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Alternator Becomes Motor for This Electric Go-kart

อาทิตย์, 08/14/2016 - 21:00

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, a go-kart was a quick ticket to coolness, second maybe to a mini-bike. In both cases, a welded steel tube frame and a cast-off lawnmower engine were all that stood between you and neighborhood glory. Looks like a couple of engineering students caught the retro juvenile delinquent bug and built this electric go-kart for their final project.

While the frame for [Adrian Georgescu] and [Masoud Johnson]’s build was a second-hand find, the powertrain is all custom. They targeted a power output of 3 kW but found no affordable motors in that range. So, in true hacker fashion, they rolled their own motor from a used Subaru alternator. The three-phase motor controller came from an electric scooter, three LiPo packs provide the juice, and a pair of Arduinos takes care of throttle control, speed sensing, and sending data to the virtual dashboard on an Android phone. Some lights and a snappy red and black paint job finished off the build. While the video below shows that the acceleration isn’t exactly neck-snapping in the Tesla style, the e-kart can build up to a good speed – 53 km/h. Not too shabby, and no deafening engine right behind your head.

If you’ve got the e-kart bug, best check out some of our previous posts, like this kart built from off-the-shelf components, or this four-wheel-drive mini-kart. Any way you build it, you’ll rule the cul-de-sac.

Filed under: transportation hacks

Easy Toy Hack Makes Floating Death Star

อาทิตย์, 08/14/2016 - 18:00

It always seems odd to us that magnetic levitation seems to only find use in big projects (like trains) and in toys. Surely there’s a practical application that fits on our desktop. This isn’t it, but it is a cool way to turn a cheesy-looking levitating globe into a pretty cool Star Wars desk toy.

As projects go, this isn’t especially technically challenging, but it is a great example of taking something off the shelf and hacking it into something else. The globe covering came off, revealing two hemispheres. A circular hole cut out and inverted provides the main weapon. Some internal lighting and small holes provide light. Some fiber optic sanded and tinted green make the weapon fire. The rest is all in the painting.

There’s even a tiny imperial ship orbiting the killer man-made (or is that Sith-made) moon. If you want a bigger challenge, you might try bamboo. Or you can go minimalist and let your eyes and brain do most of the work.

Filed under: toy hacks

3.3V Is Not Enough for This Raspberry Pi Zero

อาทิตย์, 08/14/2016 - 15:00

A Raspberry Pi Zero is down to a price and size where it’s just begging to be integrated into your projects. Unless, that is, if your project involves a lot of 5 V equipment. Then it’s just begging to be fried.

[David Brown] solved this problem by breaking out pins with level converters. He used flat-flex cable and some pin-headers. While he was at it, he added a full-sized USB port and power headers. (Extra hack points are awarded for connecting the USB to the board through pogo pins.)

The board is now in its third revision, having sacrificed a Pi Zero and learned why many boards include over-voltage protection in version 2.0. It’s a neat and tidy solution to the problem of interfacing the Pi with a non-3.3 V world.

We saw a ton of Pi Zero add-ons when it was new. No doubt some of this was due to our Pi Zero Contest, but we bet a lot of it was also driven by need: the need for VGA out, or quadcopter control, or just lighting up power-hungry LEDs. You Pi Zero is only as versatile as you make it.

Filed under: Raspberry Pi

Hackaday Prize Entry: An Oven Of Raspberry Pis

อาทิตย์, 08/14/2016 - 12:00

When the Raspberry Pi was introduced, the world was given a very cheap, usable Linux computer. Cheap is good, and it enables one kind of project that was previously fairly expensive. This, of course, is cluster computing, and now we can imagine an Aronofsky-esque Beowulf cluster in our apartment.

This Hackaday Prize entry is for a 100-board cluster of Raspberry Pis running Hadoop. Has something like this been done before? Most certainly. The trick is getting it right, being able to physically scale the cluster, and putting the right software on it.

The Raspberry Pi doesn’t have connectors in all the right places. The Ethernet and USB is on one side, power input is on another, and god help you if you need a direct serial connection to a Pi in the middle of a stack. This is the physical problem of putting a cluster of Pis together. If you’re exceptionally clever and are using Pi Zeros, you’ll come up with something like this, but for normal Pis, you’ll need an enclosure, a beefy, efficient power supply, and a mess of network switches.

For the software, the team behind this box of Raspberries is turning to Hadoop. Yahoo recently built a Hadoop cluster with 32,000 nodes used for deep learning and other very computationally intensive tasks. This much smaller cluster won’t be used for very demanding work. Instead, this cluster will be used for education, training, and training those ever important STEAM students. It’s big data in a small package, and a great project for the Hackaday Prize.

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Filed under: The Hackaday Prize

Retrofitted Retro Radio

อาทิตย์, 08/14/2016 - 09:00

In a world full of products that are only used for a brief time and then discarded, it gives a lot of us solace to know that there was a time when furniture was made out of solid wood and not particle board, or when coffee makers were made out of metal and not plastic. It’s hard to say exactly what precipitated the change to our one-time-use culture, but in the meantime there are projects that serve to re-purpose those old, durable products from another time so that they can stay relevant in today’s ever-changing world. [Jose]’s new old radio is a great example of this style of hack.

[Jose] had a 1970s-era single-speaker radio that he found in a thrift store. The first thought that he had to get the aesthetically pleasing radio working again was to install a Bluetooth receiver into the radio’s amplifier. This proved to be too time-consuming of a task, and [Jose] decided to drive the Bluetooth module off of the power circuit for the light bulb. He built a 6V AC to 4.2V DC circuit, swapped over the speaker cable, and started listening to his tunes. The modifications he made aren’t destructive, either. If he wants, he will be able to reconnect the original (and still functional) circuitry back to the speaker and pretend he’s back in 1970.

While this isn’t the most intricate hack we’ve ever featured, it’s always refreshing to see someone get use out of an old piece of technology rather than send it off to the landfill with all of our Pentium IIs or last year’s IKEA shelves that have already fallen apart. And even if the 70s aren’t your era of choice, perhaps something newer will inspire you to bust a move.

Filed under: classic hacks

The Quest for Mice With Frickin’ Laser Beams (Pointed At Their Brains), Building A Laser Controller

อาทิตย์, 08/14/2016 - 06:00
The logo for the field is kind of cute though.

[Scott Harden] is working on a research project involving optogenetics. From what we were able to piece together optogenetics is like this: someone genetically modifies a mouse to have cell behaviors which can activated by light sensitive proteins. The mice then have a frikin’ lasers mounted on their heads, but pointing inwards towards their brains not out towards Mr. Bond’s.

Naturally, to make any guesses about the resulting output behavior from the mouse the input light has to be very controlled and exact. [Scott] had a laser and he had a driver, but he didn’t have a controller to fire the pulses. To make things more difficult, the research was already underway and the controller had to be built

The expensive laser driver had a bizarre output of maybe positive 28 volts or, perhaps, negative 28 volts… at eight amps. It was an industry standard in a very small industry. He didn’t have a really good way to measure or verify this without either destroying his measuring equipment or the laser driver. So he decided to just build a voltage-agnostic input on his controller. As a bonus the opto-isolated input would protect the expensive controller.

The kind of travesty that can occur when [Scott] doesn’t have access to nice project boxes.The output is handled by an ATtiny85. He admits that a 555 circuit could generate the signal he needed, but to get a precision pulse it was easier to just hook up a microcontroller to a crystal and know that it’s 100% correct. Otherwise he’d have to spend all day with an oscilloscope fiddling with potentiometers. Only a few Hackaday readers relish the thought as a relaxing Sunday afternoon.

He packaged everything in a nice project box. He keeps them on hand to prevent him from building circuits on whatever he can find. Adding some tricks from the ham-radio hobby made the box look very professional. He was pleased and surprised to find that the box worked on his first try.

Filed under: laser hacks

A Trove Of 3D Printer Filament Test Data

อาทิตย์, 08/14/2016 - 03:00

We’re not sure what a typical weekend at [Walter]’s house is like, but we can probably safely assume that any activity taking place is at minimum accompanied by the hum of a 3D printer somewhere in the background.

Those of us who 3D print have had our experiences with bad rolls of filament. Anything from filament that warps when it shouldn’t to actual wood splinters mixed in somewhere in the manufacturing process clogging up our nozzles. There are lots of workarounds, but the best one is to not buy bad filament in the first place. To this end [Walter] has spent many hours cataloging the results of the different filaments that have made it through his shop.

We really enjoyed his comparison of twleve different yellow filaments printed side by side with the same settings on the same printer. You can really see the difference high dimensional tolerance, the right colorant mix, and good virgin plastic stock makes to the quality of the final print. Also, how transparent different brands of transparent actually are as well as the weight of spools from different brands (So you can weigh your spool to see how much is left).

The part we really liked was his list every filament he’s experienced in: PLA, ABS, PETG, Flexible, Nylon, Metal, Wood, and Other. This was a massive effort, and while his review is naturally subjective, it’s still nice to have someone else’s experience to rely on when figuring out where to spend your next thirty dollars.

Filed under: 3d Printer hacks

Hacklet 120 – Coffee Hacks

อาทิตย์, 08/14/2016 - 00:00

Hackers need fuel to hack. In general that fuel comes in the form of food, water, and caffeine. Not necessarily in that order. While soda or energy drinks will do in a pinch, the best hackers know that the purest form of caffeine comes from coffee. This of course means that there have been decades of coffee hacks. The first Internet-connected coffee pot dates all way back to 1991, before the web even had pictures. We’ve come a long way since then. This week on the Hacklet we’re checking out some of the best coffee hacks on Hackaday.io!

We start with [opeRaptor] and CoffeeOfThings. [OpeRaptor] has created a wireless, internet connected coffee carafe. The carafe has three CdS cells which enable it to detect how much black gold is left in the pot. A TMP36 sensor reports the current coffee temperature. Data is sent out via a NRF24l01 radio. The brains of the coffee pot is an MSP430 microcontroller. All this runs from a simple CR2032 coin cell. A base station receives the coffee data, displays it on a very nice Vacuum fluorescent Display (VFD). An ESP8266 then passes the data on to the internet.


Next up is [magnustron] with quad-386 coffee heater. No one likes a cold cup of coffee. Everyone loves old CPUs. [Magnustron] turned these two shower thoughts into a the world’s first USB powered quad CPU coffee warmer with data logging capabilities. A simple ATtiny461 micro runs the show. PC connectivity is via USB using the V-USB library. [Magnustron] has gotten the CPUs to warm up, but is having some issues with switching. them on. Turning all four heaters on too quickly causes the rail to droop, leading to dropped USB connections. Those power-hungry 386 chips may be a bit too much for a single USB connection. It might be time to add an external power supply.

Next is [kesh1030] with Using Waste Coffee As A Biodiesel Source. Coffee isn’t just liquid energy. There’s oil in them there grounds. Millions of pounds of used coffee grounds produced every year can be converted to biodiesel fuel. [Kesh1030] experimented with different coffee grounds, and different ways to prepare them. The oil was extracted from the coffee using hexane, which is a bit of a nasty solvent. [Kesh1030] used a fume hood to stay safe. He found that homogenized coffee grounds had an 11.87% oil yield. Used homogenized coffee grounds weren’t far behind, with 9.82% yield of oil. Nearly 10% per weight yield isn’t too shabby, considering this is all going into the trash.

Finally, we have [saadcaffeine] with Caffeinator: gravity powered geek fuel dripper. This is a project of few words, but the images tell much of the story. [Saadcaffeine] created his own cold drip iced coffee maker using upcycled and found components. Three clothes hangers form an ingenious tripod. The tripod holds two soda bottles – the water reservoir and the brew pot. Water is restricted by small holes in the soda bottle caps. This allows it to drop slowly though the machine, giving it time to soak up all the caffeinated goodness. The result is a fresh cup of cold drip. Just add ice and enjoy a quick power up!

If you want to see more coffee hacks, check out our new coffee projects list. See a project I might have missed? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Filed under: Hackaday Columns

Hackerspacing: Making A Temperature Logger

เสาร์, 08/13/2016 - 22:30

The folks at Swindon Makerspace took possession of a new space a few months ago after a long time in temporary accommodation. They’ve made impressive progress making it their own, and are the envy of their neighbours.

A small part of the new space is a temperature logger, and it’s one whose construction they’ve detailed on their website. It’s a simple piece of hardware based around a Dallas DS18B20 1-wire temperature sensor and an ESP8266 module, powered by 3 AA batteries and passing its data to data.sparkfun.com. The PCB was created using the space’s CNC router, and the surface-mount components were hand-soldered. The whole thing is dwarfed by its battery box, and will eventually be housed in its own 3D printed case. Sadly they’ve not posted the files, though it’s a simple enough circuit that’s widely used, it looks similar to this one with the addition of a voltage regulator.

The device itself isn’t really the point here though, instead it serves here to highlight the role of a typical small hackspace in bringing simple custom electronic and other prototyping services to the grass roots of our community. Large city hackspaces with hundreds of members will have had the resources to create the space program of a small country for years, but makers in provincial towns like Swindon – even with their strong engineering heritage – have faced an uphill struggle to accumulate the members and resources to get under way.

So to the wider world it’s a simple temperature logger but it really represents more than that — another town now has a thriving and sustainable makerspace. Could your town do the same?

If you’ve never used a Dallas 1-wire temperature sensor like the one the Swindon folks have in their logger, we suggest you read our primer on the parts and their protocol.

Filed under: Hackerspaces, hardware

We’re Fans of Dave’s Fans

เสาร์, 08/13/2016 - 21:00

Hackaday.io contributor extraordinaire [davedarko] gets hot in the summer. We all do. But what separates him from the casual hacker is that he beat the heat by ordering four 120 mm case fans. He then 3D printed a minimalistic tower frame for the fans, and tied them all together with a ULN2004 and an ESP8266. The whole thing is controlled over the network via MQTT. That’s dedication to staying cool.

We really like the aesthetics of this design. A fan made up of fans! But from personal experience, we also know that these large case fans can push a lot of air fairly quietly. That’s important if you’re going to stand something like this up on your desk. While we’re not sure that a desk fan really needs networked individual PWM speed control, we can see the temptation.

Now that they’re individually controlled, nothing stops [davedarko] from turning this into a musical instrument, or even using the fans to transmit data. The only thing we wouldn’t do, despite the temptation to stick our fingers in the blades, is to complicate the design visually. Maybe that would finally teach the cat not to walk around on our desk.

Filed under: misc hacks, wireless hacks

Hacker Builds New Single Board Computer Out of Old Single Board Computer

เสาร์, 08/13/2016 - 18:00

[Ncrmnt] had a busted tablet PC with an Allwinner A23 SoC inside. He combined two of our favorite past-times, Linux hacking and 3D printing, to make a rather sweet little single-board-computer out of it, giving the tablet a second life.

Step one was to make sure that the thing works. Normally, you’d hook up a wired serial terminal and start hacking. [Ncrmnt] took it one step further and wired in a HC-05 Bluetooth serial module, so he can pull up the debug terminal wirelessly. The rest of the hackery was just crafting a bootable SD card and poking around in the Android system that was still resident in the flash memory of the system.

Once the board was proven workable, [Ncrmnt] designed and printed a sweet custom case using Solvespace, a constraint-based 3D CAD modeler that was new to us until recently. The case (after three prints) was a perfect fit for the irregularly shaped system board, a 3.7 V LiIon battery, and a speaker. He then added some nice mounting tabs. All in all, this is a nice-looking and functional mini-computer made out of stuff that was destined for the trash. It’s fast, it’s open-source, and it’s powerful. Best of all, it’s not in the dumpster.

There are pictures and more details on his blog, as well as [Ncrmnt]’s TV-stick to computer conversion that we’ve covered before.

Filed under: hardware

A VNA On A 200 Euro Budget

เสาร์, 08/13/2016 - 15:00

If you were to ask someone who works with RF a lot and isn’t lucky enough to do it for a commercial entity with deep pockets what their test instrument of desire would be, the chances are their response would mention a vector network analyser. A VNA is an instrument that measures the S-parameters of an RF circuit, that rather useful set of things to know whose maths in those lectures as an electronic engineering student are something of a painful memory for some of us.

The reason your RF engineer respondent won’t have a VNA on their bench already will be fairly straightforward. VNAs are eye-wateringly expensive. Second-hand ones are in the multi-thousands, new ones can require the keys to Fort Knox. All this is no obstacle to [Henrik Forstén] though, he’s built himself a 30MHz to 6 GHz VNA on the cheap, with the astoundingly low budget of 200 Euros.

The operation of a VNA

On paper, the operation of a VNA is surprisingly simple. RF at a known power level is passed through the device under test into a load, and the forward and reverse RF is sampled on both its input and output with a set of directional couplers. Each of the four couplers feeds what amounts to an SDR, and the resulting samples are processed by a computer. His write-up contains a full run-down of each section of the circuit, and is an interesting primer on the operation of a VNA,

[Henrik] admits that his VNA isn’t as accurate an instrument as its commercial cousins, but for his tiny budget the quality of his work is evident in that it is a functional VNA. He could have a batch of these assembled and he’d find a willing queue of buyers even after taking into account the work he’s put in with his pricing.

[Henrik]’s work has appeared on these pages several times before, and every time he has delivered something special. We’ve seen his radar systems, home-made horn antennas, and a very well-executed ARM single board computer. This guy is one to watch.

Thanks [theEngineer] for the tip.

Filed under: radio hacks

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Good Electronics Learning Toolkit

เสาร์, 08/13/2016 - 12:00

The Maker movement is a wildly popular thing, even if we can’t define what it is. The push towards STEM education is absolutely, without a doubt, completely unlike a generation of brogrammers getting a CS degree because of the money. This means there’s a market for kits to get kids interested in electronics, and there are certainly a lot of options. Most of these ‘electronic learning platforms’ don’t actually look that good, and the pedagogical usefulness is very questionable. Evive is not one of these toolkits. It looks good, and might be actually useful.

The heart of the Evive is basically an Arduino Mega, with the handy dandy Arduino shield compatibility that comes with that. Not all of the Mega pins are available for plugging in Dupont cables, though – a lot of the logic is taken up by breakouts, displays, buttons, and analog inputs. There’s a 1.8″ TFT display in the Evive, an SD card socket, connectors for an XBee, Bluetooth, or WiFi module, motor drivers, a fast DAC, analog inputs, and a plethora of buttons, knobs, and switches. All of this is packed into a compact and seemingly sturdy plastic case, making the Evive a little more durable than a breadboard and pile of jumper wires.

You can check out a remarkably well produced video for the Evive below.

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Filed under: The Hackaday Prize

Almost Fail of The Week: Doing Surface Mount Reflow Wrong In Every Possible Way and Still Succeeding

เสาร์, 08/13/2016 - 09:00

Sometimes the best way to learn is from the success of others. Sometimes failure is the best teacher. In this case we are learning from [Tim Trzepacz]’s successive failures in his attempt to solder one board to another using a reflow oven. They somehow cancelled each other out, and he ended up with a working board. For those of you who have used a reflow oven, there will be eye rolling.

[Tim]’s first mistake was to use regular solder instead of paste. We can see how he got there logically; if you hand solder an SMD you melt solder onto the pads first to make it easier. However, the result was that he had two boards that wouldn’t sit flat on each other thanks to the globs of solder on the pads.

Not to be deterred, he laid the boards on top of each other and warmed up the oven to a toasty 650 degrees. Well, not quite. The dang oven didn’t turn to eleven, so he figured 500 would probably work too. Missing the hint entirely, he let his board bake in a nearly 1000F oven until he noticed some smoke which, he intuitively knew, definitely shouldn’t be happening.

The board was blackening, the solder mask was literally bubbling off the substrate, people were coming over to see the show, and he decided success was still possible. He clamped the heated boards together with a binder clip until they cooled. Someone gave him a lesson on reflow, presumably listened to through reddening ears.

Ashamed and defeated, he went home. However, there was a question in his mind. Sure it looks bad, but is it possible that the board actually works? After a quick test, the answer was yes. It loaded some code and an time later he was happily hacking away. Go figure.

Filed under: how-to

DIY Smartwatch Based On ESP8266 Needs Classification

เสาร์, 08/13/2016 - 06:00

Building your own smartwatch is a fun challenge for the DIY hobbyist. You need to downsize your electronics, work with SMD components, etch your own PCBs and eventually squeeze it all into a cool enclosure. [Igor] has built his own ESP8266-based smartwatch, and even though he calls it a wrist display – we think the result totally sells as a smartwatch.

His design is based on a PCB for a wireless display notifier he designed earlier this year. The design uses the ESP-12E module and features an OLED display, LEDs, tactile switches and an FT232R USB/UART interface. Our beloved TP4056 charging regulator takes care of the Lithium-ion cell and a voltage divider lets the ESP8266’s ADC read back the battery voltage. [Igor] makes his own PCBs using the toner transfer method, and he’s getting impressive results from his hacked laminator.

Together with a hand-made plastic front, everything fits perfectly into the rubber enclosure from a Jelly Watch. A few bits of Lua later, the watch happily connects to a WiFi network and displays its IP configuration. Why wouldn’t this be a watch? Well, it lacks the mandatory RTC, although that’s easy to make up for by polling an NTP time server once in a while. How would our readers classify this well-done DIY build? Let us know in the comments!

Filed under: wearable hacks

Wiggling Pokéball Detects Rare Pokémon

เสาร์, 08/13/2016 - 03:00

[TJ Hunter] wanted to find some of the rarer Pokémon without draining his smartphone battery while staring on a screen. The handy ø 25 cm Pokéball he built to make the endless marches more tolerable detects nearby Pokémon and wiggles to alert its owner if there’s a rare catch in sight.

On the inside of the authentic looking, red-white painted styrofoam sphere sits a Particle Electron and a Particle Asset Tracker board, which give it the necessary GPS and 2G/3G connectivity. An RC servo with a little weight takes care of the shaking motion. Every minute, the ball sends its current GPS coordinates to [TJ’s] server-side Laravel app, which then connects to Niantic’s servers (using this library) to obtain a list of nearby Pokémon. If that list contains some of the rarer ones, a “wiggle” command is sent back to the ball. The ball then wiggles excitedly, informing the carrier that it’s time to pull out the netgun. Alone by digging into the ball’s codebase, you’re guaranteed to catch a Porygon, a rare fellow that consists only of source code.

For a while, the ball sat still, since Niantic blocked all third party applications. It looks like this has cleared up now. The pokemongodev team concluded a 4-day hackathon, announcing that they’ve figured out what’s inside the “Unknown6” packet, Niantic’s secret sauce to block bots from entering the game. [TJ] already got his ball back online, and we assume that soon everything will be back to normal . Enjoy the video below, where [TJ] demonstrates his build:

Filed under: nintendo hacks

Hacking When It Counts: Spy Radios

เสาร์, 08/13/2016 - 00:00

World War II can be thought of as the first electronic war. Radio technology was firmly established commercially by the late 1930s and poised to make huge contributions to the prosecution of the war on all sides. Radio was rapidly adopted into the battlefield, which led to advancements in miniaturization and ruggedization of previously bulky and fragile vacuum tube gear. Radios were soon being used for everything from coordinating battlefield units to detonating anti-aircraft artillery shells.

But it was not just the battlefields of WWII that benefitted from radio technology. From apartments in Berlin to farmhouses in France, covert agents toiled away over sophisticated transceivers, keying in coded messages and listening for instructions. Spy radios were key clandestine assets, both during the war and later during the Cold War.

The Limping Lady Virginia Hall operating a British B2 spy radio from Vichy France. “Cuthbert” can be seen in the foreground. Source: Central Intelligence Agency

Virginia Hall had all the makings of a diplomat. Impeccably educated, fluent in multiple languages, and worldly from her years spent abroad from her native Baltimore, Virginia’s dream of a life in the foreign service was shattered when a hunting accident led to the amputation of her left leg. Attitudes toward disabilities were different in the 1930s, and even fitted with a prosthetic leg (which she named “Cuthbert”) Virginia was deemed unfit for the life of a diplomat.

The outbreak of WWII changed that attitude. Virginia, by then living in France, was well-placed to act as a forward agent for the Allies. Volunteering first for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE), Virginia worked agents, ran safehouses, and reported intelligence from Vichy France. Later, she volunteered with the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS), forerunner to the CIA. Her efforts earned her a place on the Gestapo’s “Most Wanted” list as “The Limping Lady”. She and Cuthbert continued to work against the Nazis right up through the Normandy invasion and liberation and earned a Distinguished Service Cross for her efforts – a rare honor for a civilian, and rarer still for a woman.

Behind Enemy Lines British Type A Mk II suitcase radio. © IWM (COM 229)

While Virgina was adept in all aspects of tradecraft, one of the most powerful tools at her disposal was the suitcase radio, a catch-all term used to describe any transceiver small enough to be transported into the field and operated covertly. A suitcase was often used to house the radio as it would be less likely to arouse suspicion if the spy’s lair was discovered. The suitcase was also a great form factor for a portable transceiver – just the right size for the miniaturized radios of the day, good operational ergonomics, and perfect for quick setup and teardown. You can even imagine a spy minimally obfuscating the suitcase’s real purpose with a thin layer of folded clothing packed over the radio.

Great care was given to ensure that the field agent would have every chance of using the radio successfully and that it would operate as long as possible under adverse conditions. With a power budget often limited to five watts or so, these radios were strictly QRP affairs. Almost every suitcase rig operated on the high-frequency bands between 3 MHz and 30 MHz, to take advantage of ionospheric skip and other forms of propagation. An antenna optimized for these bands would likely be a calling card to the enemy, especially in an urban setting, so controls were provided to tune almost any length of wire into a decent antenna.

While some radios were capable of AM voice transmission, continuous wave (CW) modulation and Morse code was used almost exclusively for their ability to punch a signal through any natural (QRN) or man-made (QRM) interference, the latter often being intentional jamming by the enemy. And to make sure the radio kept running, a full set of spares – fuses, tubes, crystals – was provided. Most radios even had a full schematic for troubleshooting. Operators were also meticulously trained:

British B2 radio for field operations. Source: Crypto Museum

While the suitcase ruse was perfect for urban and even rural operations, something a little sturdier was needed for true field operations. Resistance forces often found themselves deep in enemy territory and working outdoors in all weather conditions, so a waterproof radio was needed. The British B2 radio was a good example of this; one variant was housed in two metal housings with padding for the delicate electronics. The waterproof containers were designed to be dropped to covert agents on a parachute and lugged around like a backpack.

Bugs In Their Shoes

The end of WWII was by no means the end of electronic intelligence. Indeed, the advances in electronics spurred by the war gave the spies even more toys to prosecute the next phase of the twentieth century’s seemingly unending wars – the Cold War.

Foreign service officers have always enjoyed diplomatic immunity, which today in places like New York City also apparently extends to parking ticket immunity. But it also makes any diplomatic mission a thinly disguised nest of spies in the host country. To take advantage of this, countries go to great lengths to gather data. Sometimes it’s as simple as reading the local newspaper or watching activities at the docks or airport, and reporting information back to the home country in the inviolable diplomatic pouch. But some information is harder to get and requires a little electronic assistance. That’s when the bugs come into play.

Some Cold War bugs were hugely successful, like Theremin’s “Great Seal Bug” placed by Russian agents in the US Ambassador’s residence in the late 1940s. It operated for nearly seven years before being discovered; the secret to its longevity was its passive operation, depending upon a resonant cavity that could transmit voice when illuminated by high-power radio waves. In hindsight, a group of Soviet scouts presenting an ambassador with an enormous carved wooden plaque probably should have seemed suspicious.

Romanian Shoe Heel Bug. Source: International Spy Museum

Perhaps more subtle was the Romanian Securitate’s attempts to bug diplomats in the 1960s and 1970s. Fashion not being a strong suit of Iron Curtain countries back in the day, Western diplomats in Romania preferred to order their attire from the fashionable shops of London and New York. With operatives in the Romanian post office, it was easy for the Securitate to intercept packages destined for consular personnel. Men’s shoes were whisked away to the Securitate’s technical division, where the heels were removed so that a tiny transmitter could be installed. The shoe was reassembled, sent on to the diplomat, and it would transmit for several days before the batteries died. One imagines that the audio quality must have been poor; pity the poor Romanian signals analyst listening to hours of shoes clopping down hallways. Such bugs were used up until they were discovered during routine sweeps that revealed the presence of radio signals that disappeared when diplomats were out of the room.

I’ve always maintained that pretty much anything that you can imagine is possible with electronics; as long as it doesn’t violate the laws of physics, whatever you can imagine can probably be built. Few things spur the collective imagination and spirit of invention like war, and nothing focuses effort and resources better. It’s a pity we put so much effort into fighting each other, but you’ve got to admire the ingenuity it takes to create devices like these, and the bravery of the men and women who take them into harm’s way.

Filed under: classic hacks, Curated, Featured, Original Art

Hedberg is a Bionic Hand Made From a Single Keurig

ศุกร์, 08/12/2016 - 22:30

Developing into a modern hacker and tinkerer requires a lot of things: electronics study, programming knowledge, and patience (among many other things). But, the most important quality a hacker can have is curiosity. The desire to see how things work is what drives most budding hackers towards the dismantling of family appliances and electronic gadgets.

Many end up scavenging parts from the things around the house for their first projects. But, with money and more ambitious builds comes the need to purchase parts off the shelf. There is, however, something to be said for the ingenuity that comes with building something solely with scavenged parts, and that’s what [Evan Booth] decided to do, in a spectacular fashion.

No stranger to scavenging from Keurig coffee machines (he long since discovered that they’re a goldmine for parts), [Evan] set out to create a bionic hand called Hedberg using only parts from a Keurig K350. He built the hand over the course of 200 hours, with no plans and using only adhesive and the K350, and filmed the whole process. He gave a talk about this at DEFCON, but if you weren’t able to be there then check out the video to see how he did it.

Of course, if you’ve got a 3D printer available, you can could take a build like this to another level. But, the beauty of Hedberg is success from humble beginnings, and the inherent challenge in limiting oneself.

Filed under: robots hacks

From Project To Kit: Instructions Are Everything

ศุกร์, 08/12/2016 - 21:00
A printed copy of the instructions for our example kit

We’ve had two previous articles in this series on turning a personal electronic project into a saleable kit, in which we’ve examined the kit market in a broader context for a new entrant, and gone on to take a look at the process of assembling the hardware required to create a product. We’ve used an NE555 LED flasher as a simple example , from which we’ve gone through the exercise of setting a cost of production and therefore a retail price.

The remaining task required to complete our kit production is to write the documentation that will accompany it. These will be the instructions from which your customers will build the kit, and their success and any other customers they may send your way will hang on their quality. So many otherwise flawless kits get this part of the offering so wrong, so for a kit manufacturer it represents an easy win into which to put some effort.

Keep it Simple

It is important to remember that the reader will never have seen the kit before and will not have your level of expertise on its operation, so you should pitch them as though at a relative novice. Imagine that a not-very-technical person is about to build your kit, and try to provide enough information for them to proceed without losing their way. This may at times seem as though you are pitching it at an impossibly low level, but your more tech-savvy customers will understand and take away only what they require.

We’ve produced a set of sample instructions for our NE555 LED flasher, and we’ll now step through them. You can download your own copy of the Hackaday LED flasher documentation (PDF). How you write your instruction leaflet is up to you as everyone has a personal style of their own, so these instructions will represent a particular style which may be different from that which you have in mind. They should serve as something of a guide though which you might wish to take inspiration from if you have never written kit instructions before.


Our NE555 LED flasher instructions take the form of a set of clearly delineated sections that introduce the kit, describe its operation, take the user through its components, give instructions for building it, and finally describe how it should be used. We’ll now step through each section in turn.

A mockup of our 555 LED flasher

The very first paragraph is a short friendly introduction with a picture of an assembled kit. It doesn’t have to do much beyond saying what the kit does, it’s only an introduction. In our case the picture is a mock-up, this is only an example for this series of articles so we’ve not made any boards.

Following the introduction, we’ve written a section describing the tools and techniques needed. In this case it’s a pretty short piece of text because there are no special techniques required, but you might wish to expand here if for example your kit has surface mount components. It’s important to remember that some users may not have encountered all the skills required, your job here is to equip them for anything they might encounter.

The techniques section over, we move on to the components. Some kit manufacturers produce a table as a checklist here, but this is a simple kit so we’ve described those components that might be difficult to identify. You may wish to take a hybrid of the two approaches.

An example component placement diagram

Once the user can identify everything, we move step-by-step through construction. This progression should be based on your experience of building the prototypes, you should note down the progression that worked best for you. Put three to five components in each step, and include a diagram showing their placement. You’ll notice our instructions have three-band resistors for ease of description, it’s likely that a real kit would come with five-band components.

The user should now have a completed kit. The next section should take them through any setup, fault-finding or troubleshooting required to ensure the kit is ready to be powered up. In this case it’s a short section as a 555 LED flasher is a very simple circuit, but you might include voltages and currents to measure with a multimeter before hooking a computer peripheral up, for instance.

There should now follow a section detailing how the kit should be used. Very short for an LED flasher, but for instance you might detail whatever software might be required for a computer peripheral kit, or how a more complicated kit should be connected up.

With building and operation out of the way, all that is left are appendices. We’ve put the circuit diagram in here but it could certainly go in the body of the document. You might find tables of values in here, or legal and regulatory information.

Test and Review

Once you have written your instructions, you’ll have to ensure the quality of your work. Ask your friends to proofread them, and if you can give a sample kit to one of them with the instructions to follow as they build the kit. Be prepared to incorporate responses to any criticism, imagine that the proofreaders represent real customers.

Having honed the document, it is important that you then present it in as good a way as possible. Print on good quality paper with a colour laser printer, and use double-sided printing if you can. They are as important to the kit as any of the components, so they should be treated accordingly.

If you have followed this series from the beginning, you should now be equipped to learn about the market in which your kit will compete, to turn your prototype into something closer to a product, and to create a set of top quality instructions for your customers to build it from. In the next part of this series we will bring what we have created in this and the previous part together as we examine kit packing and the process of producing your first kits for sale as products rather than simply as prototypes.

Filed under: news

Tattoos by Robotic Arm With Pinpoint Accuracy

ศุกร์, 08/12/2016 - 18:00

Tattoos are an ancient art, and as with most art, is usually the domain of human expertise. The delicate touch required takes years to master, but with the capacity for perfect accuracy and precision movements, enlisting a robotic arm and some clever software to tattoo a willing canvas is one step closer thanks to the efforts of [Pierre Emm] and [Johan da Silveira].

They began by using a 3D printer modified to ‘print’ with a tattoo needle. Catching the interest of the Applied Research Lab at Autodesk, the next logical step was to use an industrial robot arm get a human under the tattooing machine — dubbed Tatoué — after scanning the limb in question and loading it into Dynamo, their parametric design environment to map the design onto the virtual limb.

[Pierre] put his leg on the line with the help of the handyman’s secret weapon to demonstrate Tatoué’s potential for some heavy metal ink. If you want a less permanent alternative to some robot art, a 3D printer can still sketch some impressive pieces.

[via Itay Ramot and Gizmodo]

Filed under: robots hacks