Hackaday Prize Entry: An EM Drive

As far as engineering feats of the 21st century go (as long as they turn out to be real), we’re looking at two things. Lockheed Martin might build a working, power generating fusion reactor in the next decade. That will solve every problem on the planet. The second is even more spectacular. It’s called the EM drive, and it will take humans to the stars. It violates the laws of physics, but it somehow works, and there’s a project on hackaday.io to replicate it.

The first thing to know about the EM drive is that it doesn’t use propellent. Instead, it simply dumps microwaves into a cavity and somehow produces thrust. This violates [Newton]’s third law of motion, “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Every rocket engine ever, from the Saturn V to ion thrusters on spacecraft now cruising around the solar system, use some sort of propellent. The EM drive does not; it simply dumps microwaves into a closed cavity. It breaks the tyranny of the rocket equation. If you strap a nuclear reactor to an EM drive, you’ll be seeing attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, and C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tanhauser Gate.

Despite violating the laws of physics, Chinese researchers found this device produces thrust, and these experiments were replicated at Eagleworks at Johnson Space Center. No one can tell you why it works, but somehow it does, at least in the few tests completed so far.

If the EM drive isn’t just an experimental aberration, this is how we’re going to get to Alpha Centauri. Whoever explains how the EM drive works will get the Nobel, and [movax] over on hackaday.io is building one out of a broken microwave oven. It’s a fantastic project for the Hackaday Prize, and even if it doesn’t work, it makes for a great story for the grandkids.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Turning On the Kettle with your Phone

Why do light bulbs, furnaces, outlets and even automated blinds get all the home automation love? Won’t somebody think of the kettle!? How are we suppose to ensure tea-time is always a button click away? Tired of his lack of options for remotely controlling his kettle, [FatCookies] decided to make his own WiFi enabled kettle.

He started by ripping up an old power supply enclosure he had lying around, and it happened to be just big enough for a Raspberry Pi. He then added a 2-way relay board designed for handling mains voltage at a high amperage — quite necessary for something that draws as much as a heating element.

From there it was just a matter of wiring the relay board to the GPIO on the Pi, and to the kettle itself. For safety reasons, he’s powered the kettle and the Pi separately — and don’t worry, he left the safety switch in the kettle intact.

And while we have to admit, it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing hack, it certainly does the trick — and didn’t cost [FatCookies] much at all.

But if you’re more of a coffee kind of person — you could also replicate this hack with a coffee maker instead.

[via r/DIY]

C.H.I.P. is a Linux Trojan Horse for Nine Bucks

I’m sure you’ve already heard about C.H.I.P, the $9 Linux computer. It is certainly sexy to say nine-bucks but there should really be an asterisk next to that number. If you want things like VGA or HDMI you need an adapter board which adds cost (natively the board only supports composite video output). I also have questions about MSRP once the Kickstarter is fulfilled. But what’s on my mind isn’t cost; this is still going to be in the realm of extremely-inexpensive no matter what shakes out. Instead, I’d like to look at this being the delivery device for wider Linux acceptance.

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The gist of the hardware is a small board with a SoC boasting a 1GHz clock, half a gig of ram, four gigs of flash, one USB, WiFi and Bluetooth. It also has add-ons that make it a handheld and is being promoted as a gaming console. It’s amazing what you get out of these SoC’s for the cost these days, isn’t it?

For at least a decade people have claimed that this is the year of the Linux desktop. That’s not the right way to think. Adults are brand-loyal and business will stick to things that just work. Trying to convert those two examples is a sisyphean effort. But C.H.I.P. is picking up on a movement that started with Raspberry Pi.

These are entry-level computers and a large portion of the user-base will be kids. I haven’t had a hands-on with this new board, but the marketing certainly makes an effort to show how familiar the GUI will be. This is selling Linux and popular packages like LibreOffice without even tell people they’ll be adopting Linux. If the youngest Raspberry Pi users are maturing into their adolescence with C.H.I.P, what will their early adult years look like? At the least, they will not have an ingrained disposition against Open Source Software (unless experiences with Rasbperry Pi, C.H.I.P., and others is negative). At best they’ll fully embrace FOSS, becoming the next generation of code contributors and concept evangelists. Then every year will be the year of the Linux desktop.

Relays Calculate Square Roots

After seeing an exhibit of an old relay-based computer as a kid, [Simon] was inspired to build a simple two-relay latching circuit. Since then, he’s been fascinated by how relays can function to do computation. He’s come quite a long way from that first latching circuit, however, and recently finished a huge five-year project which uses electromechanical relays to calculate square roots.

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The frame of the square root calculator can hold up to 30 identical relay modules, each of which hold 16 relays on PCBs, for a total of 480 relays. The module-based setup makes repair and maintenance a breeze. Numbers are entered into the computer by a rotary dial from an old phone and stored in the calculator’s relay memory. A nixie tube display completes the bygone era-theme of the device and shows either the current number that’s being entered, or the square root of that number as it’s being calculated.

The real magic of this project is that each relay has an LED which illuminates whenever the relay is energized, which shows the user exactly where all of the bits of the machine are going. [Simon] worked on this project from 2009 and recently completed it in 2014, and it has been featured at the San Mateo Maker Faire and at Microsoft Research in Redmond, WA. We’ve seen smaller versions of this before, but never on this scale and never for one specific operation like square roots.

Video below. Thanks to [Bonsaichop] for the tip!

Continue reading “Relays Calculate Square Roots”

Field Trip! Hackaday Visits Adafruit Industries

While still weary from our TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon, The Hackaday crew had a chance we couldn’t pass up: A tour of Adafruit Industries. Adafruit isn’t open to the public, so an opportunity to see the inner workings of one of the largest companies in the hacker/maker industry was really something special.

Coming in off the hustle and bustle of lower Manhattan streets, we found ourselves in a nondescript white marble lobby. The contrast and colors made me think of a scene out of THX1138. A short elevator ride opens to a second lobby area with a large door. We weren’t alone though – a security camera stands silent witness. Any thoughts of Big Brother were quelled when the door was thrown open by none other than [Phil Torrone], welcoming us to Adafruit.

If you’ve seen any of the photos or videos of Adafruit’s offices, you know what to expect – a large, open space broken by the columns keeping the building’s 10 stories upright. It’s the perfect blank canvas upon which to build a company. Since we were there late on a Sunday afternoon, things were relatively quiet. Only a handful of the 80 Adafruit employees were at their stations. Those on hand were packing and scanning in orders, in preparation for what would be a busy Monday. It’s a bit hard to be standing in Adafruit, knowing that you’re within arm’s reach of every part, module, or device you’ve ever wanted, and not want to jump right in on a project. With 10 of us there that may have made a bit of a dent in Adafruit’s bottom line, though.

The tour started at [Phil’s] desk. Tucked in among a copy of Dune, a very respectable graphic novel collection, and the two most recent editions of The Art of Electronics was United States Export Controls, 7th Edition. Considering the amount of shipping to far-flung countries the company has to do each day, one must stay on top of little things like ITAR and other export laws.

Throughout the tour, [Phil] made it clear that he views his job as a simple one: Do everything possible to allow [Limor] to crank out designs. [Phil] keeps the business running so she can keep on engineering open source hardware. [Phil’s] touches shine through though, in the product logos, and the characters which appear in Adafriut’s Circuit Playground. If those videos strike you as kid stuff, that’s exactly what they are designed to be. During his tenure at Make, [Phil] was one of four people who ran the first Makerfaire in 2006. He still gets e-mails from people who attended it as kids and were inspired to enter the fields of engineering or computer science. Both [Phil] and [Limor] have their sights set on inspiring the next generation of hackers.

Next up on our tour was the wearables department, domain of the one and only Becky Stern. We were all struck by how incredibly neat and organized the area was. There was a well-labelled place for everything, and everything was in its place. On display was a grey hoodie with a bandolier of ninjaflex 3D printed bullets, all lit by RGB LEDs.

Click past the break for the rest of Hackaday’s Tour of Adafruit Industries!

Continue reading “Field Trip! Hackaday Visits Adafruit Industries”

Hacklet 46 – ODROID Projects

It seems you can’t mention the Raspberry Pi these days without someone bringing up the Odroid. Named after the combination of Open and Android, the current Odroid brand covers several boards – the U3, the UX3 with its 2 Ghz Samsung quad-core processor, and the C1, which is directly aimed at our favorite fruit pie computer. With all this popularity, one would expect a few awesome projects based around the Odroid machines, and you’d be right! This week’s Hacklet is all about projects using the Odroid on Hackaday.io!

Robbie jrWe start with [herrkami] and CRONUS. Cronus started life as a Robbie Junior, Radio Shack’s re-branded version of Takara Tomy’s Omnibot Jr.  [herrkami] has upgraded Cronus’ brain with an Odroid U3. Cronus can now reliably respond to voice commands thanks to a little help from Google’s speech recognition engine and the accompanying Python API. Cronus is rather conversational as well, all due to the AIML framework. [herrkami] hopes to cut the cord (or WiFi link) once he gets CMU sphinx up and running. Some of [herrkami’s] best work is in his cardboard templates to create a mechanism for turning Cronus’ head. These are some pretty sweet updates for a 1986 vintage robot!

 

serverNext up is [tlankford01] with Linux Tutorial: Odroid U3 Server w/ Seafile Cloud. [tlankford01] walks us through setting up a file server using the Odroid, a 16 Gigabyte EMMC card, and a hard drive to hold the files. As one might expect, this tutorial covers a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) server stack. The 9 project logs take us from a bare microSD card to a full server. The Odroid’s 2 Gigabytes of ram are put to good use running the open source Seafile cloud server package. Tutorials like this deserve lots of love from the Hackaday.io community. Sometimes you just need to get a solid file server up and running. When that happens, this type of project is often just what the doctor ordered! So don’t be a lurker, head over to [tlankford01]’s page and give him a skull!

 

touch[Victor] gets us one step closer to an Odroid tablet with the HDMI touchscreen. HDMI touchscreen is a project to connect a 7″ 1024 x 600 LCD with a capacitive touchscreen to HDMI based computers. The heart of the project is Texas Instrument’s TFP401 panelbus DVI receiver chip. This chip makes interfacing LCD screens to HDMI or DVI video cards (almost) painless. There still is a bit of X configuration to do to get things running. [Victor] even got his Odroid running in Android with his custom screen setup. Those of us who have spent time in display an input configuration file limbo know that this is no small feat!

htpcFinally we have [darth_llamah] with Odroid-U3 HTPC. [Darth] raided his junkbox and parts drawers to build a solid home theater PC using the Odroid-U2. The U2 is a bit older than the current U3 models, but all [Darth’s] work should apply to any of the Odroid series. An old Itona case provided the frame for this hack, but it took a lot of custom work with plastic and epoxy to make everything fit. [Darth’s] software stack is the popular OpenELEC Linux build. [Darth] even setup a real “soft” power button using an ATtiny85 connected to USB and s Adafruit’s TrinketHidCombo library.

If you want to see all the Odroid projects in one place, check out our new Odroid projects list!

That’s it for this Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Two Saturdays of Fun with Hackaday

Shake off the work week with Hackaday. Tomorrow we kick off Hackaday Prize Worldwide: LA. This is a Zero to Product workshop, a meetup, and a free build day. The workshop and build sessions are full-full-full but you can still get in on social hour Saturday night. Please send us your RSVP. Full details on the weekend’s festivities are on our event page on Hackaday.io.

2nd Annual Bay Area Maker Faire Meetup

There are a ton of cool people descending on the Bay Area for Maker Faire in about a week, are you one of them? If so, join us at O’Neil’s for our second annual meetup! We’ll belly up to the bar starting at 7pm on the 16th. There will be several of the Hackaday crew there and we’re bring swag along with us. But the real attraction is all of the great hackers who show up. To get on the guest list you simply need to tell us you’re coming.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: