Retrotectacular: Time Sharing

It’s easy to forget the layer upon layer of technological advances that led to the computers we use today. But this look at the state of the art half a century ago does a good job of reminding us. Here [Fernando J. Corbató] explains the concept of Time-Sharing. He is one of the pioneers of the topic which is now used in every computer system in the world.

Since processors (read: a single core) can only work on one operation at a time, it inherently creates a bottle-neck. This is a huge issue when you consider the cost of the computers used at the time. In the video he mentions $300-$600 an hour. That was in the 1960’s and would roughly equate to about $2300-$4600 in 2012. In other words, there’s big money in using the machine as efficiently as possible.

Early on in the discussion he mentions how programs were loaded and solutions were returned by computers of the day. It started with punch cards, then moved to magnetic tape. At the time this was filmed they had just started using teletype and were hoping to add a graphical interface in the near future. We’ve come a long way but the core principles he’s explaining are still quite important. See both parts of the film after the break.

[Read more...]

Autonomous fixed-wing drone threads the needled in a parking garage

We’ve got something of a love affair going on with quadcopters, but there’s still room for a little something on the side. This fixed-wing drone can pull off some pretty amazing navigation. MIT’s Robust Robotics Group is showing off the work they’ve done with the plane, culminating in a death-defying flight through a parking garage (video after the break). This may not sound like a huge accomplishment, but consider that the wingspan is over two meters and repeated runs at the same circuit brought it within centimeters of clipping support columns.

Unlike the precision quadcopters which depend on stationary high-speed cameras for feedback, this drone is self-contained. It does depend on starting out with a map of its environment, using this in conjunction with a laser rangefinder and inertial sensors to plot its route and adjust as necessary. We think the thing must have to plan a lot further ahead than a quadcopter since it lacks the ability to put on the brakes and hover. This is, however, one of the strengths of the design. Since it uses a fixed-wing approach it can stay in air much longer than a quadcopter with the same battery capacity.

[Read more...]

Building sensors for the Scratch programming language

[Kevin Osborn] is making it a bit easier for young programmers to write programs that interact with the physical world. The device he’s holding in the picture is an Arduino based accelerometer and distance sensor meant for the Scratch language.

Scratch is a programming language developed at MIT. It has kids in mind, and focuses on graphical building blocks. This can make it quite a bit easier to introduce youngsters to programming concepts without the roadblocks and gotchas that come with learning syntax.

As you can see in the clip after the break, [Kevin's] Arduino sketch includes hooks that automatically pull the accelerometer and distance data into the Scratch environment. We figure his example provides everything you need to get just about any type of sensor up and running, be it a magnetometer or LDR (both of which would make a nice burglar-alarm type project). Give it a try with your own hardware and see what you can accomplish.

[Read more...]

Drop everything and build this go-kart right now!

There are awesome projects, and then there are things that make us drool on the keyboard. We just got done wiping up our mess after seeing this go-kart which uses four hub-motors as direct drive wheels. We’ll admit, this is more artwork than a hack as these guys are mechanical engineers and know what they’re doing. But how could we pass up sharing something like this?

The design is smaller than any of the other go-karts we remember seeing. The low-backed pilot seat is the biggest part, with a cubby-hole beneath it for the batteries and control hardware. Each of the hub-motors was hand wound and reading through the related blog posts it seems this was a huge and painful part of the build.

So it’s pretty fun to watch these guys tear up the hallways of one of the engineering buildings at MIT. But the footage of a two-kart race up a spiraling parking garage in the middle of the night is absolutely delightful. You’ll find both videos embedded after the break.

[Read more...]

DIY cellphone

Here’s an interesting concept. Lets make a kit to build your own super simple cell phone. Thats basically what a group at the MIT media lab is proposing with this prototype. Consisting of an SM5100b GSM module and a 1.8″ 160×128 pixel LCD screen on a very basic board holding some buttons, this thing is pretty bare bones. Barely any features aside from sending/receiving calls. It does have caller ID though. At$150, it isn’t really that competitive compared to the phones you’d get from your provider, but it is just a prototype.

We particularly like the laser cut flex areas for the buttons on the front.

[Thanks Paul]

MIT Students take Tetris to a grand scale

Careful, this hack might foster doubts about the level of fun you’re having at you own Computer Science department. Last weekend a group of students at MIT pulled off a hack of great scale by turning a building into a Tetris game board.

The structure in question is the Green Building on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Campus. It houses the Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences Departments, but was chose based on the size and regularity of the grid formed by the windows on one side. The group hasn’t provided much in the way of details yet, but the video after the break shows the game play and start-up screen. The middle portion of the building is used as a scrolling marquee to display the word “Tetris” before the game pieces start falling. We’re only guessing (and we hope you will add your conjecture in the comments section) but we’d bet they assembled a set of wireless RGB LED lamps and set one on the sill of each window. There does seem to be a number of ‘dead’ pixels, but it doesn’t diminish the fun of the overall effect.

If you don’t have your own building to play on, you should go small-scale and implement Tetris on a character display.

[Read more...]

MITx first course announce – 6.002x: Circuits and Electronics

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology just announced the first course offering in their new online classes program. Great news, it’s an analog design course which is right up our alley. The prototype session will be 6.002: Circuits and Electronics.

If you’re a fan of our links posts you may remember hearing about the MITx program a month ago. After seeing the popularity of the Stanford program MIT is throwing their hat into the ring too. So what is this all about? How does it work and what will you learn? There’s bits of information all over the place. We recommend reading the news link at the top of this feature first. Next you should wade through the 6.002x FAQ and if you’re still interested there’s a big maroon enrollment button at the bottom of the course summary page.

Whew, that’s a lot of links. Anyway, expect to spend 10 hours a week on the class; but it’s all free. Future offerings will be free as well, but MIT plans transition to a pay-for-certificate option: “students who complete the mastery requirement on MITx will be able to receive the credential for a modest fee.” If you still haven’t made up your mind take a gander at the promo clip after the jump.

[Read more...]