The AI is Always Watching

My phone can now understand me but it’s still an idiot when it comes to understanding what I want. We have both the hardware capacity and the software capacity to solve this right now. What we lack is the social capacity.

We are currently in a dumb state of personal automation. I have Google Now enabled on my phone. Every single month Google Now reminds me of bills coming due that I have already paid. It doesn’t see me pay them, it just sees the email I received and the due date. A creature of habit, I pay my bills on the last day of the month even though that may be weeks early. This is the easiest thing in the world for a computer to learn. But it’s an open loop system and so no learning can happen.

Earlier this month [Cameron Coward] wrote an outstanding pair or articles on AI research that helped shed some light on this problem. The correct term for this level of personal automation is “weak AI”. What I want is Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) on a personal level. But that’s not going to happen, and I am the problem. Here’s why.

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A Solar-Powered Headset From Recycled Parts

Solar power has surged ahead in recent years, and access for the individual has grown accordingly. Not waiting around for a commercial alternative, Instructables user [taifur] has gone ahead and built himself a solar-powered Bluetooth headset.

Made almost completely of recycled components — reducing e-waste helps us all — only the 1 W flexible solar panel, voltage regulator, and the RN-52 Bluetooth module were purchased for this project. The base of the headset has been converted from [taifur]’s old wired one, meanwhile a salvaged boost converter, and charge controller — for a lithium-ion battery — form the power circuit. An Apple button makes an appearance alongside a control panel for a portable DVD player (of all things), and an MP4 player’s battery. Some careful recovery and reconfiguration work done, reassembly with a little assistance from the handyman’s secret weapon — duct tape — and gobs of hot glue bore a wireless fruit ready to receive the sun’s bounty.

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Taking A Robot For A Drive

Instructables user [Roboro] had a Mad Catz Xbox steering wheel controller he hasn’t had much use for of late, so he decided to hack and use it as a controller for a robot instead.

Conceivably, you could use any RC car, but [Roboro] is reusing one he used for a robot sumo competition a few years back. Cracking open the controller revealed a warren of wires that were — surprise, surprise — grouped and labelled, making for a far less painful hacking process. Of course, [Roboro] is only using the Xbox button for power, the player-two LED to show the connection status, the wheel, and the pedals, but knowing which wires are which might come in handy later.

An Arduino Uno in the wheel and a Nano in the robot are connected via CC41-A Bluetooth modules which — despite having less functionality than the HM10 module they’re cloned from — perform admirably. A bit of code and integration of a SN754410 H-bridge motor driver — the Arduino doesn’t supply enough current to [Roboro]’s robot’s motors — and the little robot’s ready for its test drive.

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Enter the Space Tunnel

What’s better than 1 string of LED lights? 96. That’s how many. Each string of the 96 has 60 ws2812b LEDs, for a total of 5760 individually addressable RGB LEDs.  That’s not the cool part of [jaymeekae]’s Space Tunnel installation, the cool part is that they’re interactive.

Starting out with some PVC piping, dark cloth was used as a backdrop and the LED strips were attached to it. Several power supplies are used to supply the voltage necessary and each strip controlled by FadeCandy chips which connect to, in this case, a Windows PC via USB. Initially, computer power supplies were used, but they couldn’t supply the current necessary. [jaymeekae] used them for the first installation, but switched to better power supplies for further installations.

Once the lights were up and powered, [jaymeekae] started work on the interface to control them. Starting with a used bureau, [jaymeekae] cut out a section for the touchscreen, and installed the controlling computer in the bottom half. Processing is used to interface with the FadeCandy controllers and HTML is used for a user interface. Each mode runs a different Processing program for different effects, including audio visualization, a space tunnel mode (hence the name) and a cool drawing app where the user draws on the touchscreen and sees the results in the lights overhead.

Over several iterations, the Space Tunnel has evolved, with better power supplies and a better interface. It’s a great art installation and [jaymeekae] takes it to festivals, including one in Spain and one in the UK. There are some other LED string projects at Hack-a-Day, including this one with ping-pong balls, and this one that involves drinking a lot of beer first.

[via Reddit]

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DIY Syringe Pump Saves Big Bucks for Hacker’s Lab

If you had a choice between going to your boss and asking for funds for a new piece of gear, would you rather ask for $3000 to buy off-the-shelf, or $200 for the parts to build the same thing yourself? Any self-respecting hacker knows the answer, and when presented with an opportunity to equip his lab with a new DIY syringe pump for $200, [Dr. D-Flo] rose to the challenge.

The first stop for [Dr. D-Flo] was, naturally, Hackaday.io, which is where he found [Naroom]’s syringe pump project. It was a good match for his budget and his specs, but he needed to modify some of the 3D printed parts a little to fit the larger syringes he intended to use. The base is aluminum extrusion, the drive train is a stepper motor spinning threaded rod and a captive nut in the plunger holders, and an Arduino and motor shield control everything. The drive train will obviously suffer from a fair amount of backlash, but this pump isn’t meant for precise dispensing so it shouldn’t matter. We’d worry a little more about the robustness of the printed parts over time and their compatibility with common lab solvents, but overall this was a great build that [Dr. D-Flo] intends to use in a 3D food printer. We look forward to seeing that one.

It’s getting so that that you can build almost anything for the lab these days, from peristaltic pumps to centrifuges. It has to be hard to concentrate on your science when there’s so much gear to make.

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Hackaday Links: February 26, 2017

The MeArm Pi is a fantastic little robot kit that was the first place winner of the Enlightened Pi contest here on Hackaday. It’s crushing the Shitty Robots subreddit, and compared to the old MeArm kit, it’s much, much simpler to assemble. Ask me how I know. Now the MeArm Pi is a Kickstarter. This tiny robot arm is programmable in everything from Scratch to Perl. It’s highly recommended for children ages 8 to those wanting to recreate the opening scene of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.

Almost a year ago, Lulzbot unveiled their latest 3D printer at the Midwest RepRap Festival. The Taz 6 is a great printer, but it’s a bit of a departure from their previous designs. The biggest change was the ‘brain box’, the controller box that encases the power supply, stepper drivers, and other associated electronics. Last year, Lulzbot said they would be selling this brain box by itself. It’s out now, ready for integration into your own self-built Taz, or a 3D printer of your own design.

Speaking of the Midwest RepRap Festival, it’s only a month away. It’s scheduled for March 25-26th at the Elkhart County 4-H Fairgrounds in Goshen, Indiana. Why the middle of nowhere? It ensures only the cool kids make it. For one weekend a year, Goshen, Indiana turns into the nexus of all things 3D printing. Don’t ask questions, just come. It’s free, although it would be cool if you kicked a few bucks over to the organizers.

[Clickspring] — the guy who built a fantastic clock in his home shop – is working on his second project. It’s an Antikythera Mechanism, and the latest episode is about building a gigantic gear. This is a unique approach to building an Antikythera Mechanism. [Clickspring] is still using modern tools, but he’s figuring out how this machine was built with tools available 2000 years ago.

Ogopogo, defeated by the Travelling Hacker Box.
Ogopogo, defeated by the Travelling Hacker Box.

Ogopogo. Champ is a picture of a log and Nessie is a toy submarine with a head made out of plastic wood. Ogopogo is a plesiosaur. Are you going to tell me a log – or at best a beaver – can kick the ass of a plesiosaur? Ogo. Pogo. Plesiosaur. The Travelling Hacker Box has conquered Ogopogo.

The ESP32 is quickly becoming the coolest microcontroller platform out there. You know what that means – Kickstarters! The FluoWiFi is Arduino-derived dev board featuring the ESP32 for WiFi, Bluetooth, and all the cool wireless goodies. This board also features an ATMega644p — basically the little sister to the ATMega1284p – for all your standard microcontroller Arduino stuff. It’s £25 for a board, which makes it pretty inexpensive for what you’re getting.

Your Internet of Things Speaks Volumes About You

If only Marv and Harry were burglars today; they might have found it much easier to case houses and — perhaps — would know which houses were occupied by technically inclined kids by capitalizing on the potential  vulnerability that [Luc Volders] has noticed on ThingSpeak.

As an IoT service, ThingSpeak takes data from an ESP-8266, graphs it, and publicly displays the data. Some of you may already see where this is going. While [Volders] was using the service for testing, he realized anyone could check the temperature of his man-cave — thereby inferring when the house was vacant since the location data also happened to be public. A little sleuthing uncovered several other channels with temperature data or otherwise tied to a location that those with nefarious intent could abuse.

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