Weather balloon payload that (almost) guides itself back to you

The biggest issue with sending expensive electronics into near space is trying to recover them. [Lhiggs] set out to solve this issue with his Senior project for a Mechanical Engineering degree. He figured that a payload dropped from 100,000 feet should be able to glide its way back to some predefined coordinates. Here you can see one of the tests, where the payload is guiding its descent using a parafoil.

Directional control is possible with a parafoil simply by shifting weight between the two supporting ropes. In this case [Lhiggs] designed the payload to hang from a pair of servo-motor-actuated arms. Since the payload already carries altitude and position hardware (such as a GPS, electronic compass, and altimeter) it’s just a matter of waiting for the target height before separating from the weather balloon, then using the servos to navigate to the landing zone.

Unfortunately the project was never fully completed. But you can see that he got pretty far. There is test footage embedded after the break showing the device being dropped from a plane.

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Disassembling and reprogramming Webkeys

Webkeys are small, inexpensive USB devices which launch a web browser when plugged into a computer. They’re given out as a promotional item, but they can be fun to hack as well. [Brad Antoniewicz] recently got his hands on one and decided to crack it open to see what he could accomplish.

The majority of the device was packaging but it didn’t take him long to get down to the guts seen here. There are two units shown in the image above so that we can get a look at both sides of the circuit board. As you can see, there’s a chip-on-board processor (that black blob) that handles the USB connectivity. But the data which is pushed to a computer is stored in that EEPROM chip at the top. It’s got legs which are just begging to be probed. [Brad] wasn’t able to find the exact datasheet but he got some clues as to the pinout. Using his Bus Pirate he was able to establish communications and sniff the i2c traffic. With that success he went on to overwrite that data. You can see a quick demonstration of it after the break.

[Brad] hopes to do a bit more with the hardware. He thinks those four pads can be used to reprogram the MCU. We’ll keep our eyes out for updates as he moves along on that mission.

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Dry erase marker opens all hotel room doors

If you’re carrying around an exposed circuit board and a bunch of wires people are going to notice you. But a dry erase marker won’t turn any heads. And this one holds its own little secret. It acts as a master key for hotel room door locks.

This is really more of a repackaging hack. The exploit is already quite well-known. The Onity brand of key card locks most commonly used in hotels have a power jack on the bottom that doubles as a 1-wire communications port. The first published proof of concept used an Arduino board and a simple adapter to unlock any door in under one second. Now that hardware has been reduced in size so that it fits in the hollow shell of a dry erase marker. Even better, the felt tip has been replaced with the appropriately sized barrel jack. Check out the ultra-fast and inconspicuous use of it after the break. We think using this is no more obvious than actually having the key card.

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How to watch your own videos on a plane: barf bag

Air travellers take note, [Asthmaticatom] figured out how to comfortably watch your own videos on the plane. We know you always have your phone with you, now you just need to find a barf bag. A little bit of papercraft turns the waste disposal device into a neat little hanging dock.

The bag in the image above is actually upside down. A rectangle the same size as your phone’s screen is ripped out of the top. The metal clasp used to seal the top of the bag is rolled up to hold the phone securely in place. The bottom of the sack has a flap which acts as a one-way catch. When it is shoved into the crevice on top of the monitor it holds the whole thing in place.

Of course we don’t remember ever having been on a plane where there was a monitor in the seat in front of us, but perhaps we’re just buying tickets on the wrong airlines.

[via Reddit]

Decades old TV gets sleep function thanks to 7400 family of chips

[Viktor] dredged up a hack he pulled off years ago. His grandfather likes to end the day in front of the TV, but he falls asleep soon after sitting down. Rather than tick away the electricity meter all night, [Viktor] built an automatic shutoff which is akin to a modern TV’s sleep feature.

At the time microcontrollers were not as easy to source as they are now. So [Viktor] used a circuit based on the 7400 family of logic chips. It uses a multivibrator to feed some binary counter chips. These are used to divide the oscillations to establish the desired timing. He tuned the system to be about 15 minutes, but that can be adjusted using a potentiometer built into the multivibrator. When time is about the run out an LED next to the TV comes on. This way if [Viktor's] grandfather is still awake he can press a button next to his chair to reset the counter. But if he’s already snoozing the counter will eventually switch off the television.

Professional looking dog robot was actually [Martin's] Master’s Thesis

If you think this thing looks good you should see it move. [Martin Smith] hit a home run on the project, which was his Master’s Thesis. Fifteen servo motors provide a way for the bot to move around. Having been modeled after a small canine the gait is very realistic. The tail is even functional, acting as a counterweight when moving the legs.

The project was meticulously built in a 3D environment before undertaking any physical assembly. The mechanical parts are all either milled from aluminum or 3D printed. Two mBed boards mounted on its back allow it to interact with its environment. One of them handles image processing, the other drives the array of motors. And of course it doesn’t hurt that he built some Larson Scanners in as eyes.

Don’t miss the video after the break which shows off the entire project from planning to demonstration. We can’t help but be reminded of the rat-thing from Snow Crash.

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Nintendo light gun retrofit lets it play color-based games

This Nintendo light gun, aka Zapper, looks like a stock device. But a peek inside shows that the circuit board has been replaced. [CNLohr] added USB functionality and a few extra sensors that let him write his own games for that use the classic controller.

After cracking open the case he measured the shape of the circuit board so that he could recreate it exactly. This let him design his own board that would drop right into the same plastic support pieces as the original. His circuit uses an ATmega8u2 to provide a USB connection and read the attached sensors. One interesting aspect is the group of four long traces that act as an expandable i2c bus. [CNLohr] went with this so that he could use daughter boards to add in sensors later. In the demonstration seen after the video he’s using a photodiode as a color sensor. It allowed him to write the color-based game seen above where you shoot a different color of target in each round.

[Read more...]

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