Using RF To See Through Walls

This is some seriously cool stuff. Researchers at MIT recently came up with a device that can “see” through walls. It can actually identify a person (or people) behind a solid object.

They call it RF-Capture and it uses radio waves to identify people. Kind of like some high tech radio-frequency sonar. Using a very complex algorithm it can reconstruct the human figure by analyzing the various reflections of the signals transmitted. It’s so accurate it can even distinguish between different people based on size and posture, and even trace a person’s handwriting in the air.

Sounds like whatever they’re doing, it’s probably blasting a lot of radiation to do it. You’d think so, but no.

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Hacking Diabetes Meters, Towards an Artificial Pancreas

We’ve covered a number of diabetes-related hacks in the past, but this project sets its goals especially high. [Tim] has diabetes and needs to monitor his blood glucose levels and administer insulin accordingly. As a first step, he and a community of other diabetics have been working on Android apps to log the data when combined with a self-made Bluetooth re-transmitter.

But [Tim] is taking his project farther than previous projects we’ve seen and aiming at eventually driving an insulin pump directly from the app. (Although he’s not there yet, and user input is still required.) To that end, he’s looking into the protocols that control the dosage pumps.

We just read about [Tim] in this article in the Guardian which covers the diabetic-hacker movement from a medical perspective — the author currently runs a healthcare innovation institute and is a former British health minister, so he’s not a noob. One passage made us pause a little bit. [Tim] speaks the usual praises of tech democratization through open source and laments “If you try to commercialize [your products], you run up against all sorts of regulatory barriers.” To which the author responds, “This should ring alarm bells. Regulatory barriers are there for a reason.”

We love health hacking, and we’re sure that if we had a medical condition that could be helped by constant monitoring, that we’d absolutely want at least local smart-phone logging of the relevant data. But how far is too far? We just ran an article on the Therac-25 case study in which subtle software race conditions ended up directly killing people. We’d maybe hesitate a bit before we automated the insulin pump, but perhaps we’re just chicken.

The solution suggested by [Lord Ara Darzi] in the Guardian piece is to form collaborations between patients motivated by the DIY spirit, and the engineers (software and hardware) who would bring their expertise, and presumably a modicum of additional safety margin, to the table. We like that a lot. Why don’t we see more of that?

The Ethics Of Self-Driving Cars Making Deadly Decisions

Self-driving cars are starting to pop up everywhere as companies slowly begin to test and improve them for the commercial market. Heck, Google’s self-driving car actually has its very own driver’s license in Nevada! There have been minimal accidents, and most of the time, they say it’s not the autonomous cars’ fault. But when autonomous cars are widespread — there will still be accidents — it’s inevitable. And what will happen when your car has to decide whether to save you, or a crowd of people? Ever think about that before?

It’s an extremely valid concern, and raises a huge ethical issue. In the rare circumstance that the car has to choose the “best” outcome — what will determine that? Reducing the loss of life? Even if it means crashing into a wall, mortally injuring you, the driver? Maybe car manufacturers will finally have to make ejection seats a standard feature!

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Hackaday.io Just Passed 100,000 Members

Today, Hackaday.io passed 100,000 registered users. It seems like yesterday that I wrote a post about passing 10k but that was last year already! Much has happened in that year, and there is much more to come. Thank you to everyone that makes Hackaday.io great by interacting with each other, posting about what is going on in basements, garages, hackerspaces, and workplaces, and finding new and interesting ways of making the site your very own. Your involvement has made Hackaday.io the greatest open source hardware resource in the world.

We don’t call it project hosting. The seed idea did start as project hosting for the hardware hacker, but Hackaday.io has long since outgrown that pair of shoes. It’s become a self-sustaining reaction that grows ever bigger and more awesome as everyone gets involved and decides how and what they want to do.

hackchatOne of the major additions to Hackaday.io this year was group messaging. This spawned an explosion of new communities within Hackaday.io starting with the Hacker Channel. Anyone may request to be a team member and will then gain access to the group messaging; there are now well over 500 members. We’ve scheduled many somewhat-formal events on the channel over the last few months that invited people to show off what they’re building and ask for feedback. That evolved into topic-based sessions on things like FPGA design and what you need to know about manufacturing. Many of these were co-hosted by Hackaday Staff and community members.

This bizarre text is part of the itanimulli profile
This bizarre text is part of the itanimulli profile

A curious event on the site was the appearance of the user itanimulli who join and registered the vanity URL: /conspiracy. This is an enigma. The user is a puzzler and has posted a number of images and other challenges that appear to include hidden data. How do you solve something like this? Get all of your friends involved, of course! Thomas Wilson started a project to solve the itanimulli puzzle and posted about it on the stack to invite teammates to the challenge.

Hackaday.io has spilled over into the real world too. Do you ever look at the valuable odds and ends in your workshop that you know someone will use, but you never will? The Travelling Hacker Box is the answer to that conundrum. It’s the “take a penny, leave a penny” of the hacker world. Get on the project and get in line to receive the box. When it hits your workshop, take out something cool but then we want to see you build something with it! Replace what you took with something of your own and send it to the next person. International shipping has not been solved yet for this particular box, but nothing is stopping you from starting an EU version.

The support we’ve seen from the hardware community for Hackaday.io is one of the reasons we’ve set out to do something new. In just a few weeks the first ever Hackaday SuperConference will be held. Two days of talks and workshops let us meet in person the users we’ve grown close to through the site. I hope to see you there. But if not just ping me on Hackaday.io!

Or course 100k isn’t the only interesting number. We’ve got more juicy statistics in the image below.

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Tubular Tape Gun “Sketches” Furniture You Can Never Sit On

Sometimes you just need a life-sized model. When you do, reach for your (highly modified) tape gun and get drawing.

As the Protopiper team describes it, the “gun” is a computer-aided hand held fabrication device for imagining layouts of large objects — the main example they give is furniture. Want to make sure that couch will fit? Why not spend 10 minutes building a tape model of it?

Sound crazy? Kind of, but the device itself is rather ingenious. It takes normal tape, measures it, and rolls it into tube form, which results in a surprisingly strong structure allowing you to build 3D shapes quite easily. From a design point of view it’s quite brilliant.

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Embed with Elliot: Going ‘Round with Circular Buffers

Why Buffer? Because buffers cut you some slack.

Inevitably, in our recent series on microcontroller interrupts, the question of how to deal with actual serial data came up. In those examples, we were passing one byte at a time between the interrupt service routine (ISR) and the main body of code. That works great as long as the main routine can handle the incoming data in time but, as many people noted in the comments, if the main routine takes too long the single byte can get overwritten by a new one.

The solution? Make some storage room for multiple bytes so that they can stack up until you have time to process them. And if you couple this storage space with some simple rules for reading and writing, you’ve got yourself a buffer.

So read on to see how to implement a simple, straightforward circular buffer in C for microcontrollers (or heck, for anything). Buffers are such a handy tool to have in your programming toolkit that you owe it to yourself to get familiar with them if you’re not already.

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Even if I could take off, I could never get past the tractor beam!

Finally our childhood dreams of a working tractor beam are coming to fruition! It’s called acoustic levitation and it actually uses highly concentrated sound waves to float small objects by essentially creating an acoustic force field.

The concept is nothing new, in fact we first covered it back in 2014 — but since then they’ve made leaps and bounds in their research. Back then they could just levitate dust. Now we’re moving onto small objects, like googly-eyes! It’s perceivable that with powerful enough speakers, larger objects will soon be harnessed…

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