Sci-Fi Contest Roundup: No Tea

thumb2

In case you haven’t heard, we’re running a contest on Hackaday Projects for the best Sci-Fi build. We’re a little under two weeks until the deadline for the contest and so far there are a lot of great entries (and lots of great prizes still up for grabs).

If there’s one thing this contest has taught us, it’s that Hackaday readers have impeccable taste in their choices of books, movies, TV shows, and video games. We were surprised at how many entries there are for Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a series not generally known for having cool gadgets such as giant mechs, lightsabers, and other impressively awesome stuff. Here’s a roundup of the current HHGTTG submissions for the Sci-Fi contest:

Doors That Sass

roundup-robot-doorThe doors in Hitchhiker’s Guide are insufferable self-contented sentient portals programmed by the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation to love their simple lives. Upon everyone opening or closing one of these doors, they thank the person for validating their existence.

The door in [Jarrett]‘s hackerspace wouldn’t stay closed, so what better way to fix the door than with a robotic door greeter? Actually, it’s just a weight tied to a pulley that keeps the door closed with a little bit of circuitry that plays an .mp3 file when the door moves. Still, self-contented doors. [Goug] is also making one of these self-satisfied doors, but there’s not much in the way of progress.

Going Up?

sentient-elevatorThe Happy Vertical People Transporter is HHGTTG’s answer to the common elevator. Like doors, they’re also sentient, but also have ‘defocused temporal perception’ to arrive at a floor before a passenger even realizes they need a lift. [DigiGram] and [Lolla] are working on one of these sentient elevators using a webcam, OpenCV, and some AVR-based electronics.

Look Out!

peril-sensitive-glassesThe Joo Janta 200 Super-Chromatic Peril Sensitive Sunglasses allow the user to adapt to danger by blacking out a the first signs of peril. [colabot] and [minimum effective dose] realized you can just buy glasses that can be blacked out electronically in the form of active shutter glasses for a 3D TV. With a few peril sensors, they’re working on finishing up their peril sensitive sunglasses.

Remember, the Hackaday Projects Sci-Fi contest doesn’t end until April 29th. That leaves you plenty of time to enter your own build. May we suggest a Brownian motion simulation beverage?

 

Tube Headphones Rock Out While Keeping the Family Peace

tubeHeadphones

It’s hard being a kid sometimes. [Young] likes his music, but his dad is an overnight trucker. With his dad sleeping during the day, [Young] has to keep the volume down to a reasonable level. He could have bought some commercial headphones, but he wanted something a bit more customized. Rather than give up on his tunes, he built a pair of headphones with an internal tube preamp amplifier. [German language link -- Google translate doesn't want to work with this one but Chrome's translate feature works].

Two 1SH24B preamp tubes feed two LM386 amplifier chips, creating a hybrid amplifier. The 1SH24B tubes are designed to work on battery voltage, so a step up circuit wasn’t necessary. However, [Young] still needed to provide an 8 cell battery pack to run his amp. Speakers were a 3 way coaxial of [Young's] own design. He built the headphone frame using candy tins and cups from commercial headphones. A final touch was a window so everyone can see all that vacuum state goodness.  Considering that [Young] is only 16, we’re looking for some great things from him in the future.

If you don’t want to strap the tubes to your skull there are other options. But you have to admit it makes for a cool look. Starbucks here we come.

[Thanks Patrick]

We’re At The Vintage Computer Festival This Weekend!

VCF

This weekend takes some of the Hackaday crew to the Vintage Computer Festival East in Wall, New Jersey. There’s going to be lots of cool stuff, some dork walking around handing out Hackaday t-shirts and stickers, and more awesome retro computation devices than you can shake several sticks of RAM at.

On the agenda for Friday are a host of talks that include bootstrapping CP/M, assembly programming, disk imaging, and a talk from our very own [Bil Herd] on how to not kill yourself with a CRT monitor.

Saturday is when things really heat up with exhibits including a PDP-8, a 1960s UNIVAC, Chromeco Dazzlers, VAXxen, and a whole slew of computers that weigh less than several hundred pounds. There’s even a real Apple I. Seriously. There are also workshops that include some really obscure work from the late, great [Jef Raskin], and more talks, including [Dave Haynie]‘s recollections of Commodore’s circling the drain.

The VCF is hosted at InfoAge, an exceptionally cool vintage technology treasure trove that’s more than worth the visit, even if there weren’t a vintage computer festival going on this weekend. We caught up with the InfoAge guys a while back, and needless to say, if you come, you’ll have fun.

If you see somebody walking around with a Hackaday t-shirt on, be sure to tell them you’re a fan. If they don’t know what you’re talking about, ask them who they got the shirt from. Regular updates to follow, including a video of someone loading the Hackaday Retro site with an Intel 4004 microprocessor. I didn’t think that was possible either.

Oh, watch our Twitter or something. That’s a thing now.

Telepresence Robot Proves It’s A Small World After All

jolvoy[Chris] works as part of a small team of developers in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the US. [Timo], one of their core members, works remotely from Heidelberg, Germany. In order to make [Timo] feel closer to the rest of the group, they built him a telepresence robot.

It was a link to DoubleRobotics that got the creative juices flowing. [Chris] and his team wanted to bring [Timo] into the room, but they didn’t have a spare $2499 USD in their budget. Instead they mated a standard motorized pan/tilt camera base with an RFduino Bluetooth kit. An application running on [Timo's] phone sends gyroscope status through the internet to the iPad on the robot. The robot’s iPad then sends that data via Bluetooth to the RFduino. The RFduino commands pan and tilt movements corresponding with those sensed by the gyroscope.  A video chat application runs on top of all this, allowing [Timo] to look around the room and converse with his coworkers.

All the source code is available via GitHub. The design didn’t work perfectly at first. [Chris] mentions the RFduino’s Bluetooth API is rather flaky when it comes to pairing operations. In the end the team was able to complete the robot and present it to [Timo] as a Valentine’s Day gift. For [Chris'] sake we hope [Timo] doesn’t spend too much of his time doing what his homepage URL would suggest: “screamingatmyscreen.com”

[Thanks Parker]

Facebook to Buy Oculus VR

facebook-ocu

 

Facebook has agreed to purchase Oculus VR. The press values the deal at about $2 Billion USD in cash and stock. This is great news for Oculus’ investors. The rest of the world has a decidedly different opinion. [Notch], the outspoken creator of Minecraft, was quick to tweet that a possible rift port has now been canceled, as Facebook creeps him out. He followed this up with a blog post.

I did not chip in ten grand to seed a first investment round to build value for a Facebook acquisition.

Here at Hackaday, we’ve been waiting a long time for affordable virtual reality. We’ve followed Oculus since the early days, all the way up through the recent open source hardware release of their latency tester. Our early opinion on the buyout is not very positive. Facebook isn’t exactly known for contributions to open source software or hardware, nor are they held in high regard for standardization in their games API. Only time will tell what this deal really means for the Rift.

The news isn’t all dark though. While Oculus VR has been a major catalyst for virtual reality displays, there are other players. We’ve got our eggs in the castAR basket. [Jeri, Rick] and the rest of the Technical Illusions crew have been producing some great demos while preparing CastAR for manufacture. Sony is also preparing Project Morpheus. The VR ball is rolling. We just hope it keeps on rolling – right into our living rooms.

Fluke Issues Statement Regarding Sparkfun’s Impounded Multimeters

fluke-reponds-to-sparkfun-dmm-impounding

Fluke just issued a response to the impounding of multimeters headed for market in the United States. Yesterday SparkFun posted their story about US Customs officials seizing a shipment of 2000 multimeters because of trademark issues. The gist of the response is that this situation sucks and they want to do what they can to lessen the pain for those involved. Fluke is providing SparkFun with a shipment of genuine Fluke DMMs which they can sell to recoup their losses, or to donate. Of course SparkFun is planning to donate the meters to the maker community.

Anyone with a clue will have already noticed the problem with this solution. The impounded shipment of 2k meters will still be destroyed… eh. The waste is visceral. But good for Fluke for trying to do something positive.

Before we sign off let’s touch on the trademark issue for just a moment. We can’t really blame Fluke too much for this. The legal crux of the matter is you either defend your trademark in every case, or you don’t defend it at all. In this case it was the border agents defending the filing, but for ease of understanding we’ll not go into that. On the other hand, speaking in general business terms, the way things are set up it is advantageous to acquire a trademark specification that is as broad as possible because it helps to discourage competitors from coming to market. So trademark is good when it keep hucksters from trying to rip off consumers. But it is bad if applied too broadly as a way of defending a company’s market share.

Where does Fluke come down in all of this? Who knows. There is literally no right answer and that’s why the discussion around yesterday’s post was full of emphatic arguments. A Fluke meter is a cream-of-the-crop device and they have the right (and obligation) to ensure that reputation is not sullied. SparkFun serves a market that probably can’t afford a Fluke at this time but may some day in the future. And this is the reason we can feel okay about this outcome.

[via Twitter]

Multimeters Without A Country: Fluke’s Broad Trademark Bans Yellow Multimeter Imports

fluke-killing-sparkfun-for-being-yellow

Check out this SparkFun Digital Multimeter. Does it make your blood boil to see them ripping off Fluke by using the color yellow? From SparkFun’s side of the story that’s exactly what’s happened here. They have a shipment of 2000 of these things stuck in customs. The trademark being infringed upon can be found in their article. Fluke owns the trademark on multimeters with a dark face and yellow border. Great. This seems like a wonderful idea, right up there with Apple owning tablets that are shaped like a piece of paper.

Okay, so if you’re not crying big fat tears for Fluke being taken advantage of in this way let’s talk about more immediate issues than fixing trademark, patent, copyright, and all of the other screw-the-little-guy type of laws (not that SparkFun is necessarily the little guy but you know what we mean). The DMMs sitting in a warehouse are costing SparkFun $150 per day. We believe they have no option of choosing a warehouse with a lower cost as we must be talking a pallet or two, right? The only two options they do have are shipping them back to China where they were manufactured, or having them destroyed. The former will cost more in re-import tariffs than the cost of the product, and the latter comes with a $150/hour disposal fee and no metric on which to judge how long it would actually take. We hate seeing this kind of waste, but sure enough 2000 DMMs are headed for the shredder in a couple of days.

We know you already have your flaming sword in hand, but simmer down for just a second. Fluke makes great products, ask anyone. And companies the world over defend their trademarks. Hopefully there will soon be a positive response from Fluke on this one. If you would like to politely encourage them to do the right thing we found Fluke’s Facebook page URL in the SparkFun comments thread. Both are worth browsing.

[Thanks Chris via Reddit]