Defcon Side Trip: Pololu And Robots

PololuDuring our trip out to Vegas for Defcon, we were lucky enough to catch up with a few of the companies that should be of interest to Hackaday readers. One of the companies based out of the area is Pololu, makers and purveyors of fine electronics and robots. In an incredible bit of lucky scheduling, LV Bots, the Las Vegas area robot builders club, was having an event the same weekend we were there. A maze challenge, no less, where builders would compete to build the best robot and write the best code to get a pile of motors and electronics through a line-following maze in the fastest amount of time.

The Bots

The LV Bots events are held in the same building as Pololu, and unsurprisingly there were quite a few Pololu employees making a go at taking the stuff they developed and getting it to run through a maze. At least one bot was based on the Zumo kit, and a few based on the 3pi platform. Interestingly, the Raspberry Pi Model B+ was the brains of quite a few robots; not extremely surprising, but evidence that the LV Bots people take their line-following mazes seriously and are constantly improving their builds.

Each robot and builder ‘team’ was given three runs. For each team, the first run is basically dedicated to mapping the entire maze. A carefully programmed algorithm tries to send the robot around the entire maze, storing all the intersections in memory. For the second and third runs, the bot should – ideally – make it to the end in a very short amount of time. This is the ideal situation and was only representative of one team for that weekend’s event.

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DEFCON 22: The Badge Designers

If you go to DEFCON next year (and you should), prepare for extreme sleep deprivation. If you’re not sleep deprived you’re doing it wrong. This was the state in which we ran into [LosT] and [J0nnyM@c], the brains behind the DEFCON 22 badge and all of the twisted tricks that torture people trying to solve the badge throughout the weekend. They were popular guys but wait around until late into the night and the throngs of hint-seekers subside just a bit.

Plans, within plans, within plans are included in the “crypto” which [LosT] talks about in the interview above. We were wondering how hard it is to produce a badge that is not only electrically perfect, but follows the planned challenge to a ‘T’. This includes things like holding off soldering mask from some pads, and different ones on a different version of the badge. Turns out that you just do as well as you can and then alter the puzzle to match the hardware.

Speaking of hardware. A late snafu in the production threw the two into a frenzy of redesign. Unable to use the planned chip architecture, [J0nnyM@c] stepped up to transition the badges over to Propeller P8X32a chips, leveraging a relationship with Parallax to ensure they hardware could be manufactured in time for the conference.

If you haven’t put it together yet, this is that same chip that Parallax just made Open Source. The announcement was timed to coincide with DEFCON.

THP Hacker Bio: Kenji Larsen

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I met up with [Kenji Larsen] at HOPE X last weekend, and I’m fairly certain he was the coolest person at a conference full of really cool people. Talking to him for a little bit, you get a sense of what it would be like to speak with [Buckmister Fuller], [Tesla], or any of the other ‘underappreciated, but not by people in the know’ minds scattered about history. I’ll just let his answers to our hacker bio questions demonstrate that.

7033431402348237268[Kenji]‘s project for The Hackaday Prize is the Reactron Overdrive. It’s not just one board he’s building here, but an entire suite of sensors, interfaces, and nodes that form a complete human to machines – note the plural ‘machines’ – interface. When you consider that no one knows what the Internet of Things actually is, and that [Kenji] is working on IoT 3.0, you get a sense that there’s really something here. Also, his project log has a Tron Recognizer in it. That has to count for something, right?

Interview/Bio below.

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Judge Spotlight: Andrew “Bunnie” Huang

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This week’s Judge Spotlight focuses on [Andrew "Bunnie" Huang]. If you haven’t heard of him you need to pay more attention. His hacker cred goes way back to the original Xbox, which he reverse engineered and laid bare its security flaws. Maintaining his hacker spirit he went on to design and hack the Chumby. More recently he took on the challenge of developing and Open laptop called Novena. All of this while continuing to explore and experiment with all kinds of electronics, posting about his adventures for those of us that care about an electronics ecosystem that doesn’t shut out the user from tinkering with the hardware. Join us after the break for our conversation with The Hackaday Prize judge [Bunnie Huang].

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THP Hacker Bio: hackersbench

 

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Remote sensing applications that make sense and cents? (sorry, couldn’t help ourselves) That’s what [hackersbench], aka [John Schuch], aka [@JohnS_AZ] is working on as his entry for The Hackaday Prize.

He received a multi-thousand-dollar water bill after having an underground pipe break and leak without knowing it. His idea will help you notice problems like this sooner. But if you actually have a way to capture data about your own water use you also have a tool to help encourage less wasteful water use habits. We wanted to learn more about the hacker who is working on this project. [John's] answers to our slate of questions are after the break.

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Judge Spotlight: Joe Grand

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We’ve been fascinated by [Joe Grand] for years. His early talks at DEFCON, and extensive work designing badges for it, helped to put the conference on our radar. We’ve seen many pieces of hardware come from his company Grand Idea Studio over the years, and of course there was the television show Prototype This! which must have been way too awesome for some TV exec to allow it to continue.

We asked [Joe], who is a judge for The Hackaday Prize, a few a questions. He sent back the video response embedded below. He talks about what he’s doing these days, the hacker community in Boston, shows off some hardware he uses when teaching about security, and much more.

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THP Hacker Bio: nsted

 

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Have you ever wanted to build a robot arm, or even a full robot, but were put off by the daunting task of making all of those articulations work? Moti could make that a lot easier. The project seeks to produce smart servo motors which can connect and communicate in many different ways. It’s a great idea, so we wanted to know more about the hacker behind the project. After the jump you’ll find [nsted's] answers to our slate of question for this week’s Hacker Bio.

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