“Who is John Galt?” Finally Answered

For those who haven’t read [Ayn Rand’s] philosophical tome Atlas Shrugged, there’s a pretty cool piece of engineering stuffed in between the 100-page-long monologues. Although fictional, a character manages to harness atmospheric static electricity and convert it into kinetic energy and (spoilers!) revolutionize the world. Harnessing atmospheric static electricity isn’t just something for fanciful works of fiction, though. It’s a real-world phenomenon and it’s actually possible to build this motor.

who-is-john-galt-thumbAs [Richard Feynman] showed, there is an exploitable electrical potential gradient in the atmosphere. By suspending a tall wire in the air, it is possible to obtain voltages in the tens of thousands of volts. In this particular demonstration, a hexacopter is used to suspend a wire with a set of needles on the end. The needles help facilitate the flow of electrons into the atmosphere, driving a current that spins the corona motor at the bottom of the wire.

There’s not much torque or power generated, but the proof of concept is very interesting to see. Of course, the higher you can go the more voltage is available to you, so maybe future devices such as this could exploit atmospheric electricity to go beyond a demonstration and do useful work. We’ve actually featured the motor that was used in this demonstration before, though, so if you’re curious as to how a corona motor works you should head over there.

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Impedance Tomography is the new X-Ray Machine

Seeing what’s going on inside a human body is pretty difficult. Unless you’re Superman and you have X-ray vision, you’ll need a large, expensive piece of medical equipment. And even then, X-rays are harmful part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Rather than using a large machine or questionable Kryptonian ionizing radiation vision, there’s another option now: electrical impedance tomography.

[Chris Harrison] and the rest of a research team at Carnegie Mellon University have come up with a way to use electrical excitation to view internal impedance cross-sections of an arm. While this doesn’t have the resolution of an X-ray or CT, there’s still a large amount of information that can be gathered from using this method. Different structures in the body, like bone, will have a different impedance than muscle or other tissues. Even flexed muscle changes its impedance from its resting state, and the team have used their sensor as proof-of-concept for hand gesture recognition.

This device is small, low power, and low-cost, and we could easily see it being the “next thing” in smart watch features. Gesture recognition at this level would open up a whole world of possibilities, especially if you don’t have to rely on any non-wearable hardware like ultrasound or LIDAR.

3D Printing Pen and CNC Machine Yields Cheap 3D Printer

3D printers are ubiquitous now, but they’re still prohibitively expensive for some people. Some printers cost thousands, but even more inexpensive options aren’t exactly cheap. [Daniel] decided that this was unacceptable, and set out to make a basic 3D printer for under $100 by including only the bare essentials needed for creating anything out of melted plastic.

3D printers are essentially four parts: a bed, filament, and a hot end and extruder. In a previous project, [Daniel] used parts from old CD drives to create a three-axis CNC machine which he uses for the bed. To take care of the hot end and extruder, he is using a 3D printing pen which he mounts to the CNC machine and voila: a 3D printer!

It’s not quite as simple as just strapping a 3D printing pen to a CNC machine, though. The pen and the CNC machine have to communicate with each other so that the pen knows when to place filament and the CNC machine knows when to move. For that, [Daniel] went with a trusty Arduino in order to switch the pen on and off. Once it’s working, it’s time to start printing!

[Daniel] does note that this is a design that’s relatively limited in terms of print size and resolution, but for the price it can’t be beat. If you’re interested in getting started with 3D printing, a setup like this would be perfect. 3D pens are a pretty new idea too, and it’s interesting to see them used in different ways like this.

Air Quality Surveillance for Whole Cities

Air quality is becoming a major issue these days, and not just for cities like Beijing and Los Angeles. It’s important for health, our environment, and our economy no matter where we live. To that end, [Radu] has been working on air quality monitors that will be widely deployed in order to give a high-resolution air quality picture, and he’s starting in his home city of Timisoara, Romania.

[Radu] built a similar device to measure background radiation (a 2014 Hackaday Prize Semifinalist), and another to measure air quality in several ways (a 2015 Hackaday Prize Finalist and a Best Product Finalist; winners will be announced next weekend). He is using the platforms as models for his new meter. The device will use a VOC air sensor and an optical dust sensor in a mobile unit connected to a car to gather data, and from that a heat map of air quality will be generated. There are also sensors for temperature, pressure, humidity, and background radiation. The backbone of the project is a smart phone which will upload the data to a server.

We’ve seen other air quality meters before as well, and even ones based around the Raspberry Pi,  but this one has a much broader range of data that it is acquiring. Its ability to be implemented as an array of sensors to gather data for an entire city is impressive as well. We can envision sensor networks installed on public transportation but to get to all parts of every neighborhood it would be interesting to team up with the Google Streetview Cars, Uber, or UPS.

Tricking an Ancient Protocol To Play Tunes

A lot of technological milestones were reached in 2007. The first iPhone, for example, was released that January, and New Horizons passed Jupiter later on that year. But even with all of these amazing achievements, Volvo still wasn’t putting auxiliary inputs on the stereo systems in their cars. They did have antiquated ports in their head units though, and [Kalle] went about engineering this connector to accommodate an auxiliary input.

The connector in question is an 8-pin DIN in the back, which in the days of yore (almost eight years ago) would have been used for a CD changer. Since CDs are old news now, [Kalle] made use of this feature for the hack. The first hurdle was that the CD changer isn’t selectable from the menu unless the head unit confirms that there’s something there. [Kalle] used an Arduino Nano to fool the head unit by simulating the protocol that the CD changer would have used. From there, the left and right audio pins on the same connector were used to connect the auxiliary cable.

If you have a nearly-antique Volvo like [Kalle] that doesn’t have an aux input and you want to try something like this, the source code for the Arduino is available on the project page. Of course, if you don’t have a Volvo, there are many other ways to go about hacking an auxiliary input into various other devices, like an 80s boombox or the ribbon cable on a regular CD player. Things don’t always go smoothly, though, so there are a few nonstandard options as well.

Spark Plug Lights the Darkness

When you have an idea, just go build it. That’s the approach that [GordsGarage] takes with most of his projects, and he’s back in the machine shop again. This time it’s with a rather unique oil candle that uses a spark plug as inspiration. We have to say, the results are on fire.

thumbThe spark plug candle was fashioned out of a single piece of 6061 aluminum. To create the scale model, first the stock metal hit the lathe to create the “insulator” section of the plug. From there, he milled in the hex bolt section, then it hit the lathe again to create the threaded section. The inside was bored out to create space for the wick and oil, and then the electrode was installed just above the flame.

This is a pretty impressive scale model and has a great finished look. The only thing that isn’t to scale is the gap for the electrode which is completely necessary to keep the candle from getting smothered. It’s an interesting, unique idea too, which is something that [GordsGarage] excels at. And, if you want to scale his model up a little bit, perhaps you can find some inspiration from this other candle.

RPiTX Turns Rasberry Pi into Versatile Radio Transmitter

Since the discovery that some USB TV tuner dongles could be used to monitor radio waves across a huge amount of spectrum, the software-defined radio world has exploded with interest. The one limiting factor, though, has been that the dongles can only receive signals; they can’t transmit them. [Evariste Okcestbon, F5OEO] (if that is his real name! Ok c’est bon = Ok this is good) has written some software that will get you transmitting using SDR with only a Raspberry Pi and a wire.

There have been projects in the past that use a Pi to broadcast radio (PiFM), but this new software (RPiTX) takes it a couple steps further. Using just an appropriately-sized wire connected to one of the GPIO pins, the Raspberry Pi is capable of broadcasting using FM, AM, SSB, SSTV, or FSQ signals. This greatly increases the potential of this simple computer-turned-transmitter and anyone should be able to get a lot of use out of it. In the video demo below the break, [Evariste] records a wireless doorbell signal and then re-transmits it using just the Rasbperry Pi.

The RPiTX code is available on GitHub if you want to try it out. And it should go without saying that you will most likely need an amateur radio license of some sort to use most of these features, depending on your locale. If you don’t have a ham radio license yet, you don’t need one to listen if you want to get started in the world of SDR. But a ham license isn’t hard to get and at this point it shouldn’t take much convincing for you to get transmitting.

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