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Forgot About Valentine’s Day? A Quick IoT Valentine

พุธ, 02/15/2017 - 07:00

Did you forget about Valentine’s Day? Do you need a quick project to get ready for Valentine’s Day? [Becky Stern] has you covered. She’s whipped up a neat Internet-enabled Valentine project which should be pretty quick to put together.

At its heart (pun intended) is an ESP8266 microcontroller, in this case an Adafruit Feather Huzzah. Several layers of tissue paper heart are stitched together and cut out into a heart shape and then attached to a spring. A vibrating pager motor is used to shake the it when a signal comes in. Two buttons are used to send the message and a red LED is used to light the heart up. The whole thing is enclosed in a shadow box. [Becky] also put together another controller with a similar setup in a plastic enclosure. When the buttons are pressed on either controller, the other gets a signal and the heart shakes and lights up.

These projects send and receive Valentines, but they could be programmed to send whatever information you’d like. If you’re looking for a quick Valentine’s Day project, this is a great one, and you might have all you need already in your component drawer. Break out the soldering iron and send your Valentine a message! If you’re still looking for a quick Valentine’s Day project, check out this animated heart or this PCB Valentine.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks

Explosive New Process Produces Graphene by the Gram

พุธ, 02/15/2017 - 04:00

You say you need some graphene so you can invent the Next Big Thing, but you can’t be bothered with processes that yield a few measly milligrams of the precious stuff. Luckily for you there’s a new method for producing gram quantities of graphene. Perhaps unluckily, it requires building a controlled fuel-air bomb.

Graphene is all the rage today, promising to revolutionize everything from batteries to supercapacitors to semiconductors. A molecularly-2D surface with unique properties, graphene can be made in very small quantities with such tedious methods as pulling flakes of the stuff off graphite lumps with Scotch tape. Slightly less ad hoc methods involve lasers, microwaves, or high temperatures and nasty chemicals. But all of these methods are batch methods that produce vanishingly small amounts of the stuff.

The method [Chris Sorenson] et al of Kansas State University developed, which involves detonating acetylene and oxygen in a sturdy pressure vessel with a spark plug, can produce grams of graphene at a go. And what’s more, as their patent application makes clear, the method is amenable to a continuous production process using essentially an acetylene-fueled internal combustion engine.

While we can’t encourage our readers to build an acetylene bomb in the garage, the process is so simple that it would be easily replicated. We wonder how far down it could scale for safety and still produce graphene. Obviously, be careful if you choose to replicate this experiment. If you don’t like explosions and can source some soybean oil and nickel foil, maybe try this method instead. Then you’ll have something to mix with your Silly Putty.

Filed under: chemistry hacks

God of Papercraft Builds Working Organ Used for Own Adulation

พุธ, 02/15/2017 - 02:30

There’s a wide world to explore when it comes to papercraft, but we reserve special praise for fully functional builds. [Aliaksei Zholner’s] working papercraft organ is a stunning example of what can be achieved with skill and perseverance.

The video is short but covers some finer touches – the folded concertinas of paper acting as springs to return the keys, for example. Air is supplied by a balloon, and the organ has a tone similar to other toy organs of comparable size.

The builder has declined to share templates at this stage, due to the complexity of the model and the fact that apparently even the thickness of the paper used can affect the function. This is not surprising — to get any sort of pipe organ to play in tune requires finesse and careful fine tuning. The build thread sheds some further light on the build (in Russian) if you’re curious to know more.

Perhaps the one thing we find surprising is that we haven’t seen something similar that’s 3D printed. If you’ve done it, smash it through on the tip line! Else, if you’re thirsty for more functional papercraft, you can’t go past the fantastic papercraft strandbeest build we covered back in 2011.

Filed under: musical hacks

Retrotechtacular: ERNIE

พุธ, 02/15/2017 - 01:01

Wherever you may live in the world, who do you wish to smile upon you and deliver good fortune? You may be surprised to discover that for a significant number of Brits this role is taken by someone called [Ernie].

What, [Jim Henson]’s Ernie from Sesame Street‘s famous duo Bert and Ernie? Sadly not, because the owner of a [Rubber Duckie] can’t offer you the chance of a million quid every month. Instead, [Ernie] is a computer that has been anthropomorphised in the national imagination. More properly referred to as E.R.N.I.E, for Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment, he is the machine that picks the winning bond numbers for the Premium Bonds, a lottery investment scheme  run by the British Government.

Brits have been able to buy £1 bonds, up to 50,000 of them today, since the 1950s, and every month they are entered into a drawing from which ERNIE picks the winners. The top two prizes are a million pounds, but for most bond holders the best they can hope for is the occasional £25 cheque. Premium Bonds are often bought for young children so a lot of Brits will have a few, often completely forgotten. Prizes never expire, so if you are the holder of old bonds you should consider asking National Savings and Investments whether anything is owed to you.

The Great Grandfather of Premium Bond Drawings

The original 1957 ERNIE, now in the collection of the Science Museum, London. Geni [CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0, via Wikimedia Commons.The current ERNIE is the fourth-generation model, but our attention today is on its 1950s ancestor. In a way it’s the most interesting of the machines because it has an unusual pedigree, being a creation of the Post Office Research Station, at Dollis Hill, London. As such it came from the lab of the Colossus engineer [Tommy Flowers], and is described as being a descendant of the now-famous but then still top-secret first digital computer used by the World War Two codebreakers. It’s thus a fascinating study for the student of computer history as well as for its role in British postwar social history, because it represents the only glimpse (had they known it at the time) that the British public had of the technology that had helped them so much a decade earlier.

A significant effort was made to ensure that the draw was truly random, and the solution employed by [Flowers] and his team was thoroughly tested before each draw. The thermionic noise generated across a neon tube was sampled, and this random voltage delivered the truly random numbers used to generate the winning bond numbers. The machine’s construction is extremely reminiscent of its wartime predecessor, however it is as well to bear in mind that it owes this to the standard racking and paint used in British telephone exchanges of the day. Gone though are the octal tubes, and in their place are their more familiar miniature successors.

We have two films for you showing this incarnation of ERNIE in action. The first is a National Savings promotional film which explains ERNIE’s purpose, while the second shows us the Minister of the time starting the first draw. Believe it or not, this was a cause of major national excitement at the time.

This ERNIE was replaced in 1972 and given to the Science Museum in London. Meanwhile we’ve featured Colossus here, with our description last summer of the replica machine built by the National Museum Of Computing, at Bletchley Park.

By the way, if you are an ERNIE bond holder – Good luck!

Filed under: classic hacks, Retrotechtacular

Hackaday.io Passes 200,000 Registered Users

พุธ, 02/15/2017 - 00:01

Hackaday.io just welcomed the 200,000th registered user! We are the world’s largest repository of open hardware projects and Hackaday.io is proving its worth as the world’s most vibrant technology community. This is where you go to get inspiration for your next project, to get help fleshing out your product ideas, to build your engineering dream team, and to tell the tales of the workbench whether that be success, failure, or anything in between.

Over the past six months, as we’ve grown from the 150k member milestone to this one, our movement has enjoyed ever-increasing interaction among this amazing group of people. Thank you for spending so much time here and making Hackaday.io a great place for everyone!

Hack Chat Bring Experts from Many Fields

It’s always great when you can watch a conference talk or interview online. But if you weren’t there in person the opportunity for meaningful interaction has already passed. With this in mind, we’ve been inviting experts from numerous fields to host discussions live in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat room.

This is a great way to further our goal of forming a global virtual hackerspace. It’s common to have talks and workshops at a hackerspace, where you can not only learn from and ask questions of the person leading the event, but meet others who share your interests. This has happened time and again with recent guests including Bunnie Huang who talked about making and breaking hardware, a group of Adafruit engineers who discussed their work extending the MicroPython libraries, Sprite_tm who covered the continuing development of ESP32 support, and many more.

This Friday at Noon PST Hackaday’s own Jenny List will be leading the Hack Chat on RF Product design. See you there!

Amazing Projects

It’s pretty amazing to see a guide on building a smartphone for $50 in parts. If that exists anywhere, it’s probably on Hackaday.io — and it’s actually pushing about 80,000 views so far! Arsenijs is a regular around these parts and his ZeroPhone — a 2G communications device based on the Raspberry Pi Zero — is a project that he’s been updating as his prototype-to-production journey progresses. It has a big team behind it and we can’t wait to see where this one goes.

Working on your own is still a great way to learn and we see all kinds of examples of that. Just4Fun is learning the dark arts that went into early personal computing with a $4 project to build a Z80 system on a breadboard.

We revel in the joy of seeing great hardware art come to life. FlipFrame is a great example; it’s a digital picture frame project that goes far beyond that simple description. It rotates the entire screen to fit the layout of the image while showing off all of the hardware that makes this possible rather than hiding it away inside a case.

In addition to our registered users milestone, we’re just about to pass our 20,000th published project. There are so many projects to celebrate and draw inspiration from, and that collection grows every day!

The Rise of Build Contests

This winter we’ve seen a ton of interest in the build contests hosted on Hackaday.io. Of course, nothing can compare to the reach of the Hackaday Prize, our worldwide engineering initiative that challenges people to Build Something That Matters. The 2016 winners were announced in November; even so, people have been tripping over themselves to get a project built for the numerous contests we’ve hosted since then.

Of note is the 1 kB Challenge — a contest dreamed up by our own Adam Fabio which challenged entrants to build an embedded project whose compiled code was 1 kB or less. It was a joy to dive into the entries for this and it will certainly return again.

Running right now is the revival of my favorite build contest: the Hackaday Sci-Fi Contest. Bring your favorite Sci-Fi tech to life — it just needs to be recognizable from a book, movie, or TV show and include some type of electronics.

Meet Your Friends in Real Life

Some of my closest friends in life were first met online. But eventually, you just want to hang out in the same room. This is becoming more and more common with Hackaday.io. In November we celebrated our second Hackaday SuperConferece where hundreds of people who love hardware creation gathered in Los Angeles for two days of amazing talks, workshops, and hands-on hacking challenges. This is a good one to add to your calendar but tickets do sell out so consider some other options.

We have regular meetups in LA and New York. If you are ever traveling there, make sure to look up the schedule and see if it can be part of your trip. Perhaps the most interesting was World Create Day. In 2016, we had 80 groups across the world plan meetups on the same day so that the Hackaday community could hang out in real life. We’re not ready to share the details quite yet, but you should plan for that to happen again this year. Something to look forward to!

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, news

Giving Linux the Remote Boot

อังคาร, 02/14/2017 - 23:00

A lot of embedded systems are running Linux on platforms like Raspberry Pi. Since Linux is fully functional from a command line and fully network-capable, it is possible to run servers that you’ve never had physical access to.

There are a few problems, though. Sometimes you really need to reboot the box physically. You also need to be at the console to do things like totally install a new operating system. Or do you? Over on GitHub, user [marcan] has a C program and a shell script that allows you to take over a running system without using any software on the root filesystem. It starts an ssh server and you can remotely unmount the main drive, do any maintenance you want and –presumably–reboot into a new operating system.

The key is to create a temporary file system (which lives in RAM0 and copy a system rescue CD to it. The system also has to use systemv-style init so that the command “telinit u ” will cause init to rerun itself. The init process is the program the bootloader really executes and always has PID 1.

However, with [marcan’s] script, the file system is scrambled around and a script built on the fly by the takeover script replaces init. So when init reruns itself, it really executes the script which eventually runs in the included fakeinit which just sits around and waits.

Usually, the Linux boot process just works and you might not be aware of all that goes on with it. But if you do know, you can pull tricks like this. Raspbian, for example, derives from Debian, so you can learn more about the boot process by looking at the Debian documentation.

Of course, if your distribution has switched to systemd, you’ll have to try a different tack (we did a post about the Linux kernel awhile back that led to a lot of comments about the systemd war). Understanding the Linux boot system is one pillar to Linux wizardry. Learning more about the kernel and system calls are two more.

Filed under: linux hacks, Raspberry Pi

Electrical Grid Demystified: How Energy Gets Where Its Needed

อังคาร, 02/14/2017 - 22:01

Even if you’re reading this on a piece of paper that was hand-delivered to you in the Siberian wilderness, somewhere someone had to use energy to run a printer and also had to somehow get all of this information from the energy-consuming information superhighway. While we rely on the electric grid for a lot of our daily energy needs like these, it’s often unclear exactly how the energy from nuclear fuel rods, fossil fuels, or wind and solar gets turned into electrons that somehow get into the things that need those electrons. We covered a little bit about the history of the electric grid and how it came to be in the first of this series of posts, but how exactly does energy get delivered to us over the grid?


It all starts at the power generating station. Whether this is a wind turbine, a diesel generator, a jet engine, or a nuclear power plant, the idea is the same: a generator must spin. Wind can blow it, an internal combustion engine can turn it, or a heat source can make some steam to drive a turbine which then spins it. (One notable exception is a solar panel which generates DC, then uses an inverter to turn that energy into AC for the grid.) Either way, once the generator is spinning then the energy begins to flow out onto the grid.

There are a few different types of power plants as well. Some power stations are good at producing a constant, large amount of power all of the time but aren’t too good at changing their output to meet demand. Nuclear stations and combined cycle combustion turbines are good examples of these “base load” plants that produce power for the constant load on the grid. Since power is consumed instantly after it’s produced, however, it’s important to keep up with the demand so that the grid’s voltage and frequency remain constant. For times with increased demand on the electric grid, such as mid-afternoon in the summer when everyone’s air conditioners start working full time, peaking power plants are brought online. Often these are single cycle combustion turbines, diesel generators, or hydroelectric plants. These plants are good at starting and stopping when needed unlike large base load plants cannot be easily started or stopped.

There are other generating stations that don’t fall into either category, most importantly some renewable resources. Part of the problem with wind and solar energy is that their energy production doesn’t align with energy demand. Sadly, the wind isn’t always blowing when people need to run air conditioners or start up a manufacturing facility. This is the reason why improved battery technology could be a huge boon to renewable energy. If solar and wind energy could be stored, these generation facilities could be used as true peaking power plants and maybe eventually base-load plants.

A substation outside of a power plant. By Александр Ситенький (Alexander Seetenky) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons Transformers

Wherever the energy comes from, the electricity from a typical power plant will be a lower voltage (generally somewhere around 10 kV) for a large generator, for a few reasons. First, low voltage is safer and easier to work with. Second, it’s cheaper to insulate low-voltage circuits. Since the windings of a generator are essentially just a whole lot of wire, a generator will be less expensive if its windings don’t need a lot of insulation. To get the energy delivered long distances on power lines in an economical way, however, the voltage needs to be much higher, often in the range of 100-500 kV. To bridge the gap between the low-voltage generators and the high-voltage power lines, the energy is sent through a step-up transformer in a substation (or “switchyard”) near the power plant. Similar to how a vehicle’s transmission uses gears to trade speed for torque, a transformer trades voltage for current. The high-current, low-voltage electricity from the generator is “transformed” into low-current, high-voltage electricity which can now be shipped out of the power plant.

The high-voltage wires that leave the power plant’s substation are called transmission lines. These are the largest of power lines, often on huge towers or poles and with no customers attached as almost all transmission lines connect substations with other substations. Transmission lines are the backbone of the power grid and without them we’d be stuck with small, Edison-style local grids with a power plant on every block.

Transmission lines. This pole is supporting two circuits. By Liammolina (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia CommonsOnce the energy from the transmission lines gets to a substation that’s closer to the end consumer, the voltage can be stepped down to a lower voltage and set out over a more local grid with its own set of power lines. These power lines are called distribution lines, operate at somewhere around 10-20 kV, and are what typically serve residential areas and businesses with power (although some large industries like steel mills, for example, have their own transmission line servicing their own small substation on-site). In general, there will be yet another step-down transformer outside the point of service to get the voltage down to the standard 120/240 volts.

Three Phases Distribution lines, with a transformer on the pole. By Tiles at the English language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5967351

All of this might seem like a lot of effort just to ship some electricity around, but the long distances often involved make it essentially the only economical option since power losses go up with the square of the current. This means that if the current on any particular wire can be halved (by doubling the voltage through a transformer), the resistive losses will be four times lower.

Three-phase waveform. Note that when one phase is at its peak, the other two have voltages below zero. By user:ikaxer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7370678

While it’s not immediately obvious, transmission lines are always in sets of three. Generally they will also have a smaller ground wire for lightning protection. Each wire carries one “phase” of electricity. Most of the world has settled on a three-phase system because it’s the most efficient way of getting as much power delivered with the least amount of wire. It also puts less stress on generators and motors than a two-phase system would. Each phase is at the same voltage, but is at a different point in its rotation. This means that while one phase is at is peak, the other phase is one-third of a period behind and the other is one-third of a period ahead. Although somewhat difficult to wrap one’s mind around at first, what it means in practice is that there is more voltage available between either two of the phases than from a single phase to the neutral or ground wire, and that its a much more efficient way of running large motors than using a single phase.

While three-phase power is useful for industry, small motors like the kind used in refrigerators, air conditioners, and ceiling fans run just fine on a single phase of power. Other loads such as electronics convert AC to DC anyway, so they also run well with only one phase. This is why almost all residential users on a grid are fed one single phase of power. In the United States, at least, the phase is split in half from a center-tapped transformer which is why there are two wires leading to a typical house. The voltage between the two are 240 volts, and 120 volts from either wire to the center-tap of the transformer. The wires are often incorrectly called “phases” but a better term would be “taps” or “legs” since splitting a phase isn’t the same as having two phases as the taps or legs still have the same phase angle.

From power plant to the home, the grid is fairly simple on the surface. When it gets to the size of an entire country, though, it’s not as straightforward. Power can flow and interesting ways and as we’ll investigate in the next article, sometimes the entire grid can collapse.

Filed under: Curated, Engineering, Featured

Turbine-driven Robot to Navigate Inside Space Station

อังคาร, 02/14/2017 - 19:01

It may look more like a Companion Cube than R2-D2, but the ISS is getting an astromech droid of sorts.

According to [Trey Smith] of the NASA Ames Research Center, Astrobee is an autonomous robot that will be able to maneuver inside the ISS in three dimensions using vectored thrust from a pair of turbines. The floating droid will navigate visually, using a camera to pick out landmarks aboard the station, including docking ports that let it interface with power and data. A simple arm allows Astrobee to grab onto any of the hand rails inside the ISS to provide a stable point for viewing astronaut activities or helping out with the science.

As cool as Astrobee is, we’re intrigued by how the team at Ames is testing it. The droid is mounted on a stand that floats over an enormous and perfectly flat granite slab using low-friction CO₂ gas bearings, giving it freedom to move in two dimensions. We can’t help but wonder why they didn’t suspend the Astrobee from a gantry using a counterweight to add that third dimension in. Maybe that’s next.

From the sound of it, Astrobee is slated to be flight ready by the end of 2017, so we’ll be watching to see how it does. But if they find themselves with a little free time in the schedule, perhaps adding a few 3D-printed cosmetics would allow them to enter the Hackaday Sci-Fi Contest.

Filed under: robots hacks

Building a Replica of an Ultraluxury Watch

อังคาร, 02/14/2017 - 16:00

In the world of late-stage capitalism, unchecked redistribution of wealth to the upper classes has led to the development of so-called ultraluxury watches. Free from any reasonable constraints on material or R&D cost, manufacturers are free to explore the outer limits of the horological art. [Karel] is an aspiring engineer and watch enthusiast, and has a taste for the creations of Urwerk. They decided to see if they could create a replica of the UR202 watch with nothing more than the marketing materials as a guide.

[Karel]’s first job was to create a model of the watch in CAD. For a regular watch this might be simple enough, but the UR202 is no run-of-the-mill timepiece. It features a highly irregular mechanism, full of things like a turbine regulated winding mechanism, telescoping rods instead of minute hands, and tumbling rotors to indicate the hours. The official product sheet bears some of these features out. Through careful analysis of photos and watching videos frame-by-frame, they managed to recreate what they believe to be a functioning mechanical model within their CAD software.

It was then time to try and build the timepiece for real. It was then that [Karel] started hitting some serious stumbling blocks. As a humble engineering student, it’s not often possible to purchase an entire machine shop capable of turning out the tiny, precision parts necessary to make even a basic watch mechanism. Your basic 3D printer squirting hot plastic isn’t going to cut it here. Farming out machining wasn’t an option as the cost would be astronomical. [Karel] instead decided on combining a Miyota movement with a machined aluminum base plate and parts 3D printed using a process known as “Multijet Modelling” which essentially is an inkjet printhead spitting out UV curable polymer.

In the end, [Karel] was able to get just the tumbling hour indicator working. The telescoping minute hand, compressed air turbine winding system, and other features didn’t make it into the build. However, the process of simulating these features within a CAD package, as well as manufacturing a semi-functional replica of the watch, was clearly a powerful learning experience. [Karel] used their passion to pursue a project that ended up giving them a strong grasp of some valuable skills, and that is something that is incredibly rewarding.

We’ve seen others trying to fabricate parts of a wristwatch at home. Keep your horological tips coming in!

[Thanks to Str Alorman for the tip!]

Filed under: clock hacks, wearable hacks

A Lightweight Two Metre Carbon Fibre Yagi Antenna

อังคาร, 02/14/2017 - 13:00

If you’ve ever cast your eye towards the rooftops, you’ll be familiar with the Yagi antenna. A dipole radiator with a reflector and a series of passive director elements in front of it, you’ll find them in all fields of radio including in a lot of cases the TV antenna on your rooftop.

In the world of amateur radio they are used extensively, both in fixed and portable situations. One of their most portable uses comes from the amateur satellite community, who at the most basic level use handheld Yagi antennas to manually track passing satellites. As you can imagine, holding up an antenna for the pass of a satellite can be a test for your muscles, so a lot of effort has gone into making Yagis for this application that are as lightweight as possible.

[Tysonpower] has a contribution to the world of lightweight Yagis, he’s taken a conventional design with a PVC boom and updated it with a stronger and lighter boom made from carbon fibre composite pipe. The elements are copper-coated steel welding rods, some inexpensive aluminium clamps came from AliExpress, and all is held together by some 3D-printed parts. As a result the whole unit comes in at a claimed bargain price of under 20 Euros.

This antenna is for the 2 M (144 MHz) amateur band, but since it’s based on the [WB0CMT] “7 dB for 7 bucks”  (PDF) design it should be easily modified for other frequencies. The 3D printed parts can be found on Thingiverse,  and he’s also posted a couple of videos in German. We’ve posted the one showing the build below the break, you can find the other showing the antenna being tested at the link above.

We’ve featured a few Yagi builds here in the past, like this one using metal tape measures as elements, and another using aluminium arrow shafts.

Filed under: radio hacks

Vintage Laptop Keyboard Types Again Through USB

อังคาร, 02/14/2017 - 10:00

Have you ever had a laptop you just wish you didn’t have to retire when its specification becomes to aged for your needs? Wouldn’t it be great if you could upgrade it and keep using the physical hardware!

[Alpinedelta] has a vintage Toshiba T1000 laptop, roughly a PC-XT clone from the late 1980s. Its 80C88 processor, CGA display, and 512k of memory make it a museum-piece, but he has plans to modernise it using a LattePanda Intel Atom based single board computer.

To make that happen, he has to ensure all the Toshiba’s peripherals will talk to a modern host. Unfortunately back in the 1980s many PC clones were clones in a rather loose sense, and especially so in the laptop arena. Thus there are no handy standard PC interfaces and since USB was several years away at the time, nothing the LattePanda can talk to directly. His solution for the keyboard is to wire its matrix directly to a Teensy microcontroller that then provides a USB interface, and he’s put up a useful step-by-step Instructables guide.

There is no standard for a laptop keyboard matrix, so the first and most tedious task is to unpick its layout.This he did by identifying each trace and assigning a different rainbow colour to it, before noting down which keys appeared on it and collating the results in a spreadsheet. The different colours of wire could then be assigned to the colours of a piece of rainbow ribbon cable, and wired in sequence to the Teensy’s I/O pins. There then follows a step in the software in which he assigns the pin mappings to the lines in his spreadsheet, then the sketch can be compiled and uploaded to the Teensy. Result: a vintage keyboard now talking USB.

Using a Teensy to present a USB keyboard to the world is a well-worn path, we’ve seen it with both newer keyboards and other relics like this one from a DEC VT100.

Thanks [Brent] for the tip.

Filed under: hardware

It’s a Synthesizer. It’s a Violin. It’s a Modulin

อังคาร, 02/14/2017 - 07:00

It sounds a little like a Theremin and looks a lot like the contents of your scrap bin. But it’s a unique musical instrument called a modulin, and after a few teasers we finally have some details on how it was built.

Making music with marbles is how we first heard of [Martin] of the Swedish music group Wintergatan. He seems as passionate about making his own instruments as he is about the music itself, and we like that. The last time we saw one of his builds was this concert-ready music box, which he accompanied with an instrument he called a modulin. That video gave only a tantalizing look at this hacked together instrument, but the video below details it.

“Modulin” comes from the modular synthesizer units that create the waveforms and pressure-sensitive ribbon controller on the violin-like neck. The instrument has 10 Doepfer synthesizer modules mounted to a hacked-together frame of wood and connected by a forest of patch cables. [Martin]’s tour of the instrument is a good primer on how synthesizers synthesize – VCOs, VCAs, envelope generators, filters – it’s all there. We’re treated to a sample of the sounds a synthesizer can make, plus majestic and appropriately sci-fi sounding versions of Also sprach Zarathustra and the theme from Jurassic Park. And be sure to check out the other video for another possibly familiar tune.

This might be old hat to musicians, but for those of us to whom music is a mystery, such builds hold extra sway. Not only is [Martin] making music, he’s making the means to make music. We’re looking forward to hearing what’s next.


Filed under: musical hacks

Dummies Guide to Reverse Engineering

อังคาร, 02/14/2017 - 04:00

[Juan Carlos Jiménez] has reverse engineered a router — specifically, a Huawei HG533. While that in itself may not sound substantial, what he has done is write a series of blog posts which can act as a great tutorial for anyone wanting to get started with sniffing hardware. Over the five part series, he walks through the details of identifying the hardware serial ports which open up the doors to the firmware and looking at what’s going on under the hood.

The first part deals with finding the one or several debug ports on the hardware and identifying the three important pins – Rx, Tx and GND. That’s when he shows novices his first trick – shining a flashlight from under the PCB to find the pins that have trace connections (most likely Rx and Tx), those that don’t have any connections (most likely CTS and DTR) and those that have connections to the copper pour planes (most likely VCC and GND). The Tx signal will be pulled up and transmitting data when the device is powered up, while the Rx signal will be floating, making it easy to identify them. Finding the Baud rate, though, will require either a logic analyser, or you’ll have to play a bit of a guessing game.

Once you have access to the serial port and know its baud rate, it’s time to hook it up to your computer and use any one of the several ways of looking at what’s coming out of there — minicom, PuTTY or TeraTerm, for example. With access to the devices CLI, and some luck with finding credentials to log in if required, things start getting interesting.

Over the next part, he discusses how to follow the data paths, in this case, looking at the SPI signals between the main processor and the flash memory, and explaining how to use the logic analyser effectively and decode the information it captures. Moving further, he shows how you can hook up a USB to SPI bridge, connect it to the flash memory, take a memory dump of the firmware and read the extracted data. He wraps it up by digging in to the firmware and trying to glean some useful information.

It’s a great series and the detailed analysis he does of this particular piece of hardware, along with providing a lot of general tips, makes it a perfect starting point for those who need some help when getting started on debugging hardware.

Thanks, [gnif] for posting this tip.


Filed under: hardware, how-to

How To Receive Pictures From Spaaace!

อังคาร, 02/14/2017 - 02:30

The International Space Station, or ISS, has been in orbit in its various forms now for almost twenty years. During that time many of us will have stood outside on a clear night and seen it pass overhead, as the largest man-made object in space it is clearly visible without a telescope.

Most ISS-watchers will know that the station carries a number of amateur radio payloads. There are voice contacts when for example astronauts talk to schools, there are digital modes, and sometimes as is happening at the moment for passes within range of Moscow (on Feb. 14, 11:25-16:30 UTC) the station transmits slow scan television, or SSTV.

You might think that receiving SSTV would be hard work and require expensive equipment, but given the advent of ubiquitous mobile and tablet computing alongside dirt-cheap RTL-SDRs it is now surprisingly accessible. An Android phone can run the SDRTouch software defined radio app as well as the Robot36 SSTV decoder, and given a suitable antenna the pictures can be received and decoded relatively easily. The radio must receive 145.8MHz wideband FM and the decoder must be set to the PD120 mode, and here at least the apps are run on separate Android devices. It is possible to receive the signal using extremely basic antennas, but for best results something with a little gain should be used. The antenna of choice here is a handheld [HB9CV] 2-element beam.

A failed grab from a 2015 transmission, proving that Hackaday scribes don’t always get perfect results.

You can find when the station is due to pass over you from any of a number of ISS tracker sites, and you can keep up to date with ISS SSTV activity on the ARISS news page. Then all you have to do is stand out in the open with your receiver and computing devices running and ready, and point your antenna at the position of the station as it passes over. If you are lucky you’ll hear the tones of the SSTV transmission and a picture will be decoded, if not you may receive a garbled mess. Fortunately grabs of other people’s received pictures are posted online, so you can take a look at what you missed if you don’t quite succeed.

In that you are using off-the-shelf hardware and software you might complain there is little in the way of an elite hack about pulling in a picture from the ISS. But wait a minute — you just received a picture from an orbiting space station. Do that in front of a kid, and see their interest in technology come alive!

Filed under: radio hacks

Hacking on the Weirdest ESP Module

อังคาร, 02/14/2017 - 01:01

Sometimes I see a component that’s bizarre enough that I buy it just to see if I can actually do something with it. That’s the case with today’s example, the ESP-14. At first glance, you’d ask yourself what AI Thinker, the maker of many of the more popular ESP8266 modules, was thinking.

The ESP-14 takes the phenomenally powerful ESP8266 chip and buries it underneath one of the cheapest microcontrollers around: the 8-bit STM8S003 “value line” chip. Almost all of the pins of the ESP chip are locked inside the RF cage’s metal tomb — only the power, bootloader, and serial TX/RX pins see the light of day, and the TX/RX pins are shared with the STM8S. The rest of the module’s pins are dedicated to the STM8S. Slaving the ESP8266 to an STM8S is like taking a Ferrari and wrapping it inside a VW Beetle.

I had never touched an STM8 chip before, and just wanted to see what I could do with this strange beast. In the end, ironically, I ended up doing something that wouldn’t be too far out of place on Alibaba, but with a few very Hackaday twists: a monitor for our washer and dryer that reports power usage over MQTT, programmed in Forth with a transparent WiFi serial bridge into the chip for interactive debugging without schlepping down into the basement. Everything’s open, tweakable, and the Forth implementation for the STM8S was even developed here on Hackaday.io.

It’s a weird project for the weirdest of ESP modules. I thought I’d walk you through it and see if it sparks you to come up with any alternative uses for the ESP8266-and-STM8S odd couple that is the ESP-14.

Putting a Dumb Chip on the Net

The STM8S series of 8-bit parts are, well, cheap. Consequently they show up in all manner of commercial products where a bare minimum of microcontrollering is needed. And consequently, there are a lot of Chinese designers who are familiar with the chip, which is where things start making sense again. According to the ESP-14 datasheet (PDF mirror of a datasheet we downloaded from Watterott), the intended use is to provide WiFi connectivity to the diminutive STM8S, through UART and using the ESP8266’s default AT command set firmware. Which is to say that if you’ve already got a slightly fancy light switch design that uses an STM8, you’re just a few AT commands away from having a super fancy IoT light switch with the ESP-14.

And the ESP8266 modules all have an Achilles heel: the single ADC channel. So if you wanted to make an Internet-connected device that reads more than one analog value, you had to add your own multiplexer circuitry. Or use it in combination with a common, cheap microcontroller with a built-in ADC and some free pins. And thus, we conjecture, the bizarro ESP-14 was born.

Resources and The Plan

The STM8S provides multiple ADCs, and the ESP8266 brings WiFi connectivity and a lot of memory into the mix. I was trying to think up a project for this combination. At about the same time, my wife wanted a monitor that would tell her how the washer and dryer were doing without walking all the way down to the basement. Two ADCs, one for each appliance, would be necessary. Perfect. Can’t do that with an ESP-12!

ST has a fairly complete looking Standard Peripheral Library in C for the STM8 series that should make getting stuff done pretty easy. If you’re looking for other resources, The Way of the Register is full of good working examples for most nooks and crannies of the STM8S’s hardware. Compiling for the STM8S is supported by SDCC, and uploading code using cheap ST-Link dongles is supported by stm8flash. You’ll probably also want the datasheet and the reference manual.

But this is a strange project, and that means a strange programming language. I’ve been playing around with Forth a lot lately, and [Thomas] ported a Forth environment to the STM8S over on Hackaday.io. If you’re not into Forth, it’s an interactive programming language that’s somewhere between Python and assembly, but with the syntax of an old TI calculator. It’s an acquired taste, but being interactive means that it requires a serial connection to program.

JeeLab’s esp-link is a great tool to have in your box. The software turns any bog-standard ESP module into a transparent WiFi-to-serial bridge, and it adds all manner of bells and whistles. These include providing the connected microcontroller MQTT and REST functionality over a SLIP interface. For this project, it is a perfect fit: the ESP8266 half of the ESP-14 module would let me call in to the Forth interpreter running on the STM8, and provide it with a “simple” means to send out the washer’s and dryer’s power usage to an MQTT broker. This means that I could build up the circuit, install it in the basement, and hack away from the comfort of my office. Almost.

Reset and Power

Programming in Forth, at least when I do it, means hitting the reset button a lot; hard crashes usually take down the interactive shell running on the microcontroller. Fortunately, esp-link provides a reset functionality from the web interface of the ESP8266, and it’s possible to remap this to the single exposed ESP8266 pin (GPIO0) from the esp-link’s web interface. The end result is that the STM8S can be reset by sending a POST request to the ESP: curl -XPOST "http://${ip}/pgm/sync" if you care. After a couple of seconds, all is well again.

As shown in the schematic, there are jumpers everywhere in this project at the moment, but they’ve all come in handy, especially because the shared RX/TX lines make it hard to talk to one chip without the other overhearing or interrupting. For instance, to flash the ESP8266, you can disconnect power from the STM8, use the programming jumper to pull the ESP8266’s boot pin low, and then transfer in your software. To program the STM8, you can use either the SWIM interface, or disconnect the ESP8266’s power pin, switch up the TX and RX wires, and you’ve got a direct serial connection. And when running, with all the jumpers in place, everything works over the network. Sweet. If you wanted to build an ESP-14 breakout board, this would be a good place to start.

Other Hardware and Safety

I had two high-current current transformers in my junk box, so that was easy. Almost. Plugging in an old incandescent light bulb of known wattage, the transformer only put out a tiny signal, in the tens of millivolts. I added as many loops of thick copper wire from the appliances as I could fit into the beefy toroids, and that would just have to do. In the end, both the washer and dryer read about 500 mV peak-to-peak on the output of the transformers, so it’s easily readable with an ADC that uses a 3.3 V reference voltage, even if it’s not ideal. The right current transformers would help: they come in rated amperages if you buy them off the shelf. Plan ahead.

The mains-voltage portion of this project is sealed up entirely inside an IKEA sandwich box for “safety”. Since this was my first PCB-based project that I’ve built since moving to 230 V, I actually looked up the regulations, and allowed a bit more safety margin: 1 cm on the PCB between mains and any other pads. Two extension cables were sacrificed and soldered onto the PCB to provide one connection to the wall and one each for washer and dryer.

The outputs from the current transformers, and the 3.3 V supply for the ESP-14 snake out of the box for the low-voltage logic circuits. This is the one part of the design that gives me pause; if the high voltage ever works its way into the low-voltage wires, the ESP-14 on the outside of the box might become hot. I separated everything with as much air-gap as I could, and applied liberal amounts of hot glue to keep it all in place. Still, I’ll treat this thing with respect when I have to handle it. As it stands, it’s tucked away behind the washer anyway.

Since the signal from the current transformers is (low-voltage) AC, and symmetric about ground, a capacitor and voltage divider put the offset back into a reasonable range for the STM8’s ADC. I did this on the same PCB as the high-voltage circuitry, but in retrospect I could have done all of the low-voltage signal processing outside of the box. The PCB was a convenient module for testing on the bench with some lightbulbs and my oscilloscope during the transformer-prototyping phase.


I wanted to do a peak detection in hardware with a diode and some capacitors, but the small voltage signal made that impossible, so I’m doing it in software.

A Load in the Washer

The wires that come out of the sandwich box carry a voltage that’s centered about halfway between zero and 3.3 V, and makes a 50 Hz approximate sine wave. The amplitude of this sine wave is proportional to the current flowing through the washer or dryer. I’m not interested in the actual RMS power as much as simply knowing when the washer or dryer are running, so a peak-detection algorithm would work just fine.

A 50 Hz signal is ridiculously slow for an ADC that can pull off tens of kilohertz without breaking a sweat, so there’s a lot of room for oversampling and averaging here, which is good because the raw signal is fairly noisy. I tried a number of schemes, but the simplest of them was to take a sixteen-value exponentially-weighted moving average, and keep track of the maximum and minimum averaged values over two periods of the AC power cycle. The difference between the max and min is a great proxy for how much power the appliances are using. This is the value that gets sent to the MQTT broker.


Since the esp-link software has an MQTT client inside, all that remains is to talk to it. It uses Serial Line Internet Protocol (SLIP), which might not be familiar to you if you haven’t done any dial-up networking since the 1990’s, but which couldn’t be simpler. In principle, you just tag a SLIP END character at the end of every packet. It can be nice to know when a packet starts too, so modern SLIPs simply put another END character at the beginning as well — packets of zero length are silently dropped. There’s also an escape and escaped versions of the escape and end characters, but I didn’t need them.

Esp-link also uses a particular data format which is tailored to work well with C code and function pointer callbacks. It’s also got a CRC over the whole packet to reject conversations that accidentally look like a SLIP message. If you’re using C/C++ based code, including writing for Arduinos, there are libraries and examples that make it simple to communicate with MQTT/REST servers or over generic UDP and TCP sockets, and all this at the same time as it’s running the WiFi bridge.

To sum up the MQTT story, I needed to set up the data packets to match what the esp-link wanted, compute a CRC on the data, and then wrap it in the SLIP END characters. The STM8 then simply sends this out to the serial port at 115,200 baud and everything is groovy.

The complete firmware is divided up across a few Forth files. Have a look if you’re interested. The mqtt.fs file and power_meter.fs files have almost all of the user-useful vocabulary, and the rest is support. The end result is that something like mqtt.preamble washer.topic 42 message.value qos.and.retain send sends the number 42 (in ASCII) to the broker using the washer’s MQTT topic, quality-of-service level 0 and no retain flag.


Wrapping the project up is a display that alerts us when the washer or dryer is done. For the moment, it’s a simple MQTT client built on a boring ESP-12 module that reads the washer and dryer topics from the broker and displays the data as a colored bar graph on a strip of WS2812 LEDs. It’s essentially a multi-LED version of the display node that I built up for this column on using MQTT with NodeMCU.

Inventions and Dimensions

The whole point of this project was to do something weird with a weird part. To that end, I think it’s a mixed success. The final device is quite pedestrian in this age of the connected home: a dual-channel power monitor that reports to the (local) cloud. But under the hood, it’s ridiculous.

Half of that ridiculousness is thanks to [Thomas] for his STM8 Forth. And with the esp-link doing the heavy WiFi lifting as well as providing a remote reset, it’s a dream to work on the code remotely. In case you’re not sure how ridiculous this is, click that image to the right to watch me log in to the STM8, send arbitrary values, and then put it back into its default monitoring mode.

Of course you could just use the ESP-14 as it was intended: a pre-compiled C firmware running on the STM8 and using the stock AT-command firmware on the ESP8266. You could probably get exactly the same device built in just about the same amount of time, if you were familiar with the STM8 libraries. You’d have to write the MQTT protocol bits yourself, but that’s not actually all that hard for simple messages like these.

But there’s just an extra little bit of geek satisfaction in taking a module that makes very little sense, reflashing both chips inside, and cobbling together something odd but functional. I can telnet into a fifty-cent microcontroller in my basement and ask it how much power the washer is using. On port 23! How cool is that?

In truth, I hacked this together in a few hours of time spread out over a week, and just got it up to the minimum viable product phase. Using the setup over time will tell what hard edges need sanding down and what just doesn’t work. The real point of this is that I got to use the strangest ESP module that I’ve ever seen, and that although it is ridiculous, it can be useful. What would you do with a tiny little microcontroller strapped to an ESP8266 module?

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, home hacks, wireless hacks

Unconventional Homopolar Motor

จันทร์, 02/13/2017 - 23:30

As a hacker, chances are that you have built a homopolar motor, as you only need three things: a battery, a magnet and some copper wire. There are zillions of videos on YouTube. This time we want to show you [Electric Experiments Roobert33]´s version. Definitely a fresh twist on the ubiquitous design that you see everywhere. His design is a bit more complicated, but the result makes the effort worthwhile.

Right hand rule for the Lorenz force. By Jfmelero, via Wikimedia Commons

The homopolar motor was the first electric motor ever built. Created  Michael Faraday in 1821, it works because of the Lorentz force. This force acts on any current-carrying conductor that is immersed in a magnetic field which is perpendicular to the current. These motors really have no practical applications, but are an excellent way to learn basic aspects of electromagnetism.

In this setup, there are two conductive rings placed above a wooden base, connected to the battery terminals. Neodymium magnets are connected by a conductive rod that pivots in the center of the rings, closing the circuit and allowing the flow of current. Then the Lorentz force makes its magic and pushes the rod and magnets in a circular motion.

Very clean and well-edited work, as are other videos by [Electric Experiments Roobert33]. You may want to replicate this nice motor, or you can also make the simpler version to start experimenting.

Filed under: classic hacks

The Future of Artificial Intelligence

จันทร์, 02/13/2017 - 22:01

Last week we covered the past and current state of artificial intelligence — what modern AI looks like, the differences between weak and strong AI, AGI, and some of the philosophical ideas about what constitutes consciousness. Weak AI is already all around us, in the form of software dedicated to performing specific tasks intelligently. Strong AI is the ultimate goal, and a true strong AI would resemble what most of us have grown familiar with through popular fiction.

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) is a modern goal many AI researchers are currently devoting their careers to in an effort to bridge that gap. While AGI wouldn’t necessarily possess any kind of consciousness, it would be able to handle any data-related task put before it. Of course, as humans, it’s in our nature to try to forecast the future, and that’s what we’ll be talking about in this article. What are some of our best guesses about what we can expect from AI in the future (near and far)? What possible ethical and practical concerns are there if a conscious AI were to be created? In this speculative future, should an AI have rights, or should it be feared?

The Future of AI

The optimism among AI researchers about the future has changed over the years, and is strongly debated even among contemporary experts. Trevor Sands (introduced in the previous article as an AI researcher for Lockheed Martin, who stresses that his statements reflect his own opinions, and not necessarily those of his employer) has a guarded opinion. He puts it thusly:

Ever since AGI has existed as a concept, researchers (and optimists alike) have maintained that it’s ‘just around the corner’, a few decades away. Personally, I believe we will see AGI emerge within the next half-century, as hardware has caught up with theory, and more enterprises are seeing the potential in advances in AI. AGI is the natural conclusion of ongoing efforts in researching AI.

Even sentient AI might be possible in that timeframe, as Albert (another AI researcher who asked us to use a pseudonym for this article) says:

I hope to see it in my lifetime. I at least expect to see machine intelligence enough that people will strongly argue about whether or not they are ‘sentient’. What this actually means is a much harder question. If sentience means ‘self-aware’ then it doesn’t actually seem that hard to imagine an intelligent machine that could have a model of itself.

Both Sands and Albert believe that the current research into neural networks and deep learning is the right path, and will likely lead to the development of AGI in the not-too-far future. In the past, research has either been focused on ambitious strong AI, or weak AI that is limited in scope. The middle ground of AGI, and specifically that being performed by neural networks, seems to be fruitful so far, and is likely to lead to even more advancement in the coming years. Large companies like Google certainly think this is the case.

Ramifications and Ethics of Strong AI

Whenever AI is discussed, two major issues always come up: how will it affect humanity, and how should it we treat it? Works of fiction are always a good indicator of the thoughts and feelings the general population has, and examples of these questions abound in science fiction. Will a sufficiently advanced AI try to eliminate humanity, a la Skynet? Or, will AI need to be afforded rights and protection to avoid atrocities like those envisioned in A.I. Artificial Intelligence?

Scary, scary AI

In both of these scenarios, a common theme is that of a technological singularity arises from the creation of true artificial intelligence. A technological singularity is defined as a period of exponential advancement happening in a very short amount of time. The idea is that an AI would be capable of either improving itself, or producing more advanced AIs. Because this would happen quickly, a dramatic advancements could happen essentially overnight, resulting in an AI far more advanced than what was originally created by humanity. This might mean we’d end up with a super intelligent malevolent AI, or an AI which was conscious and deserving of rights.

Malevolent AI

What if this hypothetical super intelligent AI decided that it didn’t like humanity? Or, was simply indifferent to us? Should we fear this possibility, and take precautions to prevent it? Or, are these fears simply the result of unfounded paranoia?

Sands hypothesizes “AGI will revolutionize humanity, its application determines if this is going to be a positive or negative impact; this is much in the same way that ‘splitting the atom’ is seen as a double-edged  sword.” Of course, this is only in regards to AGI — not strong AI. What about the possibility of a sentient, conscious, strong AI?

It’s more likely that potential won’t come from a malevolent AI, but rather an indifferent one. Albert poses the question of an AI given a seemingly simple task: “The story goes that you are the owner of a paper clip factory so you ask the AGI to maximize the production of paper clips. The AGI then uses its superior intelligence to work out a way to turn the entire planet into paper clips!”

While an amusing thought experiment, Albert dismisses this idea “You’re telling me that this AGI, can understand human language, is super intelligent but doesn’t quite get the subtleties of the request? Or that it wouldn’t be capable of asking for a clarification or guessing that turning all the humans into paperclips is a bad idea?”

Basically, if the AI were intelligent enough to understand and execute a scenario that were harmful to humans, it should also be smart enough to know not to do it. Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics could also play a role here, though it’s questionable whether those could be implemented in a way that the AI wasn’t capable of changing them. But, what about the welfare of the AI itself?

AI Rights

On the opposite side of the argument is whether artificial intelligence is deserving of protection and rights. If a sentient and conscious AI were created, should we be allowed to simply turn it off? How should such an entity be treated? Animal rights are a controversial issue even now, and so far there is no agreement about whether any animals possess consciousness (or even sentience).

It follows that this same debate would also apply to artificially intelligent beings. Is it slavery to force the AI to work day and night for humanity’s benefit? Should we pay it for its services? What would an AI even do with that payment?

Bad movie, interesting idea

It’s unlikely we’ll have answers to these questions anytime soon, especially not answers that will satisfy everyone. “A convincing moral objection to AGI is: how do we guarantee that an artificial intelligence onpar with a human has the same rights as a human? Given that this intelligent system is fundamentally different from a human, how do we define fundamental AI rights? Additionally, if we consider an artificial intelligence as an artificial lifeform, do we have the right to take its life (‘turn it off’?). Before we arrive at AGI, we should be seriously thinking about the ethics of AI.” says Sands.

These questions of ethics, and many others, are sure to be a continuing point of debate as AI research continues. By all accounts, we’re a long way away from them being relevant. But, even now conferences are being held to discuss these issues.

How You Can Get Involved

Artificial intelligence research and experimentation has traditionally been the domain of academics and researchers working in corporate labs. But, in recent years, the rising popularity of free information and the open source movement has spread even to AI. If you’re interested in getting involved with the future of artificial, there are a number of ways you can do so.

If you’d like to do some experimenting with neural networks yourself, there is software available to do so. Google has an in-browser playground for tinkering with basic neural network techniques. Open source neural network libraries, like OpenNN and TensorFlow are freely available. While these aren’t exactly easy to use, determined hobbyists can use them and expand upon them.

Google’s in-browser neural network playground

The best way to get involved, however, is by doing what you can to further professional research. In the US, this means activism to promote the funding of scientific research. AI research, like all scientific research, is in a precarious position. For those who believe technological innovation is the future, the push for public funding of research is always a worthy endeavor.

Over the years, the general optimism surrounding the development of artificial intelligence has fluctuated. We’re at a high point right now, but it’s entirely possible that might change. But, what’s undeniable is how the possibility of AI stirs the imagination of the public. This is evident in the science fiction and entertainment we consume. We may have strong AI in a couple of years, or it might take a couple of centuries. What’s certain is that we’re unlikely to ever give up on the pursuit.

Filed under: Featured, Interest, robots hacks

CheetahBeam: More Proof that Cats are Your Overlord

จันทร์, 02/13/2017 - 19:00

We don’t know what cats see when they see a red laser beam, but we know it isn’t what we see. The reaction, at least for many cats — is instant and extreme. Of course, your cat expects you to quit your job and play with it on demand. While [fluxaxiom] wanted to comply, he also knew that no job would lead to no cat food. To resolve the dilemma, he built an automated cat laser. In addition to the laser module, the device uses a few servos and a microcontroller in a 3D printed case. You can see a video, below. Dogs apparently like it too, but of course they aren’t the reason it was built.

If you don’t have a 3D printer, you can still cobble something together. The microcontroller is an Adafruit Pro Trinket, which is essentially an Arduino Pro Mini with some extra pins and a USB port.

There are twelve different patterns the device cycles through at random to attempt to confuse your cat. We couldn’t help but wonder if this ought to be on the Internet so you could take control and manually play with your cat. Sounds like a job for Blynk. The last time we saw a cat laser, it was a little more mobile.


Filed under: 3d Printer hacks, Arduino Hacks, laser hacks

Ingenious use of 3D Printer gives Simba the Mane he deserves

จันทร์, 02/13/2017 - 16:00

Here at Hackaday, we love clever 3D prints. This amazing lion statue remixed by [ _primoz_], makes us feel no different. It is no secret that FDM 3D printers have come a long way, propelled by the enthusiastic support from the open source community.

However, FDM 3D printers have some inherent limitations; some of which arise from a finite print nozzle diameter, tracing out the 3D object layer by layer. Simply put, some print geometries and dimensions are just unattainable. We discussed the solution to traditional FDM techniques being confined to Planer layers only in a previous article.

The case in point here is a 3D printed lion whose original version did not fully capture its majestic mane. [_primoz_] solution was to construct a support cylinder around the head and form the actual hair as a series of planar bristles, which were one extrusion wide.

This was followed by some simple post processing, where a heat gun was used to form the bristles into a dapper mane.

The result is rather glorious and we can’t wait for someone to fire up a dual extruder and bring out the flexible filament for this print!

[via Thingiverse]

Filed under: 3d Printer hacks

Wood and Rubber Band Pinball

จันทร์, 02/13/2017 - 13:00

As pinball has evolved, it has gone from a simple gravity based game to an electromechanical one.  As the 20th century came to a close, pinball games added digital elements as well, matrix displays replaced electromechanical scoreboards, and LEDs replaced incandescent bulbs. While the game got more creative as new technologies became available, the basics of the pinball never changed – keep the ball alive using your skill with the flippers (and the occasional nudge.) [Garagem Fab Lab] has taken the basics of the pinball machine and, with some wood and elastic bands, has created a very nice desktop pinball machine.

The plans for the game require getting the wood cut by a CNC mill, but they could probably be easily created using a jigsaw. Instead of electrical buttons and solenoids, pieces of wood push the flippers out and elastics reset them when released. The bumpers, too, are simple dowels with rubber bands wrapped around them. The launching mechanism is a bit of bungee cord tied onto a piece of wood and used like a flipper to speed the ball into the play area.

The build is a throwback to the earliest pinball machines. Sure, there’s no reaction from the bumpers when they’re hit, they’re just passive, but the game looks fun. It would be a great base to add in some sensors, a microcontroller, and a display to keep track of scores if one was so inclined. Other DIY pinball machines we’ve seen are this pinball game built with Meccano and lasers, as well as this completely 3D-printed machine.

Filed under: cnc hacks, how-to