Sci-Fi Contest Roundup: No Tea


In case you haven’t heard, we’re running a contest on Hackaday Projects for the best Sci-Fi build. We’re a little under two weeks until the deadline for the contest and so far there are a lot of great entries (and lots of great prizes still up for grabs).

If there’s one thing this contest has taught us, it’s that Hackaday readers have impeccable taste in their choices of books, movies, TV shows, and video games. We were surprised at how many entries there are for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a series not generally known for having cool gadgets such as giant mechs, lightsabers, and other impressively awesome stuff. Here’s a roundup of the current HHGTTG submissions for the Sci-Fi contest:

Doors That Sass

roundup-robot-doorThe doors in Hitchhiker’s Guide are insufferable self-contented sentient portals programmed by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation to love their simple lives. Upon everyone opening or closing one of these doors, they thank the person for validating their existence.

The door in [Jarrett]‘s hackerspace wouldn’t stay closed, so what better way to fix the door than with a robotic door greeter? Actually, it’s just a weight tied to a pulley that keeps the door closed with a little bit of circuitry that plays an .mp3 file when the door moves. Still, self-contented doors. [Goug] is also making one of these self-satisfied doors, but there’s not much in the way of progress.

Going Up?

sentient-elevatorThe Happy Vertical People Transporter is HHGTTG’s answer to the common elevator. Like doors, they’re also sentient, but also have ‘defocused temporal perception’ to arrive at a floor before a passenger even realizes they need a lift. [DigiGram] and [Lolla] are working on one of these sentient elevators using a webcam, OpenCV, and some AVR-based electronics.

Look Out!

peril-sensitive-glassesThe Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses allow the user to adapt to danger by blacking out a the first signs of peril. [colabot] and [minimum effective dose] realized you can just buy glasses that can be blacked out electronically in the form of active shutter glasses for a 3D TV. With a few peril sensors, they’re working on finishing up their peril sensitive sunglasses.

Remember, the Hackaday Projects Sci-Fi contest doesn’t end until April 29th. That leaves you plenty of time to enter your own build. May we suggest a Brownian motion simulation beverage?


Using Non-Crappy Software With The Da Vinci Printer


The Da Vinci printer from XYZprinting is turning out to be one of the best buys in the world of cheap, consumer printers. Sure, it uses chipped filament, but that’s an easy fix for anyone who knows what a .hex file is. And yes, the Da Vinci host software is a mess of proprietary garbage with limited functionality, but [Mark] has figured out a way around that.

When [Mark] received his Da Vinci, he immediately started snooping around inside the printer’s guts, like any good tinkerer should. He found an SD card holding all the sample prints that ship with the printer, all in a convenient Gcode format. Inside these sample .STL files were all the calls you would expect – setting the temperature, changing the layer height, and all the other good stuff you’d find in any other RepRap.

With a little bit of modification to .STL files generated by any slicing program, [Mark] isn’t limited any more by the terrible host software that ships with the Da Vinci. Combine this with the ability to reset the chip inside the filament cartridge, and [Mark] has a printer at least as functional as any open hardware model.

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Hackaday Retro Edition: Parallel Port Ethernet

It’s time once again for a roundup of ancient hardware that has successfully loaded our retro edition. Up this time is a completely random and totally not planned roundup of parallel port to Ethernet adapters.

First up is [Tom Moss] with his IBM 5150 – the first ‘IBM Compatible’ home computer, progenitor of the i7 boxxen warming your ankles as you read this. This machine comes standard with a 4.77 MHz 8088 CPU, 8087 FPU, 512k RAM, two 360k 5.25″ floppy drives, and a few very cool additions: an ISA to CompactFlash card adapter, giving [Tom]‘s box 4GB of storage.

How is [Tom] connecting to the Internet? A Xircom PE3-10BT Network Adapter. This neat device turns any parallel port into an Ethernet. With a Telnet program, [Tom] was able to connect to a Unix system and use Lynx to browse over to the retro site. He’s yet to get a DOS browser working, but FTP is go, allowing him to download ancient software directly onto his huge CF card.

The next one isn’t exactly vintage, but it does carry the spirit of antiquated hardware onto the web. [Valentin] is using a FleaFPGA and a 186 over at OpenCores. The FPGA board gives him VGA output, an SD card, A PS/2 keyboard, but no options for networking. That’s no problem for [Valentin], as he wired up a Xircom PE3 parallel port to Ethernet adapter. Yes, the same adapter as the 5150 above. [Valentin] says his parallel port hack is a bit of a mess with non-bidirectional and no dedicated IRQ hardware support. It works, though, so we can’t fault him for that.

We’re always looking for people who have loaded our retro edition on old hardware. If you have some outdated hardware sitting in the attic, get it out, load up Hackaday Retro, and send it in.

Pics from [Tom] and [Valentin] below.

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The HellZXchreiber


Hellschreiber – German for ‘light pen’ – was developed in the 20s as a way to transmit text in a way that was much more robust than the teletypes of the time. These devices were used to great effect by the Germans in WWII, and later became popular with wire services and was used until the 80s. The fax machine then happened, and no one really cared about Hellschreiber, save for a few plucky amateur radio enthusiasts.

In the early 90s, a few of these amateur radio enthusiasts realized they could use their personal computers to communicate with this extremely simple protocol that’s also very resilient against interference and weak radio links. [Danjovic] is following in their footsteps by decoding Hellschreiber on an old ZX Spectrum clone.

[Danjovic] tested his code with the sound sample found in the Hallschreiber wiki article and some text generated by Fldigi. Everything works beautifully, an [Dan] can even change the intensity of the text with the volume control – a very useful feature should the HellZXchreiber ever make it out into the field.

Source and image files available for all you strange Speccy fans. Everyone else can check out the videos below.

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Automated Bed Leveling For 3D Printers Is Now Solved


The latest and greatest feature for 3D printers – besides being closed source, having no meaningful technical specs, and being on track towards pulling in $10 Million on a Kickstarter – is automated bed leveling. This amazingly useful feature makes sure your prints have proper adhesion to the bed, reduce print errors, and put even inexpensive printers into the realm of extremely expensive professional machines. Automated bed leveling has been extremely hard to implement in the past, but now [Scottbee] has it figured out with a working prototype on his Makerbot Replicator 2X.

Earlier attempts at automated bed leveling used some sort of probe on the tool head to measure the build plate, calculate its flatness and orientation in space, and compensate for any tilt in software. [Scottbee]‘s solution to the problem took a different tack: instead of trying to compensate for any odd orientation of the build surface in software, he’s simply making the bed level with a series of springs and cam locks.

[Scottbee]‘s device levitates the build plate on three springs, and replaces the jack screws with three “gimballing pins” and pin locks. With the pin locks disengaged, the bed plate is pressed down with the printer’s nozzle. By moving the extruder across the build plate and locking the pins in place one by one, [Scottbee]‘s device defines the plane of the build plate along three points. This makes the build platform parallel to the extruder nozzle, and also has a nice benefit of setting the distance from the build platform to the nozzle precisely with incredible repeatability.

The mechanics of locking the three gimballing pins in place  only requires a single DC gear motor, driven by an extra fan output on the Makerbot’s electronics. It’s simple, and with a bit of rework, it looks like most of the device could also be 3D printed.

An awful lot of RepRaps and 3D printers out there already use three points to attach the build plate to a frame. With a little bit of effort, this same technique could be ported and made a bit more generic than the Makerbot-based build seen above. It’s amazingly simple, and we can’t wait to see this applied to a normal RepRap.

Thanks [Josh] for the tip.

Fixing Apple TV’s Terrible UI


Despite Apple’s unfailing dedication to UI, they still sometimes manage to put out some stinkers. The latest of these is the ‘keyboard’ for the search interface in the Apple TV. It’s an alphabetical keyboard, laid out in a square with the obvious frustration that goes along with that terrible idea. [Lasse] was frustrated with this design and realized searching anything with the Apple TV IR remote is a pain. His solution was to build his own version of the Apple TV remote with a web interface, powered by an Arduino.

Inspired by the Apple Remote Arduino Shield we featured a few years ago, [Lasse] stuck an IR LED int the pins of Arduino with an Ethernet shield, current limiting resistors be damned. The web UI is the innovative part of this build. He’s hosting a simple website on the Arduino that allows him to type – with a real keyboard – a search query into the website, and have the Arduino take care of moving the Apple TV cursor around to select each letter.

The web UI has all the features found on the Apple TV remote, including the swipe gestures, and has a really slick brushed metal texture to boot. You can check out the video of [Lasse]‘s project typing text into an Apple TV hilariously fast below.

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Bare-metal Programming On The Teensy 3


The Teensy 3.x series of boards are amazing pieces of work, with a tiny, breadboard-friendly  footprint, an improbable amount of IO pins, and a powerful processor, all for under $20. [Karl Lunt] loves nearly all the features of the Teensy 3, except for one: the Arduino IDE. Yes, the most terrible, most popular IDE in existence. To fix this problem, [Karl] set up a bare-metal development environment, and lucky us, he’s chosen to share it with us.

[Karl] is using CodeBench Lite for the compiler, linker, assembler, and all that other gcc fun, but the CodeSourcery suite doesn’t have an IDE. Visual Studio 2008 Express is [Karl]‘s environment of choice, but just about every other IDE out there will do the same job. Of course a make utility will be needed, and grabbing the docs for the Freescale K20 microcontroller wouldn’t be a bad idea, either.

The end result is [Karl] being able to develop for the Teensy 3.X with the IDE of his choice. He was able to quickly set up a ‘blink a LED’ program with the new toolchain, although uploading the files to the Teensy does require the Teensy Loader app.