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BBSing with the ESP8266

อาทิตย์, 06/18/2017 - 12:00

Modems have been around for longer than the web, and before we had Facebook we had the BBS scene. Somewhat surprisingly, people are still hosting BBSes, but have fun finding a landline these days. [Blake Patterson] is one of the leading aficionados of retocomputers, and recently he took it upon himself to review an interesting new device. It’s the WiFi232 Internet Modem, a device that turns a WiFi connection into something a computer with a 25-pin RS-232 connector can understand.

The WiFi232 is made by [Paul Rickards], and given the last few years of WiFi-enabled retrocomputing projects, it’s exactly what you would expect. Onboard the WiFi232 is an ESP8266 module emulating the Hayes AT command set. Baud rates from 300 to 115200 are supported, with power provided through a USB mini jack or solder terminals.

[Blake]’s computer den is the stuff of legend, and as such he has more than enough toys to test out this universal WiFi to Serial converter. Devices used in the test include the Apple //c, IIe, Amiga 1000, and TI-99/4A. In short, everything works just like it should. [Blake] was able to pull up the extent bulletin boards on his collection of ancient computers. You can check out [Blake]’s review of the WiFi232 below


Filed under: classic hacks

Open Source Digital Cinema

อาทิตย์, 06/18/2017 - 09:00

Years in the making, Apertus has released 25 beta developer kits for AXIOM–their open source digital cinema camera. This isn’t your point-and-shoot digital camera. The original proof of concept from 2013 had a Zynq processor (a Zedboard), a super 35 4K image sensor, and a Nikon F-Mount.

The device today is modular with several options. For example, there is an HDMI output module, but  DisplayPort, 4K HDMI, and USB 3.0 options are in development. You can see several sample videos taken with the device, below.

The current device uses a Cmosis CMV12000 image module, although a Kodak KAC12040 and Cmosis CMV2000 module are in the works. You can find the complete specs online, but be aware that some of these specifications are forward-looking. On the other hand, the videos clearly show it is in a working state.

If you’ve been looking for an open source FPGA or microcontroller project to hook up with, this might be it. Like a lot of open source companies, they are trying to commercialize to keep the project healthy, but if you read their website, they seem to be committed to the open principles.

We’ve seen the astrophysics community doing similar things–maybe they should collaborate. We’ve also looked at the technology involved in image sensors if you want a refresher.


Filed under: digital cameras hacks, FPGA

FabricKeyboard Is Piano, Theremin And More

อาทิตย์, 06/18/2017 - 06:00

Two researchers of Responsive Environments, MIT Media Lab, have put to together a device that is an amazing array of musical instruments squeezed into one flexible package. Made using seven layers of fabrics with different electrical properties, the result can be played using touch, proximity, pressure, stretch, or with combinations of them. Using a fabric-based keyboard, ribbon-controller, and trackpad, it can be played as a one-octave keyboard, a theremin, and in ways that have no words, such as stretching while pressing keys. It can also be folded up and stuffed into a case along with your laptop, and care has even been taken to make it washable.

The FabricKeyboard layers

Layer one, the top layer, is a conductive fabric for detecting proximity and touch. The twelve keys can work independently with a MPR121 proximity touch controller or the controller can treat them all as one, extending the distance the hand can be and have it still work. Layer two is just a knit fabric but layers three to six detect pressure, consisting to two conductive layers with a mesh fabric and a piezo-resistive fabric in between. The piezo-resistive fabric is LTT-SPLA from eeonyx, a knit fabric coated with the conductive polymer, polypyrrole (PPy). Layer seven consists of two strips of knitted spandex fabric, also coated with PPy, and detects stretching. Two strips of this are sewn on the bottom, one horizontal and one vertical. You can see and hear the amazing sound this all produces in the video below.

Ribbon-controller and trackpad

The long fabric ribbon-controller is a snap-on addition that allows sliding of a finger along its length. It consists of a resistive fabric on top of a non-conductive mesh which is on top of a conductive fabric. Pressing the resistive fabric causes it to make contact through the mesh with the conductive fabric underneath. Voltage is applied to one end of the resistive fabric and the finger position changes the resistance between that end and the conductive fabric. It’s the same trick often used with lines of graphite pencil marks on paper as in this example with a 555 timer circuit.

The trackpad is implemented as a resistive trackpad using a 4-wire configuration. We’ve already covered how a 4-wire configuration works in another article. In terms of the fabrics, two resistive fabrics were used for top and bottom with a non-conductive mesh layer sandwiched in between. Conductive threads were sewn into opposite ends of the resistive fabrics.

In addition to touch, a hand above the trackpad can toy with an electric field to alter sound parameters while the other hand presses the keys. A demonstration of this is in the video.

Two circuit boards were fabricated, one called FabricKeys and the other ThereminKeys. More about the group’s experimenting is in their paper, but they settled on a ribbon connector and an AdaFruit Feather M0 for the hub. They selected MIDI as the protocol for communicating with the computer.


Filed under: musical hacks

Hackaday Prize Entry: Yet Another Unmanned Vehicle Controller

อาทิตย์, 06/18/2017 - 03:00

To build any sort of autonomous vehicle, you need a controller. This has to handle all sorts of jobs – reading sensor outputs, controlling motors and actuators, managing power sources – controlling a vehicle of even moderate complexity requires significant resources. Modern cars are a great example of this – even non-autonomous vehicles can have separate computers to control the engine, interior electronics, and safety systems. In this vein, [E.N. Hering] is developing a modular autonomous vehicle controller, known as YAUVC.

The acronym stands for Yet Another Unmanned Vehicle Controller, though its former name – Fly Hard With A Vengeance – was not without its charms. The project is built around the concept of modularity and redundancy. The controller, designed primarily for flying vehicles, has an ATMega328P as its primary processor, into which various modules can be plugged in to handle different tasks.

This design choice has several benefits – having separate processors to handle individual jobs can make sense in real-time systems. You’d hardly want your quadcopter to crash because the battery management routines were stealing CPU time from the flight dynamics calculations. Instead, by offloading tasks to individual modules, each can run without interfering with the others. Modularity does come with drawbacks however — the problem of maintaining efficient communication between modules is one of them. [Hering] also plans to make sure the system can be set up to use multiples of the same module for redundancy – similar to modern flight systems in passenger aircraft that weigh the results of several computers to make decisions.

Much work has already been done – with the YAUVC platform already fleshed out with a backbone design as well as modules for WiFi, accelerometers and GPS navigation. We look forward to seeing YAUVC reaching flight-ready status soon!

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

Annealing Plastic For Stronger Prints

อาทิตย์, 06/18/2017 - 00:00

Much fuss has been made over the strength of 3D printed parts. These parts are obviously stronger in one direction than another, and post processing can increase that strength. What we’re lacking is real data. Luckily, [Justin Lam] has just the thing for us: he’s tested annealed printed plastics, and the results are encouraging.

The current research of annealing 3D printed parts is a lot like metallurgy. If you put a printed part under low heat — below the plastic’s glass transition temperature — larger crystals of plastic are formed. This research is direct from the Society of Plastics Engineers, and we’re assuming they know more about material science than your average joe. These findings measured the crystallinity of a sample in relation to both heat and time, and the results were promising. Plastic parts annealed at a lower temperature can attain the same crystallinity, and therefore the same strength, if they’re annealed for a longer time. The solution is simple: low and slow is the best way to do this, which sounds a lot like sous vide.

A while back, [Justin] built a sous vide controller for the latest cooking fad. The idea behind a sous vide controller is to heat food in a water bath at a lower temperature, but for a longer time. The result here is the most tender steaks you’ll ever have, and also stronger 3D printed parts. In his test, [Justin] printed several rectangular samples of PLA, set the temperature to 70°C, and walked away for a few hours. The samples annealed in the water bath were either cooled quickly or slowly. The test protocol also included measuring the strength in relation to layer height. The test jig consisted of a bathroom scale, a drill press, and a slot head screwdriver bit.

Although the test protocol is slightly questionable, the results are clear: annealing works, but only if the part is printed at a low layer height. However, parts with larger layer heights had a higher maximum stress. Is this helpful for the home prototyper? That depends. The consensus seems to be that if you’re at the mechanical limits of a 3D printed part, you might want to think about more traditional manufacturing. That’s just common sense, but there’s always room to push the envelope of 3D printing.


Filed under: 3d Printer hacks

Graphene from Graphite by Electrochemical Exfoliation

เสาร์, 06/17/2017 - 21:00

Graphene is an interesting material, but making enough of the stuff to do something useful can be a little tough. That’s why we’re always on the lookout for new methods, like this electrochemical process for producing graphene in bulk.

You probably know that graphene is a molecular monolayer of carbon atoms linked in hexagonal arrays. Getting to that monolayer is a difficult proposition, but useful bits of graphene can be created by various mechanical and chemical treatments of common graphite. [The Thought Emporium]’s approach to harvesting graphene from graphite is a two-step process starting with electrochemical exfoliation. Strips of thin graphite foil are electrolyzed in a bath of ferrous sulfate, resulting in the graphite delaminating and flaking off into the electrolyte. After filtering and cleaning, the almost graphene is further exfoliated in an ultrasonic cleaner. The result is gram quantity yields with very little work and at low cost.

There’s plenty of effort going into new methods of creating graphene these days, whether by barely controlled explosions or superheating soybean oil. But will graphene be the Next Big Thing? The jury is still out on that.


Filed under: chemistry hacks

Controlling a Robot Over the Internet Grows Up

เสาร์, 06/17/2017 - 18:00

Since the beginning of the Internet people have been controlling robots over it, peering at grainy gifs of faraway rec rooms as the robot trundles around. RunMyRobot.com has taken that idea and brought it fully into the teens. These robots use wifi or mobile connections, are 3D printed, and run Python.

The site aims to provide everything to anyone who wants to participate. If you’re just an anonymous visitor, you can still play with the robots, but anyone can also play with the same one, and sometimes a whole bunch of visitors create a cacophony of commands that makes it not fun—but you can always move to a different robot. Logged-in members of the site have the option to take over a robot and not allow anyone else to use it.

If you want to build a robot and add it to the site, the creators show how to do that as well, with a Github code repository and 3D-printable designs available for download, as well as YouTube instructions on how to build either the printed robot or one made with off-the shelf parts. They’re also looking for patrons to help with development, with the first item on their list being a mobile app.

Thanks to [Sim] for the link.

 


Filed under: internet hacks, robots hacks

Sharpening Drills Bits the Hard Way

เสาร์, 06/17/2017 - 15:00

Drill bits are so cheap that when one is too chowdered up to keep working, we generally just toss it out. So you might expect a video on sharpening drill bits to be somewhat irrelevant, but [This Old Tony] makes it work.

The reason this video is worth watching is not just that you get to learn how to sharpen your bits, although that’s an essential metalworker’s skill. Where [This Old Tony]’s video shines is by explaining why a drill bit is shaped the way it is, which he does by fabricating a rudimentary twist drill bit from scratch. Seeing how the flutes and the web are formed and how all the different angles interact to cut material and transport the swarf away is fascinating. And as a bonus, knowing what the angles do allows you to customize a grind for a special job.

[This Old Tony] may be just a guy messing around in his shop, but he’s got a wealth of machine shop knowledge and we always look forward to seeing what he’s working on, whether it’s a homemade fly cutter or a full-blown CNC machine.


Filed under: tool hacks

8-bit Computer for On-The-Go Programming

เสาร์, 06/17/2017 - 12:00

If there was one downside to 8-bit computers like the Commodore 64, it’s that they weren’t exactly portable. Even ignoring their physical size, the power requirements would likely have required a prohibitively large power bank of some sort to lug around as well. The problem of portability has been solved since the late ’70s, but if you still want that 8-bit goodness in a more modern package you’ll have to look at something like retrocomputing madman [Jack Eisenmann]’s DUO Travel computer.

The computer is based around the ubiquitous ATmega328 which should make the ease at which it is programmable apparent. Even so, its 14-button keypad makes it programmable even without another computer. While it has slightly less memory than a standard C-64, it’s still enough for most tasks. And, since its powered by a 9-volt battery it doesn’t require any external power sources either.

The most impressive part of the build, however, is the custom programming language specifically tailored for this platform. After all, a 14-button keypad wouldn’t be a great choice if you had to program in Perl or C all the time. There is some example code on the project page for anyone interested in this specific implementation. While it’s not the most minimal computer [Jack] has ever built, it’s certain to be much more practical.


Filed under: Microcontrollers

ESP32 Mini Robot Packs Sensors and 4WD

เสาร์, 06/17/2017 - 09:00

[Stefan]’s Mini WiFi/BLE 4WD robot platform (seen next to a matchbox above) packs an impressive capability into a tiny rover. It’s based on a SparkFun ESP32 Thing, a very compact way to add wireless control to your project. Compare it to some giant old UNO with a WiFi shield, these boards are small but powerful, as well as an easy adoption for Arduino fans.

[Stefan] beefed up the robot with a BNO055 module to determine orientation, an APDS-9930 proximity sensor, as well as four CNY70 IR proximity sensors on the bottom, used for line-following. A pair of 6 V motors move the robot, with a DC-DC step up converter boosting the LiPo’s 3.7 V. It’s impressive how many components [Stefan] crammed inside the shell; they’re all packed in there snugly.

The concept behind the robot is that it’s a generic platform that could be customized as needed, and [Stefan] has versions with a LEGO dart gun as well as a camera. The robot’s code resides on GitHub and the custom 3D-printed chassis is up on Thingiverse.

If you like ESP32 projects you should be sure to check out the Monster Board and the Hamster Tracker we posted recently.


Filed under: robots hacks

Make a Plotter Out of Rulers

เสาร์, 06/17/2017 - 06:00

Instructables user [lingib] made a clever and inexpensive pen arm plotter that uses plastic rulers for arms. An inspiring sight for anyone without a bunch of robot parts lying around,

The electronics are straightforward, with an Arduino UNO and a pair of Easy Drivers to control NEMA17 stepper motors connected to robot wheels, which serve as hubs for the rulers. At the end of the arms, an SG90 micro servo raises and lowers the pen as commanded, shoving the whole pen assembly off the paper with its horn—an elegant solution to an age-old drawbot problem. He even wrote wrote a custom Processing program that allows him to control the plotter from his desktop

[lingib]’s experimented with different kinds of drawing machines, including a drum plotter (video after the break), a V-plotter, as well as a rolling drawbot.

You’ll find tons of Hackaday posts about all types of drawing machines, including vintage plotters, plotters for making circuit boards, and even one built out of cardboard.

…the aforementioned drum plotter…

[Thanks, Setvir]


Filed under: cnc hacks

Radio Decoding Swiss Army Knife in a NES Controller

เสาร์, 06/17/2017 - 03:00

If you wanted to name a few things that hackers love, you couldn’t go wrong by listing off vintage console controllers, the ESP system-on-chip platform, and pocket tools for signal capture and analysis. Combine all of these, and you get the ESP32Thang.

At its heart, the ESP32Thang is based around a simple concept – take an ESP32, wire up a bunch of interesting sensors and modules, add an LCD, and cram it all in a NES controller which helpfully provides some buttons for input. [Mighty Breadboard] shows off the device’s basic functionality by using an RFM69HW module to allow the recording and replay of simple OOK signals on the 433 MHz band. This is a band typically used by all sorts of unlicenced radio gear – think home IoT devices, wireless doorbells and the like. If you want to debug these systems when you’re out and about, this is the tool for you.

This is a fairly straightforward build at the lower end of complexity, but it gets the job done with style. The next natural step up is a Raspberry Pi with a full software defined radio attached, built into a Nintendo DS. If you build one, be sure to let us know. This project might serve as some inspiration.

With the wide availability of SPI and I2C modules these days, combined with the ease of programming provided by the Arduino environment, this is a project that just about any hacker could tackle after passing the blinking LED stage. The fact that integrating such hardware is so simple these days is truly a testament to the fact that we are standing on the shoulders of giants.


Filed under: classic hacks, wireless hacks

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Mobile Electric Gate

เสาร์, 06/17/2017 - 01:30

Electric gates can be an excellent labor-saving device, allowing one to remain in a vehicle while the gate opens and closes by remote activation. However, it can become somewhat of a hassle juggling the various remotes and keyfobs required, so [bredman] devised an alternative solution – controlling an electric gate over the mobile network.

20 years ago, this might have been achieved by wiring a series of relays up to the ringer of a carphone. These days, it’s a little more sophisticated – a GSM/GPRS module is connected to an Arduino Nano. When an incoming call is detected, the gate is opened. After a 3 minute wait, the gate is once again closed.

[bredman] suffered some setbacks during the project, due to the vagaries of working with serial on the Arduino Nano and the reset line on the A6 GSM module. However, overall, the gate was a simple device to interface with, as like many such appliances, it has well-labelled and documented pins for sending the gate open and close signals.

[bredman] was careful to design the system to avoid unwanted operation. The system is designed to always automatically close the gate, so no matter how many times the controller is called, the gate will always end up in a closed state. Special attention was also paid to making sure the controller could gracefully handle losing connection to the mobile network. It’s choices like these that can make a project much more satisfying to use – a gate system that constantly requires attention and rebooting will likely not last long with its users.

Overall, it’s a great project that shows how accessible such projects are – with some carefully chosen modules and mastery of serial communications, it’s a cinch to put together a project to connect almost anything to the Internet or mobile networks these days.  For a different take, check out this garage door opener that logs to Google Drive.

The HackadayPrize2017 is Sponsored by:


Filed under: The Hackaday Prize

Fail of the Week: Museum Buttons

เสาร์, 06/17/2017 - 00:01

Museum exhibits are difficult to make, and they’re always breaking down; especially the interactive ones. This is a combination of budget, building a one-off, and the incredibly harsh abuse they take from children.

My first exhibit is an interactive laser show that turns waveforms from music into laser patterns, and different types of music have very different patterns. I knew from talking to the museum staff that industrial buttons were a necessity, but it turns out that industrial buttons are made under the assumption that tiny creatures won’t be constantly mashing, twisting, and (ew ew ew) licking the buttons. After a while, the buttons (and poor knob) were trashed.

The second exhibit is also interactive, but in this case it’s just a simple button that turns on a thing for a while, then shuts it off. You can read more about the Periodic Table of Motion on the project page. Here I thought; let’s use capacitive touch, put the sensor behind two layers of acrylic for protection, and then there won’t be any moving parts to break. I built a bunch of units, tested it for weeks, then installed it. Instant failure despite my diligence.

Something is different about the installation from my test environment. It might be the second layer of acrylic contributing. Maybe it’s the power supply and a strange ground issue. Maybe the room’s fluorescent lights are creating an electromagnetic field that is interrupting the sensor, or the carpet is causing static buildup that is somehow causing the midichlorians to reverse polarity and discharge through the base plate of prefabulated aluminite. In some of the cells, the button doesn’t work. In other cells it is extremely sensitive. In one column of the table (columns share a common piece of acrylic among 5 cells), a single touch will trigger all 5.

The circuit is an ATtiny with a 2.2M resistor between two pins, one of which connects via a short wire to a soldered connection to a piece of copper tape on the underside of an acrylic piece. The ATtiny is using the capsense library, which has features for automatic recalibration. Because of the way it is installed, I can’t reprogram them to adjust their sensitivity while inside the enclosure, so tweaking them post-install is not an option. I thought I could isolate the problem and use an existing capacitive touch sensor breakout of the AT42QT1010 hooked up to just power, but it had the exact same issue, meaning it’s either the power supply, the enclosure, or the room.

Side-by-side tests of copper tape+Arduino and AT42QT1010 had similar problems.

There are three paths I can go down now:

  1. Find the problem and solve it
  2. Switch to a photoresistor
  3. Petition Hackaday for a better solution

Finding the problem and solving it will be a long and difficult path, especially since the museum environment is somehow and inexplicably different from the test environment. The photoresistor option has promise; when the user puts their hand over the paper button the light level changes. Some early testing indicates that it is easy to detect instantaneous change, and a trailing average and adjusting threshold make it robust enough for changing lighting conditions throughout the day. Further, it’s a simple change to the code, and the existing circuit board will accommodate the adjustment.

As for the third option…

What have you done for child-compatible touch interfaces that are robust enough to handle uncertain environments and harsh abuse? What buttons, knobs, and other interactive elements have you used?


Filed under: Fail of the Week

SHA 2017 Talk Schedule Revealed

ศุกร์, 06/16/2017 - 22:30

It’s always an exciting moment when an event schedule is released, and since events in our community don’t come much larger than this August’s SHA Camp in the Netherlands, you can imagine that the announcement of their schedule of lectures of talks is something of an event in itself. The event runs over five days, and you can browse the schedule itself to make your picks.

The SHA team have made their own picks, but with so many stages and speakers they are only a tiny selection. Running a Hackaday eye over the schedule, here are the ones that caught our eye.

[Kliment] has a workshop, Surface Mount Electronics Assembly for Terrified Beginners, in which you assemble a 20€ surface-mount power supply kit. [Editor’s Note: We’ve seen this one live — you can do it!]

[dennisdebel]’s lecture, from glass fiber to fiber glass noodles caught our eye. Using mung bean vermicelli, or ‘glass noodles’, for data transmission, is not something you hear about every day.

If you are a regular at European hardware hacker camps, you may have encountered the chiptune extravaganza performances of [Gasman], otherwise known as [Matt Westcott]. Hie lecture, Zero to chiptune in one hour, will create, from scratch, a chiptune cover version of a pop song chosen by the audience, all on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

The Hackeboy handheld game console is a project from a small Hamburg-based indie game label.[Axel Theilmann] describes the process of building the handheld console they always dreamed of.

One of the final lectures of the event comes from [Niek Blankers], and will describe in detail the SHA2017 badge. How it was designed, and showcasing what some of the attendees will by then have managed to do with it.

Finally, if you want to see a Hackaday scribe talking about fun and games with little plastic bags of parts, you could do worse than seeking out From Project To Kit, all you will need to know about turning your personal electronic projects into a kit business.

Watch this space for more from SHA Camp as we get it. Meanwhile you can take a look at our coverage of the SHA2017 badge launch.


Filed under: cons, news

Megabots, Colliders, Rockets, Tunnels Underground, and Other Big Dumb Ideas Will Save Us

ศุกร์, 06/16/2017 - 21:01

Humanity is a planetwide force. We have the power to change our weather. We have the power to change the shape of the land. We have the power to selectively wipe a species from this earth if we choose.  We’ve had this power for a while and we’re still coming to terms with it. Many of us even deny it.

With such power, what do we do? We have very few projects which are in line with our ability. Somewhere in the past few years, I feel like most of us have lost our audacity. We’ve culturally come to appreciate the safe bet too much. We pull the dreamers and doers down. We want to solve the small problems first, and see if we have time for the big problems later. We don’t dream big enough, and there is zero reason for this hesitation. We could leverage our planetwide power for planetwide improvements. Nothing is truly stopping us. No law, no government, nothing.

To put it simply, as far as technology goes, everything is still low-hanging fruit. We’ve barely done anything. Even some of our greatest accomplishments can happen randomly in nature. We’ve not left our planet in any numbers or for any length of time. Our cities are disorganized messes. In every single field today, the unexplored territory is orders larger than the explored. Yet despite this vast territory, there are very few explorers. People want to optimize the minutia of life. A slightly faster processor for a slightly smaller phone. It’s okay.

Yet that same small optimization applied to a larger effort could have vast positive impact. Those same microprocessors could catalog our planet or drive probes into space. The very same efforts we spend on micro upgrades could be leveraged if we just look at the bigger picture then get out of our own way. All that is lacking is ambition. Money, time, skill, industry, and people are all there, waiting. We have the need for and have the resources to support ten thousand Elon Musks, not just the one.

Big projects make us bigger than our cellphones and Facebook. When you see a rocket launch into the sky, suddenly, “the world” becomes, simply, “a world.” Order of magnitude improvements reduce the order of our perception of previously complex problems. They should be our highest goal. Whatever field you’re in, you should be trying to be ten times better than the top competitor.

However, there are some societal changes that have to occur before we can.

Nitpicking and Naysaying:

The first thing that happens when an enterprising individual proposes something big is that some “expert” will come out of the woodwork to write a self-congratulatory article on how smart they are for disproving the feasibility of the idea. Historically these people have been shown to be fantastically wrong.

This invention will destroy society!

There were articles about flight, electricity, and even the umbrella. People fly, the world is electric, and only my feet get wet in the rain. We’ve been to space. The moon isn’t ten-feet-deep with abrasive dust. The moon lander did just fine on its surface.

Yet despite this, we glorify the negative people. It’s easy to see why. Negative people get attention with no work. They seem smart without ever having to justify it. They put nothing forth, and the start up cost is low for anyone to jump on the bandwagon.

Every big idea is risky. Every risk has a thousand reasons why it will fail. Many ideas start out traveling in the wrong direction and end up solving something else along the way.

Here’s the truth. The world is getting better every day. We’ve never been richer, more peaceful, and with more power than we are now. It is time to be positive. Think critically, yes, but in a positive way. Every single negative thinker is nothing more than a whiner and a detriment to everyone.

For example. What about solar roadways? So what if they’ll likely never produce enough power to offset their cost? They’d still solve ultra-durable, easy to maintain glass roadways with active lighting, sensor networks, and underground utilities? Would that be so bad?

Sometimes it’s best to consider the value of what we could learn from a failure instead of just the success. Sometimes just the sheer effort of trying something big has a cascading effect on society, where another person sees their attempt and gets it right. Rarely do only negatives come out of an attempt.

Don’t Worry About the Money:

There is more money out there for investment in new tech and audacious problems than there has ever been. There is almost a trillion dollars floating around for start-up investment in tech alone. The amount of capital floating around to invest in big stuff is staggering.

If we waste a few billion it’s meaningless. A million dollars won’t even run the US government for a second.

Stop With the Concept Art. Start Doing: Nice render bro.

We really have powerful visualization software at hand these days. We can tell the greatest stories ever told and do it singlehandedly on a modest computer. So it’s often tempting for someone to present their great idea to the world, plant a flag, get a lot of attention, and then drop it. However, only doers move us forward.

Rather than just concept art, try to do a concept. Start doing the math. Consult some experts. See if you can find a crack in reality where you can wedge your idea. The hyperloop is a good example of this, so is Elon Musk’s boring company.  He has enough name power alone that a great rendering would be enough for some, but he does. He had the math worked out to prove the preliminary feasibility. He went out and bought a drilling machine with his billionaire money to see for himself if it can be done.

Stop With the One Man Shows:

We know that you have a great idea. However, true technological innovation has always happened as a team effort. When you read about the geniuses that filtered through Edison’s lab (which included Tesla) his list of accomplishments makes more sense.  Being the lone war hero, spending night and day learning every skill needed aside from teamwork is just a waste of time. If you’re a good mechanical engineer, find someone who is good with electrons. If you’re not a good manager, find one. Woz needed Jobs.

Brag:

Humility is not the hacker way. When you do something great, brag. When you are doing something great, tell people. Get people excited. Learn to be persuasive. We’ve come to despise the good salesmen, and when we see them trying something large we hate them even more, but one-upmanship is a driving force in technology. Brag so someone can oust you from your throne.

Find a Way to Make Money Doing It. Humanitarian Efforts Should Be Profitable.

Money is leverage. It lets you buy human time and creative output. It buys machines, capital. It’s the only way to get rocket fuel. Doing it on the cheap won’t get you anywhere. So find a way to make money. Find a way to make lots of money. Very few things deserve to exist on merit alone.

The truth is that the best people in the world have one life to live. They aren’t going to work at your nonprofit for $30,000 a year. They’re going to work in a place where they can leverage millions and make millions. If that means they’re optimizing the marketing metrics for someone’s lame app instead of helping you revolutionize the world in some way, that’s your fault. Given a choice almost all the best people in the world would choose to work on something that’s a net positive for everyone. That is human nature. We want what’s best for each other. If we didn’t then the world would have already ended.

When it comes down to it, big things can’t be done on the cheap. Rockets and robot cars cost millions, just turning the lights on in a building leverages trillions of man hours and trillions of dollars in capital. Don’t make the mistake of artificially limiting yourself. The rest of the world hasn’t.

On top of that, if an idea can make money, then it can spread. Then it has real validity. If you can find a way to feed the world that doesn’t beg, then you have something.

The key idea here is that it must create wealth. There is a strange misconception floating around that there is only a fixed amount of wealth in the world and doing one thing means another won’t have enough, but this simply isn’t true. More wealth is created every day. Something being able to make money is literally that. It’s the ability to insert into the world’s reserve of good things more than there was before.

Plus, if you can prove that it makes money people will give you as much money as you need to do it.

Though, let’s not confuse this with people who only masquerade as wealth creators; these are easy to spot given enough time. While some people unfairly walk away with a prize they didn’t earn, it’s not unexpected or anomalous as any statistical distribution will tell you. There’s no need to obsess over it.

Some Examples: What innovation could look like for everyone.

I’ve already mentioned the solar roads, but another ambitious project I really like is Megabots. Right now, non-research robotics fits into two categories, something simple that can fit on a retail shelf, or something that is optimized for some sort of industry.

Megabots is building a 30 ft fighting robot like those from Japanese cartoons, and they’re trying to start a giant robot fighting league. Now, some might argue that Megabots is a stupid idea, that no one will ever happily spend two million dollars per robot just to watch it get destroyed, but it’s not that far off from the money spent on NASCAR.  Some might argue that we could be spending that money on some other, better, purpose. After all, what’s the possible benefit to humanity?

Yet, think about it, people have wanted giant robot exoskeletons for years and years. The problem is that there’s no market that can really afford the rapid experimentation and failure of developing such technology. Sure, construction, disaster relief, agriculture, and more would love such a thing, but it’s just not economically feasible to pursue. Yet, if we’re pitting them against each other, testing and rapid development is assured. New actuators, control methods, and more could all come out of an ambitious idea like this. Just like racing made our automobiles safer, unreasonably large robots that punch each other could change the way we do a lot of things.

They’re also a good example because they do all the things. They’re positive about their project, they don’t tear down others. They work in a team. They brag constantly and people are starting to respond. A Chinese team has weighed in with their own robot now. Best of all, they found a way to make money with it. You can have all the government funded research you want, but if Megabots succeeds, a sports league of impractical flashy robots will be the driving force in a new field of tech.

Elon bought himself his very own hole in the ground with his billionaire money.

Another technology that’s grand in scale, naturally, has the master of grand-in-scale ceremonies, Elon Musk behind it. The Boring Company, his hobby project, promised a network of claustrophobic tunnels underneath cities that scoot cars around on electric sleds.  If we can solve this problem, despite how ridiculous it seems, it would have far-reaching positive impact. When you start to read on the actual impact of cars on our society, it’s truly a single-edged sword. Even if you ignore pollution, it’s just negative all around.  The increase in traffic means wider streets. The wider streets mean faster cars and less foot traffic. It decreases community, commerce, and pedestrian safety and it’s here to stay until we figure out a solution.

If we reduce the need for car ownership and can move most of the traffic out of sight yet still retain mobility, then we can return to how cities used to be: with more community, more green space, and better commerce. The amount of pollution will decrease and cars will become a shared, rented resource, rather than a necessary capital every household is forced to invest in. On top of that, becoming better tunnel builders will help us in all regards, from space colonies to mining.

Many of the benefits of huge projects aren’t so esoteric either. For example, the Large Hadron Collider is helping us understand our universe, and as a side-effect it has dramatically improved KiCAD. The experience from building super towers in Dubai has improved technology across the board. Just the advances in elevators alone will save lives for years to come, and make the world more accessible for those with mobility issues.

I really think that hackers should wake up tomorrow and think about what they’d really like to see in the world. They should keep in mind that SpaceX developed and built their first rocket for less than Gillette spent to develop that face scraper they’re so proud of. Don’t set your sights low. Get a team of friends and build something big because it’s the human thing to do. Pick something vastly ambitious. See if you can beat Amazon to Drone deliveries, see if you can 3D print a building or organs better than the labs have managed. Be the first supplier of space station modules to the public sector. There are no limits other than the artificial ones we dream up for ourselves.

Also, if we don’t we’re probably going to die holding our phones, when we could be zooming around the galaxy in snazzy red spandex onesies.


Filed under: Curated, Featured, rants, slider

Homemade Computer from 1970s Chips

ศุกร์, 06/16/2017 - 18:00

Sometimes it starts with a 555 timer and an op-amp. Other times with a small microcontroller. But the timing’s not so great and needs a dedicated timing crystal circuit. And maybe some more memory, and maybe the ATtiny should be swapped out for some 74LS-series chips. And now of course it needs video output too. Before you know it, you’re staring at a 40-chip computer that hearkens back to a simpler, yet somehow more complex, time of computing. At least that’s where [Marcel] is with his breadboard computer based on 1970s-era chips.

For what it does, this homebrew computer is relatively simple and straightforward. It gets 8 bits of processing power from 34 TTL chips. Another 6 round out the other features needed for the computer to operate. It is capable of rendering 64 colors in software and has more than enough memory for a computer of this sort. So far the only recurring problem [Marcel] has had has been with breadboard fatigue, as some of the chips keep popping out of the sockets.

This is a great project for anyone interested in homebrew or 8-bit computing, partially because of some of the self-imposed limitations that [Marcel] imposed on himself, like “only chips from the 70s”. It’s an impressive build on its own and looks to get much better since future plans call for a dedicated PCB to solve the issue with the worn-out breadboards. If you’re already invested in a project like this, don’t forget that the rabbit hole can go a little deeper: you can build a computer out of discrete transistors as well.


Filed under: computer hacks

Unlikely Cascade of Failures Leads to Microwave’s Demise

ศุกร์, 06/16/2017 - 15:00

Surely a blown light bulb can’t kill a microwave oven, right? You might not expect it to, but that was indeed the root cause of a problem that [mikeselecticstuff] recently investigated; the cascade of failures is instructive to say the least.

While the microwave that made its way to [mike]’s bench wasn’t exactly engineered to fail, it surely was not designed to succeed. We won’t spoil the surprise, but suffice it to say that his hopes for a quick repair after the owner reported a bang before it died were dashed by an arc across the interior light bulb that put a pulse of mains voltage in places it didn’t belong. That the cascade of failures killed the appliance is a testament to how designing to a price point limits how thoroughly devices can be tested before production runs in the millions are stuffed into containers for trips to overseas markets.

Even though [mike] made his best effort to adhere to the Repair Manifesto, the end result was a scrapped microwave. It wasn’t a total loss given the interesting parts inside, but a disappointment nonetheless unless it forces us to keep in mind edge-case failure modes in our designs.

[via r/electronics]


Filed under: repair hacks

CPLD-Based Synchronization of Multiple Software Defined Radios

ศุกร์, 06/16/2017 - 12:00

Forgive the click bait headline, but the latest work from [Marco Bartolucci] and [José A. del Peral-Rosado] is really great. They’re using multiple HackRFs, synchronized together, with hybrid positioning algorithms to derive more precise localization accuracy. (PDF)

Like all SDRs, the HackRF can be used to solve positioning problems using WIFi, Bluetooth, 3G, 4G, and GNSS. Multiple receivers can also be used, but this requires synchronization for time-based or frequency-based ranging. [Bartolucci] and [Peral-Rosado] present a novel solution for synchronizing these HackRFs using a few convenient ports available on the board, a bit of CPLD hacking, and a GNSS receiver with a 1 pps output.

This is technically two hacks in one, the first being a sort of master and slave setup between two HackRFs. Using the Xilinx XC2C64A CPLD on board the HackRF, [Bartolucci] and [Peral-Rosado] effectively chain two devices together. The synchronization error is below one sampling period, and more than two HackRFs can be chained together with the SYNC_IN port of each connected together in parallel. Read more about it in their pull request to the HackRF codebase.

This simplest technique will not work if the HackRF receivers must be separated, which brings us to the second hack. [Bartolucci] and [Peral-Rosado] present another option in that case: using the 1 pps output of a GNNS receiver for the synchronization pulse. As long as both HackRFs can see the sky, they can act as one. Very cool!


Filed under: radio hacks

Laser PCBs with LDGraphy

ศุกร์, 06/16/2017 - 09:00

There are many, many ways to get a PCB design onto a board for etching. Even with practice however, the quality of the result varies with the process and equipment used. With QFN parts becoming the norm, the days of etch-resist transfers and a permanent marker are all but gone. Luckily, new and improved methods of Gerber transfer have be devised in recent years thanks to hackers across the world.

One such hacker, [Henner] is working on a project called LDGraphy in an attempt to bring high-resolution etching to the masses. LDGraphy is a laser lithography device that makes use of a laser and a Beaglebone green to etch the layout onto the board. The best part is that the entire BOM is claimed to cost under a $100 which makes it affordable to people on a budget.

The system is designed around a 500 mW laser and a polygon mirror scanner meant for a laser printer. The board with photoresist is linearly actuated in the X-axis using a stepper motor and the laser beam which is bounced off the rotating hexagonal mirror is responsible for the Y-axis. The time critical code for the Programmable Realtime Unit (PRU) of the AM335X processor is written in assembly for the fast laser switching. The enclosure is, naturally, a laser cut acrylic case and is made at [Henner]’s local hackerspace.

[Henner] has been hard at work calibrating his design and compensating for the inaccuracies of the components used. In the demo video below he presents a working version with a resolution of 6 mils which is wonderful considering the cost of the machine. He also shares his code on GitHub if you want to help out and you can track his updates on Google+.

This is not the first time we’ve seen a DIY laser PCB exposer, of course, but it is one of the best documented. And if you’re looking for other ways to get your clothes stained, how about vacuum exposure or some etching technique tutorials?


Filed under: laser hacks