Hackaday Links: November 29, 2015

The Raspberry Pi Zero was announced this week, so you know what that means: someone is going to destroy a Game Boy Micro. If you’re interested in putting the Zero in a tiny handheld of your own design, here are the dimensions, courtesy of [Bert].

[Ahmed] – the kid with the clock – and his family are suing his school district and city for $15 Million. The family is also seeking written apologies from the city’s mayor and police chief.

There are a lot — a lot — of ‘intro to FPGA’ boards out there, and the huge variety is an example of how the ‘educational FPGA’ is a hard nut to crack. Here’s the latest one from a Kickstarter. It uses an ICE40, so an open source toolchain is available, and at only $50, it’s cheap enough to start digging around with LUTs and gates.

Over on Hackaday.io, [Joseph] is building a YAG laser. This laser will require a parabolic mirror with the YAG rod at the focus. There’s an interesting way to make one of these: cut out some acrylic and beat a copper pipe against a form. A little polish and nickel plating and you have a custom mirror for a laser.

You know those machines with wooden gears, tracks, and dozens of ball bearings? Cool, huh? Tiny magnetic balls exist, and the obvious extension to this line of thought is amazing.

[David Windestål] is awesome. Completely and totally awesome. Usually, he’s behind the controls of an RC plane or tricopter, but this time he’s behind a slo-mo camera, an RC heli, and a watermelon. That’s a 550-sized heli with carbon fiber blades spinning at 2500 RPM, shot at 1000 FPS.

How do you label your cables? Apparently, you can use a label printer with heat shrink tubing. Nothing else, even: just put heat shrink through a label maker.

The USB Killer – Now A Crowdfunding Campaign

Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and every other crowdfunding site out there frequently have projects that should never be products. The latest promises to protect you from security breaches and identity theft by blowing up your computer. It’s the USB Killer, and for only $99 USD, you too can destroy the USB port in your computer and everything else attached to it.

The USB Killer is a device that plugs into the USB port on any computer, charges up several caps, and dumps all that voltage back into the computer. The process repeats until something breaks. We’ve seen it used on a poor Thinkpad X60, and from the video evidence it does exactly what it’s designed to do: kill a computer.

The Indiegogo campaign for the USB killer comes with a web page for the campaign that goes over the function of the device in much more detail. Inside the USB killer is a DC/DC converter that charges a few capacitors to -110V. When the caps are charged, that voltage is dumped back into the USB port where something will happen. Somewhat surprisingly, the folks behind the USB Killer have a video of a computer not dying when the USB Killer is plugged in. Only killing the USB port in a computer is not a guaranteed functionality, as the Indiegogo campaign has the following disclaimer: “Please be aware: USB Killer may cause damage to the motherboard, depending on your computer. By making a pre-order you acknowledge that you are aware of this fact.”

SEC Allows Crowdfunding

Kickstarter is not an investment, and no matter how many times this is repeated, you’ll find the phrase ‘my investment’ in the comments section of nearly every failed Kickstarter, Indiegogo, or other crowdfunding campaign. These campaigns are more closely related to group buys, and you’ll never find a Kickstarter offering equity or any sort of return beyond the latest electronic bauble, indie game, or graphic novel. Sure, you may bootstrap a business with that pledge, but don’t expect dividends from Ouya or Pebble.

Now, this may finally change. The US Securities and Exchange Commission approved new rules for crowdfunding, allowing startups to raise money from Jane and Joe Internet.

Previously, angel investments, venture capital, and hedge funds were not for the common man; these were high-risk investments, and only accredited investors could participate in these funding rounds. Accredited investors, at least in the US, are individuals with a net worth of at least $1 Million, or an income greater than $200,000 in each of the previous two years. The reason for only allowing accredited investors – depending on your interpretation – is to protect consumers or to maintain a perverse oligarchy by installing a glass ceiling over the middle class. Either way, normal people couldn’t invest in high-risk investments until now.

Congress has seen fit to create a new class of investor, and pursuant to Title III of the JOBS Act, the SEC recently released the complete rules for crowdfunded investment. In a massive, 600-page tome, all the regulations are laid bare, ready for the next serial entrepreneur who seeks at most $1 Million in investment for their next startup.

Investors and Startups

The rules issued by the SEC immediately place some limitations on what can be done under the new regulations. For startups, a maximum of $1 Million can be raised over a 12-month period.

For investors with an annual income or a net worth of less than $100,000, a maximum of $2,000 or 5% of annual income can be invested, whichever is greater. For investors with an annual income or net worth greater than $100,000, 10% of their income or net worth can be invested, whichever is smaller.

Brokers and Funding Portals

Investors and entrepreneurs are not allowed to keep their transactions to themselves; this is the SEC after all. Transactions will go through registered broker-dealers or something called a ‘funding portal’. These funding portals are forbidden from offering advice, making recommendations, advertising, paying employees a commission, holding securities themselves, and the regulation bars directors, officers, and partners of the funding portal from holding investments using that funding portal’s services.

It’s The Complete Opposite of Kickstarter

Kickstarter was never known for its transparency. While the basic premise of crowdfunding the manufacturing of a few baubles or 3D printers is sound – it’s cheaper per unit to build a hundred of something than to build just one – the reality of actually building something meant Kickstarters failed – it’s exponentially harder to build ten thousand of something than it is to build a hundred. Add to this Kickstarter’s investments in campaigns featured on their website, and you have the recipe for practices that aren’t illegal but certainly don’t pass the sniff test.

The regulations put forth by the SEC turn the most common trope of the Internet economy on their head; companies responsible for bringing startups and investors together are not financially dependant on these startups. Companies can not raise more money than they could handle, and hopefully individual investors won’t take to crowdfunded companies like online poker and day trading.

Traditional crowdfunding has started a lot of great companies so far; the Form1 printer began as a crowdfunding campaign, and Reading Rainbow still lives thanks to a successful Kickstarter. With these new regulations come new possibilities for the latest startups, and more paths to success than a traditional angel investor or VC tycoon.

Skarp Laser Razor Kickstarter Suspended, Jumps To Indiegogo

An irritation-free razor that gives a close shave has been a dream for thousands of years. [Gillette] came close, and with multiple blades came even closer, but all razors today are still just sharpened steel dragged across the skin. This is the 21st century, and of course there’s a concept for a laser razor pandering for your moola. We recently covered the Skarp laser razor and its Kickstarter campaign, and today the campaign has been shut down.

The email sent out to all contributors to the Skarp campaign follows:


This is a message from Kickstarter’s Integrity team. We’re writing to notify you that the Skarp Laser Razor project has been suspended, and your pledge has been canceled.

After requesting and reviewing additional material from the creator of the project, we’ve concluded that it is in violation of our rule requiring working prototypes of physical products that are offered as rewards. Accordingly, all funding has been stopped and backers will not be charged for their pledges. No further action is required on your part. Suspensions cannot be undone.

We take the integrity of the Kickstarter system very seriously. We only suspend projects when we find evidence that our rules are being violated.

Regards, Kickstarter Integrity Team

It only took eight hours for the Skarp team to relaunch their crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. As of this writing, over 900 people (ostensibly from the 20,000 backers of the original Kickstarter campaign) have pledged to the new campaign.

Although we will never know exactly why Kickstarter suspended the original Skarp campaign, the reason given by the Kickstarter Integrity Team points to the lack of a working prototype, one of the requirements for technology campaigns on Kickstarter. Interestingly, Skarp did post a few videos of their razor working. These videos were white balanced poorly enough to look like they were filmed through green cellophane, a technique some have claimed was used to hide the actual mechanism behind the prototype’s method of cutting hair. A few commenters on the Skarp Kickstarter campaign – and here on Hackaday – have guessed the Skarp prototype does not use lasers, but instead a heated length of nichrome wire. While this would burn hair off, the color of the wire would be a dull red when filmed in any normal lighting conditions. It is assumed the poor quality of the Skarp prototype videos is an attempt to hide the fact they do not have a working prototype.

The Skarp laser razor. Source
The Skarp laser razor. Source

Skarp’s move to Indiegogo has been lauded by some – mostly in the comments section of the Indiegogo campaign – and has been derided on every other forum on the Internet. Indiegogo is commonly seen as the last refuge of crowdfunding scam artist, but there are a few legitimate reasons why a campaign would choose to go to Indiegogo. Kickstarter is not available for campaign founders in all countries, and for some, debiting a card immediately, instead of after the campaign end like Kickstarter does, is a legitimate crowdfunding strategy.

But for a crowdfunding campaign to be suspended on Kickstarter and immediately move to Indiegogo? This almost never ends well. One of the most famous examples, the Anonabox, had its Kickstarter campaign suspended after it was found the creator was simply rebadging an off-the-shelf router. The Anonabox then moved over to Indiegogo where it raised over $80,000. Already the campaign for the Skarp Laser Razor has raised $135,000 USD from Indiegogo, after having its Kickstarter campaign raised over $4 Million. No, Skarp won’t be one of the most successful technology Kickstarter campaigns of all time. We can only hope it won’t be one of Indiegogo’s most successful campaigns.

Internet-Connected Box Displays Emotion, Basement Dwellers Still Unaffected

For one reason or another, Twitter has become the modern zeitgeist, chronicling the latest fashions, news, gossip, and irrelevant content that sends us spiraling towards an inevitable existential ennui. This is a Twitter mood light. It tells you what everyone else on the planet is feeling. You, of course, feel nothing. Because of the ennui.

[Connor] decided it would be a good idea to audit the world’s collective mood using experimental social analytics. He’s doing that by watching millions of tweets a day and checking them against hundreds of keywords for several emotions. These emotions are graphed in real time, placed on a server, correlated and corroborated, and downloaded by a moodLight. Inside the moodLight, the emotions are translated into colors, and displayed with the help of a few RGB LEDs.

The moodLight is currently a Kickstarter campaign, with a $30 pledge getting you an assembled board with an ATMega328, an ESP8266, a few RGB LEDs, and a laser cut enclosure. After it’s assembled, the moodLight connects automagically to the analytics server for a real-time display of the emotional state of the Twitterverse. The display is updated every second, making the backend of this build just slightly more impressive than Kickstarter itself. It’s great work from [Connor], and an interesting experiment in analyzing the state of the Internet.

ARMs and FPGAs Make for Interesting Dev Boards

Tiny Linux computers are everywhere, and between BeagleBones, Raspberry and Banana Pis, and a hundred other boards out there, there are enough choices to go around. There is an extremely interesting ARM chip from Xilinx that hasn’t seen much uptake in the field of tiny credit-card sized computers: the Zynq. It’s an ARM Cortex-A9 coupled with an FPGA. It’s great for building peripherals that wouldn’t normally be included on a microcontroller. With Zynq, you just instantiate the custom bits in the FPGA, then interface them with a custom Linux driver. Thanks to CrowdSupply, there’s now a board out there that brings this intriguing chip to a proper development platform. It’s called the Snickerdoodle, and if you’ve ever wanted to see the capabilities of an FPGA tightly coupled to a fast processor, this is the board to watch.

The core of the Snickerdoodle is a Xilinx Zynq that features either a 667 MHz ARM Cortex A9 and a 430k gate FPGA (in the low-end configuration) or an 866 A9 and 1.3M gate FPGA. This gives the Snickerdoodle up to 179 I/O ports – far more than any other tiny Linux board out there.

Fully loaded, the Snickerdoodle comes with 2.4 and 5GHz WiFi, Bluetooth, 1GB of RAM, and an ARM Cortex A9 that should far surpass the BeagleBone and Raspberry Pi 2 in capabilities. This comes at a price, though: the top-shelf Snickerdoodle has a base price of about $150.

Still, the power of a fast ARM and a big FPGA is a big draw and we’re expecting a few more of these Zynq boards in the future. There are even a few projects using the Zynq on hackaday.io, including one that puts the Zynq in a Raspberry Pi-compatible footprint. That’s exceedingly cool, and we can’t wait to see what people will build with a small, fast ARM board coupled to an FPGA.

Numato Opsis: FPGA-based open video platform

Imagine that you’re running a conference and you want to do a professional job recording the speakers and their decks. You’ll need to record one video stream from the presenter’s laptop, and it’d be nice to have another of the presenter taken with a camera. But you also need to have the presenter’s screen displayed on a projector or two for the live audience. And maybe you’d like all of this dumped down to your computer so that you can simultaneously archive the presentation and stream it out over the Internet.

io-ports_png_project-bodyThat’s exactly the problem that the hdmi2usb project tries to solve on the software side for open-source software conventions. And to go with this software, [Tim Ansell] has built the Numato Opsis FPGA video board, to tie everything together. What’s great about the platform is that the hardware and the firmware are all open source too.

Because everything’s open and it’s got an FPGA on board doing the video processing, you’re basically free to do whatever you’d like with the content in transit, so it could serve as an FPGA video experimenter board. It also looks like they’re going to port code over so that the Opsis could replace the discontinued, but still open source, Milkimist One video effects platform.

One thing that’s really cute about the design is that it reports over USB as being a camera, so you can record the resulting video on any kind of computer without installing extra drivers. All in all, it’s an FPGA-video extravaganza with a bunch of open-source software support behind it. Very impressive, [Tim]!