Teeny Tiny Very Small – Atomic Resolution and the Home Hobbyist

Atoms are small. Really small. You just won’t believe how minusculely microscopically mindbogglingly small they are. I mean you may think it’s a short way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to atoms.

Atoms really are small. The atomic radius of a carbon atom is on the order of 0.1 nanometers, that’s 0.0000001 millimeters. It’s hard to grasp how fantastically small this is compared to objects we generally encounter, but as a starting point I’d recommend looking at the “Powers of Ten” video found below whose ability to convey the concept has been unrivaled since it was published in 1977.

The term nanometer might be most familiar from the semiconductor industry, and its seemingly unstoppable march to smaller feature sizes. Feature sizes currently hover somewhere around the 10 nanometer mark. So while these multi-billion dollar facilities can achieve 10nm precision it’s somewhat surprising that sub-nanometer feature size positioning, and fabrication techniques are available at relatively low cost to the hacker hobbyist.

In this article we’re going to review some of the amazing work demonstrated by hobbyists in the area of the very very small through use of cutting edge, but low cost techniques.

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SMA Robot Jumps 7 Times Its Height, Weighs Nothing

This is some seriously cool research. Scientists at the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne) have made tiny, tiny, tiny robots using shape memory alloys, or SMA’s for short. They weigh less than 4 grams and move like an inchworm!

Unlike regular robots that feature rigid structures and electric actuators, the researchers opted to take more of an origami like approach — so much so, they call it robogami. Their very first attempt was years ago, and was rather large. Since then they’ve shrunk it down to about the size of a compact flash card. The way it works is quite simple. SMA’s shrink when heated (either externally heated or by an internal current) and in doing so, produce extremely high forces.

So by patterning these in a shape (like that of an inchworm) the researchers are able to trigger each “limb” separately to induce movement. They can also jump seven times their height thanks to the super high power-density of SMA’s.

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Concrete With a Drinking Problem Could Reduce Flooding

Concrete – it’s all around you. You probably walk on it, drive on it, and maybe even sit on it! From a civil engineering standpoint, concrete really is a miracle material. But, it does have its downsides, especially in heavily developed urban areas. One of the most glaring of those downsides is the tendency for water to pool and flood on concrete. However, a new concrete formula could dramatically improve that by allowing water to drain quickly through the concrete itself.

While all unsealed concrete technically absorbs water, it does so very inefficiently and quickly becomes saturated. Once that happens, water will pool on the surface. This causes obvious problems for cars, as they become susceptible to hydroplaning. It also creates the potential for flooding in heavily paved areas.

This new concrete formula, called Topmix Permeable, is designed to reduce pooling by letting the water flow through at the rate of 600 liters per minute per square meter! It does this by using larger gravel pieces in the mix, which leaves bigger gaps for the water to drain down into. From there, it can be absorbed by the underlying soil, or routed safely away from roadways and parking lots.

Of course, this formula isn’t perfect. Its ability to pass through water also makes it likely to crack and quickly deteriorate in cold climates, as the water freezing and thawing inside the concrete will easily damage it. But, in warmer climates that receive a lot of rainfall in bursts, it could significantly improve safety.

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KIM-1 Clock

Over on hackaday.io, [Arduino Enigma] posted the code for his clock that runs on a KIM Uno (the KIM-1 clone we mentioned late last year). Although the KIM Uno has a few demos preloaded (including Microchess and a scientific calculator), all of them take some interaction. The clock makes the KIM Uno a more dynamic desk display since it does something useful without any user interaction (once you set the clock, of course).

The project shows the code stored in ROM, but you can’t directly enter the program into ROM (which is really EEPROM on the host Arduino). The trick is to enter the address (that is press AD and then 0, 4, 0, 0) and then mash down the reset button for about a second. Then you can press DA and enter the hex codes provided (pressing + after each byte). Since the code is in nonvolatile storage, you can start it at any time by setting the time in RAM and executing the code at address 400.

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Hack Anything into a Phone

If you’ve spent much time tinkering with electronics, you’ve probably heard of [Seeedstudio] from their development boards, tools, and their PCB fabrication service. Their latest Kickstarter venture is the RePhone, an open source and modular cell phone that will allow hackers to put together a phone by blending GSM modules, batteries, screens, and other stock units, including an Arduino-based processing core, GPS, NFC, and other building blocks.

The funding campaign has already exceeded its goal and delivery is scheduled for next year with a basic kit weighing in at a projected $59, according to [Seeed]. Presumably, the core phone module will have regulatory acceptance, but the other ancillary modules won’t require as rigorous testing and certification.

What would you do with an inexpensive, embeddable cell phone? The modules are tiny, so you could implant them in lots of places. Some of [Seeed’s] more interesting ideas include building a phone into a walking stick, a dog collar, or a kite (although we were thinking quadcopters).

Of course, we’ve seen GSM and cell phone shields for Arduino before. Difficult to imagine sticking those in a dog collar, though, unless you have a fairly large dog. If you are a fan of 1960’s TV, it is easy to imagine a better shoe phone or a working Star Trek communicator.

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Cardboard Robot Deathmatch

Fighting robots are even more awesome than regular robots. But it’s hard for us to imagine tossing all that money (not to mention blood, sweat and tears) into a bot and then watching it get shredded. The folks at Columbia Gadget Works, a Columbia, MO hackerspace had the solution: make the robots out of cardboard.

The coolest thing about building your robots out of cardboard and hot glue is that it’s cheap, but if they’re going to be a modest scale, they can still be fairly strong, quick to repair, and you’re probably going to be able to scrounge all the parts out after a brutal defeat. In short, it’s a great idea for a hackerspace event.

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The DMCA May Have Allowed Volkswagen to Hide ECU Software From the EPA

A lot of questions have been raised by the recent “dieselgate” scandal. Should automakers be held accountable for ethically questionable actions? Are emissions standards in the United States too restrictive? Are we ever going to stop appending “gate” onto every mildly controversial news story? But, for Hackaday readers, the biggest question is most likely “how did they get away with it?” The answer is probably because of a law a lot of hackers are already familiar with: the DMCA.

If you haven’t seen the news about Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scheme, we’ll get you caught up quickly. In the United States, EPA emissions testing is done in a very specific and predictable way. Using clever ECU software tricks, Volkswagen was able to essentially “detune” the engines of their diesel vehicles when they were being tested by the EPA. This earned them passing marks, while allowing them to provide a less-restrictive ECU profile for the normal driving that buyers would actually experience.

How could they get away with this simple trick when a brief look at the ECU software would have revealed it? Because, they were able to hide under the umbrella of the DMCA. The ECU software is, of course, not intended to be user-accessible, which means that Volkswagen is allowed to lock it down. That, in turn, means that the EPA isn’t allowed to circumvent that security without violating the DMCA and potentially breaking the law. This kept the EPA’s hands tied, and Volkswagen protected. They were only found out because independent testing (that didn’t follow EPA procedure) revealed vastly different emissions levels.

Is your blood boiling yet? Add this to the stack of reasons why the EFF is trying to end the DRM parts of the DMCA.

[via /.]