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Hackaday Prize Worldwide: WORKBENCH PROJECTS meetup in Bangalore

อังคาร, 04/14/2015 - 09:00

Bangalore, India evokes different responses depending on whom you ask. Old timer’s remember it as the Pension/Retirement City (not any more though). For other’s, it’s the Silicon Valley of India. And some call it the start up capital of India. For me, though, it brings back fond old memories. This was the city where I got my first job after finishing College in Mumbai, at the princely sum of $20 a month way back in 1986.

A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since then, and next month will find me back there at another awesome Maker Space called Workbench Projects, talking about the Hackaday Prize and how we can get hackers here to solve some of our big issues. We have huge problems in all sorts of areas – Pollution, Water resources, Energy, Climate, Agriculture, Transportation, Education – the list is long.

On Saturday, May 2nd, at Workbench Projects hackerspace we will gather for “Bring-A-Hack @ Workbench Projects” to talk about our passion for making and hacking. We’ll discuss the 2015 Hackaday Prize which offers $500,000 in prizes for hackers who can build solutions to problems faced by a wide-range of people. What does that really mean? That’s one of the topics of the evening. Of course there will be plenty of time to show off your own hacks, ask for advice on difficult projects, and to socialize with everyone that attends. Please visit the event page for all the details.

Workbench Projects is an awesome hackerspace run by the team of Pavan and Anupama, guided by a distinguished team of Advisers, and supported by some fine Partners and Collaborators.


Filed under: The Hackaday Prize

How To Reverse Engineer A PCB

อังคาร, 04/14/2015 - 06:00

For [Peter]’s entry for the 2015 Hackaday Prize, he’s attempting to improve the standard industrial process to fix atmospheric nitrogen. Why? Fertilizers. He’s come up with an interesting technique that uses acoustic transducers in a pressure vessel, and to power that transducer, he’s turned to the greatest scrap heap in the world: eBay. He found a cheap ultrasonic power supply, but didn’t know offhand if it would work with his experiments. That’s alright; it’s a great opportunity to demo some basic reverse engineering skills.

A few months ago, [Dave Jones] posted a great video where he reverse engineers the front end of the new Rigol Zed. The basic technique is to make a photocopy, get some transparency sheets, grab a meter, and go to town. [Peter]’s technique is similar, only he’s using digital image manipulation, Photoshop, and a meter.

The process begins by taking pictures of both sides of the board, resizing them, flipping one side, and making an image with several layers. The traces on the bottom of the board were flooded and filled with the paint bucket tool, and components and traces carefully annotated.

With some effort, [Peter] was able to create a schematic of his board. He doesn’t know if this power supply will work with his experiments; there’s still some question of what some components actually do. Still, it’s a good effort, a great learning opportunity, and another log in [Peter]’s entry to The Hackaday Prize

Filed under: misc hacks

An Open Source Pinewood Derby Track

อังคาร, 04/14/2015 - 03:00

There are a lot of reasons to consider reproducing. Tax breaks are near the top of the list, and a bizarre obligation to ensure the survival of the species following closely behind. The pinewood derby, though… Where else are you going to get a chance to spend hours polishing axles and weighing down bits of wood so they can roll faster?

The Lansing Makers Network has cub scouts around the shop, most likely goofing off while their fathers spend hours building their son’s pinewood derby racers. Where there’s a pinewood derby manufactory, there’s a need for a track to test these racers out.

The four-lane, 38-foot run was made out of five sections of cabinet plywood attached with 4″ lap joints. That’s the way to do it if you want a smooth running surface. The lanes are 1/4″ strips of maple plywood, and the last four feet of the track – after the finish line, of course – are a ramp that raises the lanes another 1/2″ above the ground. There’s very little need for a bunch of pillows or foam at the end of the track.

This is the 21st century, and no pinewood derby track would be complete without a few bits of electronics. The starting gate is activated with a push button. A solenoid keeps a quartet of pins in place until the race is started. When the start button is pressed, the solenoid releases, sending the cars on their way.

On their way down the ramp, the cars pass over an IR object sensor which records their starting time. Thanks to some more sensors at the finish line, the track records each car’s position in the race on a few seven-segment displays.

Filed under: toy hacks

Putting out Fires with a Dubstep Drop

อังคาร, 04/14/2015 - 00:01

Two engineering students from George Mason University have built a rather unorthodox fire extinguisher. It uses a subwoofer to send sound waves powerful enough to extinguish small fires.

Similar in concept to a giant smoke-ring canon, the device uses a subwoofer with a tube that has a smaller aperture opening at the end. When the bass drops (literally), this causes an intense wave of sound (well, air), to be expelled from the device. And as you can see in the video below, it’s quite effective at putting out small fires.

They use a small frequency generator and amplifier to power the system, and throughout extensive testing found 30-60Hz to work best. It’s not actually one big blast of air, but a pressure wave that goes back and forth — agitating the air, and separating it from the fire. There is a catch though.

One of the problems with sound waves is that they do not cool the fuel,” Isman said. “So even if you get the fire out, it will rekindle if you don’t either take away the fuel or cool it.

[Robertson] and [Troy] started the project as their senior research work, but are now planning to continue developing it for commercial potential. They applied for a provisional patent in November and continue testing the device on different types of fires.

[via Adafruit]

Filed under: musical hacks, news

Hackaday part of TechCrunch NY Hackathon

จันทร์, 04/13/2015 - 21:01

The Hackaday Prize Worldwide is coming to New York! Hackaday is adding a hardware-centric twist to the TechCrunch Disrupt in May. They’re kicking off the conference with a weekend hackathon which traditionally has been a software event. This year Hackaday is partnering with TC to make a change. If you’re a software-only sort of person, grabbing a ticket to the event is extremely tough. But those Hackaday community members who want to prove they can make electrons do their bidding still have hope; Hackaday can get you in!

Twenty Hours of Hardware

Show up at 12:30pm on Saturday, May 2nd. By 9:30am the next morning you must have a working piece of hardware having been totally built on-site. Starting at 11am on Sunday you have 60-seconds to show off your build. We’re not kidding around when we say the judging criteria for this hackathon is “Awesomeness”. TC is putting up $5,000 to the winning team. Obviously someone who hangs out around Hackaday should be the winner here so go sign up!

Ticket Registration is a Hack:

TC hackathon tickets are released in shifts and gobbled up immediately, but because you are a friend of Hackaday we’ll can get you in for some epic hardware hacking. Even signing up is a bit of hack but here’s how:

  1. Follow this link which includes a promo code to get a Hackers – Friends of TC ticket
  2. Form/Find a team (up to 5 people) in advance through ChallengePost or you may do so onsite. You’ll notice the tags are software-related so put in “other” and add “hardware” and specific tags you can think of.
The Hardware

We’ll be bringing the basics: lots of dev boards, sensor breakout boards, and tools you need to hook them together. We’ll be posting information about the items we are bringing on our Hackaday Prize Worldwide: New York City page. Make sure you check in for updates so that you can familiarize yourself with what we’ll have on-hand. It is highly recommended that you set up any IDE or other dev tools before arriving at the event.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:
Filed under: cons, contests

Peripherals Behind The Iron Curtain

จันทร์, 04/13/2015 - 18:00

The article Home Computers Behind the Iron Curtain sparked a lot of interest, which made me very happy. Therefore, I decided to introduce more computer curiosities from the Iron Curtain period, especially from the former Czechoslovakia (CSSR).

As I mentioned in the previous article, the lack of spare parts, literature and technology in Czechoslovakia forced geeks to solve it themselves: by improvisation and what we would today call “hacking.”  Hobbyist projects of one person or a small party was eventually taken over by a state-owned enterprise, which then began to manufacture and deliver to stores with some minor modifications. These projects most often involved a variety of peripherals that could only be found in the Czechoslovakia with great difficulty.

Much like the production of components, the production of peripherals was also distributed throughout the eastern block so that each country was specializing in certain types of peripherals. For example, East Germany produced matrix printers, and Bulgaria made floppy disks drives. This meant industrial enterprises had to wait for vital computer parts, because the production in another country was not sufficient to cover even the local requirements, let alone the home user.


If you had brought a computer like a Spectrum or Atari from the west without a printer, you had almost no chance to get one in the CSSR. You would manage to scavenge some discarded matrix printer through your network of friends, but then you stumbled upon the need of connecting it through non-standard interfaces and coding drivers for it. You would consider yourself lucky when the printer used a Centronics interface and standard Epson control codes. Therefore, various attempts arose to build a printer at home. You think that’s impossible?

Centrum T-85. Image schotek.cz

In larger cities, clubs s formed, covered officially by the only national youth organization, but they were mostly free of any ideology. They congregated modelers, electrical engineers, computer enthusiasts and other tech lovers. These clubs often had better ways to obtain some of the technology or more expensive devices. In one such a club, the one-dot printer Centrum T85 was born. After several modifications to the mechanical parts and electronics, Tesla (an electronics manufacturer mentioned in the previous article) began its production under the name of BT-100.

The BT-100 was a very simple printer, which consisted of two motors and one relay. One motor rotated a pinch roller and pushed the sheet of paper, the other one pushed a trolley with a print head which had an electromagnetically controlled blunt tip. The tip rode across the paper left and right and clicked into the paper to print a dot. The printer also had two wheels with notches which generated synchronization pulses.

The printer did not use any ribbons. Printing was achieved by placing a sheet of paper along with the carbon copy paper under the rollers. An imprint was made on the paper where the print tip clicked. This printing technology has given rise to a fitting nickname “runaway nail”.

The underside of the BT-100 printer. Image from nostalcomp.cz

The internal wiring of the printer was really primitive: 3 motors drives, excitation coil for pulling of the print tip and optoelectronic sensors to offset the paper, carriage and range. The interface used four input signals (carriage left, carriage right, paper feed and tip pulling) and four output signals (signal range, offset paper pulse sensor and two pulse head movement sensors). The interface truly was extremely simple and all of the work was offloaded to the control program.

The printer could print unidirectionally or bidirectionally (it took about 10 minutes to print one A4 paper, or 20 minutes with unidirectional printing). Even though the printer itself was a technological hack, it was modified even further by its users. They increased the speed of head movement, added notches to increase the printing accuracy (without these adjustments it had a resolution of 480 dots per line, therefore approximately 60 DPI) and made other adjustments to increase the speed and print quality. As a curiosity I will mention a program which had spread over Czechoslovakia – it was able to elicit a simple melody from the printer by using precisely timed controlling.

This printer certainly was not the best tool to print a source code or any documentation. It managed to print just a few pages at a time, and even that took tens of minutes:

A similar printer called Gamacentrum 01 used a slightly different design. It was equipped with two printing tips (two “nails”) on one print head, spaced at a distance of half a page between each other. During printing, each tip printed a half of the page. The print quality was only slightly higher than that of BT-100, while the printer still cost three times as much.


Around 1925 in the former Czechoslovak Republic a kit for children was created, based on connecting perforated metal sheets with screws and nuts. This kit was called Merkur. Later in the 60s it was being exported throughout the Europe and several generations (without exaggeration) of children in Czechoslovakia had grown up with it. The kit is easily accessible, while allowing to assemble almost anything with a plenty of imagination. The inventor of contact lenses [Otto Wichterle] created his first prototypes on a centrifuge, which was made from this kit.

A plotter made from Merkur. Image from merkurtoys.cz

In the 80s an engineer Vladimír Doval built a simple plotter from this kit and called it Alfi. Its structure was somewhat more sophisticated than the above-mentioned BT-100. The author used two stepper motors (one for paper feed, the other to move the pen) and electromagnetically controlled lowering of the pen. Assembly instructions were then published in a magazine of “Science and technology for youth” (VTM), and shortly after these plotters began to appear on the of tables Czechoslovak computer enthusiasts who rummaged through their attics, looking for dusty boxes with their childhood kit. A simple interface was used to connect the plotter, built mostly with a 8255 circuit.

Alfi was not confined to the drawing pen – some even used home-built optical pens and created primitive scanners. Alfi was indeed very simple, as it was again fully reliant on computer software, but the quality was very decent – speed of 50 mm per second and minimum step of 0.15 mm.

Alfi plotter lives to this day, as you can see in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBip6q0qjDk

If you did not want to build a plotter yourself, you had several options at the end of the 80s. You could, for example, buy a plotter Minigraf 0507 (manufactured by Aritma) or series XY41xx plotters (manufactured by Laboratory equipment). They offered more or less the same performance as Alfi, and the top model XY4160 contained its own processor and understood the HPGL language.


In the previous article I already mentioned that floppy disks weren’t among the usual stock in a socialist market. Floppy drives were produced mainly in Bulgaria and their production was definitely not enough to meet demand. In Czechoslovakia they largely belonged to industrial computers and the “home” computer category had to settle for an ordinary cassette tape.

Despite this, many diverse floppy drives emerged. For example, a school computer IQ-151 was assembled with a 8″ floppy drive (aka “teacher’s computer”) and a network of several other computers (“student’s computers”) were connected to it. They had a clone of CP/M on them, along with WordStar text editor and a Pascal compiler. Later, after the regime fell and imports from the world were permitted and renewed, a mass-produced drives as well as other computers were created.

Only some of the lucky ones brought a floppy drive (usually Commodore) from the West countries for their computers. The others obtained or built a Spectrum Betadisk. Its custom interface was not much of a problem, because instructions got published in the magazines, but the drive itself was hard to get a hold of, you would need an acquaintance or bring it from abroad yourself.

The most common peripheral remained a cassette recorder for a long time, and a lot of those among the people have various provenance and quality, ranging from weird plastic experiments to almost professional pieces. Tesla could show off their own cassette deck SM260, which had a surprisingly decent design and that was certainly an exception for Czechoslovak electronic devices at that time. Tesla then modified their cassette deck, removed power parts of the amplifier, and the result was a “data recorder” SP210. It had the same structure, but a slightly different design: the front part received speakers, the tape recorder contained a microphone through which you could make a preamble of the recording, and it was even possible to receive control from a computer directly using a simple TTL interface, including rewinding and recording. There was even a module which allowed the computer SAPI-1 to use SP210 as a recording device for CP/M.

And since the removal of the audio bits left a relatively large space unused inside, the creator thought to incorporate the previously mentioned printer BT-100 into that space. Thus a model SP-210T was created.


The Tesla SP-210T cassette deck/printer Image from old-computers.com

Tesla created a very surreal hybrid between a cassette tape SP210 and the BT-100 printer, and called it SP210T. The SP210T had a recording device and printer combined into one device. What the West would consider a curiosity was in Czechoslovakia a serious product. This printer had been gradually connected to nearly every computer in Czechoslovakia, ranging from ZX Spectrum and Atari to the Czechoslovak PMD-85 computer.

But the SP210T was not the last word in technology with the same design: In 1990, production began on a floppy drive PMD-32 (as the name suggests, it was a peripheral of the PMD-85) – again, in the same box as the SP-210T. It contained two 5.25” drives, controller based on FDC i8227 and DMA i8257 and a control circuit, where all the work was taken care of by a 8080 processor. The PMD computer communicated using an interface based on 8255 circuit.

Computer Mouse

The creators of this homebrew computer mouse rightly thought that the mouse is nothing too difficult. It’s just a ball that transmits its movement to vertical rollers, and this movement somehow gets measured. They sat down and put together their own mouse, which kind of resembles a feverish handyman’s dream. Judge for yourself:

The roller ball of a homemade mouse. It’s a ping pong ball.

As housing for the mouse they used plastic kitchen spice can. Inside the can they placed a circuit board on which were two mutually perpendicular metal rollers. On both rollers there was a jagged aperture made from a thick paper. Its position was read using a LED and a pair of phototransistors. There were two buttons at the front. Each button was created from a cap screw and a pair of shortened and bent safety pins. (Why? Well, because micro switches were unobtainable for a long time in Czechoslovakia!) The ball, an important part of the mouse, was replaced by a ping-pong ball. The cable was made as an interweaving of eight wires.

All of this was manufactured and supplied as a kit. You could buy it in the store and then assemble at home. Here is a construction manual (PDF, in Czech).

The most serious enthusiasts used ingenious ways to fill the ping-pong ball with heavy ballast for better fit and movement transmission.

This peripheral was  very simple and acceded to some parallel interface. The rest had to be taken care by the software. The proprietary driver, a program that has been supplied with this kit used interrupts for determining the positions of apertures. And since interrupts on the Spectrum had a frequency of 50 Hz, it meant that the scanning was imprecise during faster mouse movements. Therefore, the authors suggested the use of a certain diagram, which increased the frequency of interruptions.

There have been perhaps 5000 of these kits created, which is a huge number in the Czechoslovak situation where computer accessories for small computers were produced in a series of several hundred.

I got my mouse in a little curious way: Sometime in 1988, the Czechoslovak authorities have decided to support young people working with computers, and so the idea of an international game was born. A text game City Of Robots was made, which was then ported to several platforms (Spectrum, PMD-85, IQ-151, Sharp MZ-800 and Ondra) and was distributed to interested parties on tape. To make sure everyone had the same conditions, the game required a password, which was to be announced at a specified date in the main news broadcast on a state television.

Unfortunately, due to authors mistake, the password could be read in a binary file, so it has spread throughout Czechoslovakia before the game even started. And on that particular day in the news the announcer said this unfortunate password (it was “konvalinka”, or “lily” in English) and added “for those who do not know it yet”. And because there weren’t even conditions for everyone, the winners were drawn, and I received the mouse kit as a prize.

Czechoslovakia also manufactured computer mice, of course, at the very end of 80’s, like 3WN16605/16607.

In Conclusion

Creating peripherals for home 8-bit computers and their small batch production in Czechoslovakia after the fall of the Iron Curtain lasted until the early 90s. With the collapse of socialism it was possible to produce these accessories legally, so new manufacturers seized the opportunity and began to supply larger series of universal interfaces with an Intel 8255 or audio peripherals such as the General Instrument AY-3-8912 or the Philips SAA-1099. But the opening of the border also meant an invasion of PCs, tech enthusiasts switched to Amiga, and eight-bit era slowly ended…

I certainly did not describe all former peripherals that were made or homemade in Czechoslovakia. We can introduce other computer curiosities of the “socialist bloc” some other time – from the joystick built from doorbell buttons to the clone of ZX Spectrum, where the circuit ULA was replaced by several dozen of standard TTL 74xx series chips…

About The Author

[Martin Malý] works as a media technology consultant and team leader of developers for some Czech newspapers. He has experience from startups and did a lot of web projects (e.g. was a Lead developer, Programmer, Administrator, Manager and Ideologist for a cutting edge Czech blogging system called Bloguje.cz).

His biggest hobby, beside programming, is microelectronics and old computers. He did some task programming on railroad engines, based on microcontrollers (8051 family, AVR, Microchip) and some “homebrew” gadgets, computers etc. He joined his two hobbies together in ASM80.com – an online IDE and assembler for 8bit CPUs.

[Martin] is an Evangelist and Teacher of New Web Technologies (OpenID, OAuth, cloud computing, HTML5, Node.js, Coffeescript and other stuff) as well as Evangelist of HTML5 development for mobile devices.

He does quite a bit of writing – starting with some juvenile textperiments, continuing through a series of blogs and online magazines, and he ended up as an Editor-in-Chief of zdrojak.cz – an online mag about web technologies.

Filed under: classic hacks, Featured, slider

Showing an AVR Programmer Who’s Boss

จันทร์, 04/13/2015 - 15:01

[Bogdan] makes a good point. When you use a dev board you get programming, debugging, power sourcing, and usually a UART. When you go to the trouble of hooking up a programmer why don’t you get the same thing? Astutely, he points out that all you usually get with programmers is programming. So he set out to add features to the hardware he uses to program XMEGA.

The first part of the trick hinges on his use of PDI programming. This is slightly different from ISP programming. Both use a six-pin connector cable but with PDI two of these pins are unused. He took this opportunity to reroute the chip’s TX and RX pins through the cable, which now gives him an avenue to use a UART-to-USB adapter without adding any cables to his target board. Rather than add a second USB cable he rolled a USB hub into the mix. An LM1117 regulates the 5V USB rail down to 3.3V as a source for the target board.

The programmer being used is an Atmel ICE. As you might imagine he didn’t want to make permanent alterations to it. His modifications are all handled externally, with one IDC cable connecting the programmer to his added circuitry and another headed off to the target board. For now he’s jumpering RX/TX to the programming header but plans to route the signals on future PCBs.

Filed under: Microcontrollers, tool hacks

Java Byte Code, Ahead Of Time Compilers, And A TI-99

จันทร์, 04/13/2015 - 12:00

Java famously runs on billions of devices, including workstations, desktops, tablets, supercomputers, and jewelry. Yes, jewelry. Look it up. [Michael] realized Java doesn’t run on Commodore 64s, TI-99s, and a whole bunch of other platforms. Not anymore.

Last year, [Michael] wrote Java Grinder, a Java byte-code compiler that compiles classes into assembly language instead of being part of a JVM. This effectively turns Java from a Just In Time compiled language to a normally compiled language, like C. He wrote this for the 6502/6510, the MSP430, and a Z80. The CPU in the TI-99/4A is a weird beast, though, and finally [Michael] turned this Java Grinder on that CPU, the TMS9900.

While most of the development was accomplished with the MESS emulator, [Michael] did manage to run Java on real hardware. His friend gave him a TI-99/4A a few years ago with a few cartridges. Cracking those cartridges open revealed one PCB that would hold an EEPROM. Writing his Java byte-code-derived assembly to a 28c64 EEPROM, he had a cartridge that would run compiled Java.

Right now, the demo is pretty simple with low-resolution graphics beeps and bloops of music, and generally not what you would expect from a TI/99. This is mostly due to the fact that the API for the TI-99 is extremely simple. You can check out the results of that programming endeavor below.

Filed under: classic hacks

Altair 8800 Front Panel For An 8080 Emulator

จันทร์, 04/13/2015 - 09:00

It appears a very important anniversary passed by recently without anyone realizing. The January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics featured the Altair 8800 on the cover, otherwise known as the blinky box that launched a revolution, the machine that made Microsoft a software powerhouse, and the progenitor of the S-100 bus. The 40-year anniversary of the Altair wasn’t forgotten by [dankar], who built a front panel emulator with the help of some much more modern components.

The build unofficially began with an Intel 8080 emulator written for an Arduino. The 8080 is the brains of the Altair, and while emulators are cool, they don’t have the nerd cred of a panel of switches and LEDs. The hardware began as a bunch of perfboard, but [dankar] wired himself into a corner and decided to make a real schematic and PCB in KiCAD.

Despite the banks of LEDs and switches, there really isn’t much to this front panel. Everything is controlled by shift registers, but there is a small amount of SRAM in the form of an SPI-capable 23LC1024. This comes in handy, because [dankar] is running CP/M 2.2 on this front panel emulator from disk images saved on an SD card. Everything you would want from a computer from 1975 is there; an OS, BASIC, and enough I/O to attach some peripherals.

Filed under: classic hacks

Hackaday Links: April 12, 2015

จันทร์, 04/13/2015 - 06:00

Everyone loves Top Gear, or as it’s more commonly known, The Short, The Slow, And The Ugly. Yeah, terrible shame [Clarkson] the BBC ruined it for the rest of us. Good News! A show featuring the Dacia Sandero drones will be filling the Top Gear timeslot. And on that bombshell…

More Arduino Drama! A few weeks ago, Arduino SRL (the new one) forked the Arduino IDE from Arduino LLC’s repo. The changes? The version number went up from 1.6.3 to 1.7. It’s been forked again, this time by [Mastro Gippo]. The changes? The version number went up to 2.0. We’re going to hold off until 2.1; major releases always have some bugs that take a few weeks to patch. Luckily the speed of the development cycle here means that patch should be out soon.

Need an ESP8266 connected to an Arduino. Arachnio has your back. Basically, it’s an Arduino Micro with an ESP8266 WiFi module. It also includes a Real Time Clock, a crypto module, and a solar battery charger. It’s available on Kickstarter, and we could think of a few sensor base station builds this would be useful for.

[Ben Heck] gave The Hacakday Prize a shoutout in this week’s episode. He says one of his life goals is to go to space. We’re giving that away to the project that makes the biggest difference for the world. We’re not sure how a [Bill Paxton] pinball machine fits into that category, but we also have a Best Product category for an opportunity to spend some time in a hackerspace… kind of like [Ben]’s 9 to 5 gig…

[Jim Tremblay] wrote a real time operating system for a bunch of different microcontrollers. There are a lot of examples for everything from an Arduino Mega to STM32 Discovery boards. Thanks [Alain] for the tip.

45s – the grammophone records that play at 45 RPM – are seven inches in diameter. Here’s one that’s 1.5 inches in diameter. Does it work? No one knows, because the creator can’t find a turntable to play it on.

Are we betting on the number of people who don’t get the joke in the second paragraph of this post? Decide in the comments.

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, Hackaday links

Robotic Glockenspiel Crunches “Popcorn”

จันทร์, 04/13/2015 - 03:01

[James] sent us a video of his latest creation: a robotic glockenspiel that’s currently set up to play “Popcorn”. It uses eight servos to drive mallets that strike the tone bars with fast, crisp movements. The servos are driven with a 16-channel I²C servo driver and MIDI shield, which are in turn controlled with an Arduino Uno. The previous incarnation of his autoglockenspiel employed solenoids, dowels, and elastic bands.

[Gershon Kingsley]’s 1969 composition for synthesizer “Popcorn” has been covered by many artists over the years, though perhaps the most popular cut was [Hot Butter]’s 1972 release. Check it out after the break, and dig that lovely cable management. We’d love to see [James]’s autoglockenspiel play “Flight of the Bumblebee” next.

If you’re hungry for more electro-acoustic creations, have a gander at [Aaron Sherwood]’s Magnetophone.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks, musical hacks

An RGB Word Clock, Courtesy Of WS2812s

จันทร์, 04/13/2015 - 00:00

A word clock – a clock that tells the time with illuminated letters, and not numbers – has become standard DIY electronics fare; if you have a soldering iron, it’s just what you should build. For [Chris]’ word clock build, he decided to build an RGB word clock.

A lot has changed since the great wordclock tsunami a few years back. Back then, we didn’t have a whole lot of ARM dev boards, and everyone’s grandmother wasn’t using WS2812 RGB LED strips to outshine the sun. [Chris] is making the best of what’s available to him and using a Teensy 3.1, the incredible OctoWS2812 library and DMA to drive a few dozen LEDs tucked behind a laser cut stencil of words.

The result is blinding, but the circuit is simple – just a level shifter and a big enough power supply to drive the LEDs. The mechanical portion of the build is a little trickier, with light inevitably leaking out of the enclosure and a few sheets of paper working just enough to diffuse the light. Still, it’s a great project and a great way to revisit a classic project.

Filed under: ARM, clock hacks

Wounded Soldier Gets Robotic Hand Replacement

อาทิตย์, 04/12/2015 - 21:01

[Neal Muzzy], a local member of the Cedar Valley Makers makerspace, just made news on Open Bionics for his robotic prosthetic hand called Dextrus v1.2 which he made for his friend, and wounded war veteran, [Taylor].

In just two months, [Neal] worked with his friend to make this robotic prosthetic with the goal of having it more functional and easier to use than [Taylor]’s current prosthetic. The very first prototype was made by using the open-source Dextrus design, to test fit, and control using EMG sensors. Once they determined it would work — onto customizing!

They call it Dextrus V1.2, and it works better for [Taylor] than the original — but that’s the whole point of the Open Hand project — starting with a base design, and making it better. If you’re not familiar with the Open Hand Project, it was originally crowd-funded on Indiegogo, and is now an organization to make robotic prosthetic hands more accessible to amputees. We wrote about it in Hacklet 41 – Prosthetic Projects.

Now this robotic prosthetic might be rather limited, but like [Neal] says:

In its completed form, this arm may not end up being the go-to for daily usage compared to the professional-made prosthetics that Taylor has, but that’s fine because this project will have served as the test bed for trying out new features and creating a control program to work as easily and intuitively as possible.

The next time Taylor is having a professional-made prosthetic arm put together, he will be able to provide this 3D-printed arm as an example of every feature and program behavior that he will want the new arm to include.

But, in the meantime, [Neal] is already working on adding a 2-axis wrist and multiple grip modes to the prosthetic. Awesome.

[Thanks for the tip Nathan!]

Filed under: 3d Printer hacks, Medical hacks

Documenting Poorly Documented LED Strips

อาทิตย์, 04/12/2015 - 18:00

While [Drew] was in China for the Dangerous Prototypes Hacker Camp, he picked up some very bright, very shiny, and very cheap LED strips. They’re 5 meter “5050” 12V strips with 20 LEDs per meter for about $15 a spool. A good deal, you might think until you look at the datasheet for the controller. If you want an example of how not to document something, this is it.

A normal person would balk at the documentation, whereas [Drew] decided to play around with these strips. He figured out how to control them, and his efforts will surely help hundreds in search of bright, shiny, glowy things.

You are expected to tell the difference between ‘GMODE’, ‘OMODE’ and ‘CMODE’ in this pinout.

The datasheet for the LPD6803 controller in this strip – available from Adafruit here – is hilarious. The chip takes in clocked data in the order of Green, Red, and Blue. If anyone can explain why it’s not RGB, please do so. Choice phrasing includes, “VOUT is saturation voltage of the output polar to the grand” and “it is important to which later chip built-in PLL regernate circuit can work in gear.” Apparently the word ‘color’ means ‘gray’ in whatever dialect this datasheet was translated into.

Despite this Hackaday-quality grammar, [Drew] somehow figured out how to control this LED strip. He ended up driving it with an LPC1768 Mbed microcontroller and made a demo program with a few simple animations. You can see a video of that below.

Filed under: led hacks

A Replica of Da Vinci’s Cryptex

อาทิตย์, 04/12/2015 - 15:00

What makes this beautifully crafted, hand-made Da Vinci Cryptex even more impressive is that a high school student made it.

Shared with r/DIY a few days ago, the creator [SandNpolish] got tons of positive feedback — and so he should. Made out of solid brass and tigerwood, the level of detail he put into it is incredible. From the carved lions face on an antler bone, being used as an end cap for the cryptex, to the other end, a piece of Damascus steel. The whole thing is gorgeous. He made almost everything by hand, making use of a lathe to shape the cylinders, and a milling machine to notch the inner teeth of the lock. The entire gallery of images is a pleasure to scroll through to see the project from start to finish.

We’ve seen lots of cryptex combination locks over the years here at Hack a Day — from something as simple as a paper-craft cryptex, to one made out of PVC pipe, and of course, even a 3D printed one. But all of them seem to be missing the fun part — as portrayed in the Da Vinci Code — where’s the vinegar and papyrus damn it!

Filed under: misc hacks

Robotic Player Guitar Rocks Out on Its Own

อาทิตย์, 04/12/2015 - 12:00

Back in 1988 [Ben Reardon] walked through the Japanese pavilion at the World Expo held in Brisbane, Australia. He saw a robot playing a classical guitar, and was in awe. Later in his life, he decided to learn guitar, and always thought back to that robot. After going to SIGGRAPH 2014 and being inspired by all the creative makers out there, he realized the technology was here — to build his own Robot Guitar.

He started small though — with a prototype robotic Tambourine. It helped flush out some of the ideas for coding that he would eventually employ on the Robot Guitar. The guitar features both an Arduino and a Raspberry Pi, along with six RC servos — one for each string. The biggest challenge with the project was getting the servos mounted just right — stiff, but with adjustment so each pick could be tuned for identical timing. He ended up using aluminum extrusion to mount the servos, three per side in order to leave space for the picks.

Once the mechanical portion was done — onto the coding…

In the end, it ended up being only 460 lines of code. Python and a bit of Bash for the Raspberry Pi — and of course a few sketches for the Arduino. But enough talking about it — let’s hear it!

Absolutely fantastic project. For more musical robots — why not listen to a pack of quad-copters playing their own orchastra?

Filed under: Arduino Hacks, musical hacks, Raspberry Pi, robots hacks

Cultivating The Fungus Amongus

อาทิตย์, 04/12/2015 - 09:00

A while ago, [Kyle] built an automated mushroom cultivator. This build featured a sealed room to keep contaminants out and enough air filtering and environmental controls to produce a larger yield of legal, edible mushrooms than would otherwise normally be possible.

Now, he’s at it again. He’s expanded the hardware of his build with a proper, grounded electrical box for his rig, added more relays, implemented PID for his temperature and humidity controller, and greatly expanded the web interface for his fungiculture setup.

Like the previous versions of his setup, this grow chamber is controlled by a Raspberry Pi with a camera and WiFi module. Instead of the old plastic enclosure, [Kyle] is stepping things up with a proper electrical enclosure, more relays, more humidity and temperature sensors, and a vastly improved software stack. Inside the enclosure are eight relays for heaters and humidifiers. The DHT22 sensors around the enclosure are read by the Pi, and with a proper PID control scheme, controlling both the temperature and humidity is simply a matter of setting a number and letting the machine do all the work.

The fungi of [Kyle]’s labor include some beautiful pink and white oyster mushrooms, although with a setup like this there’s not much fungiculture he can’t do.

Filed under: green hacks, Raspberry Pi

Homemade 3D Carving Duplicator

อาทิตย์, 04/12/2015 - 06:00

[Frank] is a guitar builder and has to make a quantity of acoustic guitar bridges that wouldn’t make sense to do manually by hand each time. He wanted a way of duplicating bridges quickly and precisely but he didn’t want to go to a CNC machine. Instead, he build a 3D duplicating machine.

The machine has 3 perpendicular axes, just like a milling machine. Mounted to the Z Axis is an air powered spindle that can reach 40,000 RPM. All 3 axes are moved by the operators hands. Normally, free-hand cutting something like this would be very difficult. [Frank’s] solved this in his machine by using a stylus that is offset from the cutting bit. The stylus is the same effective length and diameter of the cutting bit and is guided over a finished bridge pattern. While the stylus is tracing the pattern, the spindle and bit are removing material from a bridge blank. The stylus is continually moved over the entire pattern bridge until the spindle is finished carving out a new bridge out of the blank.

To aid in lifting the heavy Z Axis and spindle, [Frank] added a counter balance to make tracing the pattern extremely easy. Once the new bridge is carved, it only requires minor sanding to remove the tool marks before being installed on a guitar! [Frank] admits his linear bearings and rails are very rigid but also very expensive. If you’re interested in a less-expensive 3D duplicator, check out this project.

Filed under: tool hacks

A VU-meter indicator for a Commodore 1530 Datasette

อาทิตย์, 04/12/2015 - 03:00

For present-day owners of vintage Commodore computers, keeping data and programs safe and backed up is top priority. Disk drive storage was more common in the US, whereas in Europe, the audio cassette was the preferred medium of storage.

The Datasette device was what allowed interfacing the cassettes to the computer. Tape head alignment was critical to successfully writing and reading data to the cassette. Some models of the Datasette came with a small hole above the keys, to allow access to the adjustment screw of the tape head azimuth position. Tweaking this while looking at a signal meter could help you improve the signal from a bad cassette and prevent load errors. [Jani] tried a commercial solution called “Load-IT” which had a LED bargraph, but it couldn’t help much dealing with tapes with very bad signals. So he built a signal strength meter for his Datasette. He calls it the VU-sette since it uses an analog style meter quite similar to the VU-meters found in many audio equipment.

The hardware is simple and uses commonly available parts. The analog meter is extracted from a Battery Checker sourced from eBay. An op-amp drives the analog meter, and another transistor drives a separate speaker. This can be used to listen in on the cassette, if the speaker is enabled via a push button. [Jani] first breadboarded and tested the circuit before ordering out prototype boards.

To test performance, [Jani] used FinalTAP, a tool for examining, cleaning and restoring digitized data cassette tapes (TAP files) for the Commodore 64 computer. The “LOAD-IT” version worked well with tapes that were in fairly good condition. But his VU-sette version allowed him to adjust the head more precisely and get out a much better read from bad tapes. While on the subject, check out this nice 7-segment bubble LED digital counter for the 1530.

Filed under: classic hacks, computer hacks

Overengineering Beer Pong

อาทิตย์, 04/12/2015 - 00:00

If there’s one game that deserves to be overengineered with hundreds of LEDs, sensors, and electronic modules, it’s beer pong. [Jeff] has created the most ostentatious beer pong table we’ve ever seen. It’s just shy of playing beer pong on a single gigantic LED display, and boy, does it look good.

The table includes a 32×12 grid of LEDs in the center of the table, with 10 pods for Solo cups at each end of the table. These pods have 20 RGB LEDs each and infrared sensors that react to a cup being placed on them. The outer edge of the table has 12 LED rings for spectators, giving this beer pong table 1122 total LEDs on 608 individual channels.

With that many LEDs, how to drive all of them becomes very important. There’s a very large custom board in this table with a PIC24 microcontroller, TLC5955 PWM drivers, and enough IDC headers to seriously reconsider using IDC headers.

Put enough LEDs on something and it’s bound to be cool, but [Jeff] is taking this several steps further with some interesting features. There’s a Bluetooth module for controlling the table with a phone, a VU meter to give the table some audio-based visualizations, and air baths for cleaning the balls; drop a ball down the ‘in’ hole, and it pops out the ‘out’ hole, good as new. If you’ve ever wondered how much effort can go into building a beer pong table, there you go. Video below.

Filed under: Beer Hacks, led hacks