Atlas humanoid robot standing on his own

boston-dynamics-atlas-humanoid

Boston Dynamics likes to show off… which is good because we like to see the scary looking robots they come up with. This is Atlas, it’s the culmination of their humanoid robotics research. As part of the unveiling video they include a development process montage which is quite enjoyable to view.

You should remember the feature in October which showed the Robot Ninja Warrior doing the Spider Climb. That was the prototype for Atlas. It was impressive then, but has come a long way since. Atlas is the object of affection for the Darpa Robotics Challenge which seeks to drop a humanoid robot into an environment designed for people and have it perform a gauntlet of tasks. Research teams participating in the challenge are tasked with teaching Atlas how to succeed. Development will happen on a virtual representation of the robot, but to win the challenge you have to succeed with the real deal at the end of the year.

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How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively increased?

waste

The greatest – and last – question that will ever be asked is, “How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively decreased”. It follows then, that the worst – and possibly first – question ever asked is, “How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively increased?” While for the former question there’s insufficient data for a meaningful answer, we’ve found the answer to the latter question. It’s a machine designed to waste energy, and the exact opposite of a perpetual motion machine.

The machine is set up along two stories of a building, with cables, pulleys, and levers constantly pressing an elevator button. The device is powered by the elevator doors opening, so when the elevator opens of the first floor, the part of the machine on the second story calls the elevator. This repeats ad infinitum.

Wait. It gets better. Inside the elevator car, there’s a modified printing calculator also powered by the elevator doors. Every time the doors open, it calculates the amount of energy consumed for each cycle of the elevator. It’s a hydraulic elevator without a countersink, so moving down is effectively free, but each cycle of the elevator still uses up 11.8 Kilojoules of the universe’s energy. To make the build a complete waste of resources, the printing calculator neatly empties it’s printed tape into a wastepaper bin.

We’re tempted to call this a [Rube Goldberg] machine, but that doesn’t seem to fit this machine that does absolutely nothing. Calling it a useless box is more fitting, but this is far, far more impressive than a box that turns itself off. Whatever it is, you can see a video of it in action below.

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Simple bookends wear blemishes with pride

curved-wooden-bookends

 

We have very few books hanging around the house which makes this small attractive assembly quite enticing. It was built by [Eric Whyne] who wanted to make sure the casual observer didn’t think it was store-bought. In choosing wood he tried to find a couple of show pieces with visually appealing flaws like the broken out knot seen on the bookend.

In addition to the blemish, he chose joinery techniques that would show off craftsmanship not generally found on mass-produced goods. And we’d say he succeeded. The rails attach to the end pieces using a mortise and tenon joint with a wedge to hold things tight. It’s similar to how an ax handle is mated with the blade. The mortise gets a bit of a flair, and a slot cut in the tenon is forced to grip that flair using a small wooden wedge. Here’s an in-depth description of this type of joint.

We just have to mention that we endorse his reading selection. Snow Crash and Burning Chrome are among our favorite novels.

HDTV antenna of a different color

hdtv-antenna-of-a-different-color

We’ve seen our share of commercially available HDTV antennas that work really poorly. For at least four years now we’ve gone without cable television, using a coat hanger antenna we made ourselves to record over-the-air broadcasts. But it’s a pretty ugly beast — we’re lucky enough to have an attic in which it can be hidden. If you’re in need of free television and don’t want an eyesore of a an antenna try building this foil and cardboard version. Even it if doesn’t work at all you’re only out about ten bucks.

The expensive part is the matching transformer which converts screw terminals to a coaxial cable connection so that it may be connected to your HDTV. You’ll need a few nuts and bolts, but we assume you can beg, borrow, or steal the tin foil, cardboard, and glue that round out the parts list. Glue, measure, cut, fold, fasten, finished! You’ll be watching horrible summer TV in no time!

If it doesn’t perform as expected just reuse that connector and try your luck with a fractal antenna.

Retrotechtacular: Vintage computer museum playlist

vintage-computer-museum

Have you ever seen one of these SCELBI 8B computers? This is one of the first hobby computer kits which were sold starting in 1974.

This is just one of the many pieces of vintage computing hardware shown off in this playlist (the SCELBI is the fifth video). The collection is part of the Bugbook Historical Microcomputer Museum. [Dave Larsen], the curator of the collection, has been accumulating historic and often rare hardware for decades. More recently he’s been making video documentaries of the pieces and posting them for your enjoyment.

We love museums, but this is something different. [Dave's] videos walk us through each exhibit, often filling in the story with anecdotes and insight from his own personal experience. It’s like a school field trip to the museum for those of us who can’t get enough of the moldy oldies.

We remember seeing at least one cool hack that used the 8008 processor also found in the computer pictured above. It was a clock built from a similar system.

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Prosthetic spines become musical instruments

spine

[Joseph] and [Ian] have been working on a project that turns physical objects into bendable, snake-like controllers

This build is the culmination of an earlier project that digitally modeled a flexible object with accelerometers, gyroscopes, and IMUs. When we first saw this build, we wondered what it could actually be used for, but it seems [Joseph] and [Ian] came up with a pretty cool use for it: turning prosthetic spines and ribs into musical instruments.

These flexible devices are loaded up with sensors along their joints and are connected to a microcontroller with a Zigbee radio transceiver. The positioning data from these devices is transmitted to a computer where it’s turned into audio, effectively turning a dancer into a musical instrument.

For an art piece, it’s pretty cool, but as a new means of interacting with a computer, we’re thinking this might be a game changer. Imagine a gauntlet loaded up with IMUs being turned into a waldo, or precisely controlling virtual objects naturally with your hand.

Thermocouple vacuum gauge teardown

thermocouple-vacuum-guage

We don’t know how [Ben Krasnow] gets his hands on so much cool hardware. This time around is a bit of vintage tech: a thermocouple vacuum gauge.

The part seen above, and represented in the schematic, is the sensor side of things. This is interesting enough by itself. It has an air chamber with an electric heater element in it. When air is present it dissipates the heat, when under vacuum the heat builds and causes the thermocouple to generate some voltage on its connections.

Keep watching his presentation and things get a lot more interesting. The original unit used to measure the sensor is a throwback to the days when everything had sharp corners and if you were running with scissors you’d eventually teach yourself why that’s not such a good idea. The designers were rather cavalier with the presence of mains voltage, as it is barely separated from connections grounding the case itself.

Want to see some of the other cool equipment he’s got on hand? How about a CT scanner he built.

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