3D Printing Gets Cheesy

Has it ever crossed your mind that everything you see for sale–no matter how mundane–is someone’s life passion? Or, at least, their work passion. Somewhere as we speak two or three people are in a room trying to figure out how to make a whoopie cushion for two cents less than before. Someone is touting the virtues of the newest design in egg cartons. The guys that make the tube that carries your money to the bank teller at the drive through window? They exist, too.

It is natural for us to think about improving 3D printers but most of us print plastic. We might wish we could print metal. But researchers in a few places are printing cheese. We didn’t say hackers with the muchies, we said researchers. There’s a colorful slide show from the University College Cork in Ireland, for example. They printed cheese at two different speeds and used a laser scanning microscope and a rheometer to analyze the results. We’ve seen rheometers in plastic factories, but never in the kitchen. Meanwhile on the hacker front, apparently spray cheese cans work as an easy cold extruder (see video below).

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Control Alexa Echo from anywhere in the World

If you are not within ear-shot of your Alexa Echo, Dot or Tap device and need to command it from anywhere in the world, you’d most likely use the handy mobile app or web interface to control it. For some strange reason, if you’d rather use voice commands from anywhere in the world, you can still do it using apps such as Alexa Listens or Reverb, among many others. We’d be the first ones to call these out and say “It’s not a hack”. But [pat dhens] approach is above reproach! He has posted details on how to Remote Control the Alexa Echo from Anywhere in the World. Short version of the hack — he’s using a Raspberry Pi with a speaker attached to it which commands his Alexa Tap using a text-to-speech converter program.

The long version is short as well. The user uses a VPN, such as OpenVPN, to log in to their home network where the Alexa device is located. Then, use VNC to connect to the Raspberry Pi to access its shell. Finally, the user issues a text command which is converted to speech by the ‘festival‘ program on the Raspberry Pi. The output goes to an external speaker via the Raspberry Pi’s 3.5 mm audio out jack. And that’s all there is to it. You’ve just issued a voice command to your Alexa from across the world.

Maybe it will save your vocal chords from damage due to excessive hollering, we guess. He’s even made a short video to prove that it works. Now all it needs is a microphone to listen to Alexa, convert speech-to-text, and then transmit it back to you across the world to complete the cycle.

We’re not sure, but he thinks this hack will lead him to world domination. Good Luck with that.

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Arduino + Geometry + Bicycle = Speedometer

It is pretty easy to go to a big box store and get a digital speedometer for your bike. Not only is that no fun, but the little digital display isn’t going to win you any hacker cred. [AlexGyver] has the answer. Using an Arduino and a servo he built a classic needle speedometer for his bike. It also has a digital display and uses a hall effect sensor to pick up the wheel speed. You can see a video of the project below.

[Alex] talks about the geometry involved, in case your high school math is well into your rear view mirror. The circumference of the wheel is the distance you’ll travel in one revolution. If you know the distance and you know the time, you know the speed and the rest is just conversions to get a numerical speed into an angle on the servo motor. The code is out on GitHub.

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A Little IoT for Your PID Tea Kettle

For some folks, tea is a simple pleasure – boil water, steep tea, enjoy. There are those for whom tea is a sacred ritual, though, and the precise temperature control they demand requires only the finest in water heating technology. And then there are those who take things even further by making a PID-controlled electric tea kettle an IoT device with Amazon Echo integration.

Nothing worth doing isn’t worth overdoing, and [luma] scores points for that. Extra points too for prototyping an early iteration of his design on a RadioShack Electronics Learning Lab – the one with a manual written by Forrest Mims. [luma] started out using an Arduino with a Zigbee shield but realized the resulting circuit would have to live in an external enclosure. Switching to an ESP8266, the whole package – including optoisolators, relays, and a small wall-wart – is small enough to fit inside the kettle’s base. The end result is an MQTT device that publishes its status to his SmartThings home automation system, and now responds when he tells Alexa it’s time for tea.

Projects that hack the means of caffeine are no strangers to Hackaday, whether your preferred vector is tea, coffee, or even straight up.

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We Can Now 3D Print Slinkys

A mark of a good 3D print — and a good 3D printer — is interlayer adhesion. If the layers of a 3D print are too far apart, you get a weak print that doesn’t look good. This print has no interlayer adhesion. It’s a 3D printed Slinky, the kind that rolls down stairs, alone or in pairs, and makes a slinkity sound. Conventional wisdom says you can’t print a Slinky, but that didn’t stop [mpclauser] from trying and succeeding.

This Slinky model was made using a few lines of JavaScript that output a Gcode file. There is no .STL file, and you can’t edit this CNC Slinky in any CAD tools. This is also exceptionally weird Gcode. According to [mpclauser], the printer, ‘zigzags’ between an inner and outer radius while constantly increasing the height. This is the toolpath you would expect from a 3D printed Slinky, but it also means the usual Gcode viewers throw a fit when trying to figure out how to display this thing.

All the code to generate your own 3D printable Slinky Gcode file is up on [mpclauser]’s Google Drive. The only way to see this print in action is to download the Gcode file and print it out. Get to it.

Retrotechtacular: The Last Main Line

If you were to nominate a technology from the 19th century that most defined it and which had the greatest effect in shaping it, you might well settle upon the railway. Over the century what had started as horse-drawn mining tramways evolved into a global network of high-speed transport that meant travel times to almost anywhere in the world on land shrank from months or weeks to days or hours.

For Brits, by the end of the century a comprehensive network connected almost all but the very smallest towns and villages. There had been many railway companies formed over the years to build railways of all sizes, but these had largely conglomerated into a series of competing companies with a regional focus. Each one had its own main line, all of which radiated out from London to the regions like the spokes of a wheel.

A Ruston steam navvy excavating near Wembley, London. S.W.A.Newton/Leicestershire County Council (Fair use)
A Ruston steam navvy excavating near Wembley, London. S.W.A.Newton/Leicestershire County Council (Fair use)

By the 1890s there was only one large and ambitious railway company left that had not built a London main line. The Great Central Railway’s heartlands lay in the North Midlands and the North of England, yet had never extended southwards. In the 1890s they launched their ambitious scheme to build  their London connection, an entirely new line from their existing Nottingham station to a new terminus at Marylebone, in London.

Since this was the last of the great British main lines, and built many decades after its rivals, it saw the benefit of the century’s technological advancement. Gone were the thousands of navvies (construction workers, from “Navigational”) digging and moving soil and rock by hand, and in their place the excavation was performed using the latest steam shovels. The latest standards were used in its design, too, with shallow curves and gradients, no level crossings, and a wider Continental loading gauge in anticipation of a future channel tunnel to France This was a high-speed railway built sixty years before modern high-speed trains, and nearly ninety years before the Channel Tunnel was opened.

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Backscatter Your Own FM Pirate Radio Station

If you live in a city, you’re constantly swimming in a thick soup of radio-frequency energy. FM radio stations put out hundreds of kilowatts each into the air. Students at the University of Washington, [Anran Wang] and [Vikram Iyer], asked themselves if they could harness this background radiation to transmit their own FM radio station, if only locally. The answer was an amazing yes.

The trailer video, embedded below, demos a couple of potential applications, but the paper (PDF) has more detail for the interested. Basically, they turn on and off an absorbing antenna at a frequency that’s picked so that it modulates a strong FM signal up to another adjacent channel. Frequency-modulating this backscatter carrier frequency adds audio (or data) to the product station.

One of the cooler tricks that they pull off with this system is to inject a second (stereo) channel into a mono FM station. Since FM radio is broadcast as a mono signal, with a left-minus-right signal sent alongside, they can make a two-channel stereo station by recreating the stereo pilot carrier and then adding in their own difference channel. Pretty slick. Of course, they could send data using this technique as well.

Why do this? A small radio station using backscatter doesn’t have to spend its power budget on the carrier. Instead, the device can operate on microwatts. Granted, it’s only for a few feet in any given direction, but the station broadcasts to existing FM radios, rather than requiring the purchase of an RFID reader or similar device. It’s a great hack that piggybacks on existing infrastructure in two ways. If this seems vaguely familiar, here’s a similar idea out of the very same lab that’s pulling off essentially the same trick indoors with WiFi signals.

So who’s up for local reflected pirate radio stations?

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