A 23 feet tall pyramid with 0.31 mile of LED strips

This year the Disorient Camp at Burning Man built a 7m tall pyramid with over half a kilometer of LED strips. For this special occasion several artists had developed patterns for this massive LED display, animating the parties happening every night in front of this build.

To handle the dusty environment, a Toughbook was running the pyramid’s main code, which was rendering the animation frames to 24-bit bitmaps and sending them over UDP to the network. For each face of the pyramid, a $45 BeagleBone Black running a dedicated program was slicing the images into the individual panels. Finally, each panel composed of eight WS281x LED strips was driven by a Teensy 3.0 microcontroller, receiving the piece to display by USB from the BeagleBone. To power the pyramid, 5V 40A power supplies were used for the tall panels, 5V 30A power supplies for the smaller ones.

Unsurprisingly, many of the power supplies failed due to the heat and dust.  The adhesive holding the LED strips also failed, and some screw terminals rattled loose from the 25KW sound system, requiring constant maintenance. Nevertheless, the sixteen thousand LEDs sure made quite an impression.

If anyone attending Burning Man managed to capture video of this thing in action we’d love to see it. Leave a link in the comments.

Students build a 3D printed plane

3d printed plane

A student team has successfully designed, built, and flown a 3D printed RC plane using only $16 of plastic with a consumer-grade 3D printer (Makerbot), plus the necessary electronics and motor.

The folks over at the Wright Brothers Institute (WBI) have a great program called the AFRL Discovery Lab which brings teams of students, businesses, researchers, and government together to work on a specific challenge or opportunity.

One of the programs this year was the Disposable Miniature Air Vehicle, or DMAV for short. The student interns [Nathan, Ben, and Brian] spent the first 5 weeks at Tec^Edge designing the plane. The team went through 5 revisions before they settled on a design they believed could fly. The final plane weighed 1.5 pounds, and on its first flight… plummeted into the ground. Good thing they printed a second copy! After some more practice [Stephen] got the hang of it and was able to fly and land the plane successfully.

According to the WBI, this is the first functional aircraft that has been fully 3D printed (sans electronics) using FDM technology, and the first low wing 3D printed plane to be flown. Hate to burst their bubble, but 3D printed quadcopters have been around for quite a while!

Test flight video is after the break.

Continue reading “Students build a 3D printed plane”

A Bitcoin vending machine


Accessibility is one of the biggest hurdles facing the Bitcoin revolution, so [Mathias] found a way to give BTCs some market penetration by converting an old condom vending machine. The machine was 30 years old and required some clean up. [Mathias] also worked in a plywood adapter that attaches to the mount on the back so it can install on a wider variety of surfaces. This is an electricity-free alternative to selling coins: the machine is purely mechanical and it vends custom-made vouchers rather than the coins themselves, which you then redeem on the Kondocoin website.

The transaction isn’t as instant or snazzy as the Bitcoin briefcase converter from Defcon this year, but it still provides the advantage of an up-to-date exchange rate, as the vouchers themselves are valued at amount of Euros spent rather than a set amount of coins. The exchange rate is consulted later, when you punch in your voucher key. [Mathias] wants to share the wealth, too, and offers up the server software on github along with a detailed explanation of the process.

Ask Hackaday: Can we do better than Phonebloks?

Our tips line is on fire with suggestions for us to cover the modular cell phone concept named Phonebloks. The phone’s designer states the problem as follows:

A phone only lasts a couple of years before it breaks or becomes obsolete. Although it’s often just one part which killed it we throw everything away since it’s almost impossible to repair or upgrade.

His solution is the above pictured phone, with modular components for each feature: wifi, camera, battery, etc. Rather than upgrade your entire phone, upgrade just the parts you need. A wave of followers have thrown their support behind this concept, and perhaps their hearts are in the right place hoping to reduce waste and cost. Behind the scenes here at Hackaday, however, the response has been a unanimous facepalm. The primary objection (other than design implausibilities) should be obvious: dividing the phone into exchangeable bits does not inherently reduce waste. Those bits have to go somewhere.

Now, don’t rush to the comments section to identify additional problems; there’s a juicy Reddit thread for that. Instead, we want to take the high road: Can we do better? Can we make a phone for the future that is less wasteful to produce, more easily recycled, and possibly upgradable? What would be included in its features, and how would we do it? Check out a video of the concept phone and tell us your alternatives after the break.

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Can we do better than Phonebloks?”

Adding a display to a USB digital scale


[Oleg] found himself in possession of a Stamps.com Model 510 5lb digital scale.  It’s a great scale, but only works as a USB HID device. In other words, it’s a digital scale without a digital display. He decided he wanted it to be more standalone, so he added a Toshiba HD44780 (compatible) display. An Arduino UNO and USB Host shield were used to make it happen. His sketch simply polls the scale and outputs the weight on the display.

In this case, he used the USB Host Shield from Circuits at Home, but a brief look shows they use the same MAX3421 controller chip as Sparkfun and other versions of the board. You might also be able to pull off the same functionality with an AVR running V-USB, though admittedly it wouldn’t be so easy.

We haven’t found a great way to add USB host mode to projects other than shields like the one [Oleg] used. If you know of a better way, share your ideas in the comments.

Of course, if this isn’t hardcore enough for you, forget using a consumer scale – make your own from scratch!

DesignSpark Mechanical – The Gift of Invention

Ever heard of DesignSpark? They are releasing a powerful CAD package on September 16th — for free!

The company is owned by RS Components, a distributor of electronics and maintenance products. They offer a large library of 3D models of parts that they sell, dubbed the ModelSource. So if you are wondering how they are giving out software for free, that’s how. They also have free PCB designing software, and something called DesignShare which hosts open-source project collaboration, sharing and discussions.

By the looks of the demo video, DesignSpark Mechanical is a well laid out CAD package that is rich in features. The software allows for the import and export of several file types, and it looks like ECAD, OBJ, Sketchup, STEP, DXF and STL are all there, as well as the native file types. While it looks like you can import any files, we are willing to bet adding ModelSource files are by far the easiest and most convenient because of the integrated ModelSource library. But we think that’s a small price to pay for an alternative to SketchUp. After all, the component models will be useful for assemblies, even if you don’t order through them. Oh, and it’s perfect for making free models for 3D printing as it includes the ability to export STL files.

Watch the software demo after the break.

Continue reading “DesignSpark Mechanical – The Gift of Invention”

Motobrain: A Bluetooth controlled PDU


If you’ve ever considered modding your vehicle’s electrical system, [Josh Oster-Morris’s] Motobrain PDU (power distribution unit) might make life easier by providing precision control and protection for auxiliary 12V outputs in your car, bike, boat, etc. Once the Motobrain is paired to a phone over Bluetooth, a companion app displays real-time telemetry and lets you program up to 8 output channels.

Each of these 8 outputs can be directly controlled in the app, but the real power lies in the 4 programmable inputs. Here you can tie systems together and dictate exactly how one should respond to the other, e.g. detecting high-beams and disabling the auxiliary light bar you added. There’s even a “delayed on” option. Programming also has PWM capabilities, so flipping a switch could raise the brightness of some lights over 4 levels of intensity. If those lights are LEDs, the Motobrain can also provide constant current to specification. Each circuit can supposedly handle 15A continuous current and has a programmable circuit breaker, which would make fuses optional.

You can watch an overview video after the break to get a better idea of how it all works, but stop by [Josh’s] project blog to see all the features explained across multiple videos and blog posts as they are developed and tested.

Continue reading “Motobrain: A Bluetooth controlled PDU”