Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: An Affordable Robotic Arm

Industrial robot arms are curious devices, found everywhere from the back of old engineering classrooms where they taught kinematics in the 90s, to the factory floor where they do the same thing over and over again while contemplating their existence. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Dan] is building a big robot arm. It’s not big enough to ride on, but it is large enough to automate a few processes in a reasonably well-equipped lab.

This is not a tiny robotic arm powered by 9 gram hobby servos. For the bicep and tricep of [Dan]’s arm, he’s using linear actuators – they’re high precision and powerful. A few months ago, [Dan] tried to design a hypocycloid gear but couldn’t get a $3000 prototype to work. Although the hypocycloid is out, he did manage to build a strange differential pan/roll mechanism for the wrist of the arm. It really is a thing of beauty, and with the engineering [Dan] has put into it, it’s a very useful tool.

If you’d like to meet [Dan]’s robot arm in person, he’ll be at the 2015 NYC Maker Faire this weekend. Check out [Dan]’s Hackaday Prize video for his robot arm below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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Win an Internship at CERN Openlab

Have you ever wanted to visit CERN, or maybe even work there? Well guess what — one of the prizes for the Intel Modern Code Developer Challenge 2015 is a trip to CERN — and another one for a 9 week internship there!

The CERN and Intel sponsored competition is looking for a bright young developer (you must be a student) to improve the performance of the code used to simulate brains — specifically to simulate the growth of cells in the cerebral cortex. It’s called the Human Green Brain Project.

In this Challenge, you’ll be working with this code to improve its runtime performance, so researchers can make life-changing scientific breakthroughs faster.  Download the code, optimize it, and submit it to the Challenge.  The students who submit the fastest optimized code will win the prizes and help accelerate science – that could be you!

Improve it, and you’re literally accelerating science and research discovery. Oh — and you’ll get a chance to visit or work at the CERN OpenLab. What are you waiting for? Go enter!

[Thanks for the tip David!]

Captain Disillusion to the Rescue

We all get those emails from well meaning friends and family members about some internet video that “you just have to watch – it’s unbelievable!” Facebook is full of such posts that get passed around more than a doobie at a Grateful Dead concert. If you’re like us, they often make you cringe a bit knowing that they are fake, but you just can’t put your finger on why, or how they did it. All you know is some fancy video trickery is involved.

Well, fear not! [Captain Disillusion] is here!!!! Although he doesn’t put out videos on a regular basis, when he does, we find them very entertaining and informative – we thought you might as well. Think of his Youtube channel like Mythbusters for those annoying viral videos. In his latest work, he debunks a video that was passed around several year back. The original video claimed you can take a cup that is upside down and full of water and it will remain in the shape of the cup – just by giving it a good spin as you lift up. We won’t ruin the surprise for you, but lets just say there was some computer magic involved.

We can’t help but to think his videos might be a great way to get kids (and perhaps some adults) into critical thinking, and not accepting everything they see on the internet at face value. If you like what you see, you can watch the full video after the break, or subscribe to his Youtube channel.

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DisplayPort with an FPGA

One of the challenges with display technology is the huge increase in bandwidth that has occurred since LCD panels took over from Cathode Ray Tubes. Low end laptops have a million pixels, UHD (“4K”) displays
have 8 million and the latest Full Ultra HD (“8k”) displays have over 33 million pixels. Updating all those pixels takes a lot of bandwidth – to update a 4k display at 60 Hz refresh rates takes close to a gigabyte per second. 8 billion bits – that is a lot of bits! That’s why VGA ports and even DVI ports are starting to vanish in favor of standards like HDMI and DisplayPort.

The current release of HDMI is 2.0, and is tightly licensed with NDAs and licensing fees. VESA, who created the DisplayPort standard, states the standard is royalty-free to implement, but since January 2010, all new DisplayPort related standards issued by VESA are no longer available to non-members.

So after receiving a new Digilent Nexys Video FPGA development board, Hackaday regular [Hamster] purchased a UHD monitor, scoured the internet for an old DisplayPort 1.1 standard, and started hacking.

A couple of months and 10,000 lines of VHDL code later what may be the first working Open Source DisplayPort
implementation is available. The design includes a 16-bit scrambler, an 8b/10b encoder, and multichannel support.

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Learn Flip Flops with Simulation

Digital design with combinatorial gates like AND, OR, and NOT gates is relatively straightforward. In particular, when you use these gates to form combinatorial logic, the outputs only depend on the inputs. The previous state of the outputs isn’t important in combinatorial logic. While this is simple, it also prevents you from building things like state machines, counters, and even CPUs.

Circuits that use their own outputs as inputs are known as sequential circuits. It is true that at the fundamental level, sequential circuits use conventional logic gates. However, you usually won’t deal with them as gates, but will deal with abstractions like latches, flip flops, and even higher level constructs. Learning about these higher level constructs will allow you to make more advanced digital designs that are robust. In fact, if you are using an FPGA, building blocks like flip flops are essential since a large portion of the chip will be made up of some kind of flip flop.

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Hackaday Prize Worldwide: Zürich on Thursday

Join us for a Meetup Thursday the 24th of September in Zürich, Switzerland. We’re co-hosting a meetup with FabLab Zürich and we are excited to see you!

Doors open at 18:00 on Thursday, 24 September. We’ll have some food and drink, project show and tell, and time to hang out and get to know each other. This is a free event but please RSVP to let us know you’re coming.

Bring the project you are working on to show off, everyone loves to see projects regardless of what stage they’re in. Many times, showing your project and talking about it pushes your project forward; “oh hey, I have an extra RN42 BT module you can have” or “I already wrote a driver for that chip and it’s on github”. Showing your project to others can also inspire someone else to make their own project based on your awesome idea. I’ve been motivated many times to start a project because of what I saw someone else make.

Germany Too!

This Zurich meetup isn’t the only chance to connect with Hackaday in Europe. Next week, we’ll be in Berlin! We’re co-hosting a Berlin Meetup with Vintage Computer Festival organizers in the evening after Berlin Maker Faire and the Vintage Computing Festival. VCF have planned food and drink, a live band or two… chip tunes! It will be on October 3rd, and [Elliot], [Sophi] and [Bilke] will all be there.

Echo, Meet Mycroft

The Amazon Echo is an attempt to usher in a new product category. A box that listens to you and obeys your wishes. Sort of like Siri or Google Now for your house. Kickstarter creator [Joshua Montgomery] likes the idea, but he wants to do it all Open Source with a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino.

The Kickstarter (which reached its funding goal earlier this month) claims the device will use natural language to access media, control IoT devices, and will be open both for hardware and software hacking. The Kickstarter page says that Mycroft has partnerships with Lucid and Canonical (the people behind Ubuntu). In addition, they have added stretch goals to add computer vision and Linux desktop control to Mycroft.

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