Tape-Head Robot Listens to the Floor

We were just starting to wonder exactly what we’re going to do with our old collection of cassette tapes, and then along comes art robotics to the rescue!

Russian tech artist [::vtol::] came up with another unique device to make us smile. This time, it’s a small remote-controlled, two-wheeled robot. It could almost be a line follower, but instead of detecting the cassette tapes that criss-cross over the floor, it plays whatever it passes by, using two spring-mounted tape heads. Check it out in action in the video below.

Some of the tapes are audiobooks by sci-fi author [Stanislaw Lem] (whom we recommend!), while others are just found tapes. Want to find out what’s on them? Just drive.

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Flexible, Sensitive Sensors from Silly Putty and Graphene

Everyone’s favorite viscoelastic non-Newtonian fluid has a new use, besides bouncing, stretching, and getting caught in your kid’s hair. Yes, it’s Silly Putty, and when mixed with graphene it turns out to make a dandy force sensor.

To be clear, [Jonathan Coleman] and his colleagues at Trinity College in Dublin aren’t buying the familiar plastic eggs from the local toy store for their experiments. They’re making they’re own silicone polymers, but their methods (listed in this paywalled article from the journal Science) are actually easy to replicate. They just mix silicone oil, or polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS), with boric acid, and apply a little heat. The boron compound cross-links the PDMS and makes a substance very similar to the bouncy putty. The lab also synthesizes its own graphene by sonicating graphite in a solvent and isolating the graphene with centrifugation and filtration; that might be a little hard for the home gamer to accomplish, but we’ve covered a DIY synthesis before, so it should be possible.

With the raw materials in hand, it’s a simple matter of mixing and kneading, and you’ve got a flexible, stretchable sensor. [Coleman] et al report using sensors fashioned from the mixture to detect the pulse in the carotid artery and even watch the footsteps of a spider. It looks like fun stuff to play with, and we can see tons of applications for flexible, inert strain sensors like these.

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Hackaday Links: December 18, 2016

You can fly a brick if it has offset mass and you can fly a microwave because it breaks the law of the conservation of momentum. A paper on the EM Drive was recently published by the Eagleworks team, and the results basically say, ‘if this works, it’s a terrible thruster that shouldn’t work’. Experts have weighed in, but now we might not have to wait for another test in the Eagleworks lab: China will fly an EM Drive on their space station. Will it work? Who knows.

The ESP32 is just now landing on workbenches around the globe, and already a few people are diving into promiscuous mode and WiFi packet injection.

The Large Hadron Collider is the most advanced piece of scientific apparatus ever built. It produces tons of data, and classifying this data is a challenge. The best pattern recognition unit is between your ears, so CERN is crowdsourcing the categorization of LHC data.

Holy crap this is cyberpunk. [SexyCyborg] created a makeup palette pen testing device thing out of a Rasberry Pi and a few bits and bobs sitting around in a parts drawer. The project is cool, but the photolog of the finished project is awesome. It’s exactly what you would use to break into the Weyland-Yutani database while evading government operatives on the rooftops of Kowloon Walled City before escaping via grappling hook shot into the belly of a spaceplane taking off.

The Mini NES is Nintendo’s most successful hardware offering since the N64. This tiny device, importantly packaged in a minified retro NES enclosure, is out of stock everywhere. That doesn’t matter because now there’s a mini Genesis. The cool kids had a Genesis. You want to be a cool kid, right? Mortal Kombat was better on the Genesis.

The Arduino (what once was two is again one) launched a new vowel-hating model: MKRZero. The narrow board is powered by USB or LiPo, centers around an Atmel SAMD21 Cortex-M0+ chip, and sports both an I2C breakout header and a microSD card slot. Just watch those levels as these pins are not 5v tolerant.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is holding a Scientific Maker Exhibit during its annual meeting. This type of exhibit isn’t a poster or presentation — it’s just some table space and a chance to show off a 3D printed apparatus, a new type of sensor, equipment, or some other physical thing. Details in this PDF. This is actually cooler than it sounds, and a significant departure from the traditional poster or presentation found at every other scientific conference.

Did you know Hackaday has a retro edition made specifically for old computers connected to the Internet? That’s my baby, and it’s time for a refresh. If you have any feature requests you’d like to see, leave a note in the comments.

Eavesdropping Via Headphones

We all know that speakers are microphones and microphones are speakers, right? If not, take a moment to plug your headphones into a microphone jack and yell into them. It’s not exactly hi-fi, but it works.

So it’s not a huge surprise that three security researchers in Israel have managed to turn the combination headphone and microphone input jacks that are present on most laptops into an eavesdropping device. (Paper here as PDF, with an obligatory demo video on YouTube, embedded below.) Speake(a)r is a neat proof-of-concept and a horrid pun. Continue reading “Eavesdropping Via Headphones”

Clear the Air Around Your CNC Router with a Custom Dust Shroud

Using a CNC router is a dusty business if your material of choice is wood. Sure, you can keep things tidy by chasing the cutter around the table with a shop vac, but that sort of takes the fun out of having a machine that can make cuts without you. The big boy machines all have integrated dust collection, and now you can too with this 3D-printed CNC router dust shoe.

Designed specifically for the X-Carve with a DeWalt 611 router, [Mark Edstrom]’s brush is a simple design that’s almost entirely 3D printed. The shroud encloses the router body and clamps to the mounting bracket, totally surrounding the business end of the machine. The cup is trimmed with a flexible fringe to trap the dust and guide it to the port that fits a small (1-1/4″ diameter) shop vac hose. The hose is neatly routed along the wiring harness, and the suction is provided by a standard shop vac.

Files for the cup are up on Thingiverse; we suspect it’d be easy to modify the design to work with other routers and dust collectors. You might even find a way to shroud a laser cutter and capture the exhaust with a DIY filter.

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LED Tetris Table

No hackspace is complete without an arcade game project or two. Usually these projects are time-worn generic cabinets scarred by the frustrated kicks of a million teenagers, the decades-old Japanese CRT monitors inside of which are ready to shuffle off this mortal coil. You are lucky if you catch them on a rare moment of functioning, and their owners are always hovering ready to attend to any soon-to-expire electronics.

York Hackspace have done things a little differently though. Their member [John] has an arcade game project, but instead of an aged cabinet he’s produced his own tabletop game with an array of multicolour addressable LED strips powered by a Raspberry Pi. Each LED sits in its own foam cell under the translucent surface, so it forms a low resolution color block display.

It’s a Tetris game in its first incarnation, but there is also a copy of Snake underway for it. If it catches your attention you can write your own games, because all its resources are available in a GitHub repository.

This is one of many Tetris interfaces we’ve seen over the years. Largest was probably this skyscraper, but this oscilloscope version is particularly well-executed. One of our most recent forays into Tetris-land though is also one of the most technically interesting, a 446-byte implementation in a master boot record.

Retrotechtacular: Rocket Sleds

If you need to test rockets, missiles, or ejection-seat systems, your first instinct would be to shoot them up in the air and see what happens. But if you want data, film footage, or the ability to simply walk away from a test, you might consider running your experiment on a rocket sled.

The Holloman High Speed Test Track is a 15 km long stretch of meticulously straight railroad track located in the middle of the New Mexico desert, and bristling with measurement equipment. Today’s Retrotechtacular video (embedded below) gives you the guided tour. And by the way, the elderly colonel who narrates? He doesn’t just run the joint — he was one of the human test subjects put on a rocket sled to test the effects of high acceleration on humans. You can see him survive a run around 1:00 in. Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Rocket Sleds”