Why IoT will Fail (and How to Save It)

Buzzword technology has two possible fates: they fail and disappear or they succeed and disappear. Remember at one time “multimedia” and “networking” were buzzwords. They succeeded and now they’ve vanished into ubiquity. Of course, there are plenty of failed buzzwords (like telecosm) that you probably don’t even remember. They just vanished into obscurity.

Unless you’ve been living under the CNC mill in your local hackerspace, you’ve probably heard or read about the “Internet of Things” (IoT). Companies big and small have realized that getting in early on The Next Big Thing is good for share prices and, right now, IoT is where everyone is trying to make a play.

There’s two things I’d observe, though: First, IoT is far from new. Connecting embedded systems to the Internet is old hat (I even wrote a book called Embedded Internet Design way back in 2003). Second, the way it is going, IoT–in its current incarnation–is doomed.

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Making a Door that Opens Both Ways

How many times have you walked into the wrong side of the door? How many times have you been momentarily confused as to whether or not you push or pull that obscure door handle which isn’t so obvious in its intended use?

What if you never had to worry about doors again? What if we could have an omni-directional door? [TVMiller] couldn’t find any examples of this, so he decided to build his own prototype. He calls it the Any Way Door.

The Any Way Door is just a 1:12 scale version, but as you can see in the following video, it works pretty well — and if anything would make for a very cool door that interior designers / architectures would love.

The question is, can it be done at full size effectively?

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Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Low Cost Radiography

For the past year, [Adam] has been working full-time on developing a low-cost x-ray system for developing nations. He has more than 3,500 hours into the project. A few months ago, we announced the 2015 Hackaday Prize, with a theme of, ‘build something that matters.’ A low-cost x-ray would certainly matter to the two-thirds of the world’s population that does not have access to medical radiography, making this project a great entry for The Hackaday Prize.

[Adam]’s portable x-ray system consists of an x-ray tube encased in an epoxied, 3D printed enclosure filled with dialectric oil. This tube is tucked away inside a beautiful case with just a single 12VDC input and an easy to understand user manual. This is just very high voltages and x-rays, nothing [Adam] hasn’t handled (safely) before. The real trick is in the imaging, and for this, [Adam] is using a phosphor screen to turn that x-ray exposure into something visible, an off the shelf x-ray sensor, and a prism to adapt the sensor to the phosphor screen.

The results are incredible. After taking a few pictures of what he had on hand, [Adam] can see the bond wires inside the microprocessor of a calculator. That’s more than sufficient for medical imaging – the goal of the project – and cheap enough to send it to the far-flung reaches of the planet.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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Hack an Editor: Fonts for Programming

We’ve recently noticed two different fonts aimed at programmers, each with a different approach to editor customization. The first, Fira Code, transparently converts common programming digraphs into single characters. For example, <- becomes an arrow and != (or <>) becomes a proper not equal sign. The other font, Hack (can’t argue with the name), aims to make commonly confused characters distinct. For example, the zero glyph has a very distinct appearance from the letter O.

It is pretty easy to understand how Hack works, but Fira seems a mystery at first. Your C++ compiler expects <- not an arrow, right? Fonts support ligatures–sequences of two symbols that run together (like æ). Clever use of these ligatures means that the compiler still sees -> but the screen displays an arrow.

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Retrotechtacular: Häfla Hammerforge Healed

Visit any renaissance fair across the United States this fall and you’ll undoubtedly find a blacksmith. He’ll be sweating away in a tent, pounding on a piece of glowing steel set against an anvil. While the practice of the single blacksmith endures today, high-production ‘works of days past required increasing amounts of muscle. The more tireless the muscle, the better. The manual efforts of the blacksmith were replaced by huge hammers, and the blacksmith needed only to turn the piece between impressions and maintain a healthy respect for the awesome crushing power of the machine.

Last week, blacksmith enthusiasts completed restoration work on the Häfla hammer in Finspang, Sweden. The 333 year old hydraulic hammer hadn’t been used since 1924, when operations ceased at the Häfla Hammerforge. The ‘works was built in 1682 and used the German method of forging, which had been introduced to Sweden in the 1500s. Steel production was revolutionized in the 1800s by the Bessemer process, which resulted in a much stronger product. Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Häfla Hammerforge Healed”

3D Objects From a Laser Cutter

Actors want to be singers and singers want to be actors. The hacker equivalent to this might be that 3D printers want to be laser cutters or CNC machines and laser cutters want to be 3D printers. When [Kurt] and [Lawrence] discovered their tech shop acquired a 120 Watt Epilog Fusion laser cutter, they started thinking if they could coax it into cutting out 3D shapes. That question led them to several experiments that were ultimately successful.

The idea was to cut away material, rotate the work piece, and cut some more in a similar way to how some laser cutters handle engraving cylindrical objects. Unlike 3D printing which is additive, this process is subtractive like a traditional machining process. The developers used wood as the base material. They wanted to use acrylic, but found that the cut away pieces tended to stick, so they continued using wood. However, the wood tends to char as it is cut.

In the end, they not only had to build special jigs and electronics, they also had to port some third party control software to solve some issues with the Epilog Fusion cutter’s built in software. The final refinement was to use the laser’s raster mode to draw surface detail on the part.

The results were better than you’d expect, and fairly distinctive looking. We’ve covered a similar process that made small chess pieces out of acrylic using two passes. This seems like a natural extension of the same idea. Of course, there are very complicated industrial machines that laser cut in three dimensions (see the video below), but they are not in the same category as the typical desktop cutter.

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A Tale of Three Soldering Iron Controllers

[ZL2PD] needed to replace an old Weller soldering station and decided not to go with one of the cheap soldering stations you can find all over the Internet. He has a long story about why he had to design his own controller, but you never have to explain that to us. He kept detailed notes of his journey and in the end, he built three different controllers before settling on one.

He started with a Hakko hand piece that uses a thermistor for temperature measurements. The first iteration of the controller had analog controls. He wasn’t happy with the number of parts in the design and the simple LED display. That led him to replace the controller with an ATTiny CPU and a use a serial LCD.

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