RIP: HitchBot

Equal parts art project and social media experiment, with a dash of backyard hackery “robotics” thrown in for good measure, hitchBot was an experiment in the kindness of strangers. That is, the kindness of strangers toward a beer bucket filled with a bunch of electronics with a cute LED smiley face.

The experiment came to a tragic end (vandalism, naturally) in Philadelphia PA, after travelling a month across Canada, ten days in Germany, and yet another month across the Netherlands. It survived two weeks in the USA, which is more than the cynics would have guessed, but a few Grand Canyons short of the American Dream.

Professors [David Smith] and [Frauke Zeller] built hitchBot to see how far cuteness and social media buzz could go. [Smith], a former hitchhiker himself, also wanted hitchBot to be a commentary on how society’s attitudes toward hitching and public trust have changed since the 70s. Would people would pick it up on the side of the street, plug it in to their own cigarette lighters, and maybe even take it to a baseball game? Judging by hitchBot’s Twitter feed, the answer was yes. And for that, little bucket, we salute you!

But this is Hackaday, and we don’t pull punches, even for the recently deceased. It’s not clear how much “bot” there was in hitchBot. It looks like it had a GPS, batteries, and a solar cell. We can’t tell if it took its own pictures, but the photos on Twitter seem to be from another perspective. It had enough brains inside to read out Wikipedia entries and do some rudimentary voice recognition tasks, so it was a step up from Tweenbots but was still reassuringly non-Terminator.

Instead, hitchBot had more digital marketing mavens and social media savants on its payroll than [Miley Cyrus] and got tons of press coverage, which seems to have been part of the point from the very start. And by writing this blog post, we’re playing right into [Smith] and [Zeller]’s plan. If you make a robot / art project cute enough to win the hearts of many, they might just rebuild it. [Margaret Atwood] has even suggested on Twitter that people might crowdfund-up a hitchBot 2.0.

Our suggestion? Open-source the build plans, and let thousands of hitchBots take its place.

Artificial Killing Machine

L.A. artist [Jonathan Fletcher Moore] sent us this fantastic tech-art piece on dehumanization and drone warfare. Talking too much about art is best left to the artists, so we’ll shut up and let you watch the video below the break.

artificial_killing_machine_0011_800The piece is essentially a bunch of old cap guns with servos that pull their triggers. A Raspberry Pi with an Internet connection fetches data on US drone strikes from www.dronestre.am and fires off a cap every time someone is killed. At the same time, the story version of the data is printed out in thermal paper that cascades onto the floor.

Viewers are encouraged to sit underneath all the cap guns and wait. Talk about creepy and suspenseful. And a tiny reflection of the everyday fears that people who live under drone-filled skies.

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Billy Club Texts Your Mother if you Hit Someone

Mama, just killed hit a man, Put a gun against his head, Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead.
Mama, life had just begun, But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away…

This latest piece of half-art / half-prototype from one of our favorite hacker-artists [vtol] is a billy club equipped with a GSM-module. It automatically sends an SMS to your mother with the text: “Mom, I hit a man.” He calls it the Antenna:

The idea of the project is to create a device which strictly controls the cruelty of police. As all the standard methods of control are ineffective, this project suggests the maternity as the last stronghold of human kindness and responsibility.

An Arduino is equipped with a piezo sensor to detect impact, and a GSM shield takes care of the texting. It’s an interesting concept, similar to requiring police officers to wear body cameras. You can debate the practicality, but we’re always interested in hearing about weapons monitoring tech concepts. One of our favorites has always been the DNA gun from (Judge) Dredd. Did you know there was an Internet Movie Firearms Database? But we digress, check out [vtol’s] demo video:

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Give me a Welder and Rod Stock and I’ll Build you the World

Metal fabrication is a an art that often goes under appreciated. The ability to take common stock in the form of sheet, pipe (square or round), and in this case rod, and make it into anything is intoxicating for the artist and super villain inside of each of us. Recently [asciiArtVandaly] took on an interesting job and was thoughtful enough to make a photo album of the process. He literally created the world out of metal.

The build is a wire-frame globe. The latitude and longitude rods are rolled to the proper arc, but holding them in place is a bit of a trick. This image shows the welding jig built just for this project. It has large and small nobs to match the increasing spacing of the rods, with washers holding down ever other joint. If you want to see an example of rod-rolling check out the unrelated How It’s Made segment found after the break.

This jig is visually stunning to look at, but the math used to lay something like this out is only mildly interesting compared to the work done to add the continents to the piece. Each of these were cut out and then hand hammered to match the curve of the globe before being welded in place and outfitted with lighting for cities. That’s a skill you can’t get without a lot of practice — and get this, [asciiArtVandalay] does it as a hobby. Who knew robot engineers needed hobbies?

The finished globe is about eighty pounds of stainless steel. The build ends up being corporate art for a company sure to turn [Tyler Durden’s] eye.

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Covert Remote Protest Transmitters

As a piece of protest art, “Covert Remote Protest Transmitters” ticks all the boxes. An outdoor covert projector that displayed anti-globalization messages at a G20 summit is protest. To disguise it inside a surveillance camera body housing — sticking it to the man from inside one of his own tools — is art. And a nice hack.

However you feel about the politics of globalization (and frankly, we’re stoked to be able to get cheap tech from anywhere in the world) the open-source DIY guidebook to building the rig (PDF) makes up for it all.

They installed the camera/projector long before the summit, where it sat dormant on a wall. A cell phone inside turned on the projector’s light with each ring because they attached a relay to the cell phone’s speaker circuit. In the instructions there’s an example of using a light-dependent resistor (CdS cell) to do the same thing, relying on the phone’s backlight functionality instead. There are a lot of ways to go here.

The optics consist of a couple of lenses aligned by trial and error, then fixed in place to a balsa wood frame with hot glue. A big fat Cree LED and driver provide the photons.

The video documentation of the piece is great. It’s mostly the news media reacting to the art piece as a “security breach”. A security breach would be a gun or a bomb. This was an overhead projector displaying messages that were out of the organizers’ control. Equating security with the supression of dissent is double-plus-ungood. Touché, CRPT.

Anyway, while you’re getting prepped for your next protest, have a look at the Image Fulgurator.

Forbidden Fruit Machine

Here’s another example of how today’s rapid-prototyping technologies are allowing Artists and Craftsmen to create interactive works of art rapidly and easily. [Kati Hyypa] and [Niklas Roy] teamed up to transform a classic painting in to an interactive exhibit. It’s a painting of Adam, Eve and the apple with a joystick attached. Spectators can control the destiny of the apple with the joystick and thus explore the painting.

The “Forbidden Fruit Machine” is based on a painting called “The Fall of Man” created by [Cornelis Cornelisz van Haarlem] in 1592. The painting depicts Eve and Adam in the Garden of Eden, being tempted by the serpent to eat the forbidden fruit. A public domain, high-resolution scan of the painting is available for download from the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Starting with that, the arms were edited out, and replaced with articulated versions (mounted on acrylic) driven by servos. The apple was mounted on a X-Y gantry driven by two stepper motors. These are driven by a motor shield, which is controlled by an Arduino Uno. The Uno also controls a Music Maker shield to play the various audio tracks and sound effects. Finally, an additional Arduino Pro-Mini is used to control the LED lighting effects via a Darlington driver and also connect to the end stops for the X-Y gantry. The joystick is connected to the analog ports of the Uno.

The LED’s give clues on where to move the apple using the joystick, and pressing the red button plays an appropriate audio or sound effect. For example, pressing the button over the cat at Eve and Adam’s feet elicits a heart-breaking meow, while letting Eve eat the apple results in an even more dramatic effect including a thunder storm.

The machine is open source with code posted on Github and 3d files on Youmagine. Watch a video after the break. The artist’s names may be familiar to some some readers – that’s because both have had their earlier work featured on our blog, for example this awesome ball sucking machine and another one too.

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2-Stroke Engine too Beautiful to Behold

The sheer beauty of this build is blinding. We enjoy keeping a minimalistic household — not quite on the level of [Joe MacMillan] but getting there — yet this would be the thing we choose as decoration. It’s a hand-built 2-stroke Engine designed specifically to make the combustion process visible rather than locking it away inside of a block of metal.

If you have a nagging feeling you’ve seen this before it’s because the amazing craftsmanship is unforgettable. A couple years back we looked at the 4-stroke engine also built by [Huib Visser]. This new offering does away with the belt, leaving a build that is almost entirely glass and metal polished to a high sheen. The glass cylinder contains the combustion, pushing the graphite piston to drive the fly-wheel. A passing magnet triggers the spark plug to ignite the white-gas fuel, all of which is well-illustrated in the video after the break.

This is not for sale, which doesn’t surprise us. How hard would it be to part with something of such beauty especially knowing you created that beauty? But don’t worry, you can definitely build your own. Just make sure to set the bar lower for your first half dozen tries. We’ve even seen engine builds using hardware store parts.

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