For years Sprite_TM has been my favorite hacker, and yet he continues to have an uncanny ability to blow my mind with the hacks that he pulls off even though I’m ready for it. This weekend at the Hackaday SuperConference he threw down an amazing talk on his tiny, scratch-built, full-operational Game Boy. He stole the badge hacking show with a Rick Roll, disassembled the crypto challenge in one hour by cutting right to the final answer, and managed to be everywhere at once. You’re a wizard Harry Sprite!
Here’s what’s crazy: these are the antics of just one person of hundreds who I found equally amazing at the conference. It feels impossible to convey to you the absolute sincerity I have when I say that SuperCon was far and away the best conference I’ve ever been to or have even heard about. It managed to outpace any hyperbole I constructed leading up to the weekend. This morning felt like I was waking up from a dream and desperately wanted to fall asleep again.
A bit ago I wrote an article called, “Death To The 3.5mm Audio Jack, Long Live Wireless.” A few readers were with me, a few were indifferent, many were vehemently against me, and there was a, not insubstantial, subset in a pure panic about the potential retirement of a beloved connector. Now I used a lot of opinionated language dispersed with subjectively evaluated facts to make a case that the connector is out. Not today maybe, but there is certainly a tomorrow not so far off where there are more wireless headsets at the electronics store than wired ones.
This year’s Hackaday Prize saw over 1,000 entires during five challenge rounds which asked people to Build Something that Matters. Let’s take a look at the projects that won the top five prizes. They exemplify the five challenge themes: Assistive Technologies, Automation, Citizen Scientist, Anything Goes, and Design Your Concept.
Grand Prize Winner ($150,000 and a residency at the Supplyframe Design Lab): Dtto is modular robot built with 3D printed parts, servo motors, magnets, and readily available electronics. Each module consists of two boxes, rounded on one side, connected by a bar. The modules can join with each other in many different orientations using the attraction of the magnets. Sections can separate themselves using servo motors.
Dtto is groundbreaking in its ability to make modular robots experimentation available to roboticists and hobbiests everywhere by sidestepping what has traditionally been a high-cost undertaking. While it’s easy to dismiss this concept, the multitude of different mechanisms built from modules during testing drives home the power of the system.
Second Place ($25,000): Reflectance Transformation Imaging is a method of photographing artifacts multiple times with a fixed camera location but changing lighting locations. When these images are combined into an interface after the fact, it allows for different textures, surface features, and material properties to be observed. Currently there are no commercial version of hardware available for this technique.
Third Place ($10,000): An optics bench is a series of jigs used to hold and precisely align elements for optical experiments. Traditionally this meant highly specialized equipment starting in the tens-of-thousands of dollars. But schools, hackerspaces, and individuals don’t need top-of-the-line equipment to begin learning about optics. The project has designed holders for salvaged optics and the ancillary materials to conduct experiments, and even includes a standardized carrying case design.
Fourth Place ($10,000): This is a reimaging of a Linear Variable Differential Transformer (LVDT). Traditionally, tilt sensors based on LVDTs are built like a small tube with an iron core that can slide from one end to the other as the tube is tilted. This new sensor turns the tube into a hollow ring, and replaces the iron core with ferrofluid (a liquid with the properties of metal). What results is a brand new sensor with properties unavailable in previous tilt sensors.
Fifth Place ($5,000). Stepper motors are known for accurate movement, but they are often used as open loop systems and prone to lose track of position either from missed steps or outside interference. Mechaduino adds a high accuracy magnetic encoder to any of several commonly available stepper motors, closing that loop and adding functionality. This includes positional awareness, but goes for beyond to velocity and torque control, and user interaction.
Having finished the Tools of the Trade series on circuit board assembly, let’s look at some of the common methods for doing enclosures. First, and possibly the most common, is injection molding. This is the process of taking hot plastic, squirting it through a small hole and into a cavity, letting it cool, and then removing the hardened plastic formed in the shape of the cavity.
The machine itself has three major parts; the hopper, the screw, and the mold. The hopper is where the plastic pellets are dumped in. These pellets are tiny flecks of plastic, and if the product is to be colored there will be colorant pellets added at some ratio. The hopper will also usually have a dehumidifier attached to it to remove as much water from the pellets as possible. Water screws up the process because it vaporizes and creates little air bubbles.
Next the plastic flecks go into one end of the screw. The screw’s job is to turn slowly, forcing the plastic into ever smaller channels as it goes through a heating element, mixing the melted plastic with the colorant and getting consistent coloring, temperature, and ever increasing pressure. By the time the plastic is coming out the other end of the screw, and with the assistance of a hydraulic jack, it can be at hundreds of tons of pressure.
Finally, the plastic enters the mold, where it flows through channels into the empty cavity, and allowed to sit briefly to cool. The mold then separates and ejector pins push the part out of the cavity.
The Economist is an interesting publication, a British weekly newspaper that looks for all the world like a magazine, and contains pithy insights into world politics and economic movements. It’s one of those rare print news publications that manages to deliver fresh insights even to hardened web news junkies despite its weekly publication date.
It was typical then of their wide-ranging coverage of world industries to publish a piece recently on the world of supercapacitors, with particular focus on Estonia’s Skeleton Technologies. This is an exciting field in which the products are inching their way towards energy density parity with conventional batteries, and news of new manufacturing facilities coming online should be of interest to many Hackaday readers.
Exciting though it may be it was not the news of a new capacitor plant in Germany that provided the impetus for this piece. Instead it was the language used by the Economist writer delicately skirting the distinction between the words “Supercapacitor” and “Ultracapacitor”. Images of flying crimefighters in brightly coloured capes spring instantly to mind, as Captain Ultra and Superman battle an arch-villain who is no doubt idly bouncing a piece of burning Kryptonite against the wall in readiness for the final denouement.
We know what it’s like to wait for newly released electronic parts. Clicking refresh every day at your favorite online retailers, reading reviews published by the press who got preview units, and maybe even daring to order implausibly cheap devices from foreign lands. The ESP32 has many of us playing the waiting game, and we’ll level with you — they’re out of stock most places. But, if you look hard enough you can find one. At least, you could find them before we wrote this quick roundup of ESP32 hardware. If hearing about parts that are just out of reach is your sort of thing, then read on, you masochist!
Whether it’s trying to make contacts across the planet with a transmitter that would have a hard time lighting an LED, or blasting signals into space and bouncing them off the moon, amateur radio operators have always been on the forefront of communications technology. As mankind took to space in the 1950s and 1960s, hams went along for the ride with the first private satellites. But as successful as the OSCAR satellites were, they were still at best only beacons or repeaters in space. What was needed was the human touch – a real live operator making contacts with people on the ground, showing the capabilities of amateur radio while generating public interest in the space program. What was needed was a ham in space. Continue reading “Hams in Space Part 2: The Manned Spaceflights”→