Ancient Robot Creates Modern Art

They say that there’s more to a Jackson Pollock painting than randomly scattering paint on a canvas, and the auction value of his work seems to verify that claim. If you want to create some more conventional artwork, however, but are missing the artistic muse that inspired Pollock, maybe you can put your creative energies to work building a robot that will create the art for you.

[Dane Kouttron] was able to get his hands on an old SCARA robotic arm, and was recently inspired to create a paintbrush-weilding robot with it for the 2nd Annual Robot Art competition. Getting one of these ancient (circa 1983) robots working again is no easy task though. [Dane] used LinuxCNC to help reverse engineer the robot’s controls and had to build a lot of supporting hardware to get the extremely heavy robot to work properly. The entire process took around two months, and everything from color selection to paint refill to the actual painting itself is completely automated.

Be sure to check out the video after the break to see the robot in action. The writeup goes into great detail about the robot, and includes everything from reverse engineering the encoders to auto-cleaning a paintbrush. If you don’t have a SCARA robot arm in your parts drawer, though, there are lots of other options to explore for robot-created artwork.

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AI Generates Color Palettes; Has Remarkably Good Taste

Color palettes are key to any sort of visual or graphic design. A designer has to identify a handful of key colours to make a design work, making calls on what’s eye catching or what sets the mood appropriately. One of the problems is that it relies heavily on subjective judgement, rather than any known mathematical formula. There are rules one can apply, but rules can also be artistically broken, so it’s never a simple task. To this end, [Jack Qiao] created, a tool that uses neural nets to generate color palettes.

It’s a fun tool – there’s a selection of palettes generated from popular media and sunset photos, as well as the option to generate custom palettes yourself. Colours can be locked so you can iterate around those you like, finding others that match well. The results are impressive – the tool is able to generate palettes that seem to blend rather well. We were unable to force it to generate anything truly garish despite a few attempts!

The blog explains the software behind the curtain. After first experimenting with a type of neural net known as an LSTM, [Jack] found the results too bland. The network was afraid to be wrong, so would choose values very much “in the middle”, leading to muted palettes of browns and greys. After switching to a less accuracy-focused network known as a GAN, the results were better – [Jack] says the network now generates what it believes to be “plausible” palettes. The code has been uploaded to GitHub if you’d like to play around with it yourself.

Check out this primer on neural nets if you’d like to learn more. We’d like to know – how do you pick a palette when starting a project? Let us know in the comments.

Ultrasonic Tracking Beacons Rising

An ultrasonic beacon is an inaudible sound with encoded data that can be used by a listening device to receive information on just about anything. Beacons can be used, for example, inside a shop to highlight a particular promotion or on a museum for guided tours where the ultrasonic beacons can encode the location. Or they can be used to track people consumers. Imagine if Google find outs… oh, wait… they already did, some years ago. As with almost any technology, it can be used to ‘do no harm’ or to serve other purposes.

Researchers from the Technische Universitat Braunschweig in Germany presented a paper about Ultrasonic Side Channels on Mobile Devices and how can they be abused in a variety of scenarios , ranging from simple consumer tracking to deanonymization. These types of ultrasonic beacons work in the 18 kHz – 20 kHz range, which the human being doesn’t have the ability to hear, unless you are under twenty years old, due to presbycusis. Yes, presbycusis. This frequency range can played via almost any speaker and can be picked up easily by most mobile device microphones, so no special hardware is needed. Speakers and mics are almost ubiquitous nowadays, so there is a real appeal to the technology.

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Industrial Robots, Hacking and Sabotage

Everything is online these days creating the perfect storm for cyber shenanigans. Sadly, even industrial robotic equipment is easily compromised because of our ever increasingly connected world. A new report by Trend Micro shows a set of attacks on robot arms and other industrial automation hardware.

This may not seem like a big deal but image a scenario where an attacker intentionally builds invisible defects into thousands of cars without the manufacturer even knowing. Just about everything in a car these days is built using robotic arms. The Chassis could be built too weak, the engine could be built with weaknesses that will fail far before the expected lifespan. Even your brake disks could have manufacturing defects introduced by a computer hacker causing them to shatter under heavy braking. The Forward-looking Threat Research (FTR) team decided to check the feasibility of such attacks and what they found was shocking. Tests were performed in a laboratory with a real in work robot. They managed to come up with five different attack methods.

Attack 1: Altering the Controller’s Parameters
The attacker alters the control system so the robot moves unexpectedly or inaccurately, at the attacker’s will.

  • Concrete Effects: Defective or modified products
  • Requirements Violated: Safety, Integrity, Accuracy

Attack 2: Tampering with Calibration Parameters
The attacker changes the calibration to make the robot move unexpectedly or inaccurately, at the attacker’s will.

  • Concrete Effects: Damage to the robot
  • Requirements Violated: Safety, Integrity, Accuracy

Why are these robots even connected? As automated factories become more complex it becomes a much larger task to maintain all of the systems. The industry is moving toward more connectivity to monitor the performance of all machines on the factory floor, tracking their service lifetime and alerting when preventive maintenance is necessary. This sounds great for its intended use, but as with all connected devices there are vulnerabilities introduced because of this connectivity. This becomes especially concerning when you consider the reality that often equipment that goes into service simply doesn’t get crucial security updates for any number of reasons (ignorance, constant use, etc.).

For the rest of the attack vectors and more detailed info you should refer to the report (PDF) which is quite an interesting read. The video below also shows insight into how these type of attacks might affect the manufacturing process.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Arduino Splash Resistant Toilet Foamer

There are some universal human experiences we don’t talk about much, at least not in public. One of them you’ll have in your own house, and such is our reluctance to talk about it, we’ve surrounded it in a fog of euphemisms and slang words. Your toilet, lavatory, john, dunny, khazi, bog, or whatever you call it, is part of your everyday life.

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [VijeMiller] tackles his smallest room head-on. You see, for him, the chief horror of the experience lies with the dreaded splashback. Yes, a bit of projectile power dumping leaves the old rump a little on the damp side. So he’s tackled the problem with some maker ingenuity and installed an Arduino-controlled foam generator that injects a mixture of soap and glycerin to fill the bowl with a splash-damping load of foam. Rearward inundation avoided.

The parts list reveals that the foam is generated by a fish tank aerator, triggered by a relay which is driven by an Arduino Uno through a power transistor. A solenoid valve controls the flow, and a lot of vinyl tubing hooks it all together. There is an HC/06 Bluetooth module with an app to control the device from a phone, though while he’s posted some Arduino code there is no link to the app. There are several pictures, including a cheeky placement of a Jolly Wrencher, and a shot of what we can only surmise is a text, as foam overflows all over the bathroom. And he’s put up the video we’ve placed below the break, for a humorous demonstration of the device in action.

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The Princess and the HDD: Poor Design Choices

You’ll all remember my grand adventure in acquiring a photocopier. Well, it’s been a rollercoaster, I tell ya. While I still haven’t found a modification worthy enough to attempt, I have become increasingly frustrated. From time to time, I like to invite my friends and family over for dinner, and conversation naturally turns to things like the art on the walls, the fish in the aquarium, or perhaps the photocopier in the living room. Now, I dearly love to share my passions with others, so it’s pretty darned disappointing when I go to fire off a few copies only to have the machine fail to boot! It was time to tackle this problem once and for all.

When powered up, the photocopier would sit at a “Please Wait…” screen for a very long time, before eventually coughing up an error code — SC990 — and an instruction to call for service. A bunch of other messages would flash up as well; Address Book Data Error, Hard Drive Data Error, and so on. In the end I realized they all centered around data storage.

Pictured: the author, in his happy place, at peace with the copier.

Now, I’d already tried diving into the service menu once before, and selected the option to format the hard drive. That had led to the problem disappearing for a short period, but now it was back. No amount of mashing away at the keypad would work this time. The format commands simply returned “Failed” every time. What to do next? You guessed it, it was time for a teardown!

Thankfully, photocopiers are designed for easy servicing — someone’s paying for all those service calls. A few screws and large panels were simply popping off with ease; completely the opposite of working on cars. Spotting the hard drive was easy, it looked like some sort of laptop IDE unit. With only SATA laptops around the house to salvage parts from, I wasn’t able to come up with something to swap in.

A bit of research (and reading the label) taught me that the drive was a Toshiba MK2023GAS/HDD2187. Replacements were available on eBay, but if I waited two weeks I’d probably be wrist deep in some other abandoned equipment. It had to be sorted on the night. In the words of [AvE], if you can’t fix it… well, you know how it goes. I yanked the drive and, lo and behold – the copier booted straight up! Just to be sure I wasn’t hallucinating, I churned out a few copies, and other than the continued jamming on all-black pages, everything was fine. Literally all it took to get the copier to boot was to remove the ailing drive. Suffice to say, I was kind of dumbfounded.

The hard drive a.k.a. the villain of the piece.

I’m happy to chalk up the win, but I have to draw issue with Ricoh’s design here. The copier is clearly capable of operating perfectly well without a hard drive. It will give up its document server and address book abilities, but it will still make copies and print without a problem.

Yet, when the copier’s drive fails, the unit fails completely and refuses to work. This necessitates a service call for the average user to get anything at all happening again — causing much lost work and productivity. A better design in my eyes would have the copier notify users of the lost functionality due to the failed drive and the need to call service, but let them copy! Any IT administrator will know the value of a bodged work around that keeps the company limping along for the day versus having a room of forty agitated workers with nothing to do. It’s a shame Ricoh chose to have the photocopier shut down completely rather than valiantly fight on.

Feel free to chime in with your own stories of minor failures that caused total shutdowns in the comments. Video below the break.

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Google AIY: Artificial Intelligence Yourself

When Amazon released the API to their voice service Alexa, they basically forced any serious players in this domain to bring their offerings out into the hacker/maker market as well. Now Google and Raspberry Pi have come together to bring us ‘Artificial Intelligence Yourself’ or AIY.

A free hardware kit made by Google was distributed with Issue 57 of the MagPi Magazine which is targeted at makers and hobbyists which you can see in the video after the break. The kit contains a Raspberry Pi Voice Hat, a microphone board, a speaker and a number of small bits to mount the kit on a Raspberry Pi 3. Putting all of it together and following the instruction on the official site gets you a Google Voice Interaction Kit with a bunch of IOs just screaming to be put to good use.

The source code for the python app can be downloaded from GitHub and consists of a loop that awaits a trigger. This trigger can be a press of a button or a clap near the microphones. When a trigger is detected, the recorder function takes over sending the stream to the Google Cloud. Speech-to-Text conversion happens there and the result is returned via a Text-To-Speech engine that helps the system talk back. The repository suggests that the official Voice Kit SD Image (893 MB download) is based on Raspbian so don’t go reflashing a memory card right away, you should be able to add this to an existing install.

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