Hackaday Prize Entry: Cheap, Open LiDAR

[adam] is a caver, meaning that he likes to explore caves and map their inner structure. This is still commonly done using traditional tools, such as notebooks (the paper ones), tape measure, compasses, and inclinometers. [adam] wanted to upgrade his equipment, but found that industrial LiDAR 3D scanners are quite expensive. His Hackaday Prize entry, the Open LIDAR, is an affordable alternative to the expensive industrial 3D scanning solutions out there.

The 3D scan of a small cave near Louisville (source: [caver.adam's] Sketchfab repository)
The 3D scan of a small cave near Louisville from [caver.adam’s] Sketchfab repository
LiDAR — Light Detection And Ranging —  is the technology that senses the distance between a sensor and an object by reflectively measuring the time of flight of a light beam between the two. By acquiring a two-dimensional array of multiple distance readings, this can be used for 3D scanning. Looking at how the industrial LiDAR scanners capture the environment using fast spinning mirrors, [adam] realized that he could basically achieve the same by using a cheap laser range finder strapped to a pan and tilt gimbal.

The gimbal he designed for this task uses stepper motors to aim an SF30-B laser rangefinder. An Arduino controls the movement and lets the eye of the sensor scan an object or an entire environment. By sampling the distance readings returned by the sensor, a point cloud is created which then can be converted into a 3D model. [adam] plans to drive the stepper motors in microstepping mode to increase the resolution of his scanner. We’re looking forwards to see the first renderings of 3D cave maps captured with the Open LIDAR.

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Niklas Roy’s Music Construction Machine

If you think of a music box, the first image that might come to mind is that of a small tabletop device with a simple mechanism and a single instrument. Usually a row of chimes triggered by points etched on a roller. If you are a bit more ambitious maybe you thought of a player piano with a roll of perforated paper carrying a tune, but yet again with only the single voice of one instrument.

mcm_06[Niklas Roy] however has a different vision when it comes to mechanical music. He’s created an entire ensemble with real musical instruments, a drum kit, keyboard, and electric guitar. His Music Construction Machine is no simple music box with a single tune though, it generates a constantly changing melody through a mechanically implemented algorithm with a complex interaction of cyclic variables that periodically alternate between harmonic and discordant. Unfortunately we can’t find any audio examples of the installation at work.

There is a timeliness to this post, the machine is part of an art installation at the Goethe-Institut Pop Up Pavillion on the Nowy Targ square in Wrocław, Poland, and it will be exhibited until the 10th of July. We hope some of our Central European readers will be within range and can make the trip. If you do, we’d love to hear some sample audio from your visit.

We’ve featured [Niklas]’s work many times before here at Hackaday. Just a few highlights are a past musical project powered by water, God on the CB radio, and his all-terrain mobile beer crate.

UPDATE: [Niklas] has posted details of the exhibition in Wroclaw on his blog, including several videos like the on below the break that show the machine in its full glory.

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Build A Circular Aerofoil Kite

[Waalcko] fell in love with kites when he was 13 years old. He saw a NASA Para Wing kite fly and couldn’t get it out of his head. Now, years later, he shares how to build a circular foil kite design he came up with.

We’re all particular about our chosen hobbies. Some of us like one design direction and hate another. For [Waalcko], he really hates internal supports in kites. When he spied a single line kite in a circular foil configuration he was enraptured, but the design had those hideous spars. So, he got to work and pushed himself to the limit coming up with a kite that was a circular foil, flew with one line, and had no internal supports.

His instructable is a great read and goes into deep detail about the basics of kite construction. (After reading it we’re certain that even the shallows have depths when it comes kites.) It goes through the terminology used when talking about kits, the techniques used to assemble them, the common problems, and more.

Many hours later, if all goes well, one should end up with a really cool kite.

A 150MHz 6502 Co-Processor

If you are familiar with ARM processors, you may know of their early history at the 1980s British home computer manufacturer Acorn. The first physical ARM system was a plug-in co-processor development board for Acorn’s BBC Micro, the machine that could be found in nearly every UK school of the day.

For an 8-bit home computer the BBC Micro had an unusually high specification. It came with parallel, serial and analog ports, built-in networking using Acorn’s proprietary Econet system, and the co-processor interface used by that ARM board, the Tube. There were several commercial co-processors for the Tube, including ones with a 6502,  a Z80 allowing CP/M to be run, and an 80186.

As with most of the 8-bit generation of home computers the BBC Micro continues to maintain a strong enthusiast following who have not stopped extending its capabilities in all directions. The Tube has been interfaced to the Raspberry Pi, for instance, on which an emulation of original co-processor hardware can be run.

bbc-tube-screenshotAnd thus we come to the subject of this article, [Hoglet] and [BigEd]’s 150MHz 6502 coprocessor for the BBC Micro. Which of course isn’t a 6502 at all, but a 6502 emulated in assembler on an ARM which is in a way the very distant descendant of the machine it’s hosted upon. There is something gloriously circular about the whole project, particularly as the Pi, like Acorn, the BBC Micro, and modern-day ARM, has its roots in Cambridge. How useful it is depends on your need to run 8-bit 1980s software in a tearing hurry, but they do report it runs Elite, which if you were there at the time we’re sure you will agree is the most important application to get running on a BBC Micro.

We’ve featured the Tube interface before when we talked about an FPGA co-processor with a PDP/11 mode that was definitely never sold by Acorn. And we’ve also featured an effort to reverse engineer the primordial ARM from that first BBC Micro-based co-processor board.

BBC Micro image: Stuart Brady, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

The Future Of Eagle CAD

Last week, Autodesk announced their purchase of CadSoft Eagle, one of the most popular software packages for electronic design automation and PCB layout.

Eagle has been around for nearly thirty years, and has evolved to become the standard PCB design package for electronic hobbyists, students, and engineering firms lead by someone who learned PCB design with Eagle. The reason for this is simple: it’s good enough for most simple designs, and there is a free version of Eagle. The only comparable Open Source alternative is KiCad, which doesn’t have nearly as many dedicated followers as Eagle.  Eagle, for better or worse, is a standard, and Open Source companies from  Sparkfun to Adafruit use it religiously and have created high-quality libraries of parts and multiple tutorials

I had the chance to talk with [Matt Berggren], former Hackaday overlord who is currently serving as the Director of Autodesk Circuits. He is the person ultimately responsible for all of Autodesk’s electronic design products, from Tinkercad, 123D, Ecad.io, and project Wire, the engine behind Voxel8, Autodesk’s 3D printer that also prints electronics. [Matt] is now the master of Eagle, and ultimately will decide what will change, what stays the same, and the development path for Eagle.

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The Sunday Morning Breakfast Machine

Breakfast is a meal taken very seriously indeed by Brits. So seriously that continual attempts have been made to perfect the experience mechanically. Who could not delight to be woken up by a Teasmade alarm clock delivering a fresh cup of hot beverage, and where else would the getting out of bed sequence in Wallace and Gromit be, not the comedic animated film, but a documentary?

Latest in a long line of British builders of mechanical morning repast generators are [Peter Browne] and [Mervyn Huggett]. Working from a garden shed – where else! – in Sussex, they have spent three months and a thousand man hours creating their “Sunday Morning Breakfast Machine“, designed to cook and serve a slice of toast and a boiled egg alongside a cup of tea or coffee and the morning paper. Prototyping was done in Meccano , could there be any other medium for a machine like this one?

The machine itself is a mix of the practical and the whimsical. The giant-sized facsimile of a vintage Ever Ready battery and the toy rooster hide some pretty accomplished metalwork and control systems. They do admit that the primary purpose is to make people laugh, but it does the job, albeit with what looks like a leak from a cracked egg.

A full description from [Peter] is in the video below the break.

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Don Eyles Walks Us Through the Lunar Module Source Code

A couple weeks ago I was at a party where out of the corner of my eye I noticed what looked like a giant phone book sitting open on a table. It was printed with perforated green and white paper bound in a binder who’s cover looked a little worse for the wear. I had closer look with my friend James Kinsey. What we read was astonishing; Program 63, 64, 65, lunar descent and landing. Error codes 1201, 1202. Comments printed in the code, code segments hastily circled with pen. Was this what we thought we were looking at? And who brings this to a party?

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