Quickly Prototyping X-ray Backscatter Machines

Ben Krasnow is one of those people no one has a bad opinion of. He’s part of the team at Verily (Google’s Life Science Alphabit), where he’s busy curing cancer. He co-founded Valve’s hardware division and his YouTube channel, Applied Science, is an exploration of building very high-tech tools very quickly and on a very low budget. Ben has built everything from an electron microscope to a liquid nitrogen generator to a robot that makes individual chocolate chip cookies with ingredients in different proportions. He’s curing cancer and finding the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe.

The focus of Ben’s talk at this year’s Hackaday SuperConference is building low-cost scientific apparatus quickly. From Applied Science, Ben has cemented his position as a wizard who can find anything either on eBay or at a surplus store. The real trick, Ben tells us, is getting his boss and accounting to understand this rapid prototyping mindset.

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The Joy of the ESP8266 and Blynk

I’ll admit it. I can be a little cheap. I also find it hard to pass up a bargain. So when I saw a robot kit at the local store that had been originally $125 marked down to $20, I had to bite. There was only one problem. After I got the thing home, I found they expected you to supply your own radio control transmitter and receiver.

Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem but lately… let’s just say a lot of my stuff is in storage and I didn’t have anything handy. I certainly didn’t want to go buy something that would double the cost of this robot that I really didn’t need to begin with.

However, I did have a few ESP8266 modules handy. Good ones, too, from Adafruit with selected 5 V I/O compatibility and an onboard regulator. I started thinking about writing something for the ESP8266 to pick up data from, say, a UDP packet and converting it into RC servo commands.

joymainSeemed like a fair amount of work and then I remembered that I wanted to try Blynk. If you haven’t heard of Blynk, it is a user interface for Android and Apple phones that can send commands to an embedded system over the Internet. You usually think of using Blynk with an Arduino, but you can also program the embedded part directly on an ESP8266. I quickly threw together a little prototype joystick.
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Running Intel TBB On a Raspberry Pi

The usefulness of Raspberry Pis seems almost limitless, with new applications being introduced daily and with no end in sight. But, as versatile as they are, it’s no secret that Raspberry Pis are still lacking in pure processing power. So, some serious optimization is needed to squeeze as much power out of the Raspberry Pi as possible when you’re working on processor-intensive projects.

This simplest way to accomplish this optimization, of course, is to simply reduce what’s running down to the essentials. For example, there’s no sense in running a GUI if your project doesn’t even use a display. Another strategy, however, is to ensure that you’re actually using all of the available processing power that the Raspberry Pi offers. In [sagiz’s] case, that meant using Intel’s open source Threading Building Blocks to achieve better parallelism in his OpenCV project.

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Lost Moon Found: The Satellite That Came Back to Life

The late 1950s and early 1960s were a tumultuous time in world history. The Cold War between the East and the West was in full-swing, driving the new fields of nuclear weapons and space exploration and giving the period its dual monikers of “Atomic Age” and “Space Age.”

Changes in these fields often went hand in glove, with developments in one requiring responses in the other. In 1958, the US conducted nuclear tests in the Pacific that effectively destroyed the ionosphere over the test site and shut down high-frequency communications to places like Hawaii and New Zealand. The strategic implications of this were clear, and the US began looking for ways for the military to reduce its reliance on HF communications and ionospheric skip by using space-based assets to communicate at much higher frequencies.

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Craziest Pin-Saving LCD Trick Ever!

We love squeezing every last bit of silicon goodness out of a tiny chip, or at least we delight in seeing it done. Today’s analog/digital hack is one of the sweetest we’ve seen in a while. And it’s also a little bit of a puzzle, so don’t scroll down to the answer until you’ve given the schematic a good think-over.

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Geohot’s comma.ai Self-Driving Code On GitHub

First there was [Geohot]’s lofty goal to build a hacker’s version of the self-driving car. Then came comma.ai and a whole bunch of venture capital. After that, a letter from the Feds and a hasty retreat from the business end of things. The latest development? comma.ai’s openpilot project shows up on GitHub!

If you’ve got either an Acura ILX or Honda Civic 2016 Touring addition, you can start to play around with this technology on your own. Is this a good idea? Are you willing to buy some time on a closed track?

A quick browse through the code gives some clues as to what’s going on here. The board files show just how easy it is to interface with these cars’ driving controls: there’s a bunch of CAN commands and that’s it. There’s some unintentional black comedy, like a (software) crash-handler routine named crash.py.

What’s shocking is that there’s nothing shocking going on. It’s all pretty much straightforward Python with sprinklings of C. Honestly, it looks like something you could get into and start hacking away at pretty quickly. Anyone want to send us an Acura ILX for testing purposes? No promises you’ll get it back in one piece.

If you missed it, read up on our coverage of the rapid rise and faster retreat of comma.ai. But we don’t think the game is over yet: comma.ai is still hiring. Are open source self-driving cars in our future? That would be fantastic!

Via Endagadget. Thanks for the tip, [FaultyWarrior]!

NixieBot Films Your Tweets

[Robin Bussell]’s NixieBot is a mash up of new age electronics and retro vintage components and he’s got a bunch of hacks crammed in there. It’s a Nixie tube clock which displays tweets, takes pictures of the display when it encounters tweets with a #NixieBotShowMe hash tag, and then posts requested pictures back to twitter. If a word is eight characters, it takes a snapshot. If it’s a longer message, NixieBot takes a series of pictures of each word, converts it to an animated GIF, and then posts the tweet. In between, it displays random tweets every twenty seconds. You can see the camera setup in the image below and you should check out the @nixiebot twitter feed to see some of the action.

nixiebot_05For the display, he’s using eight big vintage Burroughs B7971 Nixie Tubes. These aren’t easy to source, and current prices hover around $100 each if you can find them. The 170V DC needed to run each tube comes from a set of six 12V to 170V converter boards specifically designed to drive these tubes. Each board can drive at least a couple of nixies, so [Robin]’s able to use just four boards for the eight tubes. Each nixie is driven by its own “B7971 SmartSocket“, a dedicated PIC16F690 micro-controller board custom designed for the purpose. A serial protocol makes it easy to daisy-chain the SmartSockets to build multi character displays.

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