Ball Balancing Robot Uses New TOF Sensor

By now, you’ve most likely have seen or even played with an ultrasonic distance sensor. They work by emitting a sound, and then listening for the “ping” to return. The sensor can then tell how far an object is away by calculating the time in between. With sound waves traveling at 343.2 meters per second (768 mph), it’s no small task to measure the short time it takes for the sound to be emitted, then hit something a few feet away, and return. Now, imagine trying to do that with light.

Light in comparison moves at a whopping 299,792,458 meters per second (or about 671 million miles per hour). You’re going to have to have a pretty fast finger on a stopwatch to measure the time it takes for light to bounce back from an object a few inches away.

[Paul Bristow] is doing just that with the use of a new Time of Flight (ToF) sensor called the TeraRanger One. Developed in cooperation with CERN, this sensor uses a very narrow beam of light (listed as +/- 2 degrees) to accurately measure the position of an object to a resolution of 5mm, with distances up to 14 meters away. It boasts an impressive update rate of >1000 samples a second, and is very micro-controller friendly with UART, I2C, SPI, and PWM output.

[Paul] and his fellow hackers at the Post Tenebras Lab Hackerspace in Geneva got their hands on this sensor, and in a short time had a ball balancing robot up and running. The crude program is not running a PID controller, so the results seen in the video after the break aren’t that impressive. Also, the sensor isn’t exactly cheap at about $180 USD. Despite that, it will be interesting to see what applications these sensors will be used for. If you have any ideas, leave them in the comments below.

Continue reading “Ball Balancing Robot Uses New TOF Sensor”

Caption CERN Contest Turns out Big Brains and Comic Brilliance

Week 1 of Hackaday’s Caption CERN Contest is complete. We have to say that the users outdid themselves with funny captions but we also helped CERN add meaning to one of their orphan images. First a few of our favorite captions:

The Funnies:

If you adjust that scope again, when I haven’t touched the controls, I’m donating you to a city college. – [Johnny B. Goode]

SAFTEY FIRST – The proper way to test a 6kv power supply for ripple on the output. – [milestogoh]

Dr. Otto Gunther Octavius – R&D some years before the accident. – [jlbrian7]

The prize though, goes to Hackaday commenting superstar [DainBramage], who proved he knows us all too well with his Portal inspired caption:

Here we see Doug Rattmann, one of Aperture’s best and brightest, perfecting our neurotoxin prior to delivery.

Congrats [DainBramage], enjoy your shirt from The Hackaday Store!

The Meaning of the Image:

8106409Funny captions weren’t the only thing in the comments though – the image tickled [jlbrian7’s] memory and led to a link for CERN Love. A four-year old blog entry about robots at CERN turned out to be the key to unraveling the mystery of this captionless photo. The image depicts [Robert Horne] working with a prototype of the MANTIS system. MANTIS was a teleoperation manipulator system created to work in sections of the CERN facility which were unsafe for humans due to high levels of radioactivity. The MANTIS story is an epic hack itself, so keep your eyes peeled for a future article covering it! We’ve submitted the information to CERN, and we’re giving [jlbrian7] a T-shirt as well for his contribution to finding the actual caption for this image.

Get Started on Next Week:

The image for week 2 is already up, so head over and see for yourself. We’re eager for your clever captions. Ideally we can also figure out the backstory for each week’s randomly chosen image.

Caption CERN Contest

To say Hackaday has passionate folks in our comments section would be an understatement. You’ve made us laugh, made us cry, and made us search high and low for the edit button. From the insightful to the humorous, Hackaday’s comments have it all. So, we’re putting you to work helping out an organization that has done incredible work for science over the years.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) has quite a storied 60 year history. CERN has been involved in pursuits as varied as the discovery of neutral currents, to Higgs boson research, to the creation of the World Wide Web. Like any research scientists, CERN staff have always been good about documenting their work. Many of these records are in the form of photographs: hundreds of thousands of them. The problem is that no one kept records as to what each photograph depicts!

The folks at CERN are trying to remedy this by publishing over 120,000 unknown photos taken between 1955 and 1985. The hope is that someone out there recognizes the people and equipment in the photos, and can provide some insight as to what exactly we’re looking at.

Here at Hackaday we think these photos should be seen and discussed, and we’re going to have some fun doing it. To that end, we’re hosting the Caption CERN Contest on Each week we’ll add a project log with a new image from CERN’s archives. If you know what the image is, click on CERN’s discussion link for the photo and let them know! If you don’t know, take a shot at a humorous caption. Hackaday staff will pick the best caption each week. Winners will get a shirt from The Hackaday Store.

Here’s how it will work: A new project log will go up every week on Tuesday night at around 9pm PDT. The project log will contain an image from CERN’s archives. You have until the following Tuesday at 9pm PDT to come up with a caption, and drop it in the comments. One entry per user: if you post multiple entries, we’ll only consider the last one.

The first image is up, so head over and start writing those captions!

Good Luck!

CERN Shows Off New KiCad Module Editor

Photo from video demo of new KiCad module editor

CERN, the people that run a rather large particle collider, have just announced their most recent contributions to the KiCad project. This work focused on adding new features to the module editor, which is used to create footprints for parts.

The update includes support for DXF files, which will make it easy to import part drawings, or use external tools for more complex designs. New distribute tools make it easy to space out pads evenly. The copy and paste function now allows you to set a reference point, making it easy to align blocks. Finally, the pad enumeration tool lets you quickly set pin numbers.

CERN has already implemented a new graphics engine for KiCad, and demonstrated a new push and shove routing tool. The work plan for CERN’s KiCad contributions shows their long term goals. If you’re interested in what CERN is doing with KiCad, you can check out the CERN KiCad Developers Team on Launchpad.

After the break, watch a quick run through of the new features.

Continue reading “CERN Shows Off New KiCad Module Editor”

Fail of the Week: Unconnected Nets in KiCad


From the title and the image above you surely have already grasped this Fail of the Week. We’ve all been there. Design a board, send it to fab or etch it yourself, and come to find out you’ve missed a connection. Automatic checks in your software should prevent this, but when making small changes it’s easy to overlook running the checks again. This is exactly what [Clint] did with this board; leaving a net unconnected in the schematic, which made its way through to the board layout and into the OSHPark boards.

Okay, so fix it with jumper wire which is clearly what he did (white wire in the lower left image above). But since this is rev3 of his PCB it’s pretty upsetting that it happened. The meat and potatoes of the fail is the missing software feature that led to it. KiCad doesn’t have a pin swap tool in the board layout. Really? We use KiCad frequently and didn’t realize that the feature was missing. Needing to simplify his board layout, [Clint] went back to the schematic to swap some resistor network pins by hand. He pushed the change through the netlist and into the board layout, not realizing he had left an input gate unconnected.

A bit of searching proves that pin swapping may be coming to KiCad soon. It’s on the CERN roadmap of features they plan to add to the open source PCB layout software. We remember hearing about CERN’s plans quite a while ago, and thought we featured it but the only reference we could find is [Chris Gammell’s] comment on a post from back in December. It’s worth looking at their plans, these are all features that would make KiCad a juggernaut.

EDITORIAL NOTE: We’ll soon be out of story leads for this series. If you have enjoyed reading weekly about fails please write up your own failure and send us the link. Of course any documented fails you find around the internet should also be sent our way. Thanks!

2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every Wednesday. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

TIME’s Best Inventions of 2008


Attempting to put our past behind us as quickly as possible, TIME has released what they feel are the best inventions of 2008. While there’s some pretty wishy-washy lab-only stuff on the list, we’re glad to see a lot of cool hardware made the cut. Some of our favorites are: The Tesla roadster proving electric cars can be fun. IBM breaking the petaflop barrier with LANL’s Roadrunner. The Large Hadron Collider for getting everyone scared about physics all over again. Have a look at the list for many other tech highlights from this year.

Space tech helps athlete attain world record

German athlete [Wojtek Czyz] set a new world record for the long jump at the Paralympics 2008 in Beijing, with the aid of his space tech enhanced prosthetic leg. He jumped a record 6.5 meters, 27 centimeters more than the previous record. Prior to switching to his new prosthetic leg for athletic competitions, he was prone to breaking the prosthesis when he performed to the best of his abilities. [Czyz] and his trainer met with ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme (TTP) technology broker MST Aerospace to assess the most important parts of the prosthesis. According to [Dr. Werner Dupont], MST Aerospace Managing Director, the crucial element was the connection angle, or L-bracket. Working with German company ISATEC, they developed a new L-bracket using a much lighter and stronger material from the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), which is an instrument that will be installed on the ISS to study extraterrestrial matter. We find it interesting and pretty cool that space technology can help enhance a disabled athlete’s performance, and think that this could lead to interesting possibilities, even for those who aren’t athletes.

[via Boing Boing]