Hyperloops and Robot Cars, A Glimpse into The Future

His mobile blooped at him with one of those noises a company spent money to get. A timer started on the screen as he rushed to put his shoes on. He finished and pushed open his door, running down the stairs two to a bound. By the time he reached the bottom of the stairs he had his backpack slung over both shoulders, which he mentally cursed himself for since he’d just have to take the dang thing off again.

It was morning on January first, and he was due at his parent’s house for a new year’s dinner fifteen hundred miles away. He should have booked a plane weeks ago, but now the Loop was his only option. The Loop didn’t really have peak rates, and while the plane would be a little faster, more direct, and cheaper IF he had remembered to book it in time, the Loop would take him the same distance today. Plus, the seats were comfier. They reclined nicely, and he intended to nap on the way. Hopefully, by the time he got there, the bleariness from last night’s celebration would be undetectable by parental senses.

He locked the door to his apartment complex, a reassuringly square assembly from the seventies, and walked to the sidewalk where a friendly light blue car waited for him. When he got close, his mobile vibrated and made another distressingly cheery noise. The doors of the car swung open opposite of each other to expose the space inside. The car displayed two rows of inward facing bench seats, a panoramic row of windows around the entire perimeter of the vehicle, and… yes, his nose was telling him before his eyes fixed on it, a very unsettling amount of vomit in the center of the floor.

He turned around, a bit squeamish, and took out his mobile. He navigated through the controls. Where is the menu option? What year is it now? Why is this still hard? Three awkward menus deep and he finally found and selected the option to let the dispatch know the car had an issue which made it uninhabitable. The car immediately began to chirp warnings and the doors soon started to close. In a moment, a human somewhere in the city would be looking at a video of the inside of the car, determining him a liar or not. As expected, a few seconds later, the little car began to drive off. The lights on the rear of the car turned from bright red to the yellow amber of headlights as it decided its front would be its back. It drove off to the dispatch center for cleaning and repair. Someone would be eating a 100 dollar cleaning bill today. He didn’t feel sorry for them.

His phone began to vibrate. He picked it up to answer a call from a bored customer service representative who was trying hard to sound earnest. “Sorry for the trouble sir, the ride today will be free. We have another car on its way”

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A Field Guide to the North American Communications Tower

The need for clear and reliable communication has driven technology forward for centuries. The longer communication’s reach, the smaller the world becomes. When it comes to cell phones, seamless network coverage and low power draw are the ideals that continually spawn R&D and the eventual deployment of new equipment.

Almost all of us carry a cell phone these days. It takes a lot of infrastructure to support them, whether or not we use them as phones. The most recognizable part of that infrastructure is the communications tower. But what do you know about them?

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The Ultraviolet Catastrophe

As the light of the 20th century was peeking over the horizon, a young physicist by the name of Max Planck was taking to heart some career advice he had received while he attended Munich University in Germany. With the recent discovery of thermodynamics, there wasn’t much left in physics to know, or so his adviser thought. Hindsight is indeed 20/20.

It turns out that Planck was an expert at thermodynamics. Having mastered the subject gave him some leverage to use against a growing group of physicists known as atomists who were using statistical models along with so called ‘atoms’ to predict experimental outcomes. Atomists believed that matter was composed of discrete units. Planck believed the world was continuous and could not be divided into any type of discrete component. And he would draw the second law of thermodynamics from his holster and put this atom idea in the clay.

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Ethernet Controller Discovered in the ESP8266

The venerable ESP8266 has rocked the Internet of Things world. Originally little more than a curious $3 WiFi-to-serial bridge, bit by bit, the true power of the ESP has become known, fully programmable, with a treasure trove of peripherals it seemed that the list of things the ESP couldn’t do was short. On that list, at least until today was Ethernet.

No, despite the misleading title, the ESP does not have a MAC and/or PHY, but what it does have is an incredible 80 MHz DMA-able shift register which can be used to communicate 10BASE-T Ethernet using a new project, espthernet. Join me after the break for video proof, and a deep dive into how this is possible.

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Apple Introduces Their Answer To The Raspberry Pi

Today, Apple has announced their latest bit of hardware. Following in the tradition of the Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, and the Intel Edison, Apple have released a single board computer meant for embedded and Internet of Things applications. It’s called the Apple Device, and is sure to be a game changer in the field of low-power, Internet-enabled computing.

First off, some specs. The Apple Device uses Apple’s own A8 chip, the same dual-core 64-bit CPU found in the iPhone 6. This CPU is clocked at 1.1 GHz, and comes equipped with 1GB of LPDDR3 RAM and 4GB of eMMC Flash. I/O includes a Mini DisplayPort capable of driving a 4k display, 802.11ac, Bluetooth, and USB. In a massive break from the Apple zeitgeist of the last decade or so, the Apple Device also includes a forty pin header for expansion, much like the Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, and Edison.

Although Apple’s first foray into the embedded computing market is a shocker, in retrospect it should come as no surprise; the introduction of HomeKit in iOS 9 laid the groundwork for an Internet of Apple Devices, embedded into toasters, refrigerators, smart homes, and cars. The Apple Device lives up to all these expectations, but what is the hands-on experience like?

See our review of the Apple Device after the break.

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Pong on Industrial Controllers

Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) are a staple of control automation. Sometime in the 60s or 70s, they replaced a box full of relays to implement the kind of “if-this-then-that” logic that turns thermostats on or directs machinery. Sometime in the 90s or 2000s, some more computing power was added, giving us the Programmable Automation Controller (PAC). And if reading Hackaday has taught us anything, it’s that if you give people a little bit of computing power, they’ll implement Pong (or Snake or Doom!).

We were sent a link where [AbsolutelyAutomation] does just that: implements a remotely-playable Pong on a bit of industrial control. Even if you don’t have a PAC sitting around, the details are interesting.

The first step is to get graphics out of the thing. The PAC in question is already able to speak Ethernet, so it’s “just” a matter of sending the right packets. Perhaps the simplest way to go is to implement the remote framebuffer (RFB) protocol from VNC, and then use a VNC client on the PC to send the graphics. (As they point out [CNLohr] has done this quite nicely on the ESP8266 (YouTube) as well.) So an RFB library was written. [AbsolutelyAutomation] points out that this could be used to make boring things like user-friendly configuration and monitoring screens. (Yawn!)

Graphics done, it’s easy to add a Pong layer over the top, using the flowchart-based programming interface that makes homage to the PLC/PAC’s usual function as an industrial controller. (Oddly enough, it seems to compile to a Forth dialect to run on the PAC.) And then you’re playing. There’s code and a (PDF) writeup available if you want more info. If you don’t have a PAC to run it on, the manufacturers have a simulator for you.

We’ve never worked with a PLC/PAC, but we know the hacker spirit when we see it. And making something that’s usually located in the boiler room play video games is aces in our book. This sparks a memory of an industrial control hacking room at DEF CON a few years back. Maybe this is the inspiration needed to spend some time in that venue this year.

We know we’ve got controls engineers out there. What’s the strangest thing you’ve programmed into a PLC?

Co-Exist With Your Coax: Choose The Right Connector For The Job

Just a selection from the author's unholy assortment of adaptors.
Just a selection from the author’s unholy assortment of adaptors.

If you do any work with analogue signals at frequencies above the most basic audio, it’s probable that somewhere you’ll have a box of coax adaptors. You’ll need them, because the chances are your bench will feature instruments, devices, and modules with a bewildering variety of connectors. In making all these disparate devices talk to each other you probably have a guilty past: at some time you will have created an unholy monster of a coax interface by tying several adaptors together to achieve your desired combination of input and output connector. Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me.

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