How Do You Build a Relay CPU?


The Hackaday tips line is always full of the coolest completed projects, but only rarely do we see people reaching out for help on their latest build. We’ll help when we can, but [Tim]‘s relay-based CPU has us stumped.

[Tim] already has the design of his relay CPU completed with a 12-bit program counter, sequencer, ALU, and a transistor-based ROM. The problem he’s having deals with the mechanics and layout of his homebuilt CPU. Right now, all the relays (PC pin, we guess) are glued top-down to a piece of cardboard. This allows him to easily solder the wires up and change out the inevitable mistakes. This comes with a drawback, though: he’s dealing with a lot of ‘cable salad’ and it’s not exactly the prettiest project ever.

The ideal solution, [Tim] says, would be a PCB with through-hole plating, but this isn’t easy or cheap for the home fab lab. We’d suggest some sort of wire wrap setup, but proper wire wrap sockets and protoboards are for some reason unreasonably expensive.

If you have an idea on how to do the mechanical layout and connections of a relay-based computer, drop a note in the comments. [Tim] has a very cool project here, and it would be a shame if he were to give up on it due to a lack of tools.

Video below, and if you’re having a problem with a project, feel free to send it in.

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Ask Hackaday: What is “Home Automation”?


We’re not entirely sure what’s become of the term “home automation.” The definition seems to have settled for any user interface in the home—via tablets, phones, handheld remote controls, etc. Some of these devices lack any form of automation and instead require manual input. Even Wikipedia’s home automation article suggests a move toward this trend, offering the following definition (emphasis ours):

It is automation of the home, housework or household activity. Home automation may include centralized control of lighting, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), appliances, security locks of gates and doors and other systems, to provide improved convenience, comfort, energy efficiency and security.

Though “automation” is clearly included in the first sentence, one could interpret the bolded potion as meaning either:

  • Truly automated systems may also include centralized control (as a feature).
  • The category of home automation also includes systems that merely provide centralized controls.

So, are automated components optional? Judging by the phrasing of projects submitted to our tips line: yes sir. Truly automated systems exist, but if you browse through any home improvement store’s “home automation” section, you’ll be pummeled by a string of remote-controlled light dimmers and outlets. How many of these are designed to interact with sensors as feedback systems or otherwise function unattended?

Our articles often favor an “automation-optional” categorization. Should we, however, reserve the “automation” label for projects like the light switch based on room occupancy and deny other builds, like the voice-activated lights/outlets system or the RasPi lighting and audio control via web interface? Hit up the comments and help shed some light on how to properly use the terminology.

3D Printering: The Problem of Thingiverse


Most makers, I’m sure, enter into the 3D printing world with a goal in mind. Whether that’s printing enclosures for projects, Warhammer figurines, robot chassis, or even a mechanical computer, there is usually some obvious utility in having a 3D printer at home. 3D printers are a machine tool, though, and any time it’s not being used means it’s an investment with a lower return, or at the very least a really cool toy gathering dust.

Where then do you find new stuff to print that you don’t design yourself?

For the longest time now, Thingiverse has been the largest repository to share, browse, and download object other people have made. Even I have some very stupid stuff up on Thingiverse and have made use of a few random objects I found on there. This does not mean the 3D printer community particularly likes Thingiverse, however: Last year, Makerbot, the people behind Thingiverse, changed the terms of use so (allegedly) Thingiverse owns everything uploaded to their service. Couple this with completely unsubstantiated rumors of things being removed from Thingiverse that compete with Makerbot products, and you have a perfect storm of people unsatisfied with an online repository of 3D objects.

There is a huge market for an online repository of user-submitted 3D objects that isn’t controlled by Makerbot, and many have attempted to enter the fray. Defense Distributed, the guys behind the 3D printed AR lowers and all-plastic handguns launched DEFCAD, a Thingiverse clone, made an attempt by mirroring thousands of Thingiverse objects, removing the attribution in violation of these object’s licenses. Shady, yes, but at least it’s an option. There are other repos such as Cubehero and the newly launched YouMagine, a repo developed by Ultimaker. the Luke Skywalker to Makerbot’s Darth Vader.

But here is the problem with Thingiverse: even if you would like to get away from using this Makerbot service, it’s still the largest collection of 3D printed objects on the Internet. It has the most users, and is growing more each day than any of its competitors. Putting your objects anywhere else only means fewer people will see them, and fewer still will incorporate your designs into their new designs.

There are a few tools for you to ‘roll your own’ object repository. Github has a great new tool for viewing diffs between different versions of objects. There’s even a lot of work in making the Github landing page more like a Thingiverse page. This doesn’t address the core value of Thingiverse – if all the objects aren’t catalogued in one database, searchable by anyone, it’s just not as useful a site as Thingiverse.

I’m simply not smart enough to offer up a solution to this problem. Therefore, I’m turning it on to you: how should the 3D printer community retain the great value Thingiverse offers while still making something as usable as the now-malagined site? Should any new site mirror objects already on Thingiverse a la DEFCAD, only with proper attribution? Who should control the portal to all the objects, if anyone?

If you have any ideas on how to solve the problem of Thingiverse, drop a note in the comments.

Ask Hackaday: Can we do better than Phonebloks?


Our tips line is on fire with suggestions for us to cover the modular cell phone concept named Phonebloks. The phone’s designer states the problem as follows:

A phone only lasts a couple of years before it breaks or becomes obsolete. Although it’s often just one part which killed it we throw everything away since it’s almost impossible to repair or upgrade.

His solution is the above pictured phone, with modular components for each feature: wifi, camera, battery, etc. Rather than upgrade your entire phone, upgrade just the parts you need. A wave of followers have thrown their support behind this concept, and perhaps their hearts are in the right place hoping to reduce waste and cost. Behind the scenes here at Hackaday, however, the response has been a unanimous facepalm. The primary objection (other than design implausibilities) should be obvious: dividing the phone into exchangeable bits does not inherently reduce waste. Those bits have to go somewhere.

Now, don’t rush to the comments section to identify additional problems; there’s a juicy Reddit thread for that. Instead, we want to take the high road: Can we do better? Can we make a phone for the future that is less wasteful to produce, more easily recycled, and possibly upgradable? What would be included in its features, and how would we do it? Check out a video of the concept phone and tell us your alternatives after the break.

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Ask Hackaday: Can you steal a car with a mini tesla coil?


Last week we caught wind of a piece from the Today Show that shows very technically minded thieves stealing cars with a small device. Cops don’t know how they’re doing it, and of course the Today show (and the Hackaday comments) were full of speculation. The top three theories for how these thieves are unlocking car doors are jamming a keyless entry’s ‘lock signal’, a radio transmitter to send an ‘unlock’ code, or a small EMP device touched to the passenger side door to make it unlock.

That last theory – using a small EMP device to unlock a car’s door – got the attention of someone who builds mini EMP devices and has used them to get credits on slot machines. He emailed us under a condition of anonymity, but he says it’s highly unlikely a mini EMP device would be able to activate the solenoid on a car door.

This anonymous electromagnetic wizard would like to open up a challenge to Hackaday readers, though: demonstrate a miniature EMP device able to unlock an unmodified car door, and you’ll earn the respect of high voltage tinkerers the world over. If you’re successful you could always sell your device to a few criminal interests, but let’s keep things above board here.

Ask Hackaday: What are we going to do with the new Kinect?


Yesterday Microsoft announced their new cable box, the Xbox One. Included in the announcement is a vastly improved Kinect sensor. It won’t be available until next Christmas, but now the question is what are we going to do with it?

From what initial specs that can be found, the new version of the Kinect will output RGB 1080p video over a USB 3.0 connection to the new Xbox. The IR depth camera of the original Kinect has been replaced with a time of flight camera – a camera that is able to send out a pulse of light and time how long it takes for photons to be reflected back to the camera. While there have been some inroads into making low-cost ToF cameras – namely Intel and Creative’s Interactive Gesture Camera Development Kit and the $250 DepthSense 325 from SoftKinetic – the Kinect 2.0 will be the first time of flight camera you’ll be able to buy for a few hundred bucks at any Walmart.

We’ve seen a ton of awesome Kinect hacks over the years. Everything from a ‘holographic display’ that turns any TV into a 3D display, computer vision for robots, and a 3D scanner among others. A new Kinect sensor with better 3D resolution can only improve existing projects and the time of flight sensor – like the one found in Google’s driverless car – opens up the door for a whole bunch of new projects.

So, readers of Hackaday, assuming someone can write a driver in a few days like the Kinect 1.0, what are we going to do with it?

While we’re at it, keep in mind we made a call for Wii U controller hacks. If somebody can crack that nut, it’ll be an awesome remote for robots and FPV airplanes and drones.

The 10 best hacking videos

Say goodbye to the rest of your day. Here are the top 10 best videos about real hacking. We’ve already covered the absolute worst that hollywood has to offer, twice. Then, we did the best that hollywood could pull off. Now we’re enjoying the real thing. Feast your eyes on hacking as it actually happens. In this list are all kinds of hacking, from slapping things together out of scrap to lock picking. From creating computers in your garage to social engineering.

Most of these are even available, in full,  on youtube!

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