[Geohot] Selling His “Self-Driving” Car Tech for $1k by New Year

This week [Geohot] announced the launch of his self-driving car hardware. This is the natural extension of his proof-of-concept shown off in December which he parlayed into a Silicon Valley startup called comma.ai. [Geohot], whose real name is [George Hotz], is well known for jailbreaking the iPhone and making Sony look like idiots when they retroactively crippled Linux support on PS3. He has hardware chops.

Initial self-driving add-on hardware only works with Honda and Acura models that already have lane-keeping assist features because those vehicles already have built-in front radar. The package, which replaces the rear view mirror, adds a front facing camera. Those lucky (or brave, foolish, daring?) beta users can trade $999 and $24/month for what is currently a green 3D printed enclosure with some smartphone-like hardware inserted.

The company has taken an interesting approach to acquiring data needed for this particular flavor of self-driving. [Hotz] is teasing a chance at beta test invites to those who contribute driving data to the company. This is as simple as downloading an app to your phone and letting it roll from your windshield as you go bumper to bumper from Mountain View to San Francisco. That’s right, the plan is to support just that stretch of the nation’s highway system — although [Hotz] did make a brazen estimate of 90% of commutes for 90% of users within a year. Hey, it’s a startup so it’s either that, selling to a bigger fish, or closing their doors.

That narrow route support is actually an interesting constraint. In fact, the company is most interesting because of its chosen constraints: a small subset of cars, a chosen stretch of highway, and dare we say sanity when it comes to self-driving expectations. Grandiose claims have the general public thinking a vehicle with no human driver will slide up to your stoop and take you anywhere you want to go. That is a dauntingly difficult engineering challenge (dare we say impossible). What [Hotz] is selling is a more stress-free commute, not a nap in the back seat. You still need to be paying attention at all times.

Will this system work? Undoubtedly the engineering is possible (Tesla is already doing it). The biggest question mark that remains is human nature. This system demands your attention even though you’re doing nothing. That seems unrealistic — users are bound to lapse in attention much more frequently than if they were the primary driver. The question then becomes, will people pay attention at the very rare yet very crucial moments, and can a system like this prevent more fatal accidents than it causes?

[via Engadget]

Mega-Plate Petri-Dish Lets You Watch The Evolution Of Bacteria

Rearchers of the Harvard Medical School built a 2 feet by 4 feet (61 x 122 cm) large petri-dish to visualize the evolution of bacteria. Their experiment induces mutations in E. coli bacteria by exposing them to gradually increasing concentrations of antibiotics.

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MIT Researchers Can Read Closed Books (and defeat CAPTCHA)

Ten years ago, MIT researchers proved that it was possible to look through an envelope and read the text inside using terahertz spectroscopic imaging. This research inspired [Barmak Heshmat] to try the same technique to read a book through its cover. A new crop of MIT researchers led by [Heshmat] have developed a prototype to do exactly that, and he explains the process in the video after the break. At present, the system is capable of correctly deciphering individual letters through nine pages of printed text.

They do this by firing terahertz waves in short bursts at a stack of pages and interpreting the return values and travel time. The microscopic air pockets between the pages provide boundaries for differentiation. [Heshmat] and the team rely on these pockets to reflect the signal back to a sensor in the camera. Once they have the system dialed in to be able to see the letters on the target page and distinguish them from the shadows of the letters on the other pages, they use an algorithm to determine the letters. [Heshmat] says the algorithm is so good that it can get through most CAPTCHAs.

The most immediate application for this technology is reading antique books and other printed materials that are far too fragile to be handled, potentially opening up worlds of knowledge that are hidden within disintegrating documents. For a better look at the outsides of things, there is Reflectance Transformation Imaging.

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Wazer: The Waterjet For Your Garage

Most hobbyists don’t have waterjets in their garage, but they would if they could! A Waterjet (or Water Jet Cutter) is a marvelous tool. Simply mount a high-pressure stream of grit and water on an x-y gantry, and the pressure generates enough erosion to cut through just about any thin material. Unfortunately, claiming your own waterjet will erode away a nice big hole in your pocketbook too. Machines up to this point start at about $75K, not to mention that they’d claim the better part of your workspace in a two-car garage.

Most of us everyday hackers that want to play with the benefits of this tool send their parts out to a professional shop. Consequently, we don’t often hear about everyday hackers using waterjets, or waterjet-cut parts all that often, with one exception. Back in 2014, a crew of students from UPENN built a functional waterjet with a parts-list that could make it affordable for about $5000. Now that same team is back. This time, they’ve spun together not just a one-off, but a fully-featured product called Wazer, which just launched its Kickstarter campaign minutes ago and has already nearly quadrupled the $100k goal. How could it do that? The full package starts at modest $3599-$4499. This is crowd-funding, after all, but a 20x undercutting of price is a powerful motivator.

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Hackaday Links: September 11, 2016

You know about the Hackaday Superconference, right? It’s the greatest hardware con ever, and it’s happening on November 5+6. Details incoming shortly.

The Hackaday Retro Edition exists. It’s the Hackaday blog, HTML-1-izized for weird and old computers? Why did I do this? Because Google is the quickest page to load on a Powerbook 180. There’s a new Retro Success, this time coming from @LeSpocky and his Nokia 3109c phone from 2008.

This is your official notice. The Open Hardware Summit is less than a month away. It’s going down in Portland, OR. Why Portland? The Vaporwavescene, of course. Hackaday, Tindie, and the rest of the crew will be out in Portland next month getting the latest news on the state of Open Hardware. We won’t be sitting in church pews this year, but then again there is no lady made out of soap.

Speaking of OHS, [Dave] just solved all their problems. The ‘problem’ with Open Hardware, if you can call it that, is that people use it as a bullet point on a sales deck. That neat gear logo can be marketing wank, without any of the sources, schematics, or anything else that makes a project Open Hardware. Last year, OSHWA announced they would be creating a certification process, with a trademarked logo, so they can sue people who don’t post schematics and mechanical designs (slightly inaccurate, but that’s the jist of the program). [Dave] is suggesting keeping the cool gear logo, but adding letters the teeth of the gear to designate what makes something Open Hardware. Add an S for schematic, add a B for a BOM, sort of like the creative commons logo/license. Is it a good idea? If OSHWA keeps using the gear logo for the ‘official’ Open Hardware logo/designation, there’s no recourse for when people misuse it. I’m of several minds.

[Colin Furze] is famous for his zany builds. His latest Youtube is anything but. It’s a shed. Of course, it’s the entry for his underground bunker, but this is a quality shed with a concrete pad, a few bits to keep it off the ground, and insulation. The roof is slate (because why not?), but if your design decisions are based on the phrase, ‘you only live once,’ copper may be a better choice.

The ESP32 has been released. The ESP32 is the follow-on to the very popular ESP8266. The ’32 features WiFi and Bluetooth, dual core processors, and a few undisclosed things that will make it very interesting. You can buy ESP32 modules right now, but no one has them on their workbench quite yet. To get you started when they finally arrive, [Adam] created an ESP32 KiCad Library for the ESP32 chip, and the ESP32-WROOM and ESP3212 modules.

VW Engineer Pleads Guilty To Conspiracy

[James Liang], an engineer at Volkswagen for 33 years, plead guilty today to conspiracy. He was an engineer involved in delivering Diesel vehicles to market which could detect an emissions test scenario and perform differently from normal operation in order to pass US emission standards.

A year ago we talked about the Ethics in Engineering surrounding this issue. At the time we wondered why any engineer would go along with a plan to defraud customers. We may get an answer to this after all. [Mr. Liang] will cooperate with authorities as the VW probe continues.

According to information in the indictment, none of this happened by mistake (as we suspected). There was a team responsible for developing a mode that would detect a test and pass inspection after the company discovered the engine could not otherwise pass. It’s not hard to see the motivation behind this — think of the sunk cost in developing an engine design. The team responsible for cheating the tests went so far as to push software updates in 2014 which made the cheat better, and lying about the existence of these software “features” when questioned by authorities (again, according to the indictment).

31415926 (That’s roughly Π times 10 million Raspberries)

The Raspberry Pi Foundation founder Eben Upton has announced that their ten millionth eponymous single-board computer has been sold since their launch back in February 2012. It’s an impressive achievement, especially so since their original sales expectations were for a modest ten thousand. For those of us who watched the RS and Farnell websites crumble under the strain of so many would-be purchasers on that leap day morning four and a half years ago their rapidly exceeding that forecast came as no surprise, but still, it’s worth a moment’s consideration. They passed the Sinclair ZX Spectrum’s British record of 5m computers sold back in February 2015, leaving behind the Pi’s BBC Micro spiritual ancestor on 1.5m sold long before that.

Critics of the Pi will point out that its various versions have rarely been the most powerful small single board computer on the market, or even at times the cheapest. They will also point to the closed-source nature of the Broadcom binary blob that underpins Pi operating systems, and even the sometimes unpredictable nature of the Pi Foundation with respect to its community, product availability and launches. But given that the Pi Foundation’s focus is not on our side of the community but on using the boards as a tool to introduce young people to computing, it’s fair to say that they’ve done a pretty good job of ensuring that a youngster can now get their hands on a useful and easily programmable computer much more easily than at any time in the past.

Would we be in the same position of being able to buy a capable Linux computer for near-pocket-money prices had the Raspberry Pi not been released? Probably so, in fact certainly so. The hardware required to deliver these products has inevitably fallen into a more affordable price bracket, and we would certainly have plenty of boards at our fingertips. They would probably have Allwinner or maybe Mediatek processors rather than the Pi’s Broadcom part, but they would be very likely to deliver equivalent performance at a similar cost. Where the Raspberry Pi’s continued success has come from then has not necessarily been from its hardware but from its community and software. The reliability and ease of use delivered by the Raspbian Linux distribution that Just Works for the parent putting a Pi in front of their child, and the wealth of expert information on the Raspberry Pi forums to get them through any Pi-related troubles are what has given the Pi these sales figures. The boards themselves are almost incidental, almost any hardware paired with that level of background information would likely have met with similar success. Comparing the Pi software experience with for example one of their most capable competitors, it’s obvious that the software is what makes the difference.

It’s likely that Raspberry Pi sales will continue to climb, and in years to come we’ll no doubt be reporting on fresh milestones on ever more powerful revisions of their product. But it’s also likely that their competition will up their software game and their position in the hearts and minds of single board computer users might be usurped by a better offering. If this increased competition in the single board computer market delivers better boards with more for the hardware developer community, then we’re all for it.