal means until next month.

Filed under: Microcontrollers, news

Ask Hackaday: Is Owning A 3D Printer Worth It?

พุธ, 02/22/2017 - 01:00

3D printers are the single best example of what Open Hardware can be. They’re useful for prototyping, building jigs for other tools, and Lulzbot has proven desktop 3D printers can be used in industrial production. We endorse 3D printing as a viable tool as a matter of course around here, but that doesn’t mean we think every house should have a 3D printer.

Back when Bre was on Colbert and manufacturing was the next thing to be ‘disrupted’, the value proposition of 3D printing was this: everyone would want a 3D printer at home because you could print plastic trinkets. Look, a low-poly Bulbasaur. I made a T-rex skull. The front page of /r/3Dprinting. Needless to say, the average consumer doesn’t need to spend hundreds of dollars to make their own plastic baubles when WalMart and Target exist.

The value proposition of a 3D printer is an open question, but now there is some evidence a 3D printer provides a return on its investment. In a paper published this week, [Joshua Pearce] and an undergraduate at Michigan Tech found a 3D printer pays for itself within six months and can see an almost 1,000% return on investment within five years. Read on as I investigate this dubious claim.

Data From Printing One Thing Per Week

The purpose of this study was to determine if 3D printers are viable for the consumer. To assess this, the study used a Lulzbot Mini 3D printer, an undergrad named [Emily Petersen] who pretended to be a technologically illiterate consumer for this experiment, and about a kilogram of PLA filament. Over the course of several weeks, [Emily] downloaded 26 items from online object repositories, and compared the total cost to print these items against comparable items available through online retailers. When comparing the cost of printing these objects to low-cost commercially available options, the 3D printer paid for itself in 2.4 years. This return on investment is seen by printing one object per week.

The objects printed in this study included a tool holder, snowboard bind plate, Nikon lens cap holder, sewing machine presser foot, shower head, seatbelt guide, GoPro mount, Canon lens hood, and an iPhone 6 case. In other words, little bits of plastic that are usually produced in China, shipped to Los Angeles, stuffed on a train, packed in a truck, and delivered to your local WalMart.

Part of this study was to determine if a 3D printer was worth it for a technologically illiterate consumer; the Lulzbot Mini and ‘quick print’ settings in Cura are perfect for someone who barely knows what they’re doing.

Is 3D Printing the Amazon Prime of Plastic?

There are a number of ways to criticize this study. The usefulness of a model of a Death Star is questionable, and the ‘high end’ commercial alternative for a ‘nozzle torque wrench‘ costs $419.58 — probably something off of the Snap-on truck that artificially inflates the best case scenario for a 3D printer’s ROI.

However, this study does use a Lulzbot Mini, a printer that costs $1250. While the Mini is a fantastic printer, buying an i3 clone is cheaper than renting time on a printer at a coworking workshop. Cheap 3D printers are getting really good, and a pair of Benjamins will get you a printer that’s more than sufficient for any technically-minded person. They might not be fit for Joe Consumer, but they will get the job done. Either way, think of the up-front cost as a ‘membership fee’ after which the stuff you print is ‘free’ (aside from filament cost of course).

This leaves the question: is 3D printing ready for prime time? Is it possible for an average consumer to save money with a 3D printer? Are 3D printers easy to use if you’re technologically illiterate?

That’s what we want to know, and we’re looking for your answers in the comments.

Filed under: 3d Printer hacks, Ask Hackaday, Interest, lifehacks

Smaller Cheaper Arduino

อังคาร, 02/21/2017 - 23:31

Well, honestly, [Michael Mayer’s] STM8 Arduino (called Sduino) isn’t actually much to do with the Arduino, except in spirit. The STM8 is an 8-bit processor. It is dirt cheap and has some special motor control features that are handy. There’s a significant library available for it. However, it can be a pain to use the library and set up the build.

Just like how the Arduino IDE provides libraries and a build system for gcc, Sduino provides similar libraries and a build system for the sdcc compiler that can target the STM8. However, if you are expecting the Arduino’s GUI or a complete knock off of the Arduino library, you won’t get that.

That being said, you do get a lot of compatible libraries. The command line Makefile is simple to set up and use. Why not use a “normal” Arduino? The STM8 is not only inexpensive, but you can make use of the specialized hardware for things like quadrature decoding. In addition, the low power modes are super low.

Don’t let the Makefile put you off. The standard Blink sketch looks identical to an Arduino version. Here’s the required Makefile:

BOARD_TAG = stm8sblue include ../../sduino/sduino.mk

That’s it. Not too hard.

There’s support for a simple breakout board that is inexpensive, as well as the ESP-14 pictured at the top of this article which has an ESP8266 and an STM8 controller onboard. For about $3 you get an STM8003 CPU and the WiFi capability. Hard to beat that. [Elliot Williams] just gave that board a try and found the ESP-14 to be “weird”. He may be right, but this gives you an easy way to use it.

Support for the STM8 version of the Discovery board is supposedly forthcoming.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks, Microcontrollers

First Look: Macchina M2

อังคาร, 02/21/2017 - 22:01

In the past few years, we’ve seen a growth in car hacking. Newer tools are being released, which makes it faster and cheaper to get into automotive tinkering. Today we’re taking a first look at the M2, a new device from the folks at Macchina.

The Macchina M1 was the first release of a hacker friendly automotive device from the company. This was an Arduino compatible board, which kept the Arduino form factor but added interface hardware for the protocols most commonly found in cars. This allowed for anyone familiar with Arduino to start tinkering with cars in a familiar fashion. The form factor was convenient for adding standard shields, but was a bit large for using as a device connected to the industry standard OBD-II connector under the dash.

The Macchina M2 is a redesign that crams the M1’s feature set into a smaller form factor, modularizes the design, and adds some new features. With their Kickstarter launching today, they sent us a developer kit to review. Here’s our first look at the device.

Two-Board Hardware Design

The M2 hardware consists of two main parts: the interface board and processor board.

On the interface board, you’ll find all the hardware needed to speak the most common automotive protocols. Here you’ll find two high speed CAN interfaces, one single wire interface, LIN, and the older OBD protocols (ISO 9141, J1850). This range of interfaces means that the hardware will be compatible with just about any car made after 1996. There’s also a header for providing other external connectivity to the MCU (GPIOs, ADCs, etc…).

The processor board is essentially an Arduino Due, with a USB port, LEDs, SD card slot, and EEPROM built in. The modular nature of the design allows for the processor board to be replaced or upgraded in the future. Finally, there’s an XBee compatible socket for adding Bluetooth, WiFi, or even cellular data.

There’s two form factors of the M2 available: under-the-hood and under-the-dash. The under-the-dash model is similar in form factor to any other OBD-II dongle. It fits right on the port, which provides power and connectivity. If you’re looking for a more permanent installation, the under-the-hood version has a connector for a custom wiring harness.

The Software

Fundamentally, this device is an Arduino. The getting started guide goes over installing the Arduino IDE, adding the custom board, and flashing a demo. If you’ve ever used an Arduino, this will be completely familiar. Dealing with these protocols requires libraries on the Arduino. Some of these are still works in progress, but the plan is to support all of them from within Arduino, so a simple sketch will be able to access any protocol.

If you’re planning on using a PC paired with the M2, there are some options. SavvyCAN is currently supported, and SocketCAN support is in the works, so it will work with Wireshark and other tools on Linux. The good news is that the open platform can be used to emulate just about any device, so with some work it could support many of the car hacking tools already out there.

Beyond supporting the aforementioned communication protocols, there’s not much software yet. Macchina is hoping to get developers on board with the hardware, and the first kits shipped will be to developers. While the software does not yet have a wide range of functionality, the open source nature of the project will hopefully expand the capabilities on the software.

Not an ELM327 Dongle An ELM327 Dongle

Every time we see an OBD-II dongle pop up, commenters are quick to point out that the ELM327 devices are readily available and very cheap. This is true, and I recommend that anyone with a car picks one up. They’re handy for checking basic codes, and clearing the “check engine” light (we call it the “Malfunction Indication Lamp” in automotive engineering speak).

The ELM327 is great for the price, but it has its shortcomings. Most communicate using ASCII over Bluetooth Serial Port Profile, which severely limits the data throughput and doesn’t work on iOS. The software cannot be customized. No on board storage is provided for logging. The Bluetooth pin is always 1234, so if you leave it plugged in, anyone walking by can do diagnostics on your car! The M2 does cost more than these devices, but it also addresses many of these problems.


The M2 is a nifty piece of new hardware for people that want to hack on cars. It’ll need some more work on the software side of things before it’s useable by the masses, but it’s basically ready for the hackers to start work with. The developer release is available for $99, and will get you early access to the beta hardware.

With this hardware, there’s many projects you could implement. It could act as a standalone, high speed vehicle data recorder. The under the dash model could be used to bridge a third party component onto a vehicle’s CAN bus — like this amazing custom head unit we saw yesterday — providing translation of the data needed for operation (steering wheel buttons, vehicle speed for volume adjust, etc.). Adding Bluetooth, you could have a custom immobilizer and remote control system for your car. Using cellular data, you could keep tabs on the whereabouts of a vehicle and even shut it down remotely.

We’re pretty careful about which crowdfunding campaigns we discuss here on Hackaday. Macchina does have a track record of delivering hardware, and has shipped us a beta unit that they will be providing to developers. The project is also open source, and we think it will help people get involved with car hacking. As such, we believe it’s a project worth sharing with our readers.

Filed under: car hacks, Crowd Funding, Featured, reviews

A Full Speed, Portable Apple //e

อังคาร, 02/21/2017 - 19:01

A while back, [Jorj] caught wind of a Hackaday post from December. It was a handheld Apple IIe, emulated on an ATMega1284p. An impressive feat, no doubt, but it’s all wrong. This ATapple only has 12k of RAM and only runs at 70% of the correct speed. The ATapple is impressive, but [Jorj] knew he could do better. He set out to create the ultimate portable Apple IIe. By all accounts, he succeeded.

This project and its inspiration have a few things in common. They’re both assembled on perfboard, using tiny tact switches for the keyboard. The display is a standard TFT display easily sourced from eBay, Amazon, or Aliexpress. There’s a speaker for terribad Apple II audio on both, and gigantic 5 1/4″ floppies have been shrunk down to the size of an SD card. That’s where the similarities end.

[Jorj] knew he needed horsepower for this build, so he turned to the most powerful microcontroller development board he had on his workbench: the Teensy 3.6. This is a 180 MHz ARM Cortex M4 running a full-speed Apple IIe emulator. Writing a simple 6502 emulator is straightforward, but Apple IIe emulation also requires an MMU. the complete emulator is available in [Jorj]’s repo, and passes all the tests for 6502 functionality.

The project runs all Apple II software with ease, but we’re really struck by how simple the entire circuit is. Aside from the Teensy, there really isn’t much to this build. It’s an off-the-shelf display, a dead simple keyboard matrix, and a little bit of miscellaneous circuitry. It’s simple enough to be built on a piece of perfboard, and we hope simple enough for someone to clone the circuit and share the PCBs.

Filed under: ARM, classic hacks, slider

Pancake-ROM: Eat-only Memory?

อังคาร, 02/21/2017 - 16:01

You can store arbitrary data encoded in binary as a pattern of zeros and ones. What you do to get those zeros and ones is up to you. If you’re in a particularly strange mood, you could even store them as strips of chocolate on Swedish pancakes.

Oddly enough, the possibility of the pancake as digital storage medium was what originally prompted [Michael Kohn] to undertake his similar 2013 project where he encoded his name on a paper wheel. Perhaps wisely, he prototyped on a simpler medium. With that perfected, four years later, it was time to step up to Modified Swedish Pancake Technology (MSPT).

Highlights of the build include trying to optimize the brightness difference between chocolate and pancake. Reducing the amount of sugar in the recipe helps increase contrast by reducing caramelization, naturally. And cotton balls placed under the spinning cardboard platform can help stabilize the spinning breakfast / storage product.

Even so, [Michael] reports that it took multiple tries to get the sixteen bytes (bites?) of success in the video below. The data is stenciled onto the pancake and to our eye is quite distinct. Improvement seems to be more of an issue with better edge detection for the reflectance sensor.

What is it with digital electronics and pancakes? We honestly can’t count the number of pancake-making robots we’ve featured over the years. Which suggest? Automating the production side of the storage medium! If you could print out an infinite tape of data pancakes, would you be able to make a Turing machine? If you decide to answer this question, let us know!

Filed under: cooking hacks, misc hacks