The Icon Of American Farming That You Now Have To Hack To Own

If you wanted to invoke American farming with colour, which colours would you pick? The chances are they would be the familiar green and yellow of a John Deere tractor. It’s a name that has been synonymous with US agriculture since the 1830s, when the blacksmith whose name appears on the tractors produced his first steel plough blade. The words “American icon” are thrown around for many things, but in the case of John Deere there are few modern brands with as much history to back up their claim to it.

A trip across the prairies then is to drive past Deere products in use from most of the last century. They will still supply parts for machines they made before WW2, and farmers will remain loyal to the brand throughout their lives.

Well… That used to be the case.  In recent years a new Deere has had all its parts locked down by DRM, such that all maintenance tasks on the tractors must be performed by Deere mechanics with the appropriate software. If your tractor breaks in the field you can fit a new part as you always have done, but if it’s a Deere it then won’t run until a Deere mechanic has had a look at it. As a result, Motherboard reports that American farmers are resorting to Ukrainian-sourced firmware updaters to hack their machines and allow them to continue working.  An icon of American farming finds itself tarnished in its heartland.

We’ve reported on the Deere DRM issue before, it seems that the newest development is a licence agreement from last October that prohibits all unauthorised repair work on the machines as well as insulating the manufacturer from legal action due to “crop loss, lost profits, loss of goodwill, loss of use of equipment … arising from the performance or non-performance of any aspect of the software”. This has sent the farmers running to illicit corners of the internet to spend their dollars on their own Deere electronic updating kits rather than on call-out fees for a Deere mechanic. Farmers have had centuries of being resourceful, this is simply the twenty-first century version of the hacks they might have performed decades ago with baler twine and old fertiliser sacks.

You might ask what the hack is here, as in reality they’re just buying a product online, and using it. But this is merely the latest act in a battle in one industry that could have ramifications for us all. Farmers are used to the model in which when they buy a machine they own it, and the Deere DRM is reshaping that relationship to one in which their ownership is on the manufacturer’s terms. How this plays out over the coming years, and how it affects Deere’s bottom line as farmers seek tractors they can still repair, will affect how other manufacturers of products non-farmers use consider DRM for their own business models.

Outside the window where this is being written is a Deere from the 1980s. It’s a reliable and very well-screwed-together tractor, though given the subject of this piece it may be our last green and yellow machine. Its dented badge makes a good metaphor for the way at least for us the brand has been devalued.

Thanks [Jack Laidlaw] for the tip.

You Will Want To Build This Canoe

There is something about a wooden boat that should be facsinating to most makers, the craftsmanship and level of work that goes into creating a sea-, lake-, or river-worthy craft with smooth lines, from little more than thin pieces of wood. Master boatbuilders have apprenticeships that last years, and spend entire careers refining their art.

[Adam], also known as [A Guy Doing Stuff], is not a master boatbuilder. In his words, he’s just a guy with some basic woodworking knowledge, who builds canoes from cedar strips. But you wouldn’t know that he has no training as a boatbuilder from looking at his work, which you can do because he’s posted some beauthiful videos.

We see the creation of a skeleton to produce the basic shape of the boat, followed by the creation of prow and stern. Then there is a painstaking application of carefully shaped cedar strips to make the hull, and a single layer of glass fibre on either side. With the gel coat applied though you wouldn’t know the fibre was there. Finally we have the creation of the seats and interior fittings, followed by the canoe being paddled across a lake.

Few of us may ever make a canoe. But if we did, we’d want it to be one like this one.

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Toy Car Pumps the Wheels with Balloon Power

We’ve had our eye on [Greg Zumwalt]. He’s been working on some very clever 3D-printed mechanisms and his latest prototype is an air engine for a toy car. You can supply the air for the single cylinder with a compressor, or by blowing into it, but attaching an inflated balloon makes the system self-contained.

Last week we saw the prototype of the engine by itself, and wondered if this had enough power to drive a little train engine. We were almost right as here it is powering the front wheels of a little car.

This isn’t [Greg’s] first rodeo. He’s been working on self-contained locomotion for a while now. Shown here is his spring-driven car which you pull backwards to load the spring. It’s a common feature in toys, and very neat to see with the included 3D-printed spring hidden inside of the widest gear.

That print looks spectacular, but the balloon-powered prototype tickles our fancy quite a bit more. Make sure you have your sound on when you watch the video after the break. It’s the chuga-chuga that puts this one over the top. [Greg] hasn’t yet posted files so you can print your own (it’s still a prototype) but browse the rest of his designs as you wait — they’re numerous and will bring an even bigger smile to your face. Remember that domino-laying LEGO bot [Matthias Wandel] built a few years back? [Greg] has a printable model for it!

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Autonomous Delivery and the Last 100 Feet

You’ve no doubt by now seen Boston Dynamics latest “we’re living in the future” robotic creation, dubbed Handle. [Mike Szczys] recently covered the more-or-less-official company unveiling of Handle, the hybrid bipedal-wheeled robot that can handle smooth or rugged terrain and can even jump when it has to, all while remaining balanced and apparently handling up to 100 pounds of cargo with its arms. It’s absolutely sci-fi.

[Mike] closed his post with a quip about seeing “Handle wheeling down the street placing smile-adorned boxes on each stoop.” I’ve recently written about autonomous delivery, covering both autonomous freight as the ‘killer app’ for self-driving vehicles and the security issues posed by autonomous delivery. Now I want to look at where anthropoid robots might fit in the supply chain, and how likely it’ll be to see something like Handle taking over the last hundred feet from delivery truck to your door.

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Arduino + Geometry + Bicycle = Speedometer

It is pretty easy to go to a big box store and get a digital speedometer for your bike. Not only is that no fun, but the little digital display isn’t going to win you any hacker cred. [AlexGyver] has the answer. Using an Arduino and a servo he built a classic needle speedometer for his bike. It also has a digital display and uses a hall effect sensor to pick up the wheel speed. You can see a video of the project below.

[Alex] talks about the geometry involved, in case your high school math is well into your rear view mirror. The circumference of the wheel is the distance you’ll travel in one revolution. If you know the distance and you know the time, you know the speed and the rest is just conversions to get a numerical speed into an angle on the servo motor. The code is out on GitHub.

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Simple and Effective Car Lock Jammer Detector

[Andrew Nohawk], has noticed a spike of car break-ins and thefts — even in broad daylight — in his native South Africa. The thieves have been using remote jammers. Commercial detectors are available but run into the hundreds of dollars. He decided to experiment with his own rig, whipping up a remote jamming ‘detector’ for less than the cost of a modest meal.

Operating on the principle that most remote locks work at 433MHz, [Nohawk] describes how criminals ‘jam’ the frequency by holding down the lock button on another device, hoping to distort or outright interrupt the car from receiving the signal to lock the doors. [Nohawk] picked up a cheap 433MHz receiver (bundled with a transceiver), tossed it on a breadboard with an LED connected to the data channel of the chip on a 5V circuit, and voila — whenever the chip detects activity on that frequency, the LED lights up. If you see sustained activity on the band, there’s a chance somebody nearby might be waiting for you to leave your vehicle unattended.

If you want to know more about how these jamming attacks work, check out [Samy Kamkar’s] talk from the Hackaday SuperConference.

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3D Printed Bicycle From Stainless Steel!

You wouldn’t 3D print a car, would you? That’d simply be impractical. However, if you’re a team of students attending the Delft University of Technology (TU Delft) in the Netherlands, you might be inclined to 3D print a stainless steel bicycle instead.

The TU Delft team collaborated with MX3D, a company that uses an articulated industrial robot arm with a welder for an effector, welding and building the Arc Bicycle, glob by molten glob. Printed in chunks, this process allows the practical construction of larger objects that are able to withstand the stresses and forces of everyday use. Weighing around 20kg, you might not want to spend much time carrying it up to an apartment anytime soon, so stick to the cobblestone streets — the Arc Bicycle can take it.

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