Modify Locks to Baffle Burglars

While it’s often thought of as a criminal activity, there’s actually a vibrant hobby community surrounding the art of lock picking. In the same way that white hat hackers try to break into information systems to learn the ways that they can be made stronger, so do those in the locksport arena try to assess the weaknesses of various locks. For the amateur, it can be exciting (and a little unnerving) to experience the ease at which a deadbolt can be picked, and if your concern is great enough, you can go a little farther and modify your locks to make them harder to defeat.

The lock in question was sent to [bosnianbill] by [Rallock67] with a device that [Rallock67] had installed using common tools. Known as a Murphy Ball, a larger-than-normal spring was inserted into one of the pins and held in place by a ball bearing. This makes the lock almost completely immune to bumping, and also made it much more difficult for [bosnianbill], an accomplished and skilled locksmith, to pick the lock due to the amount of force the spring exerted on the cylinder. The surprising thing here was that this modification seems to be relatively easy to do by tapping out some threads and inserting a set screw to hold in the spring.

Locksport and lockpicking are a great hobby to get into. Most people start out picking small padlocks due to their simplicity and ease. It’s even possible to pick some locks with a set of bobby pins. And, if you really want to see how easy it is to defeat some locks and/or how much good the TSA does for your overall security, you’ll want to take a look at this, too.

Thanks to [TheFinn] for the tip!

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Use Machine Learning To Identify Superheroes and Other Miscellany

[Massimiliano Patacchiola] writes this handy guide on using a histogram intersection algorithm to identify different objects. In this case, lego superheroes. All you need to follow along are eyes, Python, a computer, and a bit of machine learning magic.

He gives a good introduction to the idea. You take a histogram of the colors in a properly cropped and filtered photo of the object you want to identify. You then feed that into a neural network and train it to identify the different superheroes by color. When you feed it a new image later, it will compare the new image’s histogram to its model and output confidences as to which set it belongs.

This is a useful thing to know. While a lot of vision algorithms try to make geometric assertions about the things they see, adding color to the mix can certainly help your friendly robot project recognize friend from foe.


Modular Tap-Dancing Robot Can Shuffle Ball Change

Electromechanical solenoids are pretty cool devices. Move some current through an electromagnet and you can push a load around or pull it. If you’re MIT student [Lining Yao], you can use them to dance. [Lining] built TapBot, a re-configurable set of tap-dancing robots that are both modular and modern. She even rolled her own solenoids.

The one with the eye stalk is the bridge, and it’s connected to a computer over FTDI. The other nodes attach to the bridge and each other with small magnets that are designed to flip around freely to make the connections. These links are just physical, though. The nodes must also be connected with ribbon cables.

Each of the nodes is controlled by an ATtiny45 and has a MOSFET to drive the solenoid at 8-12 V. [Lining] snapped a small coin magnet to the end of each solenoid slug to provide a bigger surface area that acts like a tap shoe. TapBot can be programmed with one of several pre-built tap patterns, and these can be combined to make new sequences. The curtain goes up after the break.

There are other ways to make things dance, like muscle wire. Check out this whiteboard pen that uses nitinol to dance to Duke Nukem.

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More Blinky = More Better – The WS2812FX Library

The WS2812 is an amazing piece of technology. 30 years ago, high brightness LEDs didn’t even exist yet. Now, you can score RGB LEDs that even take all the hard work out of controlling and addressing them! But as ever, we can do better.

Riffing on the ever popular Adafruit NeoPixel library, [Harm] created the WS2812FX library. The library has a whole laundry list of effects to run on your blinkenlights – from the exciting Hyper Sparkle to the calming Breathe inspired by Apple devices. The fantastic thing about this library is that it can greatly shorten development time of your garden-variety blinkables – hook up your WS2812s, pick your effect, and you’re done.

[Harm]’s gone and done the hard yards, porting this to a bevy of platforms – testing it on the Arduino Nano, Uno, Micro and ESP8266. As a proof of concept, they’ve also put together a great demonstration of the software – building some cute and stylish Christmas decorations from wood, aluminium, and hacked up Christmas light housings. Combining it with an ESP8266 & an app, the effects can be controlled from a smartphone over WiFi. The assembly video on YouTube shows the build process, using screws and nails to create an attractive frame using aluminium sheet.

This project is a great example of how libraries and modern hardware allow us to stand on the shoulders of giants. It’s quicker than ever to build amazingly capable projects with more LEDs than ever. Over the years we’ve seen plenty great WS2812 projects, like this sunrise alarm clock or this portable rave staff.
As always, blink hard, or go home. Video after the break.

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TastingFeet: Building Toes And Tongues

Noodle Feet is a robot — an artistically designed robot — that is a character from Sarah Petkus’ webcomic Gravity Road. This webcomic explores a post-human universe inhabited by robots, and dives deep into these robots’ exploration of the trash left behind from a human civilization.

Sarah’s not just drawing these robots. She’s bringing them to life. The character Noodle Feet, so named because his legs are encased in pool noodles, has been made real with an aluminum skeleton, a PCB brain, and infrared detecting eyes. At the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference Sarah gave a talk on the challenges of making this robot real and the specifics of making her robot dig its toes into carpet, slobber all over the floor, and taste with its artificial tongue.

Since last year’s talk on Noodle Feet, Sarah has vastly improved the gripping strength of her noodle’s feet. Over the last two years of construction the mechanism to extend grippy, cat-like toenails has moved from cheap hobby servos to solenoids to a clever cam system. While these toe feet worked, the grip was never quite right, and the world isn’t completely covered in shag carpet. After the break we’ll take a closer look at the improvements that Sarah made to the design and how she came up with the ideas for each new iteration.

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Bluetooth Turns 5

Last week, the latest and greatest member of the Bluetooth family of wireless specifications was announced to the world: Bluetooth 5! What main changes are in store? Read the FAQ (PDF), or dig into the full spec (bigger PDF) at 2,800 pages.

Their big-print selling points include “up to 4x the range, 2x the speed, and 8x the broadcasting message capacity” to power the Internet of Things. Etcetera. [Akiba] pointed out via Twitter that they get the fourfold increase in range by adding an extra zero to the “Maximum Output Power” spec, going from 10 mW maximum power to 100 mW. That would do it.

In less snarky news, they’re also allowing for a lower-bitrate mode that will also increase range without simply boosting the power. The spec is actually being changed to let the user work out their optimal blend of power, range, and bitrate. We’re down with that. But you’re not getting 4x the range and 2x the speed without paying the bandwidth piper. That’s just physics.

If you use the beacon mode in Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), you’ll be happy to hear that they’re lengthening the beacon packet from 31 bytes to 255, so you can send a bunch more data without consuming too much power. That’s the “8x”. Bluetooth 5.0 is also backwards compatible with Bluetooth 4.2, so you don’t have to redo anything if you don’t want to take advantage of the newer features. Your current BLE beacons will keep working.

Finally, there’s some contention-detection and other bandwidth optimizing going on, which is welcome in our crowded 2.4 GHz office spectrum. Our guess is that’s where the “2x speed” is largely coming from, but there are about 2,750 pages that we haven’t read yet, so if you’re digging into the spec, let us know what you find in the comments.

Thanks to [Akiba] for tipping us off to this via Twitter. Go check out his great talk on getting hacker stuff in Shenzhen that was presented at the SuperCon.

My Beef with Ham Radio

My amateur radio journey began back in the mid-1970s. I was about 12 at the time, with an interest in electronics that baffled my parents. With little to guide me and fear for my life as I routinely explored the innards of the TVs and radios in the house, they turned to the kindly older gentleman across the street from us, Mr. Brown. He had the traditional calling card of the suburban ham — a gigantic beam antenna on a 60′ mast in the backyard – so they figured he could act as a mentor to me.

Mr. Brown taught me a lot about electronics, and very nearly got me far enough along to take the test for my Novice class license. But I lost interest, probably because I was an adolescent male and didn’t figure a ham ticket would improve my chances with the young ladies. My ham ambitions remained well below the surface as life happened over the next 40 or so years. But as my circumstances changed, the idea of working the airwaves resurfaced, and in 2015 I finally took the plunge and earned my General class license.

The next part of my ham story is all-too-familiar these days: I haven’t done a damn thing with my license. Oh, sure, I bought a couple of Baofeng and Wouxun handy-talkies and lurked on the local repeaters. I even bought a good, solid HF rig and built some antennas, but I’ve made a grand total of one QSO — a brief chat with a ham in Texas from my old home in Connecticut on the 10-meter band. That’s it.

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