A Scam of Galactic Proportions

Here at Hackaday we see a lot of technological hoaxes looking for funding. Some are on Kickstarter, others are firms looking for investors. And unlike a lot of the press, we’re both skeptical and experienced enough to smell the snake oil. When you read about a laser-powered razor blade that looks too good to be true, you know we’ve got your back.

The background: [Zachary Feinstein] is a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who studies financial engineering, and in particular systemic financial risk in the banking sectors. So he’s just exactly the guy you’d tap to write a paper on the financial repercussions of the destruction of the Death Stars in Star Wars (PDF). Wait, what?

The central argument of the paper is that, since the Empire has so much money wrapped up in building the Death Stars, it’s economic suicide for the Rebels to destroy it. To quantify any of this, [Feinstein] runs financial crisis models. The idea is that the Rebels win, but they inherit an economy that’s so dysfunctional that they’d have been better off not destroying the Death Stars.

We’re not saying that the rest of the press is gullible, but we are saying that they’re not putting their best economists onto articles about financing Death Stars. But here at Hackaday, we are. And we’re calling it a hoax. So let’s look into what the paper gets right, and what makes less sense even than Chewbacca’s infernal growling. Spoiler: we’ll get wrapped up in numbers because it’s fun, but the whole thing is moot for Econ 101-style reasons.

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Capture the Flag with Lightsabers

There’s a great game of capture-the-flag that takes place every year at HITCON. This isn’t your childhood neighborhood’s capture-the-flag in the woods with real flags, though. In this game the flags are on secured servers and it’s the other team’s mission to break into the servers in whatever way they can to capture the flag. This year, though, the creators of the game devised a new scoreboard for keeping track of the game: a lightsaber.

In this particular game, each team has a server that they have to defend. At the same time, each team attempts to gain access to the other’s server. This project uses a lightsaber stand that turns the lightsabers into scoreboards for the competition at the 2015 Hacks In Taiwan Conference. It uses a cheap OpenWRT Linux Wi-Fi/Ethernet development board, LinkIt Smart 7688 which communicates with a server. Whenever a point is scored, the lightsaber illuminates and a sound effect is played. The lightsabers themselves are sourced from a Taiwanese lightsabersmith and are impressive pieces of technology on their own. As a bonus the teams will get to take them home with them.

While we doubt that this is more forced product integration advertisement from Disney, it certainly fits in with the theme of the game. Capture-the-flag contests like this are great ways to learn about cyber security and how to defend your own equipment from real-world attacks. There are other games going on all around the world if you’re looking to get in on the action.

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Star Wars Car that Never was: Obi-Shawn’s Custom Z-Wing

Star Wars never had cars. Sure, there was the Landspeeder, and the Speeder Bike, but both point to a lack of wheels a long time ago. So those who want to drive around a Star Wars craft are left to their own imagination to come up with one. This is exactly what [Obi-Shawn], aka [Shawn Crosby], did to build his Z-Wing.

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Automated Star Wars Themed Nerf Targets

When challenged with making a game for a kids event using only the parts he already had on hand, [Nathan Gray] had to get creative. What he ended up making is pretty awesome. It’s a Star Wars themed Nerf gun shooting gallery.

icons-390Using a Teensy 2.0, he’s controlling nine RC servo motors attached to two-sided targets which randomize themselves every round — The Empire is bad, the Rebels, good. They’re also color coded red and green in case the images are too hard to see.

To keep track of scoring, there are piezo elements which register the impact of a Nerf dart. A cute little command console with a big red start button and score display can be set up in front of the range to let the kids know how they’re doing.

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Full Size Star Wars Holochess Build

The quality and attention to detail seen in [Ian Martin]’s build is impressive regardless of his choice to build a functioning holochess set. We’re not to take away from the nerd-gasm this build invokes, but we’d rather draw to attention the craftsmanship of the builder. Sadly [Ian] doesn’t have a proper blog or product page but you can view everything he posts about the project on his social networking page and get his take on the finished work in the video below.

This build is not just a well engineered mechanical design, the electronics that run the controls and indicators are [Ian]’s home brew Arduino Mega shields. A complete game requires two sets of electronics, one for each side of the table so rolling his own shield was probably a space saving decision.

Each of the figures used as game pieces were hand sculpted and painted (is that a Rancor to the right?). User controls are presented in true-to-form fashion with 54 buttons, 26 lights, 10 knobs, and an LCD screen with custom bezel to display custom monster status. Nope, the monsters aren’t animated holograms but to make up for that [Ian] built in ambient noises so you know which are still alive. This is our first time discovering that there is a name other than “Holochess” for the game: Dejarik. We’ll leave it up to the reader to figure out how it’s played.

This is an impressive build and we can’t wait to see what else [Ian] comes up with in the future. We have covered Star Wars builds before and some interesting board game builds but never where the two meet before this.

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That’s No Moon Pumpkin, It’s a Space Station

Every year, Vitamin T holds a #ATXPumpkinChallenge for creative agencies in and around Austin. Each team was given a fake pumpkin and the challenge of making a 15-60 second video. As the reigning champions from last year, [SiteGoals] had to up the ante. So they launched a pumpkin into space.

Pumpkin DeathstarWhen first given the challenge, it only took the team 3 simple words to get started. Pumpkin. In. Space. What followed was a week-long frenzy of preparing the pumpkin for its maiden flight.

The pumpkin itself is pretty simple. A plastic jack-o-lantern painstakingly painted and detailed to look like the third Death Star. This is makes the title of the project a double-meaning: “Return of the Pumpkin”. They even included iconic spacecraft flying around the equator of the immensely powerful yet questionably vulnerable orb of destruction. Simply launching the pumpkin into space wasn’t enough. They built in a telemetry system and GoPro for recording the voyage. Stick around after the break to see the very entertaining making-of video, set the tune of the Cantina Band.

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The BB-8 Builds Begin

Yes, the new Star Wars film coming out in December has x-wings, dogfights through the engines of star destroyers, space battles, a dead Jar Jar, and [R2D2]. It will also have the coolest droid yet, [BB-8], the rolling sphere protagonist that will surely be sold as a remote control toy by Christmas 2016.

[James] of XRobots doesn’t want to wait until the [BB-8] toys arrive, so he’s building his own. Right now, it’s just a prototype, but it’s the beginnings of the mechanics and control system of a very, very cool droid.

We’ve seen the first BB-8 droid that was basically putting some magnets on a Sphero robot, but this bot doesn’t exactly have the same functionality of the real-life [BB-8]. The real [BB-8] is actually two parts, a remote control ball-body, and a separate remote-controlled head. [James] is focusing on the head for his prototype, replacing the remote-controlled body with a dummy stand in, a big styrofoam ball.

The head of [James]’ [BB-8] is 3D printed, with some especially clever design features. The electronics are just four DC motors, an Arduino, and some motor drivers. In the future [James] will probably be looking at either steppers or servo motors, but for now his [BB-8] bot can stand up straight and serves as a great platform for testing out control schemes.

All the code and parts are available on Github, with some videos below.

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