Hackaday Links: October 18, 2015

We have our featured speakers lined up for the Hackaday Supercon, one of which is [Fran Blanche]. We’ve seen a lot of her work, from playing with pocket watches to not having the funding to build an Apollo Guidance Computer DSKY. In her spare time, she builds guitar pedals, and there’s a biopic of her in She Shreds magazine.

Halloween is coming, and that means dressing children up as pirates, fairies, characters from the latest Marvel and Disney movies, and electrolytic capacitors.

There’s a new movie on [Steve Jobs]. It’s called the Jobs S. It’s a major upgrade of the previous release, featuring a faster processor and more retinas. One more thing. Someone is trying to cash in on [Woz]’s work. This time it’s an auction for a complete Apple I that’s expected to go for $770,000 USD.

Hackaday community member [John McLear] is giving away the factory seconds of his original NFC ring (think jewelry). These still work but failed QA for small reasons and will be fun to hack around on. You pay shipping which starts at £60 for 50 rings. We’ve grabbed enough of them to include in the goody bags for the Hackaday Superconference. If you have an event coming up, getting everyone hacking on NFC is an interesting activity. If you don’t want 50+, [John] is also in the middle of a Kickstarter for an improved version.

Your 3D printed parts will rarely come out perfectly. There will always be some strings or scars from removing them from the bed. There’s a solution to these problems: use a hot air gun.

Everyone has a plumbus in their home, but how do they do it? First, they take the dinglebop, and smooth it out with a bunch of schleem. The schleem is then repurposed for later batches.

Hackaday Dictionary: Near Field Communications (NFC)

You are at the corner store, buying gum. The cashier rings up the purchase, showing you the amount. You casually pull out your cell phone and wave it near the credit card machine, which beeps appreciatively. The cashier nods, and you walk out, stuffing gum into your face. What just happened? You used Near Field Communications (NFC) to send data between your phone and the credit card terminal.

NFC is a standard that allows two devices to exchange information over a short distance without being in physical contact. The two devices communicate using a weak magnetic field that, in theory, only has a range of a few centimeters, so both devices have to be physically close, and someone standing nearby can’t intercept or alter the signal.

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CyberPunk Yourself – Body Modification, Augmentation, and Grinders

“We accept pain as a price of doing business, even if it is just for aesthetic purposes. You want to put a magnet in your finger, a doctor will ask you why; a mod artist will ask when you can start.” As with many other people who are part of the growing grinder movement, [Adam] has taken a step that many would consider extreme – he’s begun to augment his body.

Grinders – men and women who hack their own bodies – are pushing the boundaries of what is currently possible when it comes to human augmentation. They’re hackers at heart, pursuing on an amateur level what they can’t get from the consumer market. Human augmentation is a concept that is featured heavily in science fiction and futurism, but the assumption most people have is that those kinds of advancements will come from medical or technology companies.

Instead, we’re seeing augmentation begin in the basements of hackers and in the back rooms of piercing studios. The domain of grinders is the space where body modification and hacking meet. It mixes the same willingness to modify one’s body that is common among the tattooed and pierced, and adds an interest in hacking technology that you find in hackerspaces around the world. When those two qualities intersect, you have a potential grinder.

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A Tweeting Vending Machine

[Sigurd] manage to obtain an old vending machine from his dorm. The only problem was that the micocontroller on the main board was broken. He and his friend decided they could most likely get the machine back into working order, but they also knew they could probably give it a few upgrades.

This system uses two Arduino Pro Minis and an Electric Imp to cram in all of the new features. One Arduino is connected to the machine’s original main board. The Arduino interfaces with some of the shift registers, relays, and voltage regulators. This microcontroller also lights up the buttons on the machine as long as that particular beverage is not empty. It controls the seven segment LED display, as well as reading the coin validator.

The team had to reverse engineer the original coin validator in order to figure out how the machine detected and counted the coins. Once they figured out how to read the state of the coins, they also built a custom driver board to drive the solenoids.

A second Arduino is used to read NFC and RFID cards using a Mifare RC522 reader. The system uses its own credit system, so a user can be issued a card with a certain amount of pre-paid credit. It will then deduct credit appropriately once a beverage is vended. The two Arduinos communicate via Serial.

The team also wanted this machine to have the ability to communicate with the outside world. In this case, that meant sending cheeky tweets. They originally used a Raspberry Pi for this, but found that the SD card kept getting corrupted. They eventually switched to an Electric Imp, which worked well. The Arduino sends a status update to the Imp every minute. If the status changes, for example if a beverage was dispensed, then the Imp will send a tweet to let the world know. It will also send a tweet to the maintenance person if there is a jam or if a particular slot becomes empty. Continue reading “A Tweeting Vending Machine”

Toddler Jukebox Requires No Quarters or Button Mashing

Ahh, toddlers. They’re as ham-fisted as they are curious. It’s difficult to have to say no when they want to touch and engage with the things that we love and want them to play with. [Shawn] feels this way about his son’s interest in the family Sonos system and engineered an elegant solution he calls Song Blocks.

The Sonos sits on a dresser that hides a RasPi B+. Using bare walnut blocks numbered 1-12, his son can use the Sonos without actually touching it. Each block has a magnet and an NFC tag. When his son sticks a block on the face of the right drawer containing embedded magnets and an NFC controller board, the B+ reads the tag and plays the song. It also tweets the song selection and artist.

The blocks themselves are quite beautiful. [Shawn] numbered them with what look like Courier New stamps and then burned the numbers in with a soldering iron. His Python script is on the git, and he has links to the libraries used on his build page. The Song Blocks demo video is waiting for you after the jump.

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Using a Standard Coil for NFC Tag Implant Reading

A few months ago Hackaday covered the xNT crowdfunding campaign which aimed at making an NTAG216 based NFC implant for different purposes. I actually backed it, found that standard NFC readers don’t perform well and therefore decided to try using a standard coil as an antenna for better reading performances.

Most NFC readers typically only have a small sweet spot where implant reading is possible. This is due to what we call coupling factor which depends on the reading distance and reader & NFC tag antenna geometries. Having a smaller antenna diameter increases the coupling factor and makes implant positioning easier.

In my detailed write-up you’ll find a good introduction to impedance matching, a process where a few passive components are added in series/parallel with an antenna to bring its complex impedance close to a RF signal transmitter’s. This usually requires expensive tools but allows optimal power transmission at a given frequency.

You may find our xNT coverage here.

Ask Hackaday: Can Paper USB Business Cards Exist?

swivel business card

The swivelCard Kickstarter campaign recently received a lot of press coverage and makes some impressive claims as their goal is the development of USB and NFC business cards at a $3 unit price. While most USB-enabled business cards we featured on Hackaday were made of standard FR4, this particular card is made of paper as the project description states the team patented

a system for turning regular paper into a USB drive.

As you can guess this piqued our interest, as all paper based technologies we had seen until now mostly consisted of either printed PCBs or paper batteries. ‘Printing a USB drive on regular paper’ (as the video says) would therefore involve printing functional USB and NFC controllers.

Luckily enough a quick Google search for the patents shown in one of the pictures (patent1, patent2) taught us that a storage circuitry is embedded under the printed USB pads, which may imply that the team had an Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) designed or that they simply found one they could use for their own purposes. From the video we learn that ‘each card has a unique ID and can individually be programmed’ (the card, not the UID) and that it can be setup to open any webpage URL. The latter can even be modified after the card has been handed out, hinting that the final recipient would go to a ‘www.swivelcard.com/XXXX” type of address. We therefore got confused by

Imagine giving your business card with pictures, videos, presentations, and websites for the recipient to interact with!

paragraph that the project description contains.

This leads us to one key question we have: what kind of USB drive can make a given user visit a particular website, given that he may have Linux, Windows, Mac or any other OS? They all have similar USB enumeration processes and different key strokes to launch a browser… our wild guess is that it may be detected as storage with a single html file in it. Unfortunately for us the USB detection process is not included in the video.

Our final question: Is it possible to embed both USB and NFC controllers in a thin piece of paper without worrying about broken ICs (see picture above)? NFC enabled passports have obviously been around for a long time but we couldn’t find the same for USB drives.

Possible or not, we would definitely love having one in our hands!

Edit: One of our kind readers pointed out that this campaign actually is a re-launch of a failed indiegogo one which provides more details about the technology and confirms our assumptions.