Basement 3D Printer Builds Are Too Easy. Try Building One on Mars.

[Tony Stark Elon Musk] envisions us sending one million people to Mars in your lifetime. Put aside the huge number or challenges in that goal — we’re going to need a lot of places to live. That’s a much harder problem than colonization where mature trees were already standing, begging to become planks in your one-room hut. Nope, we need to build with what’s already up there, and preferably in a way that prepares structures before their inhabitants arrive. NASA is on it, and by on it, we mean they need you to figure it out as part of their 3D Printed Hab Challenge.

The challenge started with a concept phase last year, awarding $25k to the winning team for a plan to use Martian ice as a building material for igloo-like habs that also filter out radiation. The top 30 entries were pretty interesting so check them out. But now we’re getting down to the nitty-gritty. How would any of these ideas actually be implemented? If you can figure that out, you can score $2M.

Official rules won’t be out until Friday, but we’d love to hear some outrageous theories on how to do this in the comments below. The whole thing reminds us of one of the [Brian Herbert]/[Kevin J. Anderson] Dune prequels where swarms of robot colonists crash-land on planets throughout the universe and immediately start pooping out building materials. Is a robot vanguard the true key to planet colonization, and how soon do you think we can make that happen? We’re still waiting for robot swarms to clean up our oceans. But hey, surely we can do both concurrently.

Arduino Vs. Arduino: Arduino Won

For the last two years, Arduino LLC (the, Massimo one) and Arduino SRL (the, Musto one) have been locked in battle over the ownership of the Arduino trademark. That fight is finally over. Announced at the New York Maker Faire today, “Arduino” will now go to Arduino Holding, the single point of distribution for new products, and a non-profit Arduino Foundation, responsible for the community and Arduino IDE.

Since early 2015, Arduino — not the Arduino community, but the organization known as Arduino — has been split in half. Arduino LLC sued Arduino SRL for trademark infringement. The case began when Arduino SRL, formerly Smart Projects SRL and manufacturers of the Arduino boards with a tiny map of Italy on the silk screen, began selling under the Arduino name. Arduino LLC, on the other hand, wanted to internationalize the brand and license production to other manufacturers.

While Arduino and Arduino have been tied up in court for the last few years, from the outside this has look like nothing else but petty bickering. Arduino SRL forked the Arduino IDE and bumped up the version number. Later, an update from SRL was pushed out to Amazon buyers telling them was the real Arduino. Resellers were in a tizzy, and for a time Maker Faires had two gigantic Arduino booths. No one knew what was going on.

All of this is now behind us. The open source hardware community’s greatest source of drama is now over.

I spoke with Massimo after the announcement, and although the groundwork is laid out, the specifics aren’t ready to be disclosed yet. There’s still a lot to work out, like what to do with the Github repo, which TLD will be used (we’re rooting for .org), support for the multitude of slightly different products released from both camps over the years, and finer points that aren’t publicly visible. In a few months, probably before the end of the year, we’ll get all the answers to this. Now, though, the Arduino wars are over. Arduino is dead, long live Arduino.

Very, Very Tiny X86 Systems

The most interesting market for Intel in recent years has been very, very small form factor PCs. ARM is eating them alive, of course, but there are still places where very small and very low power x86 boards make sense. The latest release from SolidRun is the smallest we’ve seen yet. The SolidPC Q4 is one of the smallest x86 implementation you can find. It’s based around the MicroSoM, a module even smaller than a Raspberry Pi, and built around a carrier board that has all the ports you could ever want from the tiniest PC ever.

The SolidPC Q4 is technically only a carrier board featuring a microSD slot, Displayport, HDMI 1.4B, two RJ45 ports with the option for PoE, three USB 3.0 Host ports, jacks for mic and stereo sound, and an M.2 2230 connector for a wireless module. The interesting part of this launch is the MicroSoM, a System on Module based on Intel’s Braswell architecture. Two models are offered, based on the quad-core Atom E8000 and the Pentium N3710. Both modules feature up to 8GB of DDR3L RAM and 4GB of eMMC Flash.

The interesting part of this launch is the MicroSoM, a System on Module based on Intel’s Braswell architecture. Two models are offered, based on the quad-core Atom E8000 and the Pentium N3710. Both modules feature up to 8GB of DDR3L RAM and 4GB of eMMC Flash. The size of these modules is 52.8mm by 40mm, or just a shade larger than the stick-of-gum-sized Raspberry Pi Zero.

The SolidPC isn’t intended to be a Raspberry Pi competitor. While those cheap ARM boards are finding a lot of great uses in industry, they’re no replacement for a small, x86 single board computer. The pricing for this module starts at $157 according to the product literature, with a topped out configuration running somewhere between $300 and $350, depending on options like a heatsink, enclosure, or power adapter. If you want a small single board computer with drivers for everything, there aren’t many other options: you certainly wouldn’t pick a no-name Allwinner board.

Qualcomm Looks to Gobble Up NXP

Remember when we talked about NXP merging with Freescale to move into the top ten semiconductor companies? Yeah, that was just eighteen months ago and just barely closed before the new year. Now it looks like Qualcomm wants to acquire NXP to the tune of $30 billion.

You’re most likely familiar with Qualcomm as a cellphone silicon company. The acquisition of NXP opens up a lot of additional markets with their portfolio of chips — automotive among them thanks to the Freescale merger. Now you should be asking yourself just how big Qualcomm is already. What’s perhaps most interesting is that, as mostly a wireless chip company, Qualcomm is ranked number three in worldwide semiconductor sales. Adding NXP — a behemoth now in the top ten — adds at least 30% to Qualcomm’s numbers.

And so here we are, one step close to a monolithic chip fab that produces all computing power for the human race. Yippie!

Amazon Offers $2.5M To Make Alexa Your Friend

Amazon has unveiled the Alexa Prize, a $2.5 Million purse for the first team to turn Alexa, the voice service that powers the Amazon Echo, into a ‘socialbot’ capable of, “conversing coherently and engagingly with humans on popular topics for 20 minutes”.

The Alexa Prize is only open to teams from colleges or universities, with the winning team taking home $500,000 USD, with $1M awarded to the team’s college or university in the form of a research grant. Of course, the Alexa Prize grants Amazon a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free license to make use of the winning socialbot.

It may be argued the Alexa Prize is a competition to have a chat bot pass a Turning Test. This is a false equivalency; the Turing Test, as originally formulated, requires a human evaluator to judge between two conversation partners, one of which is a human, one of which is a computer. Additionally, the method of communication is text-only, whereas the Alexa Prize will make use of Alexa’s Text to Speech functionality. The Alexa Prize is not a Turing Test, but only because of semantics. If you generalize the phrase, ‘Turing Test’ to mean a test of natural language conversation, the Alexa Prize is a Turing Test.

This is not the first prize offered for a computer program that is able to communicate with a human in real time using natural language. Since 1990, the Loebner Prize, cosponsored by AI god Marvin Minsky, has offered a cash prize of $100,000 (and a gold medal) to the first computer that is indistinguishable from a human in conversation. Since 1991, yearly prizes have been awarded to the computer that is most like a human as part of the competition.

For any team attempting the enormous task of developing a theory of mind and consciousness, here are a few tips: don’t use Twitter as a dataset. Microsoft tried that, and their chatbot predictably turned racist. A better idea would be to copy Hackaday and our article-generating algorithm. Just use Markov chains and raspberry pi your way to arduino this drone.

Earliest Recorded Computer Music Restored

You want old skool electronic music? How about 1951?

Researchers at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand have just restored what is probably the oldest piece of recorded, computer-generated music. Recorded in 1951, the rendition of “God Save The King”, “Baa-Baa Black Sheep” and “In The Mood” was produced by a computer built by none other Alan Turing and other researchers at the Computing Machine Research Laboratory in Manchester.

These phat beats were captured by the BBC for broadcast on an acetate disk that the researchers found in an archive. They sampled and restored the recording, fixing the rather poor quality recording to reproduce the squawky tones that the computer played. You can hear the restored recording after the break.

It halts apparently unexpectedly in the middle of a stanza, sounds essentially horrible, and goes out of tune on the higher notes. But you gotta learn to crawl before you can walk, and these are the equivalent of the grainy 8mm films of baby’s first steps. And as such, the record is remarkable.

Via ABC News

Continue reading “Earliest Recorded Computer Music Restored”

808 Drum Machine In An ATTiny 14-Pin Chip

You may not know the 808 drum machine, but you have definitely heard it: the original Roland TR-808 was the first programmable drum machine and has been a mainstay of electronic music ever since. Hackers have been building their own versions of this vintage device for years, but this version from do-it-yourself synth builder [Jan Ostman] is quite remarkable.

He’s packed the entire device (called the Drum8 Vintage) into a single ATtiny84 14-pin DIP package, including the samples and eight polyphonic voices, plus old-school analog CV triggers, a global tune and an analog global accent input. That won’t mean a lot to non-musicians, but suffice to say that these are the same inputs that the original TR-808 had that allowed you to do all sorts of interesting stuff to trigger and modify the drum sounds. Plus some extras.

[Jan] is offering the chip itself for $20, and has made a limited edition version that is built into a patch bay panel for that genuine hard-wired look for $99. If you want to go the home-made route and make your own, he’s released the source code and schematics for making your own. You can check out more of [Jan’s] work in this post on making your own open-source instruments from Elliot. Thanks, Jan!