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3D Printed Gearbox Lifts An Anvil With Ease

ศุกร์, 07/28/2017 - 06:00

How strong can you make a 3D-printed gearbox. Would you believe strong enough to lift an anvil? [Gear Down For What?] likes testing the limits of 3D printed gearboxes. Honestly, we’re amazed.

3D printing has revolutionized DIY fabrication. But one problem normally associated with 3D printed parts is they can be quite weak unless designed and printed carefully.

Using a whole roll of filament, minus a few grams, [Gear Down For What?] printed out a big planetary gear box with a ratio of 160:1 and added some ball bearings and using a drill as a crank. Setting it up on a hoist, he started testing what it could lift. First it lifted a 70 lb truck tire and then another without any issues. It then went on to lift a 120 lb anvil. So then the truck tires were added back on, lifting a combined weight of 260 lb without the gearbox breaking a sweat.

This is pretty amazing! There have been things like functional 3D-printed car jacks made in the past, however 3D-printed gear teeth are notoriously easily broken unless designed properly. We wonder what it would take to bring this gearbox to the breaking point. If you have a spare roll of filament and some ball bearings, why not give it go yourself? STL files can be found here on Thingiverse.

Filed under: 3d Printer hacks

Tell Time With a Reverse-Sundial Watch

ศุกร์, 07/28/2017 - 03:00

[Xose Pérez] set out to make a sundial wristwatch by combining a magnetometer a small nylon bolt for the gnomon, but it doesn’t work like you’d think. Instead of using the magnetometer to point the sundial north, you angle the watch until the bolt’s shadow matches the white line on the PCB, and the ATmega328P computes the azimuth of the sun and determines the time thereby. To display the time he used one of those QDSP-6064 bubble displays, because sundials are retro.

His description of the project build includes a lot of fun anecdotes, like him attempting to solder the LCC connections of the HMC5883 magnetometer before giving up and making use of Seeedstudio’s PCBA service. He got 10 boards back with the ATmega and magnetometer populated while leaving the rest for [Xose] to fill in.

One fun detail of the project? You can’t tell what time it is without the sun, but you can’t read the bubble display in bright sunlight.

If you’re looking for more watch projects we’ve published, check out this wrist-controlled watch, the Chronio DIY watch, and this cool nixie-tube watch.

Filed under: clock hacks

Hackaday Prize Entry: The Arduino Powered LED Persistence Of Vision Rechargeable 3D Printed Fidget Spinner

ศุกร์, 07/28/2017 - 01:30

It had to come to this. For his entry into this year’s Hackaday Prize, [Sean Hodgins] created a persistence of vision fidget spinner. This isn’t just any PoV fidget spinner — this is the ultimate in fidget spinner technology. It’s rechargeable, and there’s an Arduino inside. The enclosure is 3D printed. It improves morale. It is everything you ever wanted in a fidget spinner, and it’s the last fidget spinner project [Sean] will ever make.

We’ve seen electronic fidget spinners before, but never to this degree of polish. The fidget spinner that teaches coding is fantastic, but it’s not quite as refined as connoisseurs of fine fidgets would like. The Internet of Fidget Spinners is likewise a worthy effort and even includes RGB LEDs and WiFi, but [Sean]’s POV fidget spinner is on another plane of reality. This spinner uses batteries that can be recharged, and there’s even a 3D printed (sintered, even!) enclosure that fits everything into a small, compact package. It is, by far, the most elegant fidget spinner we’ve ever seen, and it measures its own rotation speed. It just doesn’t get any better than that.

You can grab all the sources for this amazing fidget spinner on [Sean]’s GitHub, or check out the under-monetized demo video he made below.

The HackadayPrize2017 is Sponsored by:
Filed under: The Hackaday Prize

Building a DEF CON Badge in Two Weeks

ศุกร์, 07/28/2017 - 00:00

DEF CON is starting right now, and this is the year of #badgelife. For the last few years, independent hardware wizards have been creating and selling their own unofficial badges at DEF CON, but this year it’s off the charts. We’ve already taken a look at Bender Badges, BSD Puffer Fish, and the worst idea for a conference badge ever, and this is only scratching the surface.

This is also a banner year for the Hackaday / Tindie / Supplyframe family at DEF CON. We’re on the lookout for hardware. We’re sponsoring the IoT village, [Jasmine] — the high priestess of Tindie — and I will be spending some time in the Hardware Hacking Village, praising our overlords and saying the phrase, ‘like Etsy, but for electronics’ far too much. We’ll be showing people how to solder, fixing badges, and generally being helpful to the vast unwashed masses.

Obviously, this means we need our own unofficial DEF CON badge. We realized this on July 10th. That gave us barely more than two weeks to come up with an idea for a badge, design one, order all the parts, wait on a PCB order, and finally kit all the badges before lugging them out to DEF CON. Is this even possible? Surprisingly, yes. It’s almost easy, and there are zero excuses for anyone not to develop their own hardware badge for next year’s con.


This project began on July 10th. That gives this project only two weeks from conception to design to kitting badges, to physically lugging them over to the con. This is obviously not going to be a complicated badge, but in the space of simple badges, what can we actually do with two weeks of development and manufacturing time?

The first suggestion from [Jasmine] was a simple ‘I Can Solder Badge’, or something like what Partfusion is selling on Tindie. Since we’ll be hanging out at the Hardware Hacking Village — the largest concentration of soldering irons in Vegas this week — an, ‘I can solder’ badge an awesome idea. It’s the perfect introduction to soldering irons.

The Tindie robodog head, using colors taken from a standard blue soldermask PCB.

However, just a few days before these plans came to fruition, I stumbled across an entirely new idea in wearable PCBs. Lapel pins are now a thing. [jglim] discovered ‘butterfly clutch tie tacks’ are effectively SMD components.

Between those two ideas, [Jasmine] and I eventually came up with a workable idea. We would build a badge in the shape of the head of our lovable robotic mascot, with LEDs for eyes. The circuit would be very simple — just a 3 V, 1220-sized battery and two LEDs — and a pad for the lapel pin clasp on the back. The PCB must fit inside a 50 mm x 50 mm square to get the best pricing from the board house, and the entire top layer, including the copper, would be art.

This is an experimental board, although we’ve seen projects similar to this before. A few months ago, [Andrew Sowa] made money of me using different layers of mask, silk, and copper on the standard OSH Park PCB stackup. [Trammell Hudson] and [Blake Ramsdell] are also doing incredible work with OSH Park PCBs. However, the Tindie mascot is blue, not purple. Anyone can get a PCB with a blue soldermask, but I haven’t seen any experiments exploring the artistic potential of Chinese board house PCBs. There’s only one way to find out if this will work.

Creating the badge

With a somewhat cogent idea of what this badge should be, most of the BOM was already sorted. These ‘badges’ would actually be lapel pins, and we can get hundreds of them from the same AliExpress store [jglim] used. We’ll need bags to contain all these parts, and conveniently this AliExpress store also sells self-adhesive bags to put the board, LEDs, battery, and all the parts in. That’s one order down, and about a fifth of the parts on the BOM.

The finished PCB

The battery holder was the most difficult part to source. I don’t really trust AliExpress datasheets, and if I’m building a board around a battery holder, I need to get the dimensions and pads right the first time. The battery holder came from Digikey, and holds a 1216, 1220, or 1225-sized lithium cell.

Amazon Prime is a godsend, and this is what we used to source the LEDs and batteries. Since Tindie’s eyes are different colors, an assorted kit of 5mm LEDs was the best way to go. We also picked up a few multicolor flashing RGB LEDs for extra special glowy blinky stuff.

That only leaves making a PCB. This badge had to be designed and fabricated on a very short timeline, but I like to live dangerously. We went with Seeed’s Fusion PCB service to make the actual PCBs. I’ve had good experiences with them in the past, and since we were paying for DHL shipping to California, we were pretty confident the boards would arrive on time.

The art for this badge was done in Eagle. I know I’m going to get some criticism for the choice of EDA suite, but Eagle is just faster. It only took ten minutes for me to create the ultimate DEF CON badge, and the idea for the Tindie badge is of similar complexity.

The art for this badge was taken from some work done by our in-house artist [Joe Kim]. The different layers of silkscreen, outline, soldermask, and copper were separated in Illustrator, and each layer converted to a .BMP at 300 dpi. These layers were imported into Eagle one at a time. After that, the only thing left to do was to build a tiny LED circuit on the back of the badge.

The circuit for this badge is simple enough: connect the negative terminal of the battery holder to one side of the LEDs, and connect the positive side of the battery terminal to the other side of the LEDs. You should do this with traces, but for such a simple circuit I wanted to experiment. I used copper fills for GND and VCC in the schematic. I would consider this a little more robust, but I will admit my implementation looks like crap.

Apart from that, finishing the back of the board was as simple as adding a Tindie dog head logo and some text on the silk screen.

What was the total cost of creating all of these badges? We ordered enough parts for 300 kits, although we did have to buy 500 battery holders to get the price break. In total, each badge costs about $1.80 USD. Compared to other marketing materials we give away at cons, that’s pretty cheap. We’re calling this a win.

What we’re going to do next time

We managed to create three hundred functional, interesting badges in less than two weeks. That doesn’t mean that there’s not still room for improvement. Using layers of copper, soldermask, and silkscreen for the front of the badge was a successful experiment, but I completely neglected the possibility of using bare, HASL copper in the badge’s color palette. That’s what we’re going to do for the next revision.


Filed under: cons, wearable hacks

Dog-Operated Treat Dispenser

พฤ, 07/27/2017 - 22:30

Every good dog is deserving of a treat. [Eliasbakken]’s dog [Moby] is a certified good boy,  so he designed a dispenser with a touchscreen that his dog can boop to treat himself when he isn’t barking up a ruckus.

Adding a touchscreen to a treat dispenser when a button would suffice is a little overkill, but we’re not here to judge. [Eliasbakken] is using a BeagleBone Black — a Linux-based development platform — as this dispenser’s brains, and a Manga touchscreen that is likely to see a lot of use.  A wood-like material called Vachromat was laser cut for the frame and glued together, while an RC servo with a 3D-printed jointed pushing arm to dispenses the treats. The dispenser’s hopper only holds fifteen, so we expect it will need to be refilled every fifteen seconds or so.

Being a maker means that one has that many more ways to spoil our pets. As such, we’ve similarly complex treat dispensers before — one involving a camera and a dog’s personalized email address.

[via /r/DIY]

Filed under: home hacks

Telepresence Robot 2000 Leagues Under the Sea

พฤ, 07/27/2017 - 21:01

Telepresence robots are now a reality, you can wheel around the office and talk to people, join a meeting, see stuff and bump into your colleagues. But imagine if telepresence were applied to deep sea exploration. Today we can become oceanographers through the telepresence system created by Bob Ballard (known for locating the Titanic, discovered deep sea geothermal vents, and more) and his team at the Inner Space Center. Put on your Submariner wristwatch because its time for all of us to explore the ocean depths via the comfort of our home or office.

How Deep Sea Telepresence Works

Bob Ballard and his team have created a deep sea telepresence exploration system. This system consists of the Exploration Vehicle (E/V) Nautilus operating as the ‘mother ship’ and the Hercules ROV. Nautilus is a surface vessel that sails out to the area of interest and performs all preliminary mapping with onboard sensors. She carries all necessary equipment and personnel. Sensors include a bottom profiler, multi-beam sonar, and other sensors mapping water temperature and various properties. The E/V will scan the bottom to get a coarse map to guide the exploration.

EM302 multibeam echosounder image.

Nautilus also caries satellite communication links allowing her to stream real-time data to the Inner Space Center at the University of Rhode Island. From here, video and communication feeds from the mission are re-broadcast in real-time to research institutions. This is the same feed that is received by the Inner Space Center. Not only that, this feed is also re-broadcast on the web so that anyone can tune in to the action. In other words, you too can become a deep sea explorer from the comfort of your office or home.

Nautilus is unable to acquire optical or high resolution sonar imagery of targets in deep water by herself. She must deploy remotely Operated Vehicles to capture the high-resolution imagery.

Argus, the ROV that services Hercules.

To do this, E/V Nautilus lowers two different ROVs into the water. The first one, Argus, is the service ROV who’s job it is to manage the tension on the lead cable from Nautilus and generally tend to the instrumentation ROV called Hercules. In other words, Argus is tethered to Nautilus by a heavy steel cable that also caries data and electrical power. Ship motion from Nautilus can be directly transmitted to Argus via the cable. Argus’s primary job is to provide slack on a lighter-weight tether for the second ROV Hercules can carry out its high precision mission. Argus also contains a lighting system to illuminate the area that Hercules operates and some additional camera equipment to monitor the mission.

Hercules is tethered to Argus via a lightweight cable containing electrical power, fiber data link, and additional control lines. Hercules is a high stability platform containing high res cameras, powerful lamps, a complex set of maneuvering thrusters, guidance, robotic arms, additional sensors such as imaging SONAR or mission specific sensors requested by scientists. It even has robot arms to grab things and collect samples. Most of the incredible imagery acquired by this system was captured by Hercules.

Bob and his team direct the Nautilus crew from the University of Rhode Island. Nautilus controls Hercules and Argus from the surface. Data is sent up the tether to Argus, from Argus to Nautilus and then from Nautilus via satellite, through the internet, to URI. With servers setup at URI, the mission can be controlled from anywhere in the world. And it can be viewed from anywhere in the world by anyone interested.

A Typical Season of Exploration

Last spring I started to watch the live feed often leaving it playing in the background. Several notable things happened over the season (here’s a 94 episode video list for your enjoyment). A WW2 aircraft carrier that was deliberately destroyed during a 1951 atomic bomb test, was rediscovered and surveyed. Some unusual life forms were discovered discovered like this mysterious purple org. And there were many interactions with creatures from the deep. Below we see a tug-of-war with an octopus while repairing cables on the Ocean Networks Canada underwater observatory:

Join the Fun For the 2017 Season

You can go through the video list posted above to relive what was seen last year. But it’s more fun to see things as they happen. The 2017 schedule has been posted and we’re currently exploring the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary followed by Central California’s coastline next week and on from there.

Many of us remember that cover of National Geographic where the shipwreck of the Titanic was found. We’ve paged through coffee table books with images of the battleships resting on Iron Bottom Sound. We’ve marveled at how life could possibly exist and even thrive around deep sea geothermal vents. With the Nautilus Live you can join the fun from the comfort of your home, and experience for yourself what the scientists are seeing in real-time.

Filed under: Current Events, Featured, robots hacks

Play with a Papercraft Electronics Activity Book

พฤ, 07/27/2017 - 18:00

As conductive ink becomes readily available and in greater varieties, we’re starting to see some intriguing applications. [Marion Pinaffo] and [Raphaël Pluviange] created a book of papercraft projects that employ silver-based ink for making a circuit’s wires, carbon-based ink for resistance, as well as color-changing ink. Electronics components’ leads are slipped into slits cut into the paper, connected to conductive-ink traces.

[Marion] and [Raphaël] use 555s, ATtiny85s, watch batteries, and other hardware to make each activity or project unique. A number of projects use a rolling ball bearing to make beeps in a piezo speaker. They also created beautifully designed pages to go with the electronics.

It looks like a fun way for neophytes to play around with electronics, and once the paper part is kaput, the user would be left with the hardware. Imagine one of those beginners googling to find the pinout of the Tiny85 or discovering the Stepped Tone Generator and makes one with the 555.

If you like this project you’ll appreciate the working papercraft organ and papercraft resistor calculator we previously published.

Filed under: misc hacks

PobDuino Makes the Most of Grove

พฤ, 07/27/2017 - 15:00

The chassis of a toy robot serves as the base of a robot built by [Jean Noel]. Called #PobDuino, the robot features two Arduino-compatible boards under the hood.

First, a Seeeduino Lotus, a Arduino board peppered with a dozen Grove-compatible sockets. The board, which is the size of an UNO, is mounted so that the plugs project out of the front of the robot, allowing ad-hoc experimentation with the various Grove System modules. Meanwhile, a custom ATmega328 board (the PobDuino) interprets Flowcode instructions and sends commands to the various parts of the robot: servos are controlled by an Adafruit servo driver board and the DC motors are driven by a Grove I2C motor driver.

We love how easy it is to customize the robot, with both the Lotus and the Adafruit 16-channel servo driver on the exterior of the robot. Just plug and play!

Learn more about Grove-compatible plugs and a lot more in [Elliot]’s My Life in the Connector Zoo.

Filed under: robots hacks

Eye Tube Tests Capacitors

พฤ, 07/27/2017 - 12:00

Most component testers require removal of a component to test it. [Mr Carlson] recently restored an old Paco C-25 in-circuit capacitor tester. He does a very complete video tearing it down and showing how it works and why.

The tester uses an eye tube (sometimes called a magic eye tube) as an indicator. A 40 MHz oscillator produces a signal that finds open and shorted capacitors. You can also measure resistance, although you have to wonder how accurate it would be in circuit. If you want to read the original manual, there are a few copies online.

Examination of the schematic shows that the device doesn’t have a standard DC power supply. Instead, it uses self-rectification of the tubes to convert line current to rippling DC.

[Mr Carlson] has good advice about restoring these old boxes and some general advice about working with old gear in general. Honestly, we wouldn’t recommend using a device like this for practical use today. However, if you are interested in restoring old gear, this would be a good first project. These are available at relatively low expense. There are not many parts and it should be pretty easy to get one in working condition.

It might not be workable in circuit, but the standard component tester these days has a microcontroller. We’ve seen various similar modern meters but we predict you’ll miss that cool magic eye tube.

Filed under: classic hacks

Make Your Own Reed Switches

พฤ, 07/27/2017 - 09:00

[Lucid Science] shows us how to make some simple reed switches. Reed switches are simple components that detect a magnetic field and can close or open a circuit once detected. While not really a thing of beauty, these DIY reed switches should help you out if you just can’t wait to order some or you fancied trying your hands at making some components from scratch.

Reed switches normally come in very small form factors so if you need something small then this may not be for you however the video does show you on a macro scale the fundamental workings of a reed switch. To make your own reed switch you need only a few parts: some copper, enamelled wire and magnets. They really are simple devices however sometimes it’s easy to overlook how simple some things are when they are so small that you can’t really see how they work.

Making your own components from scratch is probably the best way to understand the inner workings of said component. In the past we have seen some pretty awesome self built components from these beautiful DIY Nixie tubes to even making your own LEDs

Filed under: how-to, parts

Wire-bots, Roll Out!

พฤ, 07/27/2017 - 06:00

Designing and 3D-printing parts for a robot with a specific purpose is generally more efficient than producing one with a general functionality — and even then it can still take some time. What if you cut out two of those cumbersome dimensions and still produce a limited-yet-functional robot?

[Sebastian Risi] and his research team at the IT University of Copenhagen’s Robotics, Evolution, and Art Lab, have invented a means to produce wire-based robots. The process is not far removed from how industrial wire-bending machines churn out product, and the specialized nozzle is also able to affix the motors to the robot as it’s being produced so it’s immediately ready for testing.

A computer algorithm — once fed test requirements — continuously refines the robot’s design and is able to produce the next version in a quarter of an hour. There is also far less waste, as the wire can simply be straightened out and recycled for the next attempt. In the three presented tests, a pair of motors shimmy the robot on it’s way — be it along a pipe, wobbling around, or rolling about. Look at that wire go!

This is probably one of the more unconventional projects we’ve featured, but definitely not the only one.

[Thanks for another fantastic tip, Itay!]

Filed under: robots hacks

Fidget Spinner Slash Drone is Both

พฤ, 07/27/2017 - 03:00

So Hackaday loves fidget spinners and we don’t care who knows it. Apparently so does [Jeremy S Cook], who decided to mash up a spinner and a cheap quadcopter. To what end? Is that even a question? Spinners are the bearing-studded equivalent to the Rubik’s Cube craze of the ’80s and all we can do is embrace it.

[Jeremy] designed a quadcopter shape with a hole in the center matching a VCB 22 mm ceramic bearing he had on hand. He CNCed out the design from a sheet of Lexan resin. Then he detached the electronics amd motors from a quad.

He used a rotary tool to cut off the housing, removed the motors, then inserted them in the new frame, using hot glue to secure them. He installed the control board 90 degrees off of the frame, before realizing it would mess with the accelerometer and re-installed it flat. Meanwhile, the center of the frame sports the all-important bearing.

If you’re looking for more quad projects check out these cool projects: a Power-Glove-controlled drone, this PVC-pipe quadcopter frame, and reverse engineering quadcopter controls.

Filed under: drone hacks

Hackaday Prize Entry: Pan And Tilt Sprinkler

พฤ, 07/27/2017 - 02:00

There are a few very popular irrigation systems entered into this year’s Hackaday Prize. In fact, last year’s winner for the Best Product portion of the Prize was the Vinduino, a soil moisture monitor for vineyards. Most of these irrigation systems use drip irrigation or are otherwise relatively small-scale. What if you need something a little more powerful? That’s where [Patrick]’s PTSprinkler comes in. It’s a massive lawn sprinkler coupled to a computer controlled pan and tilt mount. Think of it as a remote controlled Super Soaker, or the Internet of squirt guns. Either way, it’s a great entry for this year’s Hackaday Prize.

The PTSprinkler is designed to use as many low-cost, off-the-shelf components as possible. This started out with a heavy duty outdoor pan-tilt stage an irrigation solenoid valve.

The idea for this sprinkler is to first manually define a shape on the lawn that the sprinkler should cover. From there, the electronics figure out a fill pattern for this grassy polygon. So far, [Patrick] has an electronics board that will move the pan/tilt stage with the help of a Raspberry Pi. You can check out a video of that in action below.

The HackadayPrize2017 is Sponsored by:
Filed under: The Hackaday Prize

Superconference Interview: Samy Kamkar

พฤ, 07/27/2017 - 01:01

Samy Kamkar has an incredible arsenal of self-taught skills that have grown into a remarkable career as a security researcher. He dropped out of high school to found a company based on Open Source Software and became infamous for releasing the Samy worm on the MySpace platform. But in our minds Samy has far outpaced that notoriety with the hardware-based security exploits he’s uncovered over the last decade. And he’s got a great gift for explaining these hacks — from his credit card magstripe spoofing experiments to hacking keyless entry systems and garage door opener remotes — in great depth during his talk at the 2016 Hackaday Superconference.

We pulled Samy aside after his talk to discuss how the security scene has grown up over the years and asked him to share his advice for people just coming up now. We’re happy to publish it for the first time today, it can be seen below.

Now it’s your turn. The Call for Proposals is now open for the 2017 Hackaday Superconference. You don’t need to be Samy Kamkar to qualify for a talk. You just need an interesting story of hardware engineering, creativity in technical design, an adventure with product design, or a sordid tale of your prototyping experiences. We hope everyone with a story will submit their proposal, but for those who don’t tickets are now available. The Hackaday Superconference will take place in Pasadena, California on November 11th and 12th.

Filed under: cons, Interviews, security hacks

Rotary Phones and the Birth of a Network

พฤ, 07/27/2017 - 00:01

I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before the movie title  “Dial M for Murder” becomes mysterious to most of the population. After all, who has seen a dial phone lately? Sure, there are a few retro phones, but they aren’t in widespread use. It may not be murder, but it turns out that the dial telephone has its roots in death — or at least the business of death. But to understand why that’s true, you need to go back to the early days of the telephone.

Did you ever make a tin can phone with a string when you were a kid? That dates back to at least 1667. Prior to the invention of what we think of as the telephone, these acoustic phones were actually used for specialized purposes.

We all know that [Alexander Graham Bell] made a working telephone over a wire, drawing inspiration from the telegraph system. However, there’s a lot of dispute and many others about the same time were working on similar devices. It is probably more accurate to say that [Bell] was the first to successfully patent the telephone (in 1876, to be exact).

No Telephone is an Island

A telephone by itself isn’t very useful. You need at least two. And that’s how the early telephones worked. You would put one phone at home and another in your business, for example. Or two offices might have a telephone, allowing them to communicate.

In the same year that [Bell] patented the telephone, [Tivadar Puskás] was working for [Thomas Edison] on a telegraph exchange — a switchboard that allowed different telegraph stations to interconnect. He realized the same technique would be useful for a telephone and, in 1878, The District Telephone Company of New Haven went into operation with 21 users. For $1.50 a month, any of those users could call one of the others. The switchboard, designed by [George W. Coy] could handle 64 users, but only two connections at once. In a month, they published a directory with 50 subscribers. London’s Telephone Company Ltd formed in 1878 with even fewer initial subscribers.

However, an operator had to work the switchboard, making up to six connections per call. With 20 or 30 phones, not all of which would be in use at once, that was manageable. You’d pick up the phone and tell the operator who you wanted. They’d make the connections required on your behalf.

In the early days, you’d let the operator know you wanted assistance by whistling into your phone! Eventually, a bell was put into phones. Early phone systems often had multiple wires to accommodate things like the bell.

Making Connections the Manual Way

There is an obvious problem, of course. If you had thousands of phone lines, you are going to need a lot of operators. However, in a time when labor was cheap, that wasn’t what motivated the invention that would put most phone operators out of business.

There is a less obvious problem discovered by a man named [Strowger] You might think that [Almon Brown Strowger] was some electrical engineer and an expert in telephones. But, in fact, he was an undertaker in Kansas City. In 1888 [Strowger] was frustrated. People would pick up the phone and tell the operator they wanted “the undertaker” or “the funeral home.” The problem was that [Strowger] had a competitor and the competitor’s wife (or girlfriend, depending on the source you read) was one of the phone operators. You can imagine that if a caller wasn’t specific, she was going to connect the call to her husband’s business.

Who Has Time for Multiple Button Presses?

You can read [Strowger’s] 1891 patent that covers how he solved the problem. You’ll see that it used a set of buttons, one for each digit and another to hang up. So to “dial” phone 46, you would press the first button 4 times, and the second button 6 times. A third button would hang up.

While this doesn’t resemble the dial phone we know, the elements are all there. The only difference is that the dial creates the multiple button pushes automatically. [Strowger] formed a company, the Strowger Automatic Telephone  Exchange Company, and worked out the dial and a way to avoid having a separate input for each digit. They also invented the busy signal.

Not only was the system convenient and economical, but unlike other manual and automatic exchanges, it was technically very easy to expand the system to handle new phones. That scalability ensured its success, despite [Bell’s] efforts to stop the fledgling company. [Strowger’s] company was eventually sold to GTE and after many years of changes, is now a part of Alcatel-Lucent.

By the way, [Stowger] sold his patents for $1,800 and then sold his share in one of the subsequent companies for $10,000. In 1916, the patent sold for $2.5 million — a staggering sum in those days.

You can see a Telstra video showing a reasonably modern Strowger switch in operations, below. You’ll find these are sometimes called SXS or step-by-step equipment.

As late as the 1970s, there were still a few operator-connected exchanges left. AT&T’s history center has a short film that shows what life was like for a telephone operator, that you can see below.

Designed to Last

When something is used for many years by many people, it often results in design changes that can be very subtle but important. After World War II, much of the rural parts of the United States were not connected to the phone system. But as people left the cities to move to the suburbs, they wanted phone service. Most phones at the time didn’t have the range required and the phone company was unwilling to create new central offices for just a few rural subscribers.

Instead, the phone company commissioned industrial designer [Henry Dreyfuss] to create a rugged phone: the Model 500. The iconic desk phone had several improvements, but one, in particular, stands out. Previous phones had the numbers under the dial (like the giant phone in the video, below, or the model 302 to the right). Repeated dialing would wear the numbers off.

The Model 500 (left) had the numbers outside the dial and tests showed a 50% reduction of misdials because of this change. Over 80 million of these phones were made and many are still in service.

It is hard to imagine, but in the 1940s, the dial was new-fangled and exotic. The phone company made some propaganda films to show how “yummy” it was having a dial phone, like the one below.

Rotary Phone in the Modern World

Dial phones eventually gave way to tone signaling and keypads, but most regular phone systems will still accept pulse dialing. You probably won’t get it to work on voice over IP lines, though. If you have the urge for some retro decor, you can still buy rotary phones (BoldOldPhones is one site that specializes in them).

Despite being a relic from the past, we still hear phrases like “dial 911” and I have to wonder how long that will last.

You can read more about [Strowger] at the aptly-named strowger.net site. Those interested in the history and technology of the phone network have a great book to finish off their summer reading. And if you want to see something more hackish, check out the video below. [Glasstronic] takes a surplus German switch and shows how it works with an old phone. Or you could always dial Bluetooth.

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, History, Retrotechtacular

Friday Hack Chat: Crowd Supply

พุธ, 07/26/2017 - 23:00

Crowdfunding is a mixed bag, at best. On one hand, you have fantastically successful products like Pebble, Oculus, and the Kano personal computer that managed to take in money, turn out a product, and become a successful company. (If even just for a while, the Pebble was great.) On the other hand, you have obvious scams like a color-picking pen that are run by a literal Nigerian scammer.

Crowd Supply is different. Unlike other crowdfunding platforms, to get on Crowd Supply you’ll need a working prototype. Where other platforms can measure their success by how many campaigns were successfully funded, and how many of those campaigns successfully delivered rewards to backers, I’m not aware of any Crowd Supply campaigns that have ever failed completely.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’ll be talking with [Josh Lifton], CEO of Crowd Supply. Topics will include determining if there’s a market for your product, the ins and outs of fulfillment, to shipping your product. We’re taking questions from the community, and there’s a question sheet we’ll be reading from.

Josh has a PhD from the MIT Media Lab and holds a BA in physics and mathematics from Swarthmore College. Prior to Crowd Supply, Josh worked in a variety of technology settings, from instrumenting thousands of audience members with custom wearable computers for a Cirque du Soleil performance to, most recently, serving as head of engineering at Puppet Labs.

Here’s How To Take Part:

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will take place at noon Pacific time on Friday, July 28th. Confused about where and when ‘noon’ is? Here’s a time and date converter!

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.

Filed under: Crowd Funding, Hackaday Columns

Maywa Denki’s Nonsense Machines

พุธ, 07/26/2017 - 22:00

We just spent a few hours trying to figure out Japanese techno-performance-art-toy company [Maywa Denki]. As self-described “parallel-world electricians”, the small art collective turns out strange electro-mechanical instruments, creates bellows-powered “singing” sculptures, and puts on concerts/demos/lectures. And if you desperately need an extension cord in the shape of a fish skeleton, [Maywa Denki] has you covered. Writing about art is like dancing about economics, so first we’ll just drop a few of our favorites and let you decide.

On the serious art front are “nonsense machines” like SeaMoonsII and Wahha Go Go. The most iconic performance piece is probably the Pachi-Moku, a set of finger-snap-activated wooden gongs mounted on anime-style wings. And then there are “toys” like Mr. Knocky and the Otamatone, here demonstrated playing some DEVO.

There’s a lot going on here. The blue suits of the assembly-line worker, the back story as a small-electronics “company”, and the whole art-as-commodity routine is a put into contrast with the mad-inventor schtick make sense both as a reaction against conformist, corporatist postwar Japanese culture or as a postmodern hat-tip to the realities of the modern art scene. But mostly, what comes across is the feeling that [Novmichi Tosa], the “president” of [Maywa Denki] just loves to make crazy gizmos.

How else do you explain the gas-powered, chomping mouth-full-of-knives, Poodle’s Head?

Here are two short documentaries, one in Swiss German with English and the other in Japanese. When the singularity occurs, you’ll have these automatically translated for you and piped directly into your brains. Until then, it’s either take language classes or just sit back and relax. It’s all glorious nonsense anyway.

Thanks, [kodera] for the tip.

Filed under: misc hacks

Home Automation: Evolution of a Term

พุธ, 07/26/2017 - 21:01

Home automation: for me the term recalls rich dudes in the ’80s who could turn off their garage lights with remote-control pads. The stereotype for that era was the more buttons your system had—even non-enabled ones—the more awesome it was, and by extension any luxury remote control had to be three times the size of any TV remote.

And it was a luxury–the hardware was expensive and most people couldn’t justify it. Kind of like the laser-disc player of home improvements. The technology was opaque to casual tinkering, it cost a lot to buy, and also was expensive to install.

The richie-rich stereotypes were reinforced with the technology seen in Bond movies and similar near-future flicks. Everything, even silly things, is motorized, with chrome and concrete everywhere. You, the hero, control everything in the house in the comfort of your acrylic half-dome chair. Kick the motorized blinds, dim the track lighting, and volume up the hi-fi!

This Moonraker-esque notion of home automation turned out to be something of a red herring, because home automation stopped being pretty forever ago; eventually it became available to everyone with a WiFi router in the form of Amazon Echo and Google Nest.

But the precise definition of the term home automation remains elusive. I mean, the essence of it. Let’s break it down.

The Historical Term

When our parents and grandparents talked about automation, they thought in terms of “labor-saving devices” that performed certain chores while controlled through a simple interface. For instance, motorized devices running off of house current like automatic dishwashers, clothes washers, and dryers, or garage doors with openers. Arguably thermostats are home automation; they literally automate the process by which the house temperature remains in the comfortable range.

What does it even mean? The word automation refers to a process that one might ordinarily do by hand, but now is actuated via a control system of some sort. There’s always a control interface, even if it’s a relatively simple device like a dryer’s dial.

But to those giant-remote-wielding folks in the’80s, automatic clothes washers were an old hat. They weren’t thinking of not having to use a hand-wringer as part of their clothes-washing regimen. They wanted something else.

The fact is, the technologies we label as home automation vary as as time goes on. If it’s in everyone’s home, it’s not home automation. If everyone has it, it’s just the way houses are. Once we expand what’s possible, those old definitions just don’t make as much sense. Those “homes of the future” of the ’50s? They became what everyone expected by 1980.

This morphing of definitions gives rise to conundrums like, why is one appliance to fall under the home automation definition, but a very similar device is not? Surely we could all agree that a thermostat we could control with a phone or tablet constitutes home automation. But does that old school, non-WiFi thermostat count? What about your burglar alarm or sprinkler controller?

The Rise of WiFi

Maybe it boils down to the interface. Could it be that home automation was never about the motorized Venetian blinds at all? It’s always been about the interface, the controller.

Behind the control pad or tablet screen or whatever, lies the hardware with some sort of communication protocol governing how it sends and receives data. One of the first of these protocols was X10, which hid bits in the 120 VAC waveforms of wall current. Around since 1970, X10 has faded into the background with only a limited store of outlets and switches for sale, serving already-installed systems. It was indubitably cool but too buggy to stay popular for long.

The next hotness was wireless, like Zigbee low-power mesh networks, a protocol used by hacker-friendly XBee radios. Another big one is Z-Wave, a wireless protocol that went Open Source in 2010 and has been further buoyed by the fact that Amazon Echo comes with a Z-Wave radio allowing it to control those devices. GE offers wireless switches and outlets, for both Z-Wave and Zigbee.

WiFi became a household staple, enabling a new generation of appliances like smart thermostats and light bulbs that can be controlled through apps. It’s the perfect, user-friendly medium for connecting a network of fixtures and appliances. Of course, all the commercial home automation controllers have adopted WiFi in whole or part. It’s the level of tech most people can figure out.

This does bring up a pertinent question: Does a single light bulb controlled by a remote control constitute home automation? I suppose it’s akin to a TV remote control. That’s not automation, really, it’s just so you don’t have to get off your butt to do one thing. But if there’s more than one, absolutely. A network of individually controllable light bulbs clearly would fit the definition.

The prevalence of WiFi also led to a revolution in controllers, moving away from white plastic wall units (the coveted burglar-alarm chic) to phones and tablets, and from there to voice control.

Just Let the AI Win?

Taking advantage of WiFi, Amazon and Google have jumped into the home automation craze with their Echo and Nest products, Internet-connected hubs that can be controlled through voice commands or apps.

Not creepy at all!

It’s socomforting to just let Alexa be in charge. She should just know what I like based on my purchase history. I buy #4 hardware for me and macadamia nuts for my wife. Why also not let Alexa learn my favorite temperature and humidity level? Alexa can keep track of the thermostat so I can play the dad role and micromanage it. Safety equipment like fire alarms and CO2 detectors are a cinch. Definitely landscape lighting. Have Alexa handle my security as well, door locks and motion sensors and cameras. Dude, voice-controlled oil diffusers.

This hypothetical immersion in an AI-controlled environment is a big leap and I’m not sure I’m ready to embrace it. Does it come down to someone guessing your WiFi password having access to your entire life? Should the same system that controls your stereo also know how many times the toilet has been flushed? Is one system controlling everything kind of like like keeping all of your keys on the same ring: you can’t make toast because your phone’s under the couch? Plus also if the AIs rebel we’ll all have to re-learn how to make ramen and lock our doors manually.

Or it could be less sci-fi than that. When Google subsidiary Nest bought smart home company Revolv, they announced the end of life for all of their products installed in people’s homes (with “lifetime” service contracts!). Abandonware sucks. Can you imagine having your setup bricked by the manufacturer? It’s having your light bulbs all stuck in the “on” position because your phone charged down, but forever. You can imagine the fury of those who invested in a system only to have it not work anymore. Forget unsupported–it’s dead.

Maybe there’s a better way?

Just go Open Source?

If you’re not ready to have an Internet-enabled speaker listening to your every word and changing your Watch List without asking, there is another path. WiFi-connecting microcontrollers and minicomputers have burst onto the scene in the past few years, making it easier than ever for regular folks to create their own smart homes. I’m talking about the Pi and BeagleBone, and also those ESP8266 chips that seem to be everywhere these days.

A few years ago we were talking in terms of an Ethernet-shield-equipped UNO controlling a PowerSwitch Tail on a floor lamp. With these powerful little computers and their Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, we have radically expanded what’s possible for pretty much anyone willing to open a book.

More to the point, we can create solutions that work for us rather than hoping someone else’s solutions can be adapted. Say you’re always leaving the garage door open. What if you had a Pi with a time of flight sensor shining down from a rafter and telling it when the garage door is up, and automatically closes the door if it’s after 10 pm and the door has been open for more than two hours. It may not come together as slick as pairing a light socket with your Nest, but by DIY standards that’s pretty easy to do. You can even go simpler. A dirt-Cheap ESP board like a SparkFun ESP thing practically programs itself.

We’re probably preaching to the choir here, but if home automation has always been about controlling your house, maybe the best way to retain control is to make the hardware yourself.

Filed under: Curated, Featured, home hacks, Interest, Original Art

Measuring Air Flow with Ultrasonic Sensors

พุธ, 07/26/2017 - 18:00

Measuring air flow in an HVAC duct can be a tricky business. Paddle wheel and turbine flow meters introduce not only resistance but maintenance issue due to accumulated dust and debris. Being able to measure ducted airflow cheaply and non-intrusively, like with this ultrasonic flow meter, could be a big deal for DIY projects and the trades in general.

The principle behind the sensor [ItMightBeWorse] is working on is nothing new. He discovered a paper from 2015 that describes the method that measures the change in time-of-flight of an ultrasonic pulse across a moving stream of air in a duct. It’s another one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” things that makes perfect sense in theory, but takes some engineering to turn into a functional sensor. [ItMightBeWorse] is using readily available HC-SR04 sensor boards and has already done a proof-of-concept build. He’s getting real numbers back and getting close to a sensor that will go into an HVAC automation project. The video below shows his progress to date and hints at a follow-up video with more results soon.

Here’s wishing [ItMightBeWorse] the best of luck with his build. But if things go sideways, he might look to our post-mortem of a failed magnetic flow meter for inspiration.

[via r/electronics]

Filed under: home hacks, misc hacks

The Most Straightforward Wind Turbine

พุธ, 07/26/2017 - 15:00

We can all use a little more green energy in our lives at home. So when [ahmedebeed555] — a fan of wind power — ran into durability troubles with his previous home-built turbine, he revised it to be simpler than ever to build.

Outside of the DC generator motor, the rest of the turbine is made from recycled parts: a sponge mop sans sponge, a piece from an old CD drive case acting as a rudder, the blades from a scrapped fan, and a plastic bottle to protect the motor from the elements. Attach the fan to the motor and form the plastic bottle around the motor using — what else? — a soldering iron. Don’t forget a respirator for this step, folks.

A few zip ties secure it marvelously to the mop’s end, with the rudder similarly attached. If you followed along, you probably have something resembling a functional wind turbine now. Running a few wires that can withstand the elements to a charging circuit or whatever you plan to use this turbine power for is a separate endeavour. If you’re interested, we have a few ideas for low power applications.

[via Instructables]

Filed under: green hacks