Self-Driving Cars Are Not (Yet) Safe

Three things have happened in the last month that have made me think about the safety of self-driving cars a lot more. The US Department of Transportation (DOT) has issued its guidance on the safety of semi-autonomous and autonomous cars. At the same time, [Geohot]’s hacker self-driving car company bailed out of the business, citing regulatory hassles. And finally, Tesla’s Autopilot has killed its second passenger, this time in China.

At a time when [Elon Musk], [President Obama], and Google are all touting self-driving cars to be the solution to human error behind the wheel, it’s more than a little bold to be arguing the opposite case in public, but the numbers just don’t add up. Self-driving cars are probably not as safe as a good sober driver yet, but there just isn’t the required amount of data available to say this with much confidence. However, one certainly cannot say that they’re demonstrably safer.

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Think Your Way to Work in a Mind-Controlled Tesla

When you own an $80,000 car, a normal person might be inclined to never take it out of the garage. But normal often isn’t what we do around here, so seeing a Tesla S driven by mind control is only slightly shocking.

[Casey_S] appears to be the owner of the Tesla S in question, but if he’s not he’ll have some ‘splaining to do. He took the gigantic battery and computer in a car-shaped case luxury car to a hackathon in Berkley last week and promptly fitted it with the gear needed to drive the car remotely. Yes, the Model S has steering motors built in, but Tesla hasn’t been forthcoming with an API to access such functions. So [Casey_S] and his team had to cobble together a steering servo from a windshield wiper motor and a potentiometer mounted to a frame made of 2x4s. Linear actuators attach to the brake and accelerator pedals, and everything talks to an Arduino.

The really interesting part is that the whole thing is controlled by an electroencephalography helmet and a machine learning algorithm that detects when the driver thinks “forward” or “turn right.” It translates those thoughts to variables that drive the actuators. Unfortunately, space constraints kept [Casey_S] from really putting the rig through its paces, but the video after the break shows that the system worked well enough to move the car forward and steer a little.

There haven’t been too many thought-controlled cars featured here before, but we have covered a wheelchair with an EEG interface.

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Make Any PC A Thousand Dollar Gaming Rig With Cloud Gaming

The best gaming platform is a cloud server with a $4,000 dollar graphics card you can rent when you need it.

[Larry] has  done this sort of thing before with Amazon’s EC2, but recently Microsoft has been offering a beta access to some of NVIDIA’s Tesla M60 graphics cards. As long as you have a fairly beefy connection that can support 30 Mbps of streaming data, you can play just about any imaginable game at 60fps on the ultimate settings.

It takes a bit of configuration magic and quite a few different utilities to get it all going, but in the end [Larry] is able to play Overwatch on max settings at a nice 60fps for $1.56 an hour. Considering that just buying the graphics card alone will set you back 2500 hours of play time, for the casual gamer, this is a great deal.

It’s interesting to see computers start to become a rentable resource. People have been attempting streaming computers for a while now, but this one is seriously impressive. With such a powerful graphics card you could use this for anything intensive, need a super high-powered video editing station for a day or two? A CAD station to make anyone jealous? Just pay a few dollars of cloud time and get to it!

Become Very Unpopular Very Fast With This DIY EMP Generator

Taking a break from his book, “How to Gain Enemies and Encourage Hostility,” [FPS Weapons] shows us how to build our own handheld EMP generator which can be used to generate immediate dislike from anyone working on something electronic at the hackerspace.

The device is pretty simple. A DC source, in this case an 18650 lithium battery cell, sends power to an “Ultra High Voltage 1000kV Ignition Coil” (as the eBay listing calls it), when a button is pressed. A spark gap is used to dump a large amount of magic pixies into the coil all at once, which generates a strong enough magnetic pulse to induce an unexpected voltage inside of a piece of digital electronics. This usually manages to fire a reset pin or something equivalent, disrupting the device’s normal operation.

While you’re not likely to actually damage anything in a dramatic way with this little EMP, it can still interrupt an important memory write or radio signal and damage it that way. It’s a great way to get the absolute shock of your life if you’re not careful. Either from the HVDC converter or the FCC fines. Video after the break.

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Homebrew Powerwall Sitting at 20kWh

Every now and then a hacker gets started on a project and forgets to stop. That’s the impression we get from [HBPowerwall]’s channel anyway. He’s working on adding a huge number of 18650 Lithium cells to his home’s power grid and posting about his adventures along the way. This week he gave us a look at the balancing process he uses to get all of these cells to work well together. Last month he gave a great overview of the installed system.

His channel starts off innocently enough. It’s all riding small motor bikes around and having a regular good time.  Then he experiments a bit with the light stuff, like a few solar panels on the roof.  However, it seems like one day he was watching a news brief about the Powerwall (Tesla’s whole-home battery storage system) and was like, “hey, I can do that.”

After some initial work with the new substance it wasn’t long before he was begging, borrowing, and haggling for every used 18650 lithium battery cell the local universe in Brisbane, Australia could sell him. There are a ton of videos documenting his madness, but he’s all the way up to a partly off-grid house with a 20kWh battery bank, for which he has expansion plans.

There’s a lot of marketing flim flam and general technical pitfalls in the process of generating your own non-grid electricity. But for hackers in sunny areas who want to dump those rays into local storage this is an interesting blueprint to start with.

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Working For Elon Musk

One of my favorite types of science fiction character is found in the books of Ben Bova; a business mogul who through brilliance, hard work, and the force of personality drives mankind to a whole new level in areas such as commercializing space, colonizing the stars, battling governments, and thwarting competitors.

It is possible to name a few such characters in real life — influencing the electricity industry was George Westinghouse, automobiles was Henry Ford, and more recently Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. With Elon’s drive we may all finally be driving electric cars within 20 years and spreading out into space with his cheap rockets. Due to the latter he may be the closest yet to one of Bova’s characters.

So what’s it like to work for Elon Musk at Tesla or SpaceX? Most of us have read articles about him, and much that he’s written himself, as well as watched some of his many interviews and talks. But to get some idea of what it’s like to work for him I greatly enjoyed the insight from Ashlee Vance’s biography Elon Musk – Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. To write it Vance had many interviews with Musk as well as those who work with him or have in the past. Through this we get a fascinating look at a contemporary mogul of engineering.

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Micro Tesla Turbine is an Engineering Tour de Force

A corollary to Godwin’s Law ought to be that any Hackaday post that mentions Nikola Tesla will have a long and colorful comment thread. We hope this one does too, but with any luck it’ll concentrate on the engineering behind this tiny custom-built Telsa turbine.

For those not familiar with Mr. Tesla’s favorite invention, the turbine is a super-efficient design that has no blades, relying instead on smooth, closely spaced discs that get dragged along by the friction of a moving fluid. [johnnyq90]’s micro version of the turbine is a very accomplished feat of machining. Although at first the build appears a bit janky, as it progresses we see some real craftsmanship – if you ever doubt that soda can aluminum can be turned, watch the video below. The precision 25mm rotor goes into a CNC machined aluminum housing; the way the turned cover snaps onto the housing is oddly satisfying. It looks like the only off-the-shelf parts are the rotor bearings; everything else is scratch-made. The second video ends with a test spool-up that sounds pretty good. We can’t wait for part 3 to find out how fast this turbine can turn.

Size matters, and in this case, small is pretty darn impressive. For a larger treatment of a Tesla turbine, see this one made of old hard drive platters.

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