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Fidget Spinner Becomes a Brushless Motor; Remains Useless

พฤ, 12/28/2017 - 19:01

Your grandmother means well. But by the time she figures out something’s a fad, it is old news. So maybe you got a fidget spinner in your stocking this year. Beats coal. Before you regift it to your niece, you could repurpose it to be a motor. Technically, [B.Aswinth Raj] made a brushless motor, although it isn’t going to fly your quadcopter anytime soon, it is still a nice demonstrator.

You can see a video below. The idea is to put magnets on the spinner and use an electromagnet to impart energy into the spinner which is on a piece of threaded rod left over from your last 3D printer build. A hall effect sensor determines when to energize the electromagnet.

A brushed motor uses a spring-loaded brush to carry current through to the motor’s coils and keep the magnetic field oriented properly. A brushless motor works differently. There are several schemes that will work, but the one [Raj] uses is the most common. He adds fixed magnets on the rotor then uses an electromagnet to provide the correct push at the right time. A practical brushless motor will likely have more than one coil, though, and the controller has to do a particular sequence to move the rotor around the rotation.

If you want to see the insides of a real motor, we looked at how to rewind them earlier. If you’d rather repurpose your spinner to something more practical, you could always make some music.

Filed under: Toy Hacks

Coasty The Coaster Toaster

พฤ, 12/28/2017 - 16:01

Whether or not you feel the need to laser cut custom drink coasters, you have to be impressed by the amount of thought that went into Coasty.

They say that justice is blind, and while we can’t promise you anything at your next court date, we can at least say with confidence that we’re not the kind of people who will turn down a good hack just because it’s held together with rubber bands and positive vibes. If it works it works, and it doesn’t matter what it looks like. Having said that, we’re blown away by how incredibly finished this particular project is.

Coasty, designed and built by [Bart Dring] is one of those projects that elevate a hack into something that looks like it could be a commercial product. It takes in a common pulpboard coaster and laser cuts any design you want. It’s just the right size, with just the right components because this is Coasty’s purpose. It has a slot to feed in the coaster, and uses this as one of the axes during the laser cutting process, with the laser’s left to right movement as the other. This method makes for a smaller overall footprint and means you never need to open the protective enclosure for normal operation.

One of the most striking elements of Coasty is how much of the hardware is 3D printed. If it isn’t a motor, smooth rod, or other mechanical component, it’s printed. We’re used to seeing 3D printed parts as brackets or mounts, but rarely do you see an entire chassis printed like this. Not only does it take a serious amount of forethought and design, but the print time itself can be quite prohibitive.

But by designing and printing the majority of Coasty, it really gives it a professional look that would have been harder to achieve if it was a bundle of aluminum extrusions.

The back of Coasty features an exposed PCB “motherboard” with a dizzying array of plug-in boards. Hardware like the stepper drivers, Bluetooth radio, and laser power supply are separate modules for ease of maintenance and development. There’s a few neat hardware features integrated into the motherboard as well, like the IR sensor for detecting the edge of the coaster.

The printed filter is an especially nice touch. Containing a scrap of commercially available carbon cloth intended for home air filters, Coasty is able to cut down on the smoke that is invariably produced when blasting cardboard with a 3W 450nm laser.

It turns out that custom drink coasters are serious business for some hackers out there. This isn’t the first time somebody has gone all out to make their mark while simultaneously preventing marks.

Filed under: hardware, Laser Hacks

Environmentally Aware Jewelry Gets Attention

พฤ, 12/28/2017 - 12:00

We didn’t include a “Most Ornate” category in this year’s Coin Cell Challenge, but if we had, the environmentally reactive jewelry created by [Maxim Krentovskiy] would certainly be the one to beat. Combining traditional jewelry materials with an Arduino-compatible microcontroller, RGB LEDs, and environmental sensors; the pieces are able to glow and change color based on environmental factors. Sort of like a “mood ring” for the microcontroller generation.

[Maxim] originally looked for a turn-key solution for his reactive jewelry project, but found that everything out there wasn’t quite what he was looking for. It was all either too big or too complicated. His list of requirements was relatively short and existing MCU boards were simply designed for more than what he needed.

On his 30 x 30 mm PCB [Maxim] has included the bare essentials to get an environmentally aware wearable up and running. Alongside the ATtiny85 MCU is a handful of RGB LEDs (with expansion capability to add more), as well as analog light and temperature sensors. With data from the sensors, the ATtiny85 can come up with different colors and blink frequencies for the LEDs, ranging from a randomized light show to a useful interpretation of the local environment.

It’s not much of a stretch to imagine practical applications for this technology. Consider a bracelet that starts flashing red when the wearer’s body temperature gets too high. Making assistive technology visually appealing is always a challenge, and there’s undoubtedly a market for pieces of jewelry that can communicate a person’s physical condition even when they themselves may be unable to.

Form or function, life saving or complete novelty, there’s still time to enter your own project in the 2017 Coin Cell Challenge.

Coin Cell Challenge   Build something cool powered
by a coin cell, win prizes!
Filed under: Arduino Hacks, ATtiny Hacks, contests, Wearable Hacks

A Guidebook to the World of Counterfeit Parts

พฤ, 12/28/2017 - 08:00

We’ve all experienced it: that sinking feeling you get when you’ve powered up your latest circuit and nothing happens. Maybe you made a mistake in your design or you shorted something while soldering. It’s even possible that ESD damaged one of your chips. All of these issues and more are possible, maybe even inevitable, when designing your own hardware.

But what if your design is perfect and your soldering skills beyond reproach? What if your shiny new device is DOA but you’ve done everything right? A fascinating report by [Yahya Tawil] makes the case that it’s increasingly possible that you’ve run across a counterfeit component. While it’s still relatively unlikely the hobby hacker is going to get bit by the counterfeit bug, the figures and examples referenced in his report may surprise you.

One of these is an ATmega328, the other is literal garbage.

[Yahya] points to a number of government studies on the rising scourge of counterfeit components, and the numbers are rather surprising. For example, the U.S Department of Commerce conducted a study between 2005 and 2008 where over 50% of respondent manufacturers and distributors had encountered counterfeit components. Another estimate claims that up to 15% of the semiconductors purchased by the Pentagon are counterfeit, presenting a serious risk to national security.

But how exactly does one counterfeit a microcontroller or transistor? Interestingly, in the vast majority of cases, old chips are pulled from recycled circuit boards and new labels are written over the original. Sometimes the forgery is as simple as changing the date code on the component or up-rating its capability (such as labeling it military spec when it isn’t), but in some cases chips with the same package will be labeled as something else entirely. Other tricks are decidedly low-tech: the documentation for the device may list functions and capabilities which it simply does not possess, artificially raising its value.

The report is a worthwhile read, even for those of us who may not be purchasing components in the same quantities as the Pentagon. It may make you think twice before you click “Buy” on that shady site with the prices that seem to good to be true.

Counterfeit components certainly seem to be on the rise from where we’re sitting. We’ve covered a number of other studies on this increasingly common trend, as well as first hand accounts ranging from successful recoveries to frustrating failures.

Filed under: hardware, Parts

34C3: The First Day is a Doozy

พฤ, 12/28/2017 - 04:31

It’s 5 pm, the sun is slowly setting on the Leipzig conference center, and although we’re only halfway through the first day, there’s a ton that you should see. We’ll report some more on the culture of the con later — for now here’s just the hacks.

Electric Car Charging Stations: Spoofing and Reflashing

Electric autos are the future, right? Well, for now we need to figure out how to charge them. All across Germany, charging stations are popping up like dandelions. How do they work? Are they secure? [Mathias Dalheimer] bought a couple loading stations, built himself a car simulator, spoofed some NFC cards, and found that the whole thing was full of holes. The talk is in German, and doesn’t yet have subtitles, but the takeaways are that it’s trivial to offload charges to other people by cloning their NFC cards. Worse, the loading stations are Internet accessible, and of course remotely-controllable. With physical access, and a screwdriver, the entire station can be reflashed and then the game’s up. [Mathias] ended his talk with a call for community involvement in shaping the next generation of loading-station protocols and software, because after all, this is infrastructure that we’d all like to use in the future.

Open-Source Silicon: Verifying the RISC-V Spec

If we were to pick one of the largest developments in the open-source hardware industry this year, we’d call 2017 the year of open silicon. In particular the open RISC-V processor came out in hardware that you can play around with now. In ten years, when we’re all running open-silicon “Arduinos”, remember this time. And if you haven’t been watching [Clifford Wolf], you might have missed that he wrote a 3D modelling software called openSCAD or a free FPGA toolchain, project Icestorm.

Anyway, [Clifford] has turned his attention to the RISC-V architecture. He’s been working on formally verifying that a hardware design meets the RISC-V specification. In contrast to simulation, where you run the hardware from a bunch of starting values, and see if it ends up in an undesired state, formal verification proves that the hardware design doesn’t do the wrong things, at least for a certain number of cycles after startup.

All of this is nice, but it’s not worth doing unless it’s finding bugs. And he’s found bugs in nearly every RISC-V implementation, and also in the actual English-language specification as well. A free and open formal verification suite for an open processor specification eases the way for all future developers. This may seem abstruse at the moment, but it’s paving the way for a revolution.

Robotic Vacuum Cleaners: Rooting the Xiaomi Blinds the Cloud

The Xiaomi robotic vacuum cleaner would certainly make a great platform for hacker explorations: it has a LIDAR, batteries, decent motors, electronic compass, ultrasonic “radar”, and much more. [Dennis Giese] and [Daniel AW] got root on the device, opening it up completely. Watch the preliminary version of the talk here. They dumped the MMC flash by shorting pins to ground with a piece of aluminum foil, and then fooled the update procedure into accepting their own image, and the game was over. They then went on to work around all of Xiaomi’s cloud services, allowing entirely self-contained operation if you’d like.

Interestingly enough, [Dennis] and [Daniel] found a reference to a tcpdump command that would eavesdrop on all network traffic inside your WLAN. It didn’t seem to be running, because there were no pcap files to be found. It could be a left-over from development, or it could be something more sinister. Xiaomi has just been featured on Hackaday for their nightlight that sends ridiculous amounts of data home. In this light (tee-hee) it’s not entirely surprising to find that their vacuum is doing the same thing — draw your own conclusions.

The Intel Management Engine, Again

One of the bigger vulnerabilities disclosed this year was the crack of the Intel Management Engine. It’s a hidden computer inside your computer, which doubles as the root of trust for basically everything else. If it could be compromised, it would be the end. It has always been shrouded in secrecy, and that’s made everyone nervous. [Maxim Goryachy], [Mark Ermolov], and [Dmitry Sklyarov] managed to attack it via a JTAG port. If you want to get into the hack in detail, this talk is for you. This hack was a very big chink in the armor of obscurity surrounding the IME. It will be interesting to see what next year brings.

What’s One Bit Between Friends?

In this technical yet accessible talk, [Filippo Valsorda] walks us through a bug he found in an encryption algorithm deep inside a Go library, and how he used a one-bit error that occurs around one time in a billion to extract the entire 256-bit secure key. The video is here. By carefully crafting a public key, he can use the extremely infrequent error to sequentially unravel the entire secret. The particular bug that he found is fixed, of course, but the method of deploying tons of computing power to ferret out keys just shows how far you can push even the tiniest oracle. This talk demonstrates very explicitly that even the smallest bug is too big.

Networks Before the Internet: BBS Memory Lane

[LaForge] is an open-source radio hacker. If you’ve done any SDR work, you may have used drivers from his Osmocom project. But like the rest of us, he was a young nerdling once. And when he was young, the BBS scene was the big deal. In this non-technical talk, he takes a trip down memory lane and looks at the tech that underlies the BBS era.

What’s Next?

If you’re wondering where we’re going to be tonight, check out the schedule and watch live streams. In particular, there’s a talk on the state of computing in North Korea, tweaking FitBits, cracking WPA2, and a talk that promises to be the “Ultimate Apollo Guidance Computer Talk”. And then we’ll take a nap, and do it all again tomorrow.

We can’t see it all. Let us know what you’ve seen, and what we must.

Filed under: cons, Featured, News

Dead eBay Thermal Camera is an Organ Donor

พฤ, 12/28/2017 - 04:00

[Damien] wanted to build a thermal camera. He was dismayed about how much a microbolometer costs so he salvaged one from a dead FLIR he picked up on eBay for 75 pounds. That’s about $100, and less than half what a new sensor costs. He selected one that didn’t turn on, which he hoped meant the Lepton 3 160×120 pixel microbolometer would not be the reason the camera failed.

Once it arrived, he pulled the pricey module, connected it to a breakout board and a Raspberry Pi. His gamble paid off; it worked fine. That wasn’t the end of the project, though. He went on to make a portable, self-contained camera with a rechargeable battery and an LCD screen.

The ESP32 software is sophisticated, using code ported from Linux and FreeRTOS. Topped off with a 3D printed case, [Damien] wound up with a great looking camera that is highly personal.

We saw another good-looking thermal camera that used an older sensor in one of our 2017 competitions. Once you’ve tired of looking at your soldering iron, you can always examine yourself for injuries.

Filed under: digital cameras hacks

3D Printed Airplane Engine Runs on Air

พฤ, 12/28/2017 - 02:30

One of the most important considerations when flying remote-controlled airplanes is weight. Especially if the airplane has a motor, this has a huge potential impact on weight. For this reason, [gzumwalt] embarked on his own self-imposed challenge to build an engine with the smallest weight and the lowest parts count possible, and came away with a 25-gram, 8-part engine.

The engine is based around a single piston and runs on compressed air. The reduced parts count is a result of using the propeller axle as a key component in the engine itself. There are flat surfaces on the engine end of the axle which allow it to act as a valve and control its own timing. [gzumwalt] notes that this particular engine was more of a thought experiment and might not actually produce enough thrust to run an airplane, but that it certainly will spark up some conversations among RC enthusiasts.

The build is also one of the first designs in what [gzumwalt] hopes will be a series of ever-improving engine designs. Perhaps he should join forces with this other air-powered design that we’ve just recently featured. Who else is working on air-powered planes? Who knew that this was a thing?


Filed under: Engine Hacks

JST Is Not A Connector

พฤ, 12/28/2017 - 01:01

When reading about cool projects and products, it’s common to see wiring plugs labelled “JST connector.” This looks fine until we start getting hands-on and begin hacking things together. Inevitably we find the JST connector from one part fails to fit in the JST connector of another. This is the moment we learn “JST” is not a connector specification. It is short for Japan Solderless Terminals Manufacturing Company, Ltd. A company whose history goes back to 1957 and their website (styled in 1999) lists hundreds of different types.

We can simplify to “JST connector” when chit-chatting about projects. But when it comes to actual hardware specification, that’s not good enough. Which JST connector?

Battery pack with JST RCY for discharging and JST XH for balance charging.

The reality is: we live in a world full of ambiguous connector specifications. We also sometimes choose to ignore “No User Serviceable Parts Inside” and merrily explore guts of equipment to which we have no specifications at all. As hackers, we need some skill at deciphering mystery connectors. We’ll start here with a quick survey of the most popular types from JST.

A simple two pin wire-to-wire connector is probably the RCY series. When a connector interface two or more wires to a circuit board instead, it might be one of the following series. A quick way to narrow down candidates is to look at their pitch: the distance between pins. Then identification becomes a matter of comparing the physical features against datasheets.

3D printer control board with JST XH connection to the stepper motors

We start with the JST XH series. Its pitch of 2.5 mm is effectively identical to the 0.1″ pitch commonly found on prototyping breadboards. After the XH series, the pin pitch gets narrower, the wires get thinner, and the connectors are more fragile through PH (2.0 mm), ZH (1.5 mm), GH (1.25 mm), and SH (1.0 mm). The SH series are so small that JST specified optional protrusions to give us something to hold.

If a mystery connector doesn’t match the datasheet for the popular JST connector in that pitch, then unfortunately the search becomes more difficult. When faced with this task of digging deeper keep in mind the possibility that it might not be a JST connector at all. Surplus inventory are frequently mislabeled and some connectors look too much alike. The Molex PicoBlade is a 1.25 mm pitch connector frequently confused with JST GH in the same pitch.

This mystery “JST connector” has the 1 mm pitch of the JST SH, but the datasheet says it is too large to be one.

As we gain experience with connectors, we’ll make better guesses based on context. The backyard-friendly hobby aircraft ecosystem (airplane, helicopter, and multi-rotor) uses many connectors designed by JST with Molex as a smaller player. The situation is reversed in PC components where Molex designed most of the connectors in that ecosystem.

Such knowledge will come in handy when it comes time to choose a connector. Usually the connectors used in one-off projects are dictated by those already on components built by others, but sometimes the choice is ours to make. It’s better if we understand the context of the project and choose something that fits existing conventions.

And when you’ve made your choice, be specific in your project documentation. There’s no need to make somebody else (possibly your future self) go through the process of guessing which connector type you used.

This is even more important for component vendors. Even though internet specifications are generally poor, that’s no excuse to be lazy. Customers need to know the specific connector to interface with your product.

Help prevent future headaches: be specific about your connectors!

Filed under: Engineering, Hackaday Columns, Parts

Your 3D Printer Could Print Stone

พุธ, 12/27/2017 - 23:30

Most of our  3D printers print in plastic. While metal printing exists, the setup for it is expensive and the less expensive it is, the less impressive the results are. But there are other materials available, including ceramic. You don’t see many hobby-level ceramic printers, but a company, StoneFlower, aims to change all that with a print head that fits a normal 3D printer and extrudes clay. You can see a video of the device, below. They say with some modifications, it can print other things, including solder paste.

The concept isn’t new. There are printers that can do this on the market. However, they still aren’t a common item. Partially, this is a cost issue as many of these printers are pricey. They also often require compressed air to move the viscous clay through tubes. StoneFlower has a syringe pump that doesn’t use compressed air.

StoneFlower claims the design is open source, although looking at the document, it seems almost too simple, so we wonder if anyone will reproduce it. The video shows a large tube with a stepper motor — a big syringe pump —  with no associated drawings. The working part of the device they do show is little more than an 8 mm wood screw turned by a stepper motor.

Keep in mind the head sizes for something like this are huge (3 mm, not 0.3 mm). Printing with ceramic has challenges. For example, it needs support until after you fire it. Oh, and you probably need a kiln to do that if you want ceramic or porcelain. However, there are advantages, too. Ceramic is food safe and non-porous so you can drink out of your first cup with no fear.

We keep waiting for something new to change 3D printing at the hacker level. Honestly, this probably isn’t it, but it could make paste printing a little more common than it is today.

Filed under: 3d Printer hacks, Crowd Funding

2017: As The Hardware World Turns

พุธ, 12/27/2017 - 22:00

The year is almost over, and now it’s time to look back on the last fifty-odd weeks. What happened in this year in hacking? 2017 will go down as the beginning of another AI renaissance, although we’re not going to call it that; this year was all about neural nets and machine learning and advancements resulting from the development of self-driving cars and very beefy GPUs. Not since the 80s have we seen more work in ‘AI’ fields. What will it amount to this time around the hype cycle? Find out in a few years.

Biohacking was big this year, and not just because people are installing RFID tags and magnets in their hands. CRISPR is allowing for Star Trek-style genome hacking, and this year saw in vivo experiments to enable and disable individual genes in rat models. Eventually, someone is going to get a Nobel for CRISPR.

We’re going to Mars, and soon — very soon — a SpaceX Falcon Heavy is going to either lob a Tesla Roadster into solar orbit or the Atlantic Ocean. We learned about the BFR that will take dozens of people to Mars in a single launch. Boeing and Lockheed think they can compete with the Elon Musk PR powerhouse. The Bigelow Aerospace inflatable module passed its in-flight test on the ISS, giving the space station a new storage closet. Even in space, amazing stuff is happening this year.

Is that it? Not by a long shot. This year has seen some of the coolest hacks we’ve ever seen, and some of the dumbest security breaches ever. Hackaday is doing awesome. What else did 2017 have? Read on to find out.

The State of Hackaday

As far as events, conferences, and contests, this has been a fantastic year for Hackaday. In March, we had three simultaneous unconferences in Chicago, LA, and San Francisco. In August, we hosted hundreds of eclipse viewings and shipped out thousands of eclipse glasses. We had a Sci-Fi contest. We challenged the Hackaday community to do the most with one kilobyte. In September, we hosted an unconference in London. All this time, we saw the world’s engineers mobilize for the Hackaday Prize, a competition to build something to change the world. And it all culminated in the Hackaday Superconference, a two-day extravaganza of hardware creation. The Superconference is the best hardware conference on the planet, bar none. Add in weekly Hack Chats, monthly, bi-coastal meetups, and everything else, and you can plainly see Hackaday has never had a stronger community.

Tindie is going gangbusters, with more products from thousands of hardware creators. Hackaday.io has hundreds of thousands of projects and users. We’ve never been bigger or more active. We’re even starting up an Open Access, peer-reviewed Journal Of What You Don’t Know.

While Supercons and Unconferences and Hackaday Prizes are great, there is another intriguing success this year. Our readership for North Korea is through the roof. Every year, we take a look at our readership numbers in places around the globe, and our North Korean readership has never been better. In 2014 and 2015, we were seeing only a few dozen views from the People’s Democratic Republic. This changed in 2016 with even more dozens. This trend continued in 2017 with a total of 156 views from Pyongyang. If these numbers continue, look forward to a viable Hackaday meetup in North Korea sometime in the next century.

Of course, we’re interested in more than just the views from North Korea. If you want to know more about the State of Hackaday, our Editor in Chief, Mike Szczys, gave a talk on the State of Hackaday at the Hackaday Superconference.

Magical Internet Money

This year, the price of Bitcoin increased from $3k to probably about $20k when this post is published lol nope nevermind. That’s great news for the early adopters. Back when I invented Bitcoin in 2006 (hey, that’s enough proof for WIRED), I couldn’t have imagined Bitcoin would be so popular.

The Great Wannacry of 2017

October 21, 2016, saw an attack on the Internet itself. A bunch of IP webcams trained the Low Orbit Ion Cannon on DNS servers on the East Coast. For some, the Internet was gone. The ‘S’ in ‘IoT’ stands for security.

This year, we got something even worse. The Wannacry ransomware got into a bunch of Windows computers and shut down the UK’s NHS. This was pure ransomware, asking for $300 in Bitcoin (which is now worth about $2500, and this was only six months ago who knows) before a computer would be unlocked. Yes, people paid up. It wasn’t for long, because a security researcher registered a domain that turned out to be a killswitch. The attacks are still ongoing, and a variant of Wannacry is messing around with computers in Chernobyl.

Who was behind Wannacry? For a few months, the best guess was “a state-level actor”, with guesses ranging from Russian hackers who are using some leaked NSA tools, Chinese hackers who are using some leaked NSA tools, to North Korean hackers who are using leaked NSA tools. Now we have an answer: it was those North Korean hackers using leaked NSA tools.

Oh great, everyone’s personal data has leaked

Equifax are morons.

Do You Like Apples?

Last year, Apple started to suck. Between the introduction of laptops with dedicated emoji bars and completely neglecting users who need a lot of RAM and a fast CPU, it seems the Macintosh division at Apple is slowly dying. 2017 saw a slight reversal of the trend with the introduction of the iMac Pro, the stopgap Mac until someone can figure out how to cram discrete graphics cards into a trash can. Is everything terrible in the giant circular spaceship? No, not at all; there’s an iPhone with a Kinect that makes animated poo.

No, seriously, is Apple dying? 2017 saw the stupidest login bug ever. Anyone could log on as ‘root’ with no password. The fix for this exploit broke file sharing. It’s time to have a discussion: right now, MacBooks are issued to every junior dev without thinking, and now it may be time to reassess this practice. What is the solution? Last year, Microsoft announced there would be a Linux ‘shim’, and now PuTTY won’t exist in a few years. Let this sink in: Windows is becoming a better development environment than OS X. How do you like them apples? Fan of Linux? Good news, it only took five years to fix a bug in Wine.

The Great Hope Of Consumer Electronics

About a decade ago, everyone wanted one of those new, huge, fancy LCDs. 3D TV came and went, and now a 42″ TV that would have cost thousands a few years ago now sell for $300. VR was going to be the next big thing. That’s getting there, but it doesn’t look like VR is going to have a huge impact in the near-term. The same goes with drones, and self-driving cars aren’t there yet, despite what Elon will tell you. This year, CES had far too many ‘home robots’ — anthropomorphized bits of plastic with a camera and a display. Nobody wanted them.

As a saving grace to the consumer electronics industry, there was one product that everyone latched onto this year: Alexas and Google Homes and Apple HomePods. What are these devices? Far-field microphones with a somewhat beefy CPU connected to the Internet. The cool versions have a display and a camera. These are the must-have bits of consumer electronics right now.

I don’t know if Nineteen Eighty-Four was dropped from 8th grade English class a few decades ago, but there is a problem with these Intelligent Personal Assistants. They will be hacked eventually, and anyone will be able to listen to the Internet-connected microphones you set up in your home. Believing otherwise is rejecting reality. No, we don’t know how Amazon has made hackers love the Alexa, but nevertheless, people are installing Telescreens in their homes. The popularity of these devices is befuddling and concerning. It’s like no one believes elections can be hacked. They can, and in under an hour. Security just went right off the rails this year, but don’t worry, you can add a headphone jack.

2017 In Tools And Hardware

What did this year give us in tools and hardware? Prusa’s four-color extruder is finally shipping, as is the Mk. 3 upgrade. The Monoprice MP Mini V.2 is out (and it’s great), and the MP Mini Delta is ramping up production (it’s great and it’s super cheap). The Anet A8 is a capable printer if you value your time at zero, and we’re slowly getting to the point where anyone can have a 3D printer on their desk if they want to. We’re actually getting to the point where these desktop printers aren’t annoyingly loud with some fancy stepper drivers.

3D printing is in a weird place. Shares of SSYS match the curve of the Hype Cycle, and slowly, very slowly, 3D printers are becoming mainstream. There’s still a lot of work to do, from 32-bit controller boards, to the perpetual promise of cheap resin printers, but we’re getting there. Soon, a 3D printer will be as common as the drill press in the home shop.

By far the most interesting innovation in 3D printing this year was the Infinite Build Volume printer. We first saw this at the Midwest RepRap Festival in March, designed by [Bill Steele] as a quick, hacky proof of concept. Basically, it’s a printer with a conveyor belt bed rotated 45 degrees to the rest of the machine. Blackbelt 3D quickly came out with their own implementation, and Printrbot teamed up with [Bill] to create the Printrbelt. Do these machines exist in the wild yet? No, not really, but it’s the most innovative 3D printing thing we’ve seen in years.

The Glowforge is finally shipping, but only to buyers who have popular YouTube channels, it seems.

Now that 3D printers are slowly creeping into the mainstream, it’s time for the Maker Market to find a new product to capitalize on. Next year, it’s going to be all about laser cutters. The Glowforge is finally shipping, which means the largest crowdfunding campaign ever (or at least it was two years ago) is finally starting to bear fruit. Dremel is introducing a 40W laser cutter next year, although there’s no price or availability date, so you shouldn’t care. The Dremel might have a cool radiator for liquid coolingbut other than that, there’s not much to speak of.

Lasers are the next big thing, and in a shocking turn of events, China isn’t keeping up. The ubiquitous K40 laser cutter still has crappy electronics, a weird, spring-loaded engraving bed, and a mechanical design that doesn’t make sense. It is the best way to get a laser cutter for under a grand, though, and there are now real electronics boards that work with the K40. Will 2018 be the year some factory in China realizes they can move a massive number of laser cutters by making a few simple changes? One can only hope; the ROI on a $4000 Glowforge doesn’t cut it for me, but a $1000 K40 does.

Late last year, we saw the introduction of the RISC-V in real silicon. The HiFive1 from SiFive is a big-O Open ISA, previously only available in Verilog. This year, it’s a real chip, and that’s just awesome. Arduino announced a RISC-V, ESP32, WiFi, Bluetooth, Arduino thing, but who knows what’s happening with that. What’s really impressive is the announcement of a RISC-V SoC. This will be a processor about as powerful as what you would find in a phone based on the Open RISC-V ISA. It’ll be released in 2018, so keep your ears to the ground for this one.

Looking Forward

What does 2018 have in store for Hackaday? More of everything. We now have an Open Access journal, we’re going to roll with another Hackaday Prize, and we’re looking forward to events in Europe. 2017 was great, but thanks to our community, 2018 will be even better.

Filed under: Current Events, Featured, Rants, Slider

Balance like a Mountain Goat on this Simple Stewart Platform

พุธ, 12/27/2017 - 19:00

No goats were harmed in the making of this 3-DOF Stewart platform for [Bruce Land]’s microcontrollers course at Cornell.

If the name “Stewart platform” doesn’t ring a bell, the video below will help you out. [Team Microgoats] built a small version of the mechanical system commonly seen in flight simulators, opting for 3 DOF  to simplify the design. Their PIC32-controlled steppers can wobble and weave the table in response to inputs from an MPU-6050 six-axis accelerometer embedded in the base of a 3D-printed goat. Said goat appears to serve no other role in the build, but goats are cool, so why not? And if you’ve ever seen a mountain goat frolicking across a sheer vertical rock face like it was walking across a parking lot, you’ll understand the connection to the balance and control offered by a Stewart platform.

[Bruce Land]’s course is always a bonanza of neat projects that pop up in our tipline this time of year, like a POV box fan, a coin cell Rickrolling throwie, and a dynamometer for small electric motors.

Filed under: Microcontrollers

Aireon Hitchhikes on Iridium to Track Airplanes

พุธ, 12/27/2017 - 16:00

SpaceX just concluded 2017 by launching 10 Iridium NEXT satellites. A footnote on the launch was the “hosted payload” on board each of the satellites: a small box of equipment from Aireon. They will track every aircraft around the world in real-time, something that has been technically possible but nobody claimed they could do it economically until now.

Challenge one: avoid adding cost to aircraft. Instead of using expensive satcom or adding dedicated gear, Aireon listen to ADS-B equipment already installed as part of international air traffic control modernization. But since ADS-B was designed for aircraft-to-aircraft and aircraft-to-ground, Aireon had some challenges to overcome. Like the fact ADS-B antenna is commonly mounted on the belly of an aircraft blocking direct path to satellite.

Challenge two: hear ADS-B everywhere and do it for less. Today we can track aircraft when they are flying over land, but out in the middle of the ocean, there are no receivers in range except possibly other aircraft. Aireon needed a lot of low-orbit satellites to ensure you are in range no matter where you are. Piggybacking on Iridium gives them coverage at a fraction of the cost of building their own satellites.

These Iridium launches also create exactEarth, a maritime counterpart to Aireon that track ships via their AIS broadcast. The remaining Iridium NEXT satellites – and with them, these listening nodes – will launch next year to complete the network. Hopefully mysteries like Malaysia Airlines 370 will never happen again.

You don’t need a satellite network to join in the fun. You can listen to these data signals right where you are. We have a guide for receiving ADS-B sent by airplanes, and a guide for receiving AIS sent by ships.

Filed under: Network Hacks, Radio Hacks

Vacuum Molding with Kitchen Materials

พุธ, 12/27/2017 - 13:00

Vacuum pumps are powerful tools because the atmospheric pressure on our planet’s surface is strong. That pressure is enough to crush evacuated vessels with impressive implosive force. At less extreme pressure differences, [hopsenrobsen] shows us how to cleverly use kitchen materials for vacuum molding fiberglass parts in a video can be seen after the break. The same technique will also work for carbon fiber molding.

We’ve seen these techniques used with commercially available vacuum bags and a wet/dry vac but in the video, we see how to make an ordinary trash bag into a container capable of forming a professional looking longboard battery cover. If the garbage bag isn’t enough of a hack, a ball of steel wool is used to keep the bag from interfering with the air hose. Some of us keep these common kitchen materials in the same cabinet so gathering them should ’t be a problem.

Epoxy should be mixed according to the directions and even though it wasn’t shown in the video, some epoxies necessitate a respirator. If you’re not sure, wear one. Lungs are important.

Fiberglass parts are not just functional, they can be beautiful. If plastic is your jam, vacuums form those parts as well. If you came simply for vacuums, how about MATLAB on a Roomba?

Thank you [Jim] who gave us this tip in the comments section about an electric longboard.

Filed under: how-to

The Bedside Light App That Phones Home

พุธ, 12/27/2017 - 10:00

Desiring a bedside lamp with a remote control, [Peadar]’s wife bought a Xiaomi Yeelight, an LED model with an accompanying Android app. And since he’s a security researcher by trade, he subjected the app to a close examination and found it to be demanding permissions phoning home to a far greater extent than you’d expect from a bedside light.

His write-up is worth a read for its fascinating run-through of the process for investigating any Android app, as it reveals the level to which the software crosses the line from simple light-controller into creepy data-slurper. The abilities to create accounts on your device, download without notification, take your WiFi details and location, and record audio are not what you’d expect to be necessary in this application. He also looks into the Xiaomi web services the app uses to phone home, revealing some interesting quirks along the way.

This story has received some interest across the Internet, quite rightly so since it represents a worrying over-reach of corporate electronic intrusion. It is interesting though to see commentary whose main concern is that the servers doing the data-slurping are in China, as though somehow in this context the location is the issue rather than the practice itself. We’ve written before about how some mildly sinister IoT technologies seem to bridge the suspicion gap while others don’t, it would be healthy to see all such services subjected to the same appraisal.

As a postscript, [Peadar] couldn’t get the app to find his wife’s Yeelight, let alone control it. That the spy part of the app works while the on-the-surface part doesn’t speaks volumes about the development priorities of its originator.

Image: Xiaomi Yeelight website.

Filed under: Security Hacks

Exploring Options for DIY Waterproofing

พุธ, 12/27/2017 - 07:00

TL;DR — Don’t use silicone to pot electronics.

That’s the conclusion [GreatScott!] comes to after trying out several methods for waterproofing electronics. His efforts stem from a recent video in which he discovered that water and electricity sometimes actually do mix, as long as the water is distilled and the electronics in the drink are relatively simple. He found that the main problem was, unsurprisingly, electrolytic corrosion, so he set out to experiment with various waterproofing coatings. In a series of careful experiments he goes through the pros and cons of both conformal coatings and potting compounds. The conformal tests used simple clear nail polish on an ESC board; that worked pretty well, but it was a little hard to reach all the nooks and crannies. He also tried potting with a thick black silicone compound, but that ended up never really curing in the middle. A final attempt with legitimate two-part epoxy potting compound sealed up the ESC tight, although we doubt the resulting brick would perform well on a quadcopter.

If you want to explore potting a bit further, check out this introduction to the basics.

Filed under: Misc Hacks

LiquidWatch is Dripping with Style

พุธ, 12/27/2017 - 04:00

Some of the entries for the 2017 Coin Cell Challenge have already redefined what most would have considered possible just a month ago. From starting cars to welding metal, coin cells are being pushed way outside of their comfort zone with some very clever engineering. But not every entry has to drag a coin cell kicking and screaming into a task it was never intended for; some are hoping to make their mark on the Challenge with elegance rather than brute strength.

A perfect example is the LiquidWatch by [CF]. There’s no fancy high voltage circuitry here, no wireless telemetry. For this entry, a coin cell is simply doing what it’s arguably best known for: powering a wrist watch. But it’s doing it with style.

The LiquidWatch is powered by an Arduino-compatible Atmega328 and uses two concentric rings of LEDs to display the time. Minutes and seconds are represented by the outer ring of 60 LEDs, and the 36 LEDs of the inner ring show hours. The hours ring might sound counter-intuitive with 36 positions, but the idea is to think of the ring as the hour hand of an analog watch rather than a direct representation of the hour. Having 36 LEDs for the hour allows for finer graduation than simply having one LED for each hour of the day. Plus it looks cool, so there’s that.

Square and round versions of the LiquidWatch’s are in development, with some nice production images of [CF] laser cutting the square version out of some apple wood. The wooden case and leather band give the LiquidWatch a very organic vibe which contrasts nicely with the high-tech look of the exposed PCB display. Even if you are one of the legion that are no longer inclined to wear a timepiece on their wrist, you’ve got to admit this one is pretty slick.

Whether you’re looking to break new ground or simply refine a classic, there’s still plenty of time to enter your project in the 2017 Coin Cell Challenge.

Coin Cell Challenge   Build something cool powered
by a coin cell, win prizes!
Filed under: Arduino Hacks, clock hacks, contests

A Visit From Saint Rich

พุธ, 12/27/2017 - 01:01

With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore, Richard Stallman, and the English-speaking world in general — ed.

‘Twas the night before Christmas
While up in my bed,
I stared at the ceiling
With feelings of dread.

I’d really no reason for portents of doom
Lying there, sleepless, in gathering gloom.
We’d wrapped all the presents, and decked out the tree,
But still, there was something niggling at me.

Then a stab of fear struck me, right through like a knife.
“Holy crap!” I exclaimed. “I FORGOT MY WIFE!”
Yes, somehow through all of the retail hell,
I’d forgotten to get my dear wife something swell.

To my shop, I retreated with blistering speed —
I’d only mere hours to fix my misdeed.
I warmed up the RepRep, went quickly online,
For I needed to find a nice bauble design.

Now I know what you’re thinking –“Is he really so crass?
To print his wife’s present? That just shows no class!”
Why yes, I agree, it’s incredibly lame.
But I’d really no choice when so late in the game.

While the printer head scanned to and fro cross the bed,
The smell of hot plastic wrapped ’round my head.
I started to nod off, lulled by the whine,
Of steppers and servos coming online.

When from the screen of the laptop I spied a strange sight,
A bash session started — it gave me a fright!
I watched commands keyed in with terrible speed.
I’d been hacked, it was clear from what I could see.

A new window opened, and showed a strange face.
All grizzled and gray, he seemed out of place.
It took me a second to figure it out,
But I knew who it was and I let out a shout.
“Richard Stallman?” I said, “What is this all about?”

“Never mind,” he intoned, “What you’ve got going on,
Is going to be trouble when night turns to dawn.
You’re printing some useless damn thing for your wife.
What’s wrong with you boy? Don’t you value your life?”

My head hung in shame, his words rang so true.
But really, at 2 AM, what can one do?
“Oh tell me, Saint Rich, the great open source guru.
If you were in my shoes, just what would you do?”

“Why just look around you! Check out your scrap bin.
Just think open source, there’s no way you can’t win!
An Arduino perhaps — you could build a quick clock.
Just nothing with Nixies or that sort of schlock.”

My eyes darted ’round, and what did I spy?
Unused and unloved — a Raspberry Pi!
A USB webcam, too — what a treat!
Surely with this stuff, I’d build something neat.

A family picture from just down the hall,
Would no longer hang in its spot on the wall.
I needed its frame for the build I had going.
My plan, it was working — I was practically glowing!

An LCD monitor gave up its screen,
When put in the frame it would look pretty keen.
With some open source code, it couldn’t be clearer,
That I’d soon be building a nice Magic Mirror!

I soldered and coded and tested past three,
While Rich, in his window, watched over me.
We hacked and we tweaked until finally done,
Just in time for the rise of the cold winter sun.

I desperately wanted to take a short nap,
But thanks to old Rich, I’d one present to wrap.
I waved and I smiled at his face on the screen,
But with camera taped over, I couldn’t be seen.

He smiled a sly grin, gave a nod of his head,
Typed a few short commands, and he headed to bed.
But I heard him exclaim as he faded from view,
“Remember, the NSA’s still watching you!”

And thank you, dear reader, for giving a crack,
To this little poem — we know, “Not a hack!”
And lest that you think now that this silly verse
Is surely a sign that we’ve turned for the worse…
Just wait a few months — until April the first.

Filed under: Fiction, Holiday Hacks, Slider

An Automated Ice Cream Topper For The Ultimate In Zero Effort Desserts

อังคาร, 12/26/2017 - 23:30

It’s a highly personal facet of the eating experience, the choice of topping applied to your frozen dessert. Everybody has their own preferences when it comes to whipped cream, sprinkles, and chocolate syrup. Should the maintenance of those preferences become a chore, there is a machine for that, and it comes courtesy of [Kristen Vilcans] and [Ramita Pinsuwannakub] in the form of their Cornell University project as students of [Bruce Land]. Their Automated Ice Cream Topper holds profiles for each registered user, and dispenses whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and candy sprinkles onto ice cream at the simple push of a button.

The hardware seems simple enough until you appreciate the many iterations used to ensure that it works smoothly. The bowl of ice cream sits on a motorised turntable, and a can of whipped cream is suspended above it upon rails made from kebab skewers. A servo and lever operates the can to release the cream.  Meanwhile the sprinkles come from an inverted spice jar with a motorised disc to momentary align a hole with the jar’s spout, and the chocolate syrup comes courtesy of an air pump and some plastic tubing. The whole is controlled from a PIC32 microcontroller.

It is refreshing to see that such projects do not have to tackle especially high-tech problems to be extremely successful. We could all dispense our own toppings, but now we know there’s s machine for the task, who wouldn’t want to give it a try!

If ice cream student projects are your thing, perhaps you’d like a 3D printer?

Filed under: cooking hacks

Fast 3D Printing with Raspberry Pi — But Not How You Think

อังคาร, 12/26/2017 - 22:00

Although we tend to think of 3D printers as high-tech toys, most of them are not especially powerful in the brain department. There are some exceptions, but most 3D printers run on either an 8-bit Arduino or some Arduino variant with a lot of I/O. There are a few 32-bit boards, but if you grab a random 3D printer, its brain is going to be an 8-bit AVR running something like Marlin or Repetier. It isn’t uncommon to see a Raspberry Pi connected to a printer, too, but — again, in general — it is a network interface that handles sending G-code to the 8-bit controller that runs the stepper motors. Would it make more sense to do things like parse G-code, map out curves, and set accelerations in the relatively powerful Raspberry Pi and relegate the 8-bit AVR to just commanding motors and heaters? [KevinOConnor] thinks so, and he wrote Klipper to prove it.

Klipper is mostly written in Python and it does most of the functions of traditional 3D printing firmware. It communicates with the onboard microprocessor by providing a schedule of when to do what tasks. The microprocessor then handles the timing and things like motion control for the axes and extruder. Klipper can control multiple microprocessors with no trouble and keeps them in synchronization, so you could have a processor for your extruder and one for each stepper, for example. You can use Klipper with a Cartesian machine, a delta, or a Core XY-style printer.

The host computer doesn’t even have to be a Raspberry Pi. The BeagleBone will work and — in theory, at least — so will any Linux computer. There’s a small bit of firmware you program on the microcontroller that speaks a lightweight protocol to the host computer. As for user interface, that’s easy. The host can talk to Octoprint and you can run that on the same Raspberry Pi that runs Klipper.

The microcontroller firmware only has a handful of commands. Most of those are related to something to do at a given time: operating a stepper motor or setting a PWM output. Because it is simple, you could have a small CPU and you could possibly get much faster rates. Of course, that assumes your hardware can handle a faster rate.


Klipper touts several “compelling features”:

Each stepper event is scheduled with a precision of 25 microseconds or better. The software does not use kinematic estimations (such as the Bresenham algorithm).  It calculates precise step times based on the physics of acceleration and the physics of the machine kinematics. More precise stepper movement translates to quieter and more stable printer operation.

Since the microcontroller firmware is very simple, it is easy to reconfigure things in Klipper just by changing a file on the host computer. The firmware is simple and in C so it can support many microprocessors including common 8-bit and 32-bit CPUs found in 3D printers.

Klipper is able to achieve precise high stepping rates. An older AVR can apparently achieve rates of over 175,000 steps per second and rates up to 500,000 per second are possible.  Higher stepper rates enable higher print velocities.

At high print speeds, oozing can be a problem. Klipper implements a “pressure advance” algorithm for extruders. When properly tuned, pressure advance reduces extruder ooze, possibly allowing faster printing. You can see a video, below, of [Bradley Muller] printing at 100 mm/s using Klipper.

If that’s not fast enough, check out this cube at 150 mm/s (wait for the first layer to finish) from [lenne 0815]:

There’s also a novel “stepper phase endstop” algorithm that can improve the accuracy of typical endstop switches. This is especially important for the Z endstop since that can lead to a more precise first layer height and improve print quality and adhesion.


Some of these features do require tuning. The pressure advance algorithm, for example, requires a machine-specific constant. Here’s some text from the document describing the software’s kinematics:

The “pressure advance” system attempts to account for this by using a different model for the extruder. Instead of naively believing that each cubic mm of filament fed into the extruder will result in that amount of cubic mm immediately exiting the extruder, it uses a model based on pressure. Pressure increases when filament is pushed into the extruder (as in Hooke’s law) and the pressure necessary to extrude is dominated by the flow rate through the nozzle orifice (as in Poiseuille’s law). The key idea is that the relationship between filament, pressure, and flow rate can be modeled using a linear coefficient.

You can find that value experimentally by printing a test square and finding the lowest number that gives a good-looking corner. For example, below is a mistuned corner on the left and a correctly tuned one on the right.

The endstop feature utilizes the phases of the stepper motor driver. For example, a stepper driver with 16 microsteps has 64 distinct phases. Instead of homing with one step resolution, you can home to the resolution of the stepper motor.

Barrier to Entry

What’s stopping you from trying Klipper? You probably have a Raspberry Pi hanging around. Klipper’s firmware probably works with your current printer’s CPU (just be sure you know how to flash code on it and have a copy of your current firmware).

We couldn’t help but think that if you could field this on a Linux laptop, you could just have a kind of super control panel for your printer. Of course, you could do that anyway, but you’d be leaving even more computing horsepower on the table if you used a laptop to just hook into Octoprint.

From a hacking point of view, being able to make changes in the 3D printing algorithms over ssh using Python without having to flash a microcontroller ought to open up a lot of experimenting possibilities. If you have an interesting fork, be sure to send us a tip and we’ll cover it here.


Filed under: 3d Printer hacks, Featured, Raspberry Pi, Slider

Sound Isolated Server Rack

อังคาร, 12/26/2017 - 19:00

Servers are most often found in climate controlled data centers. This means they aren’t exactly built for creature comforts like quiet operation. Quite the contrary — many server chassis include fans which absolutely scream when the machine is under load. [Whiskykilo] needed to set up a 12 U rack in his basement for working from home. He knew the sound would get on anyone’s nerves, but especially on those of his wife.

To solve this problem, he built a sound isolated rack. The build started with a standard 12 U metal rack frame. This is wrapped in 1/2″ MDF coated with automotive sound deadening material. An outer frame built of 1×4 lumber and another layer of 1/2″ MDF. Isolating the inner and outer boxes made the biggest contribution to quieting down the noisy servers.

Computers need to breathe, so the front and back doors of the rack enclosure include banks of intake and exhaust fans to keep air flowing through the servers. Two AC Infinity controllers keep the fans operating and monitor temperature. These machines do generate some heat – so 64 °F (18C) intake and 81 °F (27C) exhaust is not unheard of. The servers don’t seem to mind running at these temperatures. A Raspberry Pi 3 keeps an eye on UPS operation and displays the data on a 7″ HDMI LCD.

Interested in running a server at home? You don’t have to go to the lumberyard – check out this server made with Ikea components, or this server built from 96 MacBook Pros.

Filed under: computer hacks