See Satellites with a Simple Radio Telescope

Have you got a spare Dish Network antenna lying about? They’re not too hard to come by, either curbside on bulk waste day or perhaps even on Freecycle. If you can lay hands on one, you might want to try this fun radio telescope build.

Now, don’t expect much from [Justin]’s minimalist build. After all, you’ll be starting with a rather small dish and an LNB for the Ku band, so you won’t be doing serious radio astronomy. In fact, the BOM doesn’t include a fancy receiver  – just a hacked satellite finder. The idea is to just get a reading of the relative “brightness” of a radio source without trying to demodulate the signal. To that end, the signal driving the piezo buzzer in the sat finder is fed into an Arduino through a preamp. The Arduino also controls stepper motors for the dish’s azimuth and elevation control, which lets it sweep the sky and build up a map of signal intensity. The result is a clear band of bright spots representing the geosynchronous satellites visible from [Justin]’s location in Brazil.

Modifications are definitely on the docket for [Justin], including better equipment that will allow him to image the galactic center. There may be some pointers for him in our coverage of a tiny SDR-based radio telescope, or from this custom receiver that can listen to Jupiter.

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Soda Bottles Used as Heat-Shrink for Wood Joinery

Nobody is likely to confuse it with the beautiful joinery that makes fine furniture so desirable. But as a practical technique, using plastic bottles as heat-shrink tubing for composite joints is pretty nifty, and the pieces produced are not without their charm.

Undertaken as an art project to show people what can be done with recycled materials, [Micaella Pedros]’ project isn’t a hack per se. She started with bottles collected around London and experimented with ways to use them in furniture. The plastic used in soda and water bottles, polyethylene terephthalate (PET), turns out to shrink quite a bit when heated. Rings cut from bottles act much like large pieces of heat-shrink tubing, but with more longitudinal shrinkage and much more rigidity. That makes for a great structural component, and [Micaella] explored several ways to leverage the material to join wood. Notches and ridges help the plastic grip smoother pieces of wood, and of course the correct size bottle needs to be used. But the joints are remarkably strong – witness the classic leaning-back-in-a-chair test in the video below.

Its aesthetic value aside, this is a good technique to file away for more practical applications. Of course, there are plenty of ways to recycle soda bottles, including turning them into cordage or even using them as light-pipes to brighten a dark room.

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Dartboard Watches Your Throw; Catches Perfect Bullseyes

Some people really put a lot of effort into rigging the system. Why spend years practicing a skill and honing your technique to hit a perfect bullseye in darts when you can spend the time building an incredibly complicated auto-bullseye dartboard that’ll do it for you?

In fairness, what [Mark Rober] started three years ago seemed like a pretty simple task. He wanted to build a rig to move the dartboard’s bullseye to meet the predicted impact of any throw. Seems simple, but it turns out to be rather difficult, especially when you choose to roll your own motion capture system.

That system, built around the Nvidia Jetson TX1, never quite gelled, a fact which unfortunately burned through the first two years of the project. [Mark] eventually turned to the not inexpensive Vicon Vantage motion capture system with six IR cameras. A retroreflector on the non-regulation dart is tracked by the system and the resulting XY data is fed into MATLAB to calculate the parabolic path of the dart. An XY-gantry using six steppers quickly shifts the board so the bullseye is in the right place to catch the incoming dart.

It’s a huge amount of work and a lot of money to spend, but the group down at the local bar seemed to enjoy it. We wonder if it can be simplified, though. Perhaps tracking just the thrower’s motions with an IMU-based motion capture system and extrapolating the impact point would work.

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Scratch-built Camera Gimbal for Photographer with Cerebral Palsy

We so often hack for hacking’s sake, undertaking projects as a solitary pursuit simply for the challenge. So it’s nice to see hacking skills going to good use and helping someone out. Such was the case with this low-cost two-axis handheld camera gimbal intended to help a budding photographer with a motion disorder.

When [Tadej Strah] joined his school photography club, a fellow member who happens to have cerebral palsy needed help steadying cameras for clean shots. So rather than shell out a lot of money for a commercial gimbal, [Tadej] decided to build one for his friend. A few scraps of aluminum bar stock were bent into the gimbal frames and camera mount. Two hobby servos take care of the pitch and roll axes, controlled by an Arduino talking to an MPU-6050. Mounted to a handle from an angle grinder with the battery and electronics mounted below, the gimbal looks well-balanced and does a good job of keeping the camera level.

Hats off to [Tadej] for pitching in and solving a real world problem with his skills. We like to see people helping others directly, whether it’s building a gyroscopic spoon for Parkinson’s sufferers or vision enhancement for a nearly blind adventurer.

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Light-Painting Robot Turns any Floor into Art

Is [SpongeBob SquarePants] art? Opinions will differ, but there’s little doubt about how cool it is to render a pixel-mapped time-lapse portrait of Bikini Bottom’s most famous native son with a roving light painting robot.

Inspired by the recent trend of long exposure pictures of light-adorned Roombas in darkened rooms, [Hacker House] decided to go one step beyond and make a lighted robot with less random navigational tendencies. A 3D-printed frame and wheels carries a pair of steppers and a Raspberry Pi. An 8×8 Neopixel matrix on top provides the light. The software is capable of rendering both simple vector images and rastering across a large surface to produce full-color images. You’ll notice the careful coordination between movement and light in the video below, as well as the impressive turn-on-a-dime performance of the rover, both of which make the images produced so precise.

We’ve covered a lot of light-painting videos before, including jiggering a 3D-printer and using a hanging plotter to paint. But we haven’t seen a light-painter with an essentially unlimited canvas before. We’d also love to see what two or more of these little fellows could accomplish working together.

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Old Batteries Yield Thermite and Manganese

Some people collect stamps, some collect coins, some even collect barbed wire. But the aptly named [Plutonium Bunny] is an element collector, as in one who seeks a sample of as many elements on the periodic table as possible. Whatever, we don’t judge – after all, there are more than a few Hackaday readers who collect lots of silicon, right?

So what’s a collector to do when he gets to the 25th place on the periodic table? Easy – harvest manganese from alkaline batteries with a thermite reaction. There’s a surprising amount of manganese in depleted alkaline batteries, which of course are easy to come by in bulk. The chemistry of [Plutonium Bunny]’s process is pretty straightforward and easy to reproduce with common ingredients, but you’ll want to be careful with a few steps – chlorine gas is not something to trifle with. The basic idea is to solubilize and purify the manganese dioxide from the other materials in the battery cathodes, recrystallize it, and mix it with aluminum powder. The aluminum acts as the fuel, the manganese dioxide is the oxidizer, and once the satisfyingly exothermic reaction shown in the video below is over, the collector-grade elemental manganese can be chipped away from the aluminum oxide slag.

So once you’ve got a few manganese nuggets, what can you do with them? Not much really – it turns out the oxides recovered from the battery are far more useful for things like supercapacitors. But it’s still a neat trick.

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Two Bits a Gander: Of Premature Babies, Incubators, and Coney Island Sideshows

Newborn humans are both amazingly resilient and frighteningly fragile creatures. A child born with a 40 full weeks of gestation has pretty good odds of surviving the neonatal period these days, and even if he or she comes along a few weeks early, things usually go smoothly. But those babies that can’t wait to get out and meet the world can run into trouble, and the earlier they’re born, the greater the intervention needed to save them.

We’ve all seen pictures of remarkably tiny babies in incubators, seemingly dwarfed by the gloved hands of an anxious parent who just wants that first magical touch of their baby’s skin. As common as such an intervention is now and as technologically advanced as neonatology is, care for premature infants as a medical discipline has a long and interesting history of technical and social hacks that’s worth looking at.

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