$100 portable Wikipedia


OpenMoko, the company behind the FreeRunner open-source phone, released their latest product today: WikiReader. It’s a small mobile device for browsing Wikipedia. Rather than use a wireless network to pull data off of the web, it has local copy of the database on a 8GB microSD card. This approach has been used before, and it lets the WikiReader be compact and really cheap. It uses a Kindle-esque touch-screen display that allows it to run on 3 AAA’s for about a year. The device itself costs just $99, but you can choose to receive updates by snail mail for just $29/year. Alternatively, you can just download the +4GB file and dump it on the card.

Like the FreeRunner, this project is also open-source. The code isn’t available yet, but they say it will be released soon. With luck, the device will be really easy to hack.

Jamin’ to Bach, Commodore 64 style

[thrashbarg] missed the sounds of the Commodore 64 and longed to hear the great masters in 8-bit glory. To get his fix, he created a midi device using the original Sound Interface Device from those long-dead systems. He’s interfaced the MOS6581 SID with an Atmel AVR ATmega8 microcontroller. The receiving pin for the AVR’s UART is used as a MIDI-IN connection, with the microcontroller converting midi data into the proper sound generation specs for the SID. The result is the 10 minutes of [Bach]‘s Brandenburg Concerto heard in the embedded video above.

We have no idea where he picked up this obsolete chip, but if you want to give this a try, perhaps you’ll have some luck emulating the MOS6581 by using another ATmega8.

OLPC pedal power


A One Laptop Per Child group out of Afghanistan have come up with a way to power the XO using pedals. The system interfaces a set of pedals with the Freeplay hand-crank charger, freeing up both hands for typing. Although not as compact, using both legs makes power generation much easier. Apparently a child as young as 3rd grade is able to pedal this well enough to power the computer in real time.

We just hope this contraption is used for learning and betterment, and not in a pedal-for-porn scenario.

[via Gizmodo]

Halloween props: flying crank ghost


[Jake's] projects have become regular features here on Hack a Day. He keeps the Halloween hack-fest rolling with his Flying Crank Ghost. For the ghost he used a store-bought skull but sculpted some hands himself out of Styrofoam. The body is fashioned from coat hangers with a bit of creepy fabric draped over the hole thing to complete the look.

He added some very convincing motion to the ghoul using a salvaged microwave turntable motor. The motor is mounted in the center of a two crossed boards, and has an armature attached to it. Three strands of monofilament attach to the end of the armature, run through eyelets on the ends of the crossed boards, then attach to the head, and each arm. When the motor is turned on, the armature turns, moving the head and hands up and down at different rates. Take a look at the embedded video after the break to see the final product.

[Jake] does mention that the motor he used is a bit underpowered. We figure this only needs to hold up for one night, so dig through your junk bin and see if you can throw one of these together in a few hours.

[Read more...]

Binary adder will give you slivers


A while back we looked at [Matthias'] one-pin dot matrix printer. Now we’re jumping over to his woodworking website to feast on his wooden binary adding machine. His creation uses glass marbles as the data for this device. A resolution of up to six bits can be set on the top of the adder, then dropped into the machine as one number. With each new drop, the number is added to the total stored in the machine. The device is limited to totals less than 64. If a larger number is enter, the device wraps around back to zero by dumping the 7th bit off the end. He’s even got a master clear that allows you to easily read the stored total and evacuate the “data” from the machine.

This has quite a few less wires than the last binary adder we looked at… wait, it has no wires! But we still love it. A physical representation of what is going on with binary math really helps grasp what the magic blue smoke inside those silicon chips is all about. Don’t miss his video walk through of the adding machine embedded after the break. Can’t get enough of marbles interacting with wood? He’s got a few more projects you might enjoy. [Read more...]

Robot Einstein could save humans from killbot destruction


Earlier this year we saw the Einstein robot that is being developed to facilitate human facial emotions in robots. [David Hanson], the man in charge of this project, has given a TED talk on his work that includes a show-and-tell of his most recent progress. We’ve embedded the video after the break for your enjoyment.

The Einstein robot (head only in this video) shows off the ability to recognize and mimic the facial emotions of the person in front of it. There is also video of a Bladerunner-esque robot looking around a room, recognizing and remembering the faces of the people it sees. [David] makes a very interesting proclamation: he’s trying to teach robots empathy. He feels that there is a mountain of R&D money going into robots that can kill and not much for those that can sense human emotions. His hope is that if we can teach empathy, we might not be annihilated when robots become smarter than us.

That’s not such a bad idea. Any way you look at it, this talk is interesting and we wish the five-minute offering was five-times as long. But [Mr. Hanson's] facial hair alone is worth clicking through to see.

[Read more...]

Daft Punk replica helmet


For all their varied and entertaining uses, circuits and code comprise only part of the complete hacking experience. To really put your project over the top, sooner or later you’ll want to possess some physical fabrication skills. Consider the works of [Ben Heckendorn]: He’s always done a fantastic job with the electronics, but it’s the fit and finish of the enclosures that make him a legend.

“Fabrication” usually conjures images of shop tools — saws and sanders and drills — all tremendously useful skills worth learning, and easily within reach of most home shops or garages. Recently, the techniques of mold making and casting have seen something of a DIY renaissance. Mold making is nothing new, the basic concepts go back millennia, but in just the past few years the materials for extremely high-quality molds have become safer, simpler to use, and easier to acquire.

This being Halloween month, what better example of the medium than this impeccable replica helmet styled after half of the musical duo Daft Punk (a recurring theme among Hack a Day contributors), created by prop maker [Harrison Krix]. After sculpting an original master part (from common hardware store and art store materials, we might add), a one-piece flexible mold is built up from silicone, which captures every minute detail, and later the helmet form is cast from a thin layer of resin. The visor is vacuum formed. A follow-up with the internal electronics build is yet to be posted, but even at this stage the shell alone is so refined it looks straight off a showroom floor. If mold making can do this for someone’s noggin, imagine what it can do for your next creative hardware project. Smooth-On, a major supplier of these materials, has a free PDF introduction and a set of tutorials on their web site.

[thanks Wolf]