Swiss Project Looking To Harness Kite Power

Switzerland has bought us many things: the cuckoo clock, cheese with holes in it, and.. kite power? That’s the idea of a Swiss project that is trying to tap the energy of a regular wind that blows between Lake Geneva and the Alps. The group hopes to build large kites that fly at about 150 meters above the ground, with a generator and other components on the ground. The way that this wind energy is converted into electricity is interesting: the kite is pulled up by the wind, spiraling higher and pulling the cable which drives the generator. Once it reaches a maximum height, the kite is trimmed so it sinks down to a lower altitude, and the kite is trimmed again to catch the wind and climb.

It’s a fascinating idea: by controlling the kites, the system could produce power on demand. As long as the wind is up, of course, but in this region of Switzerland, that isn’t an issue, as the wind is very predictable. It doesn’t require as much permanent infrastructure as a wind turbine, and kites are much more attractive than turbines. This makes us wonder if a system like this would be adaptable to a smaller scale: could you build a portable or off-grid system for hiking in windy areas that could charge a battery this way?

The project webpage hasn’t seen any updates since 2013, but the research project seems to still be alive and kicking. Anyone have any details or wild speculation?

(Related, but only tangentially, video of Thomas Dolby lip-synching below the break.)

Via The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, thanks to [Austin Bentley]

Continue reading “Swiss Project Looking To Harness Kite Power”

Father and Son Fix a Scale

It’s awesome when you can tag-team with your dad to fix stuff around the house. [Ilias Giechaskiel], with help from his dad, did a complete refurbishing of a broken bathroom weighing scale, but not before trying to fix it first. The voltage regulator looked bust. Powering the rest of the circuit directly didn’t seem to work, and none of the passives looked suspect. Most of the chips had their markings scratched off and the COB obviously couldn’t be replaced anyway.

Instead of reverse engineering the LCD display, they decided to retain just the sensor and the switches, and replace everything else. The ATtiny85 seemed to have enough IO pins to do the job. But the strain-gauge based load cell, connected in a bridge configuration, did not have a signal span large enough to be measured using the 10 bit ADC on the ATtiny. Instead, they decided to use the HX711 (PDF) – a 24 bit ADC with selectable gain, specifically meant for use in weighing scales. Using a library written for the HX711 allowed interfacing it to the Arduino easy. The display was built using a 4 digit 7 segment display driven by the MAX7219. A slightly modified LEDcontrol library made it easy to hook up the display to the ATtiny. The circuit was assembled on a prototyping board so that it could be plugged in to another Arduino for programming.

Since they were running out of pins, they had to pull out a trick to use a single pin from the ATtiny to act as clock for the display driver and the ADC chip. Implementing the power-on and auto-off feature needed another interesting analog circuit block. Dad did the assembly of the circuit on a prototype board. In hindsight, the lack of IO pins on the ATtiny limited the features they could implement, so the duo are planning to put in an Arduino Nano to improve the hack. If you’re ever stuck with a broken scale, he’s made the schematic (PNG) and code available for use.

Shmoocon 2016: Phishing for the Phishers

After years of ignoring the emails it’s finally time to get into a conversation with that Nigerian prince you keep hearing from. Robbie Gallagher — an Application Security Engineer with Atlassian in Austin, TX — wanted to find out where perpetrators of phishing emails actually live. Of course you can’t count on the headers of the emails they send you. A better way to track them down is to actually draw them into a conversations, and this means making yourself a juicy target.

Robbie gave an excellent talk on his project Honey-Phish at this year’s Shmoocon. Part of what made it stand out is his narrative on each step of exploring the social engineering technique. For instance, there is already a vibrant community that specializes in forming relationships with scammers. Those who frequent 419 Eater have literally made it into a sport called Scambaiting. The ultimate goal is to prove you’ve baited a scammer is to get the person to take a picture of themselves balancing something on their head. Now the image a the top of this post makes sense, right?

Writing personal emails to your scammer is a great system if you have a lot of time and only want to track down one scammer at a time. Robbie wants to catalog geographic locations for as many as possible and this means automation. Amusingly, the solution is to Phish for Phishers. By automating responses to phishing emails, and enticing the people originating those phishing scams to click on a link, you can ascertain their physical location.

Continue reading “Shmoocon 2016: Phishing for the Phishers”

Shmoocon 2016: Computing In A Post Quantum World

There’s nothing more dangerous, so the cryptoheads say, than quantum computing. Instead of using the state of a transistor to hold the value of a bit as in traditional computers, quantum computers use qubits, or quantum information like the polarization of a photon. According to people who know nothing about quantum computers, they are the beginning of the end, the breaking of all cryptography, and the Rise of the Machines. Lucky for us, [Jean-Philippe Aumasson] actually knows a thing or two about quantum computers and was able to teach us a few things at his Shmoocon talk this weekend, “Crypto and Quantum and Post Quantum”

This talk is the continuation of [Jean-Philippe]’s DEF CON 23 talk that covered the basics of quantum computing (PDF) In short, quantum computers are not fast – they’re just coprocessors for very, very specialized algorithms. Quantum computers do not say P=NP, and can not be used on NP-hard problems, anyway. The only thing quantum computers have going for them is the ability to completely destroy public key cryptography. Any form of cryptography that uses RSA, Diffie-Hellman, Elliptic curves is completely and totally broken. With quantum computers, we’re doomed. That’s okay, according to the DEF CON talk – true quantum computers may never be built.

The astute reader would question the fact that quantum computers may never be built. After all, D-Wave is selling quantum computers to Google, Lockheed, and NASA. These are not true quantum computers. Even if they’re 100 Million times faster than a PC, they’re only faster for one very specific algorithm. These computers cannot simulate a universal quantum computer. They cannot execute Shor’s algorithm, an algorithm that finds the prime factors of an integer. They are not scalable, they are not fault-tolerant, and they are not universal quantum computers.

As far as true quantum computers go, the largest that has every been manufactured only contain a handful of qubits. To crack RSA and the rest of cryptography, millions of qubits are needed. Some algorithms require quantum RAM, which nobody knows how to build. Why then is quantum computing so scary? RSA, ECC, Diffie-Hellman, PGP, SSH and Bitcoin would die overnight if quantum computers existed. That’s a far scarier proposition to someone hijacking your self-driving car or changing the display on a smart, Internet-connected thermostat from Fahrenheit to Celsius.

What is the verdict on quantum computers? Not too great, if you ask [Jean-Philippe]. In his opinion, it will be 100 years until we have a quantum computer. Until then, crypto is safe, and the NSA isn’t going to break your codez if you use a long-enough key.

Hacklet 91: Ultrasonic Projects

Ultrasound refers to any audio signal above the range of human hearing. Generally that’s accepted as 20 kHz and up. Unlike electromagnetic signals, ultrasonics are still operating in a medium – generally the air around us. Plenty of animals take advantage of ultrasonics every day. So do hackers, makers, and engineers who have built thousands of projects based upon these high frequency signals. This weeks Hacklet is all about the best ultrasonic projects on Hackaday.io!

spambakeWe start with [spambake] and World’s Smallest Bat Detector. [Spambake] is interested in bats. These amazing creatures have poor eyesight, but that doesn’t slow them down. Bats use echolocation to determine their surroundings. Ultrasonic chirps bounce off obstacles. The bat listens to the echos and changes its flight path accordingly. While we can’t hear most of the sounds bats make, electronics can. [Spambake] cooked this circuit up starting with a MEMs microphone. These microphones pick up human sounds, but unlike our ears, they can hear plenty above the 20 kHz range. The audio signal is passed through an amplifier which boosts the it up around 10,000 times. The signal is filtered and then used to trigger LEDs that indicate a bat is present. The final circuit works quite well! Check out [spambake’s] video to see the bat detector in action!

movvaNext up is [Neil Movva] with Pathfinder – Haptic Navigation. Pathfinder uses ultrasonic transducers to perform echolocation similar to bats. The received data is then passed on to a human wearer. [Neil’s] idea is to use Pathfinder to help the visually disabled and blind navigate the world around them. Pathfinder was a 2015 Hackaday Prize finalist. The ultrasonic portion of Pathfinder uses the ubiquitous HC-SR04 distance sensor, which can be found for as little as $2 USD on eBay and Alibaba. These sensors send out a 60 kHz signal and listen for the echos. A microcontroller can then measure the time delay and determine the distance from the sensor to an obstacle. Finally the data is passed on to the user by a vibrating pager motor. [Neal] was kind enough to give a talk about Pathfinder at the 2015 Hackaday SuperCon.

levitate[HoboMunching] likes his ultrasonic devices ultra powerful, and that’s just what he’s got with Ultrasonic Levitation Rig. Inspired by a similar project from Mike, [HoboMunching] had to build his own levitation setup. Ultrasonic levitation used to be a phenomenon studied only in the laboratory. Cheap transducers designed for the industrial world have made this experiment practical for the home hackers. [HoboMunching] was able to use his rig to levitate up to 8 tiny balls on the nulls between the 28.5 kHz sound waves produced by his transducer. The speed of sound can be verified by measuring the distance between the balls. Purists will be happy to hear that [HoboMunching]’s circuit was all based upon the classic 555 timer.

speaker-arrayFinally we have [Alan Green] with Ultrasonic Directional Speaker V1. Most audio signals are not very directional, due to wavelength and practical limitations on speaker size. Ultrasonics don’t have this limitation. Couple this with the fact that ultrasonic signals can be made to demodulate in air, and you have the basis for a highly directional speaker setup. “Sound lasers” based on this system have been around for years, used in everything from targeted advertising to defensive weapons. [Alan] is just getting started on this project. Much of his research is based upon [Joe Pompei’s] work at the MIT media lab. [Alan] plans to use an array of ultrasonic transducers to produce a directional signal which will then demodulate and be heard by a human. This project has a hard deadline though:  [Alan] plans to help his son [Mitchell] with a musical performance that is scheduled for May, 2016. The pair hope to have a prototype in place by March.

If you want to see more ultrasonic projects, check out our new ultrasonic projects list! If I missed your project, don’t be shy! Just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Shmoocon 2016: Z-Wave Protocol Hacked with SDR

The first talk at 2016 Shmoocon was a great one. Joseph Hall and Ben Ramsey presented their work hacking Z-Wave, a network that has been gaining a huge market share in both consumer and industrial connected devices. EZ-Wave uses commodity Software Defined Radio to exploit Z-Wave networks. This is not limited to sniffing, but also used for control with the potential for mayhem.

Continue reading “Shmoocon 2016: Z-Wave Protocol Hacked with SDR”

Edible art from a Robot Pancake Printer

In case you didn’t know it, pancake art is a thing. People are turning out incredible edible artwork using squeeze bottles and pancake batter. But even if you’re not terribly artistic, you can still amaze your breakfast buddies with this robotic pancake printer.

At its simplest – and in our opinion its most impressive – pancake art involves making patterns with thin batter on a hot griddle. The longer the batter is cooked, the darker it becomes, and art happens. To capitalize on this, [Trent], [Kevin], [Sunny] and [Isaac] built a 2-axis gantry with a working area the size of an electric griddle. A bottle is pressurized with a small air pump and controlled by a solenoid valve to serve as a batter extruder, and an Arduino controls everything. Custom pancake design software lets you plan your next masterpiece before committing it to batter.

Sadly, the video below shows us that the team didn’t include an automatic flipper for the pancake, but no matter – that’ll make a great feature for the next version. Maybe something like this?

Continue reading “Edible art from a Robot Pancake Printer”