The Crowbox Turns Crows into a Cash Machine


[Joshua Klein] is intrigued by crows, and in particular, their intelligence. He’s devised a system that may be able to train wild crows into performing useful tasks, such as exchanging lost coins for treats.

The idea started as a random conversation at a cocktail party almost 10 years ago, and now has become a reality. In fact, we actually mentioned this project’s beginnings 5 years ago! So far they have succeeded in training captive crows to exchange lost coins using the Crowbox to receive treats. The end goal however is to teach wild crows the same thing — once this is proven, it could be extended to other tasks, like search and rescue, sorting through discarded electronics, or even garbage collection!

The project is opensource, and the Arduino driven Crowbox is looking for alpha-testers to help experiment with wild crows from different locals. The current community is rather small, so if you’re interested in the concept, please check it out. We’ve attached [Joshua's] excellent TED talk on the intelligence of crows after the break — if you’re not fascinated by crows yet, you will be!

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Fubarino Contest: Splash Screen On System Reset


Here’s a Fubarino contest entry for all those homebrew computer nuts out there. [Danjovic] modified an NTSC/PAL display adapter to show an ASCII version of the Hackaday logo when his board first boots up.

The build is based on [Daryl Rictor]‘s Video Display Adapter intended for use with homebrew computers, microprocessor projects, and any other minimalist digital setup that needs an NTSC or PAL video display. It’s a surprisingly simple circuit, made of a few logic ICs and an ATmega8.

[Danjovic] modified this video display adapter with an easter egg: if one pin on the ATmega8 is shorted when the board is powered on, a neat Hackaday splash screen is displayed for several seconds before falling back to the stock display of a blinking cursor. [Dnajovic] converted the ASCII Hackaday logo with the help of a short Python script and loaded it onto the AVR with a small firmware change.

Video of the boot screen in action below.

This is an entry in the Fubarino Contest for a chance at one of the 20 Fubarino SD boards which Microchip has put up as prizes!

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Hackaday Links: December 29, 2013

hackaday-links-chainThere are a ton of cheap RF transceiver boards available. [Martin] recently took a look at several of the most common ones and reports back on what you want to look for when acquiring wireless hardware for your projects.

Ikea picture frame plus old laptop equals a roll-your-own digital picture frame which [Victor] built. It runs Ubuntu and is more powerful and extensible than anything you could purchase outright.

Our friend [HowToLou] sure loves the FlowRider. So much so that he’s trying to figure out how to make them less expensive to operate. He put together an example of how he thinks a standing wave can be created that follows the rider as they move along the surfing area.

[Garrett] released an Arduino library that offers threading, debugging, and error handling. The usertools package can be downloaded from his Github repository.

There’s only one way to gauge your Christmas cheer — hook yourself up to the XMeter built by [Geoff]. He’s the same guy who built a breathalyzer a couple of years back. It flashes images of holiday activities on a television while measuring galvanic response using a couple of DIY probes.

And finally, play around with a virtual x86 system. [Fabian Hemmer] wrote the incredibly full-featured virtual machine in JavaScript. You can get your hands on the code via his GitHub repo. [Thanks Martin]

Hacking SD Card & Flash Memory Controllers

We hope that some of our readers are currently at this year’s Chaos Communication Congress (schedule can be found here and live streams here), as many interesting talks are happening. One of them addressed hacking the memory controllers embedded in all memory cards that you may have. As memory storage density increases, it’s more likely that some sectors inside the embedded flash are defective. Therefore, all manufacturers add a small microcontroller to their cards (along with extra memory) to invisibly ‘replace’ the defective sectors to the operating system.

[Bunnie] and [xobs] went around buying many different microSD cards in order to find a hackable one. In their talk at 30C3 (slides here), they reported their findings on a particular microcontroller brand, Appotech, and its AX211/AX215. By reverse engineering the firmware code they found online, they discovered a simple “knock” sequence transmitted over manufacturer-reserved commands that dropped the controller into a firmware loading mode. From there, they were able to reverse engineer most of the 8051 microcontroller function-specific registers, allowing them to develop novel applications for it. Some of the initial work was done using a FPGA/i.MX6-based platform that the team developed named Novena, which we hope may be available for purchase some day. It was, among others, used to simulate the FLASH memory chip that the team had previously removed. A video of the talk is embedded below.

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I am NXT 3-Point Bend Tester. Please Insert Girder.

Learning with visuals can be very helpful.  Learning with models made from NXT Mindstorms is just plain awesome, as [Rdsprm] demonstrates with this LEGO NXT 3-point bend tester that he built to introduce freshmen to flexural deflection and material properties. Specifically, it calculates Young’s modulus using the applied force of a spring and the beam’s deflection. [Rdsprm] provides a thorough explanation in the About section of the YouTube video linked above, but the reddit comments are definitely a value-add.

[Rdsprm] built this from the Mindstorms education base set (9797) and the education resource set (9648). Each contestant endures a 5-test battery and should produce the same result each time. The motor in the foreground sets the testing length of the beam, and the second motor pulls the spring down using a gearbox and chain.

This method of deflection testing is unconventional, as [Rdsprm] explains. Usually, the beam is loaded incrementally, with deflection measured at each loading state. Here, the beam is loaded continuously. Vertical deflection is measured with a light sensor that reads a bar code scale on the beam as it passes by. The spring position is calculated and used to determine the applied force.

[Rdsprm] analysed the fluctuation in GNU Octave and has graphs of the light sensor readings and force-deflection. No beams to bend with your Mindstorms? You could make this Ruzzle player instead.

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Fubarino Contest: Hackaday On An RC Heli


[SF Tester] (his real name, honestly, with a brother who does QA for Blizzard) recently picked up a Blade SR remote control helicopter. Compared to the cheap coaxial helicopters you can pick up from eBay or Amazon for $30, this heli is a huge step up, but it does have one weakness – it comes with its own transmitter, and binding it to [Tester]‘s shiny new DX9 transmitter is a pain.

The initial attempt at getting the proper values from the stock transmitter into his big-boy transmitter originally consisted of taking the stock transmitter, some servos, attaching them to homebrew protractors, and reading out the values of each axis manually. That’s a brute-force method of improving his new toy, so [Tester] sought out a better method.

The solution came via Arduino’s pulseIn() command. By connecting the stock receiver to an Arduino, [Tester] was able to precisely read the values coming from the stock transmitter and import them into his very fancy Spektrum DX9 transmitter.

Every Fubarino contest entry needs an easter egg, so when the value of the pulses coming from the stock transmitter is exactly 1337 microseconds, the Arduino spits out Hackaday’s URL to the serial console. Cleverly hidden, and a great way to improve an awesome heli. We can’t ask much more than that.

There’s no direct link for this, but you can literally see the code in the image after the break.

This is an entry in the Fubarino Contest for a chance at one of the 20 Fubarino SD boards which Microchip has put up as prizes!

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Project Lucidity Wants YOU!


Do you lucid dream? Do you want to? [Dinesh Seemakurty] has just started something called Project Lucidity, which is the first(?) open source, developer friendly, fully featured, lucid dreaming sleep mask. And he’s looking for hackers to help!

We’ve covered lots of projects on lucid dreaming before, like making your own homemade lucid dreaming goggles, or modifying a commercial EEG headset for lucid dreaming. We also can’t forget the LucidScribe project either, the one that seeks to communicate from within dream state!

Anyway, what’s different about Project Lucidity? Well, first of all, it’s open source. Second of all, it’s based on an ATMEGA328P, meaning it’s fully compatible with the Arduino IDE. It looks like a great start, and [Dinesh] is planning on taking everything open source very soon — but before then he wants you to try it out!

If this sounds like a project you want to get behind and help develop, check out his site and sign up. Or ask away in the comments section!