The Junk Bins of Akihabara

Akihabara, Tokyo has transformed over the years. In its present form Akihabara emerged from the ruins of a devastated Tokyo after World War 2 when the entire district was burnt to the ground. The area was rebuilt in the shadow of the Akiba Jinja (dedicated to the god of fire prevention), and a new breed of street vendors began to appear. Huddling under the protection of railway bridges, and dealing mostly in Black market radio parts, these vendors set a new tone to what would become Japan’s “Electric Town”. And as Japanese manufacturing prowess grew so too did Akihabara.

Maids touting for business

Now of course Akihabara is also home to Otaku culture, and is perhaps best known in this regard for its maid cafes. Streets are littered with maids touting their cafes, somewhat incongruously among computer outlets and precision tooling stores.

My interests however lie squarely in Akihabara’s glorious junk bins. Of all places I think I’m happiest  digging through this mass of discarded technology from Japan’s manufacturing past.

A tour through the junks bins is like an archaeological dig. And in this article I will present some recent finds, and ponder on their relevance to Japanese manufacturing.

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Pip Boys As A Service

A few weeks ago Fallout 4 was released, and like all future games of the year, productivity has fallen through the floor, cosplayers are busy crafting outfits, and modders are busy tearing the game to pieces. As with all big game releases, Fallout 4 has a super-deluxe, ultra-collectible edition, and this version comes with its own Pip Boy, the in-game wrist-mounted user interface that manages stats, inventory, and quests.

This Pip Boy is actually functional, relying on a smartphone to mirror the display in-game Pip Boy. This, of course, means there must be some sort of communication between the game and a phone. [Kyle] found this somewhat interesting and decided to dig into these communications to see what else could be done with the real life mirror of the in-game Pip Boy

With a simple swipe of nmap, [Kyle] discovered two ports open on his PS4. By creating a relay to listen in on whatever is passing through these ports, [Kyle] built a tool that allows anyone to dump data from the in-game Pip Boy to any other service.

The library and command line tool work with PS4 and PC and are able to dump stats and data from the in-game Pip Boy to the outside world. It will be interesting to see what kind of mashups could be created with this; especially interesting would be a leaderboard for an entire office of vault dwellers, but a TV-sized Pip Boy would also suffice.

Yes, that is a challenge.

Doc Brown’s Security Briefcase Needs Speed

If you just wait around long enough, the future becomes the past. And that’s happened to the “Back to the Future” future, as you probably all remember. But BttF-themed projects are still pouring in.

[ossum] sent us the link for his build of Doc Brown’s briefcase that only opens above 88 mph. His writeup is fantastically detailed, and worth a look if you’re interested in working with a GPS unit and microcontrollers, driving seven-segment LEDs with shift registers, or just driving too fast in an old Jetta. And there’s a video demo just below the break if you’re not a believer.

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Laser Cut Mechanical Logic Gates

When you create logic circuits using ICs or FPGAs, you can’t easily visualize their operation without special tools. But if you’ve ever seen a mechanical computer (like the Computer History Museum’s Babbage engine) operate, you know you don’t have that problem. Just like it is fascinating to watch a 3D printer or CNC machine, watching mechanical logic gates work can be addictive.

[Anthony] wanted to build some mechanical logic gates and set out designing them using Inkscape. Unlike some common mechanical gate schemes, [Anthony’s] gates use gears to implement the logic operations. He sent the designs off to a laser cutter service and got back parts cut from 3mm acrylic.

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The Ommatid Is an Awesome “Thing”

[Jonathan Foote] made a really cool device: the Ommatid spherical display and controller. Part woodworking craft project, part art, and part tremendous hack, the Ommatid is something that we don’t really have a name for. But you can watch it in action, running demo code, in a video below the break.

The sphere design started out with a “20-sided regular polyhedron” with which D&D players should be familiar, and then divided each triangular face into four more triangles. An 80-sided die? Almost. One triangle’s worth was sacrificed for the part that mounts to the base.

Each facet contains an RGB LED and an IR sensor so that it can tell when a hand is nearby. All of this input and output is run through a Raspberry Pi, so both the sensing and display interactions are easily modified. [Jonathan] runs us through the electronics, programming, and interactivity in a separate Instructable. We really like [Jonathan]’s idea of turning this device into an OSC controller / display.

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Easier PCB Vias with Drill Trick and Conductive Ink

If you’ve ever made double-sided PCBs without professional equipment, you had to deal with connecting one side of the board to the other. You have a few obvious choices: 1) Rely on component leads to connect both sides (and solder both sides); 2) Create vias and solder wire to both sides of the board; or 3) Use through hole rivets. [Diyouware] had a different idea: use conductive ink. After a few false starts, they found a technique that seemed to work well.

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard of people trying conductive ink with varying degrees of success. The biggest problem, usually, is that the ink wants to run out of the hole. [Diyouware] has an interesting solution for this problem: Don’t drill the hole all the way thorough.

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80/20 Extrusion Goes Main Stream

We had to do a double take when we saw this kickstarter campaign video – and we bet you will too. It seem as if some company called [Infento Rides] took generic 80/20 aluminum extrusions and built a viable commercial product out of it – that’s not something you see everyday. 80/20 is meant to be something that engineers use to build things like test rigs and manufacturing fixtures. It’s not exactly an item designed for the consumer or end user. But we think the DIY/teaching aspect of this idea really has legs wheels.

If you’re looking for [Santa] to put this under the tree this Christmas, you might be disappointed as it’s not exactly on store shelves just yet since the kickstarter campaign just ended – but we wish them well, and hope they come through.

If you’re old enough you may remember Erector Sets (they were mechanical equivalent of the 200-in-1 electronics kits) back in the day. Well, this type of product brings back memories of both. It’s a perfect tool for getting kids interested in making – sure, they aren’t “making” much, but we all start somewhere.

The one thing we would like to see is a more open-source type kit like the Chibikart. That and something a little less then the $300-$500 price range.  But can you really put a price on teaching a child to build something, and starting that fire inside of them?  Maybe not.

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