Hackaday Prize Entry: Microscopy With Blu-ray

Confocal microscopy is an imaging technique that provides higher resolution micrographs than that of traditional optical microscopy. Confocal microscopes attain this higher resolution from an image sensor behind a pinhole. By eliminating out of focus light, and by scanning the specimen back and forth under the microscope, a very high resolution image may be produced. This technique has applications ranging from life sciences to semiconductor work. For this year’s Hackaday Prize, [andreas.betz] is building a confocal microscope using little more than a Blu-ray drive read head.

[andreas]’ build uses a standard Playstation 3 Blu-ray drive mechanism. The read head for this mechanism is well documented, but [andreas] still has to drive the laser and the voice coils for this machine to do anything. With the Blu-ray drive working, only the optics remained.

Just this last week, [andreas] imaged the die of a transistor with a resolution of about 680nm. An inductor was also imaged, showing a track separation of about 10um. This is approaching the limits of optical microscopy, and the apparatus is simple enough for anyone to replicate.

As a feat of technical ingenuity, this is a great project. It’s one of the best we’ve seen for the Citizen Science portion of the Hackaday Prize, and can’t wait to see what other images [andreas] can make with this machine.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Visualizing Magnetic Fields

In 1820, Hans Christian Oersted discovered the needle of a compass would deflect when placed next to a wire carrying an electric current. It took 15 years for the first electric motor to be invented following this observation. Humans are dumb, but perhaps they wouldn’t be so oblivious to the basic facts of our reality if they could see magnetic fields. Or if they just had a 3D printer. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Ted Yapo] is doing just this: adding a magnetic field scanner to a 3D printer, allowing for the visualization of magnetic fields in three dimensions.

The device [Ted] is working on is actually extremely simple, and is mostly implemented in software. The hardware is just a 3D printer with a toolhead consisting of a HMC5883L magnetometer breakout board. This is the simplest and easiest way to find the direction and intensity of a magnetic field, the rest of the work is done in software.

Right now, [Ted] has a setup that will scan a 3D volume with a printer. By placing a magnet in the middle of the print bed, he can visualize the magnetic field inside the volume of his 3D printer. It’s a visualization that is vastly superior to a compass, ferrofluid, or even a mess of iron filings, and is surely a much better pedagogical apparatus for classrooms and science museums alike.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Electronic, Visual Harmonicas

[sholnkin] is tasked with teaching a kindergarten class how to play a musical instrument. No, not those cheap plastic recorders. [shlonkin] is teaching kindergarteners how to play the only instrument that both blows and sucks: the harmonica.

Unlike a classroom of kids with plastic recorders, where the fingering is either right or it isn’t, [shlonkin] needs to teach kids to put their mouth over the right hole, and suck or blow to produce a note. The classroom has a poster laying out the notes on the harmonica, but they needed something better. [shlonkin] envisioned a large illuminated sign that lit up in different colors, and could play the displayed notes with a speaker.

The high-level design for this project includes a Teensy 3.2 with the Audio Adapter breakout driving a small audio amp. The Teensy also controls a bunch of LEDs mounted inside a wooden case. The layout of these LEDs went surprisingly well, and it’s rare to find a backlit panel that is lit this evenly.

As a classroom musical teaching aid, this type of device has been around for decades – deep in the recesses of band rooms in schools across the world, you can find old Wurlitzer pianos with devices that aren’t much different from this simple device. It’s a pedagogical method that worked back then, and should work now.

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The Terrible Devices Of The Internet Of Wrongs

Last week was Bsides London, and [Steve Lord] was able to give a talk about the devices that could pass for either a terrible, poorly planned, ill-conceived Internet of Things Kickstarter, or something straight out of the NSA toolkit. [Steve] built the Internet of Wrongs, devices that shouldn’t exist, but thanks to all this electronic stuff, does.

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Virtualizing Around The FCC’s Firmware Modification Rules

Last year, the FCC introduced new regulations requiring router manufacturers to implement software security to limit the power output in specific 5GHz bands. Government regulations follow the laws of unintended consequences, and the immediate fear surrounding this new directive from the FCC was that WiFi router manufacturers would make the easiest engineering decision. These fears came true early this year when it was revealed a large router manufacturer was not following the FCC regulations to the letter by limiting the output of the radio module itself, but instead locking down the entire router.

The FCC’s rules regarding the power output of 5GHz routers was never a serious concern; the FCC is, after all, directed to keep the spectrum clean, and can force manufacturers to limit the power output of the wireless devices. The problem comes from how manufacturers implement this regulation – the easiest solution to prevent users from modifying the output of the radio module will always be preventing users from modifying the entire router. Developers don’t like it, the smart users are horrified, and even the FCC is a little flustered with the unintended consequences of its regulation.

While the easiest solution to preventing the modification of a radio module is to prevent modification to the entire router, there is another way. The folks at Imagination Technologies have come up with a virtualization scheme that allows router manufacturers to lock down the radio module per the FCC directive while still allowing the use of Open Source router firmware like OpenWrt.

A demonstration of the capabilities of this next-generation router comes from the prpl Security Working Group and uses MIPS Warrior CPUs to create multiple trusted environments. The control of the router can be handled by one secure environment, while the rest of the router firmware – OpenWrt included – can be run in an environment more conducive to Open Source firmware.

The demo of a compartmentalized, virtualized router uses a dev kit consisting of a dual-core MIPS P5600 CPU running at 1GHz, and a Realtek RTL8192 WiFi adapter plugged into the USB port. The driver for the WiFi adapter runs under a secure hypervisor, making it secure enough to pass the FCC’s muster.

This build wouldn’t be possible without hardware virtualization in microprocessors and microcontrollers. Imagination Technologies has been working on this for a while, and only a few years ago demonstrated a PIC32 with baked in virtualization.

In the video below, Imagination Technologies demonstrates a MIPS board running three virtual machines. The first machine is running OpenWrt, the second is running a WiFi driver, and the third is running third-party applications. Crashing one machine doesn’t bring down the others, and the WiFi driver is locked away in a secure environment in accordance with the FCC regulations.

While it’s hard to imagine a router based on a MIPS board that would be cheaper than the already inexpensive router SoCs found in today’s routers, this method of secure virtualization is the best way to give consumers what they deserve: an open source option for all their devices.

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Review: Monoprice MP Select Mini 3D Printer

2016 is the year of the consumer 3D printer. Yes, the hype over 3D printing has died down since 2012. There were too many 3D printers at Maker Faire three years ago. Nevertheless, sales of 3D printers have never been stronger, the industry is growing, and the low-end machines are getting very, very good.

Printers are also getting cheap. At CES last January, Monoprice, the same company you buy Ethernet and HDMI cables from, introduced a line of 3D printers that would be released this year. While the $300 resin-based printer has been canned, Monoprice has released their MP Select Mini 3D printer for $200. This printer appeared on Monoprice late last month.

My curiosity was worth more than $200, so Hackaday readers get a review of the MP Select Mini 3D printer. The bottom line? There are some problems with this printer, but nothing that wouldn’t be found in printers that cost three times as much. This is a game-changing machine, and proof 2016 is the year of the entry-level consumer 3D printer.

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Hackaday Links: June 12, 2016

The Navy is doing some crazy stuff out in China Lake. They were planning to test something out that could potentially make GPS unusable from San Diego to Las Vegas to San Francisco. Those plans were cancelled for ‘internal’ reasons. They will be testing something in Indiana shortly, though. What are they doing? Who knows. That’s what idle speculation in the comments section is for.

3D Hubs, the distributed ‘3D printing service’ thing, now has 30,000 machines distributed around the globe. They also put together the definitive guide to 3D printing recently. For just about everyone reading this, a ‘introduction to 3D printing’ is old news, but this is a very good guide for telling your weird aunt what you’re building in the basement. Forward this one to your family on Facebook.

This one is amazing. Over on Hackaday.io, [Arsenijs] is working on a Raspberry Pi project. It uses a Raspberry Pi, and several accessories and components to make this Raspberry Pi project work. This Raspberry Pi project is already getting far more than the usual number of likes and follows, making this one of the most interesting Raspberry Pi projects in recent memory.

Moog is re-releasing the Minimoog, the original Moog synth from 1970. That’s cool, but what about a DIY Minimoog? That’s what [Scott Rider] is doing with the Crowminius Analog Music Synthesizer on Kickstarter. It’s an analog synth that’s more or less a Minimoog with MIDI, and one of the Kickstarter rewards is a bare PCB.

The future is dancing robots, so here’s a servo-driven Stewart platform that is sure to bring on the robot apocalypse.

What do you do when you need to get your Hackaday fix, but all you have is a laptop from 1995 and a dial-up modem? The Hackaday Retro Edition, of course. That’s a bunch of retro Hackaday posts, posted five at a time, with all the CSS and JavaScript cruft stripped. We’re always interested to see the old machines that are pulling the retro edition down, and [djnikochan] has the latest entry. He found a Thinkpad 380ED from 1997 at the Goodwill store for $15. The RAM was upgraded with a 64MB SIMM, giving this machine a total of 80MB. The Hackaday Retro Edition is viewable with IE 5.5 over a trusty PCMICA WiFi card. Awesome job, and we love to see old iron rendering the retro edition. Send some pics in if you get your old battlestation to load it.