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Need A Hand? How About Two?

พุธ, 12/06/2017 - 07:00

A helping hand goes a long way to accomplishing a task. Sometimes that comes in the form of a friend, and sometimes it’s a pair of robotic hands attached to your arm.

Italian startup [Youbionic] have developed this pair of 3D printed hands which aim to extend the user’s multi-tasking capacity. Strapped to the forearm and extending past the user’s natural hand, they are individually operated by flexing either the index or ring fingers. This motion is picked up by a pair of flex sensor strips — a sharp movement will close the fist, while a slower shift will close it halfway.

At present, the hands are limited in their use — they are fixed to the mounting plate and so are restricted to gripping tasks, but with a bit of practice could end up being quite handy. Check out the video of them in action after the break!

These helpful hands don’t come cheap — they  are 899 for the single hand, and 1799 to double that up. That said, there are cheaper options available, and some that can lend a really big hand too.

[via The Inquisitr]

 


Filed under: 3d Printer hacks, Wearable Hacks

CNC Calculator Does What You Can’t

พุธ, 12/06/2017 - 04:00

The Hackaday community — and the greater hacker community — can do absolutely anything. Readers of Hackaday regularly pilot spaceships. The transmutation of the elements is a simple science project here, one easily attainable by a high school student. Hackaday readers have solved international crises, climbed Everest, and one day we’re going to have readers accessing Hackaday from an IP address on Mars. There is almost no limit to what our community can do.

This project does the one thing Hackaday readers are utterly incapable of doing. As a cool little bonus, the enclosure for this device is a beautiful work of milled aluminum, anodized in a deep, beautiful black and engraved with exacting precision.

The guts of this build are in essence an Arduino loaded up with some special code that does what no human is capable of doing. Added onto that is a small lithium battery, charging circuit, character display, and a small keypad. There’s really nothing here that can’t be sourced from your favorite AliDXExtremeDeal shop.

The real show here is the beautiful milled aluminum enclosure. This was designed in Fusion360 and milled away on a Tormach CNC loaded up with a slightly worn endmill. The engraving was done with a Lakeshore carbide engraver. The first prototype was finished with a powder coat because that’s the easiest way for someone in a home shop to put a great finish on a milled enclosure. The production versions of this amazing device (available here, although it’s sold out at the time of this writing) are anodized and look fantastic.

If this is the sort of project that appeals to your desire for logic with just a touch of anti-Americanism, be sure to check out the number one most commented post on Hackaday ever. There are a lot of great opinions in the comments section there, even if the topic being discussed is obtuse and weird to the entire Hackaday community.


Filed under: cnc hacks

Joe Kim: Where Technology and Art Collide

พุธ, 12/06/2017 - 02:30

The rewards of being a writer for Hackaday are many, but aside from the obvious perks like the secret Hackaday handshake and admission to the private writer’s washroom, having the opportunity to write original content articles is probably the best part of the job. It gets even better, though, because after you submit an article, you’ll eventually get an email from Supplyframe Art Director Joe Kim with a Dropbox link to the original art he has created to accompany your piece. No matter where I am when that email comes in, I click on the link immediately, eager to see what Joe has come up with. And I’m never disappointed.

Joe took some time out of his hectic schedule of keeping Hackaday’s visual style fresh and exciting to give a talk at the 2017 Superconference on “The Balance of Art and Technology.” It’s not surprising that a fellow who spends his days creating art would have some strong opinions about the place of art in society today, but what may be surprising is Joe’s attitude toward the impact that technology has had on graphic art. As a professional pixel jockey, Joe spends his days working on digital images in Photoshop, and yet he decries the fact that in many cases, technology has “taken the artist out of the art.”

Joe rightly points out that art has always followed technology, from charcoal and ochre antelopes sketched on a cave wall by the feeble light of a fat lamp right through to rendering farms that produce detailed moving images of places and people that never were. But technology has so democratized the creative process that we’re at a point where people use pocket supercomputers with high-resolution digital cameras to show the world what they’re having for lunch or to immortalize their latest duck-face pose.

The democratization of creation has sucked a lot of the soul out of art. His example of movie poster art is quite apt, moving from the beautiful hand painted art from the Golden Age of Hollywood to the stylized posters and titles of Saul Bass and on to the photorealistic paintings of the pre-digital days. But now anyone with a little Photoshop experience can (and does) create movie art, and we see everything converging into just a few common themes that are quickly and cheaply produced. To paraphrase Syndrome in The Incredibles, “When everyone is an artist, no one will be.”

Joe’s point is well taken. After all, before the advent of photography, master painters struggled for years to create portraits that we’d describe today as photorealistic. Once anyone could take a snapshot that was just as good as a portrait, fine artists moved to other areas of expression, and we got artists like Picasso and Van Gogh. It’s not a bad deal actually, and Joe points out with some good-natured ribbing that the hipster culture is starting to move art in different directions, with the revival of wet photography and exploration of more abstract art forms.

It seems like Joe is optimistic about where art is going these days, and it’s good to know that we’ve got a guy on the team that’s not just pushing pixels around. Joe brings an artist’s sensibilities to the table, and no matter how thin the seed ideas we writers give him, he manages to see the essence of the article and create art that captures it. It’s a rare talent, and we’re lucky to have him around.


Filed under: Hackaday Columns

Disrupting The Computer Industry Before it Existed: Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

พุธ, 12/06/2017 - 01:01

The feature of being easier to write than assembly is often seen as the biggest advantage of high-level programming languages. The other benefit that comes with them is portability. With high-level languages, algorithms can be developed independently from the underlying hardware. This allows software to live on once the hardware becomes obsolete.

The compiler was a concept that was met with resistance when it was first introduced. This was at a time when computers were custom-built machines bearing individual names like ENIAC, UNIVAC and Mark I. A time when the global demand for computers was estimated to be around five units by the CEO of IBM. In this scenario, it took a visionary to foresee a future where the number of computers would outgrow the number of programmers and hardware would evolve so much faster than software that a compiler would make sense. One visionary was [Grace Hopper].

The Compiler

Compiled code often runs slower than optimized assembly code. Surprisingly, this wasn’t what got into the way of implementing them. They were regarded as technically impossible. One could think that computer science was at that time too young to fully understand the potential of its subject. One could also conclude that already then it was old enough that its practitioners were set in their beliefs. In this atmosphere, it took a special attitude to turn the idea of programming languages from a challenged concept to one of the most influential technologies of the following decades. The quote “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.”, which today is used to explain dynamic binding in python, is attributed to her.

Although a pioneer, [Hopper] wasn’t that far ahead of the curve. [Alick Glennie] developed another compiler in the same year as she did. [Glennie]’s ‘autocode’ compiler was much less successful than [Hopper]’s A-0 which should later evolve into COBOL — the Common Business-Oriented Language. There are two probable reasons for this. Autocode was relatively close to machine code and tailored to the British Mark 1 computer at the University of Manchester- portability was not part of its design.

The second reason is that [Hopper] explicitly wanted her languages to provide enough abstraction to allow more people access to the power of computing. In an Interview from 1980, she identifies two distinct groups among the early users of computers: mathematicians and people interested in data processing. She found the data processors to be word-centric in their thinking as opposed to the symbolic approach of the mathematicians. Developing the first compiled language was in her case intended to make computers useful to a bigger audience. COBOL was aimed at business applications in an era where computers were a mostly military and academic affair.

The Person

The list of outstanding achievements in her life is long. [Grace Hopper] had been the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics at Yale. Which is even more impressive as she didn’t want to study mathematics in the first place. She entered the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbour and had to retire three times before they finally let her go in 1986. Yale has named one of its residential colleges after her. This puts another quote of hers into perspective:

“If you ask me what accomplishment I’m most proud of, the answer would be all the young people I’ve trained over the years; that’s more important than writing the first compiler.”

She had been teaching after receiving her master’s degree at Vassar College in 1931 and kept holding lectures at different institutions throughout her career. Her lectures to professional audiences have been featured here before.

Compared to her outstanding professional career, her personal life is much less documented. Wikipedia deals with a marriage of 15 years in a single sentence and other sources are sparse on details as well. We know that she battled alcoholism in her forties and overcame it with professional help. She was also known to take her work home and start the morning with presenting solutions to problems that had been discussed on the way home the day before.

[Grace Hopper] was a person that managed to get herself into the right place at the right time. She did so with ingenuity and the drive to overcome obstacles, not by smashing through them but by looking for ways around. She also approached her work with an eye for how useful it would be.

Heroes are a difficult thing. In the wrong hands, they set standards that are impossible to reach. Nobody can be Grace Hopper, only she could. The compiler is invented and high-level programming languages have replaced machine code in most applications. We can, however, strive to be like Grace Hopper: aspire to be good mentors, build things that are useful to others and reach for help when we meet our limits.

Further Reading

The Interview mentioned above is a good starting point to get a glimpse at who[Grace Hopper] was. Its good to keep in mind that the conversation took place two years before the ZX Spectrum was released, or otherwise the technological parts don’t make sense. With 54 pages it’s a long interview, and reading it might take even longer than expected, because it’s easy to get distracted by reading up on all the people who are mentioned.

Her biography ‘Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age’ by [Kurt W. Beyer] is often considered a bit light on the biographical part but nevertheless a sound historical account of the era shaped by her.


Filed under: Featured

3D Print Yourself A Flame Thrower

อังคาร, 12/05/2017 - 23:30

For a large proportion of the world’s population, it’s now winter, which means there’s plenty of rain and snow to go around. With the surrounding environment generally cooler and wetter than usual, it’s a great time to experiment with dangerous flame based projects, like this wrist mounted flame thrower.

It’s a build that does things in both a simple and complicated way, all at once. Fuel is provided by a butane canister with a nozzle that needs to be pressed to release the gas.  A servo is used to push the canister into a 3D printed housing, releasing the gas into a pipe to guide the fuel towards the end of the user’s wrist. The fuel is then ignited by a heated coil of wire. The heated wire and the servo are both controlled by standard radio control gear typically seen on RC cars or buggies. Using the brushed speed controller to run the heated coil is particularly off-beat, but it does the job admirably.

Overall, it goes without saying that this build presents some serious risks of burns and other injuries. However, the fundamental premise is sound, and it does what it says on the tin with parts that could be readily found in the average junk box.

For another take on a wrist-mounted flame thrower, check out this version using a scavenged solenoid valve.


Filed under: classic hacks

The British Drone Law Reaches Parliament

อังคาร, 12/05/2017 - 22:01

We’ve brought you a variety of stories over the years covering the interface between multirotor fliers and the law, and looked at the credibility gap between some official incident reports and the capabilities of real drones. In the news this week is a proposed new law in front of the British House of Commons that would bring in a licensing scheme for machines weighing over 250 g, as well as new powers to seize drones. We’ve previously told you about the consultation that led up to it, and its original announcement.

As a British voter with some interest in the matter, I decided to write to my Member of Parliament about it, and since my letter says what I would have written to cover the story anyway it stands below in lieu of the normal Hackaday article format. If you are a British multirotor flier this is an issue you need to be aware of, and if you have any concerns you should consider raising them with your MP as well.

To: Victoria Prentis MP, Member of Parliament for Banbury, Houses of Parliament, London

Hi Victoria,

I am writing to you today to express some concerns about the atmosphere surrounding the proposed bill to control the use of drones in the UK. I am a technical journalist whose remit sometimes covers drone stories in depth, and there are aspects of this particular one that I find rather troubling. I am not a drone flier beyond having bought a plastic toy drone to understand some of the technology, so I have no particular axe to grind.

As reported, this bill will bring in new police powers aimed at the illegal use of drones, for example when they are used for smuggling into prisons, and in establishing statutory no-fly zones around airports and the like. There will be new police powers to seize drones, and there will be a new drone test required to fly any machine weighing over 250 g. This comes against a backdrop of reported drone incidents in which there are said to have been near misses with aircraft. The Aviation Minister was interviewed about fostering innovation in the drone industry, and in a sense she’s right. The proposals will provide a boost to the drone industry, but it will be in Shenzhen rather than the UK as the Chinese manufacturers pour all their innovations into the 250 g class.

It goes without saying that the use of drones by criminals should be cracked down upon, and hard. It also goes without saying that the flying of drones close to aircraft should be illegal, and those who do it should be prosecuted. Lock them up, throw away the key, all the clichés. But it is with the case of proximity to aircraft that my concern lies, because based on my research into air proximity incident reports over the years I believe that there has been some extremely irresponsible work on the matter on the part of the authorities, the pilots trade union, and particularly on the part of the media.

To understand this, it’s first worth describing what a drone is, and what it is capable of. By “drone”, I am referring to a machine with several fixed-attitude vertical propellers mounted around its fuselage, that are under the control of a microcomputer that maintains the craft’s position by varying the power to each propeller. The motors are all electric, and all such machines run on battery power. Even the largest drones use batteries, not unlike the ones you will have in your laptop. Because they can’t glide like a fixed-wing aircraft can, they can only stay in the air by having all motors running continuously. This means that all battery powered drones have a finite time in the air dictated by the weight of the battery pack they can carry, and that time is measured in minutes rather than hours. Flying at any sort of speed decreases this time hugely, as does flying at altitude because as the air gets thinner the propellers have to do more work for the same thrust. Thus while it’s possible for some drones to break the 400 m altitude limit reported as being in the new bill, in many cases getting back down again after any time up there before the batteries are exhausted would present a significant challenge.

Reading air proximity incident reports and analysing the claims made for the craft sighted, it is extremely difficult to reconcile them with the appearance and performance of real drones as I have outlined in the previous paragraph. There are descriptions of drones flying at airliner altitudes and speeds, of drones seemingly capable of manoeuvres even the RAF in their jet fighters couldn’t perform. Even the low altitude sightings stretch credibility, for example the Gatwick sighting that is often reported would have required a drone with excessive battery life and the ability to evade surveillance at one of the most heavily policed sites in the country. The one common thread that ties all the UK incident reports together is that at no point has any tangible evidence of a real drone been produced, no wreckage, no photographs, and no video. You will know that airliners now have video cameras all round, as a typical seat-back display now allows passengers to watch the view outside the plane, yet there has been no video evidence produced of these incidents. Indeed, the only incident proven to have caused a collision, onto a plane approaching Heathrow, was later concluded to have involved a plastic bag.

Ever since the dawn of flight, pilots have from time to time seen unidentified objects. They have variously been attributed to our wartime foes, to the Soviets, to alien invaders, and now the explanation of choice seems to be drones. Just as there were never any foo fighters or aliens discovered, now we have no tangible evidence of any drones beyond the same pilot eyewitness reports we had when the aliens were in the frame. To take these stories as irrefutable proof of drone involvement shows a breathtaking level of irresponsibility by the CAA, and I am therefore concerned that this and the poorly-informed media reporting on the issue will cause a bad law to be enacted. I predict that I will be writing stories about heavy-handed police confiscating legally held and flown drones at will, and meanwhile the criminals will continue to do what they always have done, and take no notice of the law.

Responsible drone users need good and well-enforced laws in place just as the general public does, to stop criminals and dangerous idiots using drones. I am concerned that the poor handling of incident reports by the CAA and the misinformed reporting on the issue will have an undue influence on this one, and cause it to fall short of being a good law. Please can I therefore ask you to remember when it comes before you, that it is the criminals who should be in your sights rather than the responsible users.

If you would like to know more about drones, are interested in seeing one in action, or indeed are interested in having a go yourself, it would be very easy to introduce you to responsible professional fliers who could satisfy your curiosity.

Thanks,

Jenny List

 

I know what you are thinking, that there is no point in doing this as they will inevitably take no notice. And there is an element of truth in that, because you can have no doubt that this law is going to be enacted. But there are two reasons to still do it, first of all to present a reasonable and balanced case as to why the evidents from the pilots should not entirely be trusted, and secondly to inflate my MP’s postbag on the issue. Surprisingly MPs are not deluged with mail on issues like this one, and it will not take many letters to get them thinking about it.

Just one thing though, if you do write a letter to your MP, don’t cut-and-paste mine. They’re wise to that trick.

Palace of Westminster image: Diliff [CC BY-SA 2.5].


Filed under: drone hacks, Hackaday Columns

Grabbing Better Images From A Newer Russian Satellite

อังคาร, 12/05/2017 - 19:00

The Soviet Union took the world by surprise when it sent its Sputnik satellite into low earth orbit way back in 1957. The event triggered a space race between the Soviets and the United States and ushered in technologies that would go on to touch the lives of every human on earth. Today, several nations have a space program. And one of the more useful things to put in orbit are weather satellites.

In 2014, the Russians launched their Meteor N M-2 weather satellite into a polar orbit. The part that were most interested in is the fact that it transmits images at 137.1 MHz using the standard LRPT protocol. However, the newer Meteor N M-2 transmits images at twelve times the resolution of US NOAA satellites. No typo there –  that’s twelve (12!) times. Have we got your attention now?

We shouldn’t have to tell you to jump on over to [phasenoise’s] blog which gives you everything you need to start grabbing some of these awesome images.

Now, before you get your jumper wires in a bunch – we are well aware that receiving satellite images is nothing new.

Thanks to [Roy Tremblay] for the tip!

 

 


Filed under: News, Radio Hacks

Making A Motorized Turntable Portable

อังคาร, 12/05/2017 - 16:00

[Robin Reiter] needed a better way to show off his work. He previously converted an electric TV stand into a full 360-degree display turntable, but it relied on an external power supply to get it spinning. It was time to give it an upgrade.

Putting his spacial organization skills to work, [Reiter] has crammed a mini OLED display, rotary encoder, a LiPo 18650 battery and charging circuit, a pair of buck converters, a power switch, and an Arduino pro mini into the small control console. To further maximize space, [Reiter] stripped out the pin headers and wired the components together directly. It attaches to the turntable in question with magnets, so it can be removed out of frame, or for displaying larger objects!

When first powered on, the turntable holds in pause mode giving [Reiter] time to adjust the speed and direction. He also took the time to add an optical rotary encoder disk to the turntable and give the gearing a much needed cleaning. Check out the project video after the break!

[Reiter] is looking to add a timed stop feature, and — taking advantage of that rotary encoder — a rotate to target angle option, but it performs admirably at present.

We can see this display coming in handy for any 3D scanning needs too!


Filed under: 3d Printer hacks, Arduino Hacks

Upgrading A USB Soldering Iron!

อังคาร, 12/05/2017 - 13:00

Seeing the popularity of the TS-100 soldering iron, GitHub user [ole00] found himself desirous of a few of its features, but was put off by its lack of a power supply. What is a hacker to do? Find a cheaper option, and hack it into awesomeness.

[ole00] stumbled across the inexpensive ZD-20U and — despite a handful (sorry!) of issues — saw potential: it’s compact, lightweight, and powered via a USB power cable. Wanting to use as much of the ZD-20U’s original board as possible, the modifications were restricted to a few trace cuts and component swaps. The major change was swapping out the 555 timer IC controlling the iron with am ATtiny13a MCU to give it a bit more control.

[ole00] has also replaced the awkward touch-sensitive stud with a push button, changed  the LED’s behaviour to that of a temperature indicator, and configurable temperature profiles and heating cycles. A full project breakdown can be found on their GitHub page.

If you do have a TS-100, keep it protected!

 


Filed under: ATtiny Hacks, Tool Hacks

Oil Barrel Smoker

อังคาร, 12/05/2017 - 10:00

What would you do with a pair of oil drums and a craving for delicious food? Like any sane person, redditor [Kilgore_nrw] made the logical choice and built a smoker.

To make the build easier, he picked up a double barrel stove kit which came with a door, hinges, legs and flue connectors. While fixing the legs and mounting the stove door — high enough for a bed of bricks in the fire barrel — went as planned, he had to improvise the installation of the smoke flue. It ended up being the exact same diameter as the flue connectors, but notching it enough to slide into place made a satisfactory seal.

Not liking the look of having the stack at the ‘front’ of the smoker, he mounted it above the flue at the rear and added two sandstone slabs in the smoking chamber to evenly distribute the heat. Finishing touches included heavy duty drawer slides for the cooking rack — ensuring easy access to deliciousness — and painstakingly grinding off the old paint to apply a new heat resistant coating. For any fans out there, the finished pictures are a sight to behold.

In today’s era of ubiquitous tech, it’s only natural that someone would go to great lengths to convert a cheap smoker into an automatic cooking machine, or have it text you once it’s finished cooking. If your appetite is not yet sated after checking those out, here a few more tasty morsels to tempt you.

[Via /r/DIY]


Filed under: home hacks

Let There Be Automated Blinds!

อังคาร, 12/05/2017 - 07:00

More than once a maker has wanted a thing, only to find it more economical to build it themselves. When your domicile has massive windows, closing what can feel like a mile of blinds becomes a trial every afternoon — or every time you sit down for a movie. [Kyle Stewart-Frantz] had enough of that and automated his blinds.

After taking down and dismantling his existing roller blinds, he rebuilt it using 1-1/4 in EMT conduit for the blinds’ roll to mount a  12V electric shade kit within — the key part: the motor is remote controlled. Fitting it inside the conduit takes a bit of hacking and smashing if you don’t want to or can’t 3D print specific parts. Reattaching the roller blind also takes a fair bit of precision lest they unroll crooked every time. He advises a quick test and fit to the window before moving on to calibrating and linking all your blinds to one remote — unless you want a different headache.

Now, to get Alexa to do your bidding.

[Stewart-Frantz] is using an RM Pro as the middleman, capable of controlling RF and IR receptive devices, and an Android box. He describes the process he used to connect the devices to the Alexa service, and customizing it to suit his chosen commands. In the end, all he has to do is speak and the blinds do his bidding.

At a total cost of $767, we’d say that’s a pretty good deal. There are other ways to hack together automated blinds, but sometimes you just want to ask Alexa about planes.


Filed under: home hacks, how-to

Slinky Walks Down Stairs and Picks up 80m Band

อังคาร, 12/05/2017 - 04:00

Originally intended as a way to stabilize sensitive instruments on ships during World War II, the Slinky is quite simply a helical spring with an unusually good sales pitch. But as millions of children have found out since the 1940’s, once you roll your Slinky down the stairs a few times, you’ve basically hit the wall in terms of entertainment value. So what if we told you there was yet another use for this classic toy that was also fun for a girl and a boy?

As it turns out, a cheap expandable metal coil just so happens to make for a pretty good antenna if you hook it up right. [Blake Hughes] recently took on this project and provided some detailed pictures and information for anyone else looking to hook a couple of Slinkies to their radio. [Blake] reports excellent results when paired to his RTL-SDR setup, but of course this will work with whatever kind of gear you might be using at these frequencies.

Before anyone gets out the pitchforks, admittedly this isn’t exactly a new idea. There are a few other write-ups online about people using a Slinky as a cheap antenna, such as this detailed analysis from a few years ago by [Frank Dörenberg]. There’s even rumors that soldiers used a Slinky from back home as a makeshift antenna during the Vietnam War. So this is something of an old school ham trick revived for the new generation of SDR enthusiasts.

Anyway, the setup is pretty simple. You simply solder the RF jack of your choice to two stretched out Slinkies: one to the center of the jack and one to outside. Then run a rope through them and stretch them out in opposite directions. The rope is required because the Slinky isn’t going to be strong enough when expanded to keep from laying on the ground.

One thing to keep in mind with a Slinky antenna is that these things are not exactly rated for outside use. Without some kind of treatment (like a spray on acrylic lacquer) , they’ll quickly corrode and fail. Though a better idea might simply to be to think of this as a temporary antenna that you put away when you’re done with. Thanks to the fact that the Slinky doesn’t get deformed even when stretching it out to maximum length, that’s relatively easy to accomplish.

If you’re looking for a good RTL-SDR to go along with your new Slinky antenna, check out this roundup of some of the options that are on the market as of 2017. You’ll probably need an upconverter to get down to the 80m band, so you might as well build that while you’re at it.


Filed under: classic hacks, hardware, Radio Hacks

Kristin Paget is Hacking Carrier Grade LTE eNodeB

อังคาร, 12/05/2017 - 02:31

Every once in a while you get lucky and a piece of cool gear lands on your bench to tear down and explore. On that measuring stick, Kristin Paget hit the jackpot when she acquired a fascinating piece of current generation cellphone infrastructure. She’s currently researching a carrier-grade LTE eNodeB and walked through some of the findings, along with security findings of two IoT products, during her talk on the Laws of IoT Security at the 2017 Hackaday Superconference.

Evolved Node B (eNodeB) is the meat and potatoes of the LTE cellular network. It connects the antenna to backhaul — this is not something you’d expect to see on the open market but Kristin managed to pick one up from a vendor at DEF CON. Hearing her walk through the process of testing the hardware is a real treat in her talk and we’ll get to that in just a minute. But first, check out our video interview with Kristin the morning after her talk. We get into the progress of her eNodeB research, and touch on the state of IoT security with advice for hardware developers moving forward.

In the interview Kristin mentions that WiFi is certainly not the most secure choice for connected devices and she definitely drives this point home in her Supercon talk.

The first of three hardware devices she takes on is a WiFi connected lightbulb. We’ve all done the dance with WiFi connected “smart” items: connect to its AP with your phone, load a webpage and type in your WiFi credentials to the “Thing” can get on your AP. In this case after you enter your WiFi credentials the lightbulb got on the network but continued to serve up it’s own AP — with a easily searchable default password. Of course the issue being that your WiFi credentials are served up in plain text on the lightbulb’s config screen so anyone in range can get to your home WiFi credentials. Brilliant.

The Laws of IoT violated here are easy to understand and apply almost universally. Don’t hand out plain text credentials. Choose to use unique provisioning credentials so not just anyone can get to the config interface. Separate user privileges from owner privileges. And don’t leave the provisioning AP up once the device is connected to the target network.

Next on the chopping block is a first generation Amazon Dash button. These have been favorites for hacking since they came out. But of course Kristin isn’t going to be happy with watching the router for the MAC address to appear. She walks through sniffing traffic on the button and dissecting the certificate validation used. The surprising find is that all of the first generation Dash buttons expect SSL with an expiry in 2015 or they won’t work. Designers need to include a way to refresh keys or users will end up locked out of devices in the wild. Dash solved this just by dropping all of the SSL security used.

This brings us to the juicy part of the talk: the LTE eNodeB. Since this is carrier grade, this is designed to be in use for 10 or more years and in this case is a software-defined radio ready to upgrade as new technology emerges. Getting into the OS is almost comical: Kristin found the bootspew on one of the serial ports and realized it was running uBoot. How did she realize that? The boot process gives you a 5 second countdown to enter it with a keypress. Dropping into uBoot made it easy to start a shell and Kristin’s inspection of /etc/passwd included hashes and multiple accounts that shared UIDs. It’s a delight to see how she worked through all of this.

The first step to designing more secure hardware is to understand the mistakes that have become all too common. From simple and cheap lightbulbs to elite infrastructure, Kristin makes an excellent case that we as hardware developers must be codifying and following a set of IoT security laws to make connected hardware work for us as an asset and not a liability.


Filed under: cons, Security Hacks

The German Space Program That Never Was

อังคาร, 12/05/2017 - 01:01

A previous post discussed the creation of the V-2 rocket, the first man-made object to reach space. Designed and built at the Peenemünde Army Research Center during World War II, the V-2 was intended to be a weapon of mass destruction, but ended up being far more effective as a tool of discovery than it ever did on the battlefield. In fact, historians now estimate that more people died during the development and construction of the V-2 than did in the actual attacks carried out with it. But even though it failed to win the war for Germany, it still managed to change the world in another way: as it served as the basic blueprint for all subsequent rockets right up to modern-day vehicles.

But the V-2 wasn’t the only rocket-powered vehicle that the Germans were working on, a whole series of follow-up vehicles were in the design phase when the Allies took Berlin in 1945. Some were weapons, but not all. Pioneers like Walter Dornberger and Wernher von Braun saw that rocketry had more to offer mankind than a new way to deliver warheads to the enemy, and the team at Peenemünde had begun laying the groundwork for a series of rockets that could have put mankind into space years before the Soviets.

Upgrading the V-2: A-4B Credit: Spike Rendchen / GFDL

The only one of the vehicles planned to succeed the V-2 (at this point still known by its development name, A-4) which actually got built was the A-4b. As this design was a direct evolution of the already deployed A-4/V-2, it was allowed to progress much farther than if it had been a completely new vehicle. In fact, a few test flights were even performed, though none completely successful.

To put it simply, the A-4b was a V-2 rocket modified with swept-back wings. The wings allowed the rocket to generate lift when it reentered Earth’s atmosphere, thereby extending the operational range. It was believed that adding wings to the V-2 would have more than doubled its range without a major redesign of the vehicle and production lines. As Germany was pushed farther and farther back by the advancing Allies, this would have allowed them to continue launching attacks into Britain for much longer than otherwise would have been possible.

Test flights of V-2s modified to the A-4b configuration were flying as late as four months before Germany surrendered to the allies, giving some indication of how badly they wanted to see this version brought into service.

First Multistage: A-9/A-10 Credit: Spike Rendchen / GFDL

The team at Peenemünde understood early on that a single-stage rocket would never get more than a few hundred miles with the technology available to them. There was simply too much dead weight being dragged along with the rocket as it traveled farther and farther downrange. If Germany ever hoped to strike the mainland US from European launch sites, they’d need a multistage vehicle that could shed off the dead weight as it continued on its journey. The vehicle was accordingly referred to as “Amerika Rakete”.

Interestingly, the stages of this proposed rocket were to be treated as two distinct vehicles. The first stage booster, the A-10, would have essentially been a super-sized V-2 burning diesel and nitric acid. The A-9 second stage would have been an evolved version of the A-4b, but manned as it was believed that the technology to automatically guide the first stage accurately over such great distances simply wasn’t feasible.

Contrary to popular belief, there has never been any indication that the A-9/A-10 was intended as a suicide weapon; the pilot was likely meant to eject once the A-9 was set on course for impact. Had the A-9/A-10 flown (a first test flight was planned for 1946), its pilot could have potentially beaten Yuri Gagarin to be the first human in space by 15 years.

Reaching Orbit: A-11/A-12

Building on the A-9/A-10 program, an additional two stages were planned. With all four stages combined into one stack, the final A-12 configuration would have been a true orbital-class vehicle. Less than 1/3rd as tall as the Apollo-era Saturn V that would eventually take mankind to the Moon, but with 50 engines firing on the first stage, it would have been something to behold on liftoff.

Assuming, of course, that it was actually a real thing. Some historians doubt that the A-11/A-12 were ever formally considered, and maintain that it was more likely a dream project of Wernher von Braun’s. No official wartime information about the A-11/A-12 has ever been provided, and as far as anyone can tell, the first mention of it was when von Braun was already in the United States and pitching ideas to the Air Force.

Silbervogel

Wernher von Braun and the team at Peenemünde weren’t the only ones in Germany working on advanced rocket vehicles. Eugen Sänger came up with a spaceplane he called the “Silbervogel” (Silver Bird, in English): a sub-orbital bomber which could take off in Germany, bomb the mainland United States, and then land in Japan. The key to the Silver Bird’s theoretical range was its advanced lifting-body design, which would allow the craft to “bounce” off of the Earth’s atmosphere. Each time it rebounded off the atmosphere and traveled back up into space, it would extend its range farther.

The Silver Bird’s lifting body design was decades ahead of its time, and despite some promising work on the propulsion system, the vehicle never got off the drawing board. However, the ideas pioneered by Sänger would eventually find practical application in various test programs of the Air Force and NASA, which ultimately led to the development of the Space Shuttle.

An Engineer’s Dreams

It’s safe to say that no country enters into war planning to lose, and Germany was no different. While these vehicles were all developed during war, their designers envisioned a time in the future when similar craft would embark on missions of peace. In 1944, Wernher von Braun was even arrested on a charge of sabotage, as he was overheard telling a colleague that his true goal with the A-4 project was not to develop a weapon, but make space travel possible.

In his book, V-2, Walter Dornberger mentions some of the fantastic ideas he and his team bounced back and forth at Peenemünde:

With our big rocket motors and step rockets we could build space ships which would circle the Earth like moons at the height of 300 miles and at a speed of 18,000 miles per hour. Space Stations and glass spheres containing the embalmed bodies of pioneers of rocket development and space travel could be put into permanent orbits around the Earth. An expedition to the Moon was a popular topic too. Then we dreamed of atomic energy, which would at last give us the necessary drive for flight into the infinity of space, to the very stars.

Modern material science and computer simulations tell us these incredible designs had little chance of working in the real world. The engineers at the time simply didn’t have the knowledge necessary to fully understand the challenges of manned spaceflight.

For starters, a close examination of these vehicles show dry weights (the weight of the craft with no propellant on board) that are beyond the technology of the time; it would be decades before the lightweight alloys and composite materials required would be available. Heat shields capable of withstanding the fury of reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere aren’t even mentioned in the designs of these vehicles, betraying an ignorance to one of the most challenging aspects of developing an orbital vehicle.

With time, these challenges would have become clear to the engineers working on these projects. It’s possible they would have even solved some of them. But time is not something Germany had on their side, and the end of World War II also marked the end of Germany’s space program. It would take until 1978 before a German citizen reached space aboard a Soviet rocket, and to this day, no orbital rocket has ever launched from German soil.


Filed under: Featured, History, Original Art

Current Measurement with Oscilloscopes

จันทร์, 12/04/2017 - 23:30

What do a Rogowski coil, a magnetic core, and a hall effect sensor have in common? They are all ways you can make oscilloscope probes that measure current. If you think of a scope as a voltage measurement device, you ought to watch the recent video from Keysight Technology (see below). It is true that Keysight would love to sell you a probe, but the video is not a sales pitch, just general technical information about making current measurements with an oscilloscope.

Of course, you can always measure the voltage across a shunt resistor — either one that is naturally in the circuit or one you’ve put inline just for measuring purposes. But if you add a resistor it will change the circuit subtly and it may have to handle a lot of power.

The Keysight video points out that there are different probes for different current measurement regimes. High current, medium current, and low current all use different probes with different technologies. The video is only about 6 minutes long and if you’ve never thought about measuring current with a scope, it is worth watching.

The video shares some high-level details of how the current probes work — that’s where the Rogowski coil comes in, for example. Of course, you can’t expect a vendor to tell you how to build your own current probes. That’s OK, though, because we will. Current probes are often expensive, but you can sometimes pick up a deal on a used one.


Filed under: Tool Hacks

The Physics of Healing: Radiation Therapy

จันทร์, 12/04/2017 - 22:01

Few days are worse than a day when you hear the words, “I’m sorry, you have cancer.” Fear of the unknown, fear of pain, and fear of death all attend the moment when you learn the news, and nothing can prepare you for the shock of learning that your body has betrayed you. It can be difficult to know there’s something growing inside you that shouldn’t be there, and the urge to get it out can be overwhelming.

Sometimes there are surgical options, other times not. But eradicating the tumor is not always the job of a surgeon. Up to 60% of cancer patients will be candidates for some sort of radiation therapy, often in concert with surgery and chemotherapy. Radiation therapy can be confusing to some people — after all, doesn’t radiation cause cancer? But modern radiation therapy is a remarkably precise process that can selectively kill tumor cells while leaving normal tissue unharmed, and the machines we’ve built to accomplish the job are fascinating tools that combine biology and engineering to help people deal with a dreaded diagnosis.

Controlled Killing

Simply defined, radiation therapy is the application of specific kinds of ionizing radiation with the intent to treat a disease, which is usually but not always cancer. This differs substantially from using radiation to gather diagnostic information, as in the case of medical X-rays, CT scans, and nuclear medicine. All ionizing radiation has the potential to cause cellular damage, but in diagnostic radiology, doses are kept as low as possible to protect against cellular damage while still getting the diagnostic information needed. Radiation therapy, however, uses doses of ionizing radiation with the express intent of killing cells in as controlled a manner as possible.

To understand how radiation therapy works, it’s important to know a few simple facts about cancer. Cancer is not one disease, of course, but all cancers share a trait: uncontrolled cell growth. Cancer cells divide more or less continually and proliferate, often forming solid masses called tumors. Cancer cells also tend to be relatively undifferentiated cells; that is, they lack the specialized structure and function of normal cells.

These characteristics provide weaknesses that can be exploited for therapies. For cells to divide they must replicate their DNA, and while DNA is replicating, it’s particularly vulnerable to damage. Damage can come from powerful drugs like those used in chemotherapy, or by exposure of the cells to ionizing radiation. Damage the cell enough and it dies. Damage enough cells and the tumor starts to shrink.

Cancer cells are more vulnerable to damage from drugs and radiation because they are replicating more rapidly than the surrounding normal cells. But the normal cells are replicating too, and can incur collateral damage while the tumor cells are being targeted. Being able to spare the surrounding tissues from damage while killing the tumor is the goal of any cancer treatment, and this is where radiation therapy shines.

High Energies

Radiation treatment works by forming a very precisely shaped beam of ionizing radiation that can illuminate a tumor without exposing the surrounding tissue. The problem is that bodies are three-dimensional structures, and no matter which way you aim a beam, normal tissue will be either above or below the tumor, and will get dosed. Luckily, cells are sensitive to accumulated doses of radiation, so it’s possible to deliver a partial dose from multiple angles, limiting the damage to structures above and below the tumor. This is accomplished by precisely rotating the therapy beam axially around the patient with the tumor at the focus. Over time, the tumor builds up enough of a dose to start dying, while the surrounding normal tissues are spared lethal doses.

The machines used to deliver external beam radiation therapy can be immensely complicated. Not only do they have to generate extremely powerful beams of ionizing radiation, they have to control, filter, and shape the beam. They’ve also got to position the beam with extreme precision so that the treatment plan developed by the radiation oncologist and the medical physicist is correctly executed. On top of that, the machine has to have multiple redundant layers of safety interlocks to protect the patient and technicians from potentially lethal exposures.

Options for sources of ionizing radiation vary, with different sources offering different therapeutic options based on the energy of the photons they produce. Orthovoltage X-ray machines are essentially high-power X-ray tubes that generate beam energies in the 200 to 500 kiloelectron volt (keV) range. Like diagnostic X-ray tubes, orthovoltage X-ray tubes work by accelerating electrons into a tungsten target to create powerful beams of photons.

Further up the energy scale are the linear accelerator machines, or linacs. These can provide either X-ray beams or electron beams in the 4 to 25 Megaelectron volt (MeV) range. Where the electron source in diagnostic and orthovoltage X-ray tubes is generally a simple hot cathode design, linac electron beams are produced by injecting electrons from a tungsten filament into a long waveguide. A magnetron produces a standing RF wave inside the waveguide which accelerates the electrons to huge kinetic energies. The electron beam can be used directly, or the beam can be used to strike a tungsten target to produce a high energy beam of X-rays.

Staying in Shape

One of the most interesting parts of a radiation therapy machine is the collimator. Collimation controls the shape of the beam and limits unwanted exposure. A diagnostic X-ray machine’s collimator is simple — two sets of lead or tungsten leaves set 90° to each other can be moved in or out of the beam and produce a rectangle of various sizes. A radiotherapy beam needs to be able to match the irregular profile of a tumor, so a multileaf collimator (MLC) is used instead. An MLC has a large number of tungsten plates that can be moved in and out of the beam to control its size and shape. The MLC is set to project a beam based on the two-dimensional profile of the target tumor as seen from a certain angle, which changes as the beam is rotated around the patient.

MLCs are highly engineered mechanisms. Not only must every leaf be precisely and accurately positioned to match the therapeutic plan, it must do so while being bathed in high-energy photons. The leaves have to interlock and overlap so there’s no leakage between leaves, but thermal expansion must not be allowed to jam the leaves. The leaves also have to be thin enough that the “pixelation” of the edge of the beam is minimized.

These aren’t the only therapeutic modalities available for radiation therapy, of course. Some external beam therapies use a fixed radioisotope source like cobalt-60 rather than an accelerator, and some therapies use beams of particles like protons to kill cancer cells. But no matter the physics behind the treatment, the engineering that goes into controlling beams of lethal radiation to kill only what needs killing is something to admire.

[Featured images source: Varian Medical Systems]


Filed under: Featured, Medical Hacks

Classic Tomy Toy Gets AIY Makover

จันทร์, 12/04/2017 - 19:00

A few months ago the Raspberry Pi magazine The MagPi gave away a piece of hardware, the Google AIY voice control kit. Subscribers all received one, but as always the eBay scalpers cleaned up all the in-store copies and very few lucky enthusiasts scored a kit of their own.

Among these frustrated Pi owners was [Circuitbeard], who decided instead to make his own kit. And since a cardboard case lacked style, he decided to do so in the shell of a 1980s Tomy Mr. Money toy novelty bank. Into it went a Raspberry Pi Zero W and an audio pHat, with a servo to operate the head and a microswitch connected to the toy’s arm as a trigger.

The Python code to run everything is all included in the write-up, and he’s posted a video of the device in operation which we’ve placed below the break.

We’ve covered several Google AIY projects since it was released, including one in a British telephone, and one in an intercom. Meanwhile, we’ve also shown you another feature on how to build the AIY without the kit.


Filed under: Toy Hacks

A Futuristic Plant To Inspire Bright Ideas

จันทร์, 12/04/2017 - 16:00

A good video game prop can really spruce up the decor — doubly so if it’s a glowing, futuristic potted plant transplanted(sorry!) straight from Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

Since it’s a bit difficult to grow neon light vines, this project is more lamp than plant. The maker with the green thumb is [Phil], from [JumperOneTV], and he is using five meters of warm white strip LEDs cut to varying vine lengths. He’s also procured a store-bought flower pot that conveniently mirrors the in-game model. The vines are made of 16mm polyethylene tubing which he’s shaped using a heat gun — setting their shape by pumping water through it — and secured in the pot with insulation foam. Feeding the LED strips through and wiring them in parallel was simple compared to his next conundrum: supplying the power.

In order to save some of the life of the LED strips, [Phil] is running them on 9V at about 1.5A using an adjustable power supply — well-hidden inside the flower pot’s base — emphasizing safety when turning your own. [Phil] doesn’t mention how he turns it on, but prodding slightly more living plant could be a neat trick when showing it off, provided your more musically inclined flora aren’t causing a ruckus.


Filed under: home hacks, LED Hacks

Minimizing ESP8266 Battery Drain

จันทร์, 12/04/2017 - 13:00

[Alex Jensen] wanted to build a battery-powered weather station, using an ESP8266 breakout board to connect to WiFi. However, [Alex]’s research revealed that the ESP chip uses around 70mA per hour when the radio is on — meaning that he’d have to change batteries a lot more than he wanted to. He really wanted a low power rig such that he’d only have to change batteries every 2 years on a pair of AAs.

The two considerations would be, how often does the ESP get powered up for data transmissions — and how often the weather station’s ATtiny85 takes sensor readings. Waking up the ESP from sleep mode takes about 16mA — plus, once awake it takes about 3 seconds to reconnect, precious time at 70mA. However, by using a static IP address he was able to pare that down to half a second, with one more second to do the actual data transmission. In addition to the hourly WiFi connection, the Tiny85 must be powered, though its relatively modest 1.5mA per hour doesn’t amount to much, even with the chip awake for 36 hours during the year. All told, the various components came to around 500 mAh per year, so using a pair of AA batteries should keep the rig going for years.

We’re intrigued by stories of hackers eking out every last drop of power to make their projects work. We’ve posted about ESPs low-power mode before, and what can be more low-power than a watch running off a coin cell?


Filed under: Wireless Hacks

Meet the Modern Meat Man’s Modified Meat-Safe

จันทร์, 12/04/2017 - 10:00

Charcuterie is delicious — but is it hackable? When talking about the salty preserved meats, one might be more inclined to indulge in the concept of bacon before pondering a way to integrate an electrical monitoring system into the process. However, [Danzetto] decided to do both when he did not have anywhere to cure his meats. He made his own fully automatic meat curing chamber lovingly called the curebOS with the aid of a raspberry pi. It is basically a beefed up mini fridge with all of the bells and whistles.

This baby has everything.  Sitting on top is a control system containing the Pi. There are 5 relays used for the lights, circulating fan, ventilating fans, refrigerator, and humidifier all powered by a 5 amp supply — minus the fridge. Down below that is the 3D printed cover with a damper for one of the many ventilation fans that regulate the internal temperature.  To the right is a touchscreen for viewing and potentially controlling the system if necessary. The control program was written in Python for viewing the different trends. And below that, of course, is a viewing window. On the inside are temperature and humidity probes that can be monitored from the front screen. These readings help determine when to activate the compressor, any of the fans, or the humidifier for optimal settings. For a final touch, there are also some LEDs placed above the hanging meat to cast a glowing effect upon the prized possessions.

On top of that, [Danzetto] created a little app for this project that connects to a SQL database stored on his fridge Pi — not the edible one. This just lets him remotely access the system so that he never has to worry about the condition of those succulent beauties. If you are interested in learning more about the details of this project, I would start watching the Reddit posting for more updates in the next few days. The creator of the project is planning on putting together a build guide of sorts with open source software in the near future. Are you a foodie? Check out this sous vide Arduino project, or this automated smoker!

Let us know what other meat/food monitoring hacks you enjoy.

Thanks [Mark Walkom] for the tasty tip.


Filed under: News, Raspberry Pi