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Atmel Removes Full-Swing Crystal Oscillator

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 15:01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filed under: Microcontrollers, news

Detecting Beetles That Kill Trees, Make Great Lumber

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 12:00

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

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

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

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Filed under: The Hackaday Prize

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

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 09:00

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

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

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

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

Filed under: classic hacks

Simple Robot Arm With Steppers Has Pleasingly Smooth Motion

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 06:00

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

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

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

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

Filed under: robots hacks

Amazing Oscilloscope Graphics

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 03:01

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

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

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

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

Filed under: video hacks

Curiously Delightful Things Done with Lasers and Projectors

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 01:31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blue Ribbon Microphone

อังคาร, 05/03/2016 - 00:01

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

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


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

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

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

How it Works

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

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

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

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

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

Ribbons Today

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

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

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

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

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

These 20 Projects Won $1000 In The Hackaday Prize

จันทร์, 05/02/2016 - 23:01

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The HackadayPrize2016 is Sponsored by:

Filed under: Featured, The Hackaday Prize

UV Photographic Printer Lets You Use Strange Chemistries

จันทร์, 05/02/2016 - 22:01

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

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

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

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

Filed under: laser hacks

Debunking the Drone Versus Plane Hysteria

จันทร์, 05/02/2016 - 21:01

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

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

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

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

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

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

Analyzing Incident Reports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We Need Better Reports

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

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

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

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

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

Contender For World’s Most Unsettling Drone?

จันทร์, 05/02/2016 - 18:00

We’re not sure what FESTO is advertising with their odd flying beach ball. Amongst inspirational music it gently places its translucent appendage over a water bottle and then engulfs it with an unsettling plastic sound. With a high pitched whine it hovers away with its prey and deposits it in the hand of a thirsty business man, perhaps as a misguided nurturing instinct.

Despite discovering a new uncanny valley, the robot is pretty cool. It appears to a be a hybrid airship/helicopter on a small-scale. The balloon either zeros out the weight of the robot or provides slightly more lift. It’s up to the propellers to provide the rest.

We like the carbon fiber truss around the drone. It’s a really slick build with barely an untamed wire. This seems like a much safer design than a quadcopter for indoor flying. If its end effector wasn’t so creepy it would be even cooler. Video after the break.

Filed under: robots hacks

Software Update Destroys $286 Million Japanese Satellite

จันทร์, 05/02/2016 - 15:00

The Japanese X-ray telescope Hitomi has been declared lost after it disintegrated in orbit, torn apart when spinning out of control. The cause is still under investigation but early analysis points to bad data in a software package pushed shortly after an instrument probe was extended from the rear of the satellite. JAXA, the Japanese space agency, lost $286 million, three years of planned observations, and a possible additional 10 years of science research.

Hitomi, also known as ASTRO-H, successfully launched on February 17, 2016 but on March 26th catastrophe struck, leaving only pieces floating in space. JAXA, desperately worked to recover the satellite not knowing the extent of the failure. On April 28th they discontinued their efforts and are now working to determine the reasons for the failure, although a few weeks ago they did provide an analysis of the failure sequence at a press conference.

On March 26th, the satellite completed a maneuver to point at the galaxy Markarian 205. The Attitude Control System (ACS) began using the Star Tracking (STT) system data to control the position of the satellite. The STT at this point should have updated another position monitoring system, the Inertial Reference Unit (IRU). This may not have occurred.

At the time, the satellite was passing the South Atlantic Anomaly. This is important for two reasons. First, it placed Hitomi in a communications blackout region which meant there was no active ground monitoring of the situation (human intervention might have prevented the catastrophic failure). Second, the belts of radiation encircling the Earth dip low in this region so particle density is higher than in other parts of the orbit. High energy particles may have disrupted the onboard electronics.

The STT and IRU disagreed on the attitude of the satellite. In this case the IRU takes priority, but its data apparently was wrong, reporting a rotation rate of 20 degrees per hour, which was not occurring. The satellite attempted to stop this erroneous rotation using reaction wheels. The satellite configuration information uploaded earlier was wrong and the reaction wheels made the spin worse.

The satellite now went into “Safe Hold” mode and thrusters were called upon to stop the rotation. Using the same erroneous configuration information they increased the spin further causing the satellite’s rotation to exceed design parameters. Parts, like the solar sails, came off. In all, at least 5 pieces were observed in addition to the main body. Some reports indicate there may be as many as 10 pieces with 2 larger and 8 smaller pieces continuing in orbit. It’s likely that all ten pieces separated originally but their close proximity prevented visual and radar images from seeing them as separate entities.

In satellites, the STT typically gets a good fix and sends the data to the IRU. The IRU uses the data to set its current reading and to measure how far it drifted since the last update. After calculating the drift it uses drift adjustments to compensate for the future drift. Clearly if the compensation calculation is wrong the future readings are going to be wrong. This appears to have played a role since the ACS attempted to correct a rotation that didn’t exist. The erroneous configuration information led the ACS to aggravate, not correct, the rotation.

The hardware was built to study hard X-ray sources in the Universe. X-ray satellites like the Hitomi are not hindered by dust clouds that obscure visual instruments. Previous satellites have greatly expanded our knowledge of the Universe, with Japan as the leader in the technology.

Japan’s first successful X-ray satellite, Hakucho, was launched in 1979. Other successful launches followed in ’83, ’87, and ’93. Launches in ’76 and 2000 failed. Their most recent X-ray satellite, Suzaka, launched in 2005, was just decommissioned in 2015 due to deterioration of batteries and other components. It was hoped that Hitomi would see similar utility but that hope has now been extinguished.

[Images from JAXA web site and reports.]

Filed under: news

Upgrading A 20 Year Old PDA

จันทร์, 05/02/2016 - 12:00

Before we had our iDevices and Androids, even before Blackberry, we had PDAs. The most famous of these mid-90s computing appliances are the Apple Newton and the Palm products, but the world of 90s PDAs was significantly more diverse than these two devices. Palm had a competitor in Handspring who released a cheaper and better version of a Palm OS device with the Visor. HP made hardware at one point, and you could run Windows – including Excel and Word – on a handheld device in 1998.

A company name Psion made PDAs with a clamshell design and a keyboard back then, too. Disregarding the operating system, these little clamshell PDAs could arguably be called the forerunners of yesterday’s netbooks and today’s Surface tablets. [RasmusB] is turning his Psion 5 PDA into something modern by replacing all the important bits while still keeping the clean design of this 20-year-old PDA.

The goal of this project is to completely replace the electronics of the Psion 5, while keeping all of the mechanics. That means the keyboard will stay the same, the device will run off of two AA batteries, and all the switches and ports will work. This effort began by making the Psion keyboard Arduino compatible by reverse engineering the keyboard matrix with a pencil and paper, and turning the keyboard into a USB keyboard.

Efforts to turn this Psion into a modern device are ongoing, but at least the outline of the main board is now in KiCad, with a microcontroller to decode the keyboard, switches for the lid and other buttons, and the correct space for the CompactFlash card and battery contacts. The next step is selecting a microprocessor and designing a circuit, but [Rasmus] is off to a great start to make this ancient PDA a modern computing device.

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Filed under: The Hackaday Prize

Shor’s Algorithm In Five Atoms

จันทร์, 05/02/2016 - 09:00

If you want to factor a number, one way to do it is Shor’s algorithm. That’s a quantum algorithm and finds prime factors of integers. That’s interesting because prime factorization is a big deal of creating or breaking most modern encryption techniques.

Back in 2001, a group at IBM factored 15 (the smallest number that the algorithm can factor) using a 7 qubit system that uses nuclear magnetic resonance. Later, other groups duplicated the feat using photonic qubits. Typical implementations take 12 qubits. However, recent work at MIT and the University of Innsbruck can do the same trick with 5 atoms caught in an ion trap. The researchers believe their implementation will easily scale to larger numbers.

Each qubit is an atom and LASER pulses perform the logic operations. By removing an electron to make each atom positively charged, an electric field can exactly hold the positively charged ions in position only microns apart.

We’ve covered quantum computing before. We’ve even talked about the effect of practical quantum computing on encryption. You might also want to read more about the algorithm involved.

Photo credit: Jose-Luis Olivares/MIT

Filed under: news

Hackaday Links: May Day, 2016

จันทร์, 05/02/2016 - 06:00

Humble Bundle is a great way to fill up your Steam library – just pay what you want, and get some indie video games. The Humble Bundle is much more than video games, because No Starch Press just put up a bundle of books on hacking. No, there are no books about wearing balaclavas and using laptops with one hand. I haven’t written that book yet. There’s some choice books in this bundle, including [Bunnie]’s Hacking the XboxAutomate the Boring Stuff with Python, and Practical Malware Analysis.

The Raspberry Pi camera – the $25 add-on webcam that plugs directly into the Pi – is getting an upgrade. The original camera was a five Megapixel sensor that was EOL’d at the end of 2014. The Raspberry Pi foundation bought up a lot of stock, but eventually there would be a replacement. The new sensor is a Sony IMX219 eight Megapixel deal, available at the same price. We assume a NoIR version without the IR filter will be released shortly.

Here’s a little hardware review that doesn’t quite merit a full post. The Raspberry Pi Zero is great, and will be even better once production ramps up again and stock lands in warehouses. One problem with the Zero is the lack of USB ports, leading to at least two Hackaday posts with the exact same headline, ‘Yet Another Pi Zero USB Hub‘. Obviously, there’s a market for an easy to use USB hub for the Zero, and this company is stepping up to fill the need. The killer feature here is the use of pogo pins to tap into the USB differential lines, power and ground pads on the bottom of the Pi Zero. The USB hub is based on the popular FE 1.1 4-port USB hub controller, giving the Pi Zero four USB 2.0 ports. Does it work? Yeah, and it’s only $10. A pretty neat little device that will be very useful when Pi Zeros flood workbenches the world over.

It was announced in 2014, released in 2015, but the STM32F7 hasn’t seen a lot of action around these parts. A shame, because this is the upgrade to the famously powerful STM32F4 microcontroller that’s already capable of driving high-resolution displays through VGA, being an engine control unit for a 96 Ford Aspire, and being a very complex brushless motor driver. The STM32F7 can do all of these and more, and now ST is cutting prices on the F7’s Discovery Board. If you’re looking for a high-power ARM micro and don’t need to run Linux, you won’t do better elsewhere.

Need to reflow a board, but don’t have a toaster oven? Use a blowtorch! By holding a MAPP blowtorch a foot away from a board, [whitequark] was able to successfully reflow a large buck converter. There’s a lot of water vapor that will condense on the board, so a good cleaning afterward is a good idea.

A few weeks ago, [Mr. LeMieux] built a 360 degree, all-metal hinge. He’s been up to something a little more dangerous since then: building piles of mini table saws. Small table saws are useful for miniatures, models, and the like. [Mr. LeMieux]’s table saw is a piece of CNC’d aluminum, with a bearing and saw arbor that attaches to an electric drill. Dangerous, you say? Not compared to the competition. Behold the worst forty dollars I’ve ever spent. This Horror Freight mini table saw is by far the worst tool I’ve ever used. The bed was caked with streaky layers of paint, uneven, the blade wasn’t set at 90 degrees, and the whole thing was horrifically underpowered. Trust me when I say the CNC electric drill version is safer.

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, Hackaday links

WISP Needs No Battery Or Cable

จันทร์, 05/02/2016 - 03:00

One of the problems with the Internet of Things, or any embedded device, is how to get power. Batteries are better than ever and circuits are low power. But you still have to eventually replace or recharge a battery. Not everything can plug into a wall, and fuel cells need consumables.

University of Washington researchers are turning to a harvesting approach. Their open source WISP board has a sensor and a CPU that draws power from an RFID reader. To save power during communication, the device backscatters incoming radio waves, which means it doesn’t consume a lot of its own power during transmissions.

The big  news is that TU Delft has contributed code to allow WISP to reprogram wirelessly. You can see a video about the innovation below. The source code is on GitHub. Previously, a WISP had to connect to a PC to receive a new software load.

Of course, RFID tags already grab power from RFID readers. However, a normal RFID tag doesn’t have any processing power or sensor inputs. The WISP has a 16-bit CPU. Development is currently on version five. There is also a version that can interface with the NFC readers common in modern smartphones and other devices.

There are also similar devices that attempt to harvest energy from ambient sources (radio and television broadcasts, for example). One big advantage to not having batteries is that the devices can be placed where they are inaccessible. For example, a building could have sensors poured into concrete that inspectors would power and read wirelessly. Obviously, being able to update such a device wirelessly would be a big benefit since you can’t retrieve the device to connect a cable (or a battery) to it.

Stealing power is not a new idea. We’ve looked at heat harvesting before, as well as a carbon monoxide sensor that steals heat from a hot water spigot. Then again, you can also use the power of the human body (no Matrix required).

Filed under: news, radio hacks, wearable hacks, wireless hacks

Home Made Diodes From Copper Oxide

จันทร์, 05/02/2016 - 00:00

We’re all familiar with semiconductor devices, and we should remember the explanation from high-school physics classes that they contain junctions between two types of semiconductor material. “N” type which in the for-schoolchildren explanation has a surplus of electrons, and “P” type which has “Holes”, or a deficit of electrons.

Unless our careers have taken us deep into the science of the semiconductor industry though that’s probably as close as we’ve come to the semiconductors themselves. To us a diode or a transistor is a neatly packaged device with handy wires. We’ve never really seen what’s inside, let alone made any real semiconductor devices ourselves.

[Hales] though has other ideas. With the dream of creating a paintable semiconductor layer for ad-hoc creation of simple diodes, he’s been experimenting with oxidising copper to make a surface of cupric oxide onto which he can make a contact for a simple diode.

What makes his experiments particularly impressive though is not merely that he’s created a working diode, albeit one with a low reverse breakdown voltage. He’s done it not in a gleaming laboratory with a full stock of chemicals and equipment, but on his bench with a candle, and drops of water. He takes us through the whole process, with full details of his semiconductor manufacture as well as his diode test rig to trace the device’s I/V curve. Well worth a read, even if you never intend to make a diode yourself.

We’ve featured a cuprous oxide diode once before here at Hackaday, albeit a rather fancier device. If this article has piqued your interests about diodes, may we direct you to this informative video on the subject?

The diode looks black, leading me to believe it’s cupric oxide and not cuprous oxide. Feel free to argue that point in the comments anyway – Ed.

Filed under: chemistry hacks

Precision CNC With Epoxy Granite

อาทิตย์, 05/01/2016 - 21:00

Epoxy granite is an overlooked material when it comes to making home CNC builds. As far as time and money goes, when you add in all the equipment it comes out cheaper than an aluminum casting set-up. Epoxy granite has mechanical properties better than cast iron, increased dimensional stability, better vibration damping, and looks awesome when done right. Also, you can cast precision surfaces and threaded holes into your design, which is pretty cool.

In these two videos by [Jørgen Hegner] we get to watch him and a friend make a matching set of precision CNC machines. It’s built in a similar style to other nice builds we’ve featured. This way of making it needs a bigger footprint than a gantry mill and can’t be built as large. However, it solves a lot of mechanical issues and squaring with the gantry design while not being as difficult to get right as a box or knee mill.

After casting they machined the material embedded in the granite to mount the ways. The ways are linear bearings and ball screws. Expensive, but as the footage shows, very accurate.  The rest of the machine is assembled and tuned. Then it gets installed in a home made 80/20 enclosure. We really like the LCD panel that’s incorporated into the front shield of the machine. They really went all out with the CNC control panel. It looks like they can do anything from jog the axis to monitor and control the water cooling for the spindle.

It appears that all the precision work is put to good use as there are some shots at the end of video two of a beautiful clock CNC’d on this machine. Videos after the break.

Filed under: cnc hacks

Minimal 433 MHz Web Home Automation

อาทิตย์, 05/01/2016 - 18:00

How minimal can a decent home automation setup be? If you need an HTML frontend, you’re going to need a webserver. An ESP8266 will do the trick. And then you need to be able to control your electronics. The cheapest and easiest way to do that is with the ubiquitous 433 MHz remote-controlled outlets and a $1 radio unit from an online auction site. Add in a cheap ESP8266 module, and your total outlay is going to be under $20.

That’s exactly what [Nikos Kantarakias] did. He combined a bunch of available ESP8266 Arduino libraries — one for driving the 433 MHz radio modules, [Paul Stoffregen]’s libraries for keeping time and for setting alarms, and another for keeping track of time zones — with some of his own code for setting up WiFi access, and it’s done.

It’s all available on GitHub for your perusal. The code does some strange things — like requiring a complete reboot every time you set an alarm — but it does let you set recurring and one-off activations of the attached devices with a web interface that’s served off the ESP8266 itself. If you want your coffee machine to turn itself on in the mornings, and want a system that’s easy for the other inhabitants of your house to configure, something like this might be just the ticket.

But if you’re looking for a project on the other end of the ESP-tech spectrum, [CNLohr] wrote a standalone Ethernet controller for the thing. Woah.

Filed under: home hacks

Has Mankind Gone Too Far With Drone Fishing?

อาทิตย์, 05/01/2016 - 15:00

Previously man was limited in his ability to fish the waters of this world by the power of his arm or his ability to procure the services of a boat. Now, as long as man is willing to risk a thousand dollar drone set-up, he can descend upon unsuspecting fish with robotic precision. It is very unfair, and awesome.

The concept is simple. Buy one of those drones every upper middle class teenager seems to get for Christmas. Attach a streaming camera set-up to it. Next, rig it up so that it can fly the fishing line from the rod out, but when the fish bites the line can easily detach. Finally, attach a friend to the controls of the fishing rod.

After that it’s like shooting fish in an ocean. Fly the drone around, pulling the line behind you, until you see a school of fish. Next, dangle the bait in the center of the school. Inevitably one will strike, the line will detach, and it’s up to your friend to reel in your catch. Either that or a bunch of tuna will wreck your drone and you’ll get to watch a livestream of a thousand dollars sink to the ocean floor. Video after the break.

Filed under: drone hacks