Chaos Communication Camp 2015: Dispatch from Day One

There’s been too much to do here at the Chaos Communication Camp — the Quadrennial outdoor meeting of hackers. Between talks and projects and workshops, there’s hardly been a minute to sit down and write up a summary.  Nonetheless, I’ve sat in on a few talks.  Here’s a quick overview of some of what happened on Day One, and a little look behind the scenes into what makes a 5,000-person hacker camp work.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Soft Orthotics

Nearly a million people in the US suffer from CP, a neurological disorder that causes spastic motion in the limbs. One of the biggest quality of life factors for CP sufferers is the ability to use their arms, and that means an expensive and clunky orthotic around their elbow. [Matthew] has a better idea: why not make a soft orthotic?

This is not [Matthew]’s first project with soft robotics. He’s the lead scientist at Super Releaser, the company responsible for the completely soft robotic Glaucus atlanticus and other soft pneumatic robots.

This soft, flexible orthotic exoskeleton is designed for sufferers of chronic movement disorders. Traditional orthotics are expensive, difficult to move, and uncomfortable, but by designing this orthotic to be just as strong but a little more forgiving, these devices minimize most of the problems.

The Neucuff is constructed out of extremely simple materials – just some neoprene, a velcro, and a CO2 cartridge. The problem with bringing this to market, as with all medical devices, is FDA requirements and certifications. That makes the Hackaday Prize an excellent opportunity for [Matthew] and the rest of Super Releaser, as well as anyone else trying to navigate regulatory requirements in order to change the world.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Hacklet 70 – Calculator Projects

Hackers, makers, and engineers have long had a love affair with number crunching. Specifically with the machines that make crunching numbers easier. Today it may be computers, smart watches, and smartphones, but that wasn’t always the case. In the 50’s and 60’s, Slide rules were the rage. Engineers would carry them around in leather belt pouches. By the early 70’s though, the pocket calculator revolution had begun. Calculators have been close at hand for hackers and engineers ever since. This week’s Hacklet celebrates some of the best calculator projects on!

calc1We start with [Joey Shepard] and RPN Scientific Calculator. No equals sign needed here; [Joey] designed this calculator to work with Reverse Polish notation, just like many of HP’s early machines. Stacks are pretty important for RPN calculators, and this one has plenty of space with dual 200 layer stacks. The two main processors are MSP430s from Texas Instruments. The user interface are a 4 line x 20 character LCD and 42 hand wired buttons. The two processors are pretty ingenious. They communicate over a UART. One processor handles the keyboard and display, while the other concentrates on crunching the numbers and storing data in an SRAM. The case for this calculator is made from soldered up copper clad board. It’s mechanically strong especially since [Joey] added a bead of solder along each joint. If you want to learn more about this technique check out this guide on FR4 enclosures.

[Joey] definitely improved his solder skills with this project. Every wire and connection, including the full SRAM address and data bus were wired by hand on proto boards. We especially like the sweet looking laser cut keyboard on this project!
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Dutch Student Team Aims To Launch Rocket to 50KM

Space. The final frontier. These are the voyages of DARE, the [Delft Aerospace Rocket Engineering] team, who are looking to launch a rocket to 50 kilometers (about 31 miles) to break the European amateur rocketry record later this year.

This brave crew of students from the Delft Technical University is boldly going where no European amateur has gone before with a rocket of their own design called Stratos II, a single stage hybrid rocket which is driven by a DHX-200 Aurora engine. This self-built engine uses a combination of solid Sorbitol and candlewax fuel, with liquid Nitrous Oxide as the oxidizer. The rather unlikely sounding combination should produce an impressive 12,000 Newtons of maximum thrust, and a total of 180,000 Ns of impulse. It’s difficult to make a proper comparison, but the largest model rocket motor sold in the US without a special license (a class G) has up to 160 Ns of impulse and the largest engine ever built by amateurs had 411,145 Ns of impulse.

The team did try a launch last year, but the launch failed due to a frozen fuel valve. Like any good engineering team, they haven’t let failure get them down, and have been busy redesigning their rocket for another launch attempt in the middle of October, Their launch window begins on October 13th at a military base in southern Spain, and we will be watching their attempt closely. Godspeed, DARE!

In commercial space news, yesterday NASA tested the RS-25 engine that will be used in the Space Launch System — the rocket it’s developing to take astronauts to the moon and mars. Also, the NTSB report on the tragic crash of SpaceShipTwo was released a few weeks ago. The report found that the feather mechanism was unlocked by the copilot at the wrong time, leading to the crash. Future system improvements will be put in place to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Update – The Stratos II is a single-stage rocket, not a two-stage, as an earlier version of this article described. 8/16/15

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Closing out DEF CON 23

We had a wild time at DEF CON last week. Here’s a look back on everything that happened.

defcon-23-hackday-breakfast-thumbFor us, the festivities closed out with a Hackaday Breakfast Meetup on Sunday morning. Usually we’d find a bar and have people congregate in the evening but there are so many parties at this conference (official and unofficial) that we didn’t want people to have to choose between them. Instead, we made people shake off the hangover and get out of bed in time for the 10:30am event.

We had a great group show up and many of them brought hardware with them. [TrueControl] spilled all the beans about the hardware and software design of this year’s Whiskey Pirate badge. This was by far my favorite unofficial badge of the conference… I made a post covering all the badges I could find over the weekend.

We had about thirty people roll through and many of them stayed for two hours. A big thanks to Supplyframe, Hackaday’s parent company, for picking up the breakfast check and for making trips like this possible for the Hackaday crew.

Hat Hacking

For DEF CON 22 I built a hat that scrolls messages and also serves as a simple WiFi-based crypto game. Log onto the access point and try to load any webpage and you’ll be greeted with the scoreboard shown above. Crack any of the hashes and you can log into the hat, put your name on the scoreboard, and make the hat say anything you want.

Last year only one person hacked the hat, this year there were 7 names on the scoreboard for a total of 22 cracked hashes. Nice work!

  • erich_jjyaco_cpp    16 Accounts
  • UniversityOfAriz     1 Account
  • @badgerops             1 Account
  • conorpp_VT             1 Account
  • C0D3X Pwnd you    1 Account
  • D0ubleN                   1 Account
  • erichahn525_VTe     1 Account

Three of these hackers talked to me, the other four were covert about their hat hacking. The top scorer used a shell script to automate logging-in with the cracked passwords and putting his name on the scoreboard.

I’d really like to change it up next year. Perhaps three hats worn by three people who involves some type of 3-part key to add different challenges to this. If you have any ideas I’d love to hear them below, or as comments on the project page.

[Eric Evenchick] on socketCAN

eric-evenchick-socketCAN-defcon-23-croppedOne of the “village” talks that I really enjoyed was from [Eric Evenchick]. He’s been a writer here for a few years, but his serious engineering life is gobbling up more and more of his time — good for him!

You probably remember the CANtact tool he built to bring car hacking into Open Source. Since then he’s been all over the place giving talks about it. This includes Blackhat Asia earlier in the year (here are the slides), and a talk at BlackHat a few days before DEF CON.

This village talk wasn’t the same as those, instead he focused on showing what socketCAN is capable of and how you might use it in your own hacking. This is an open source software suite that is in the Linux repos. It provides a range of tools that let you listen in on CAN packets, record them, and send them out to your own car. It was great to hear [Eric] rattle off examples of when each would be useful.

Our Posts from DEF CON 23

If you missed any of them, here’s our coverage from the conference. We had a blast and are looking forward to seeing everyone there next year!

Crazy Good Odds to win the Hackaday Prize

I entered the Hackaday Prize in 2014. I entered because Hackaday editor [Brian Benchoff] persuaded me to. I ran into Brian at the HOPE conference in NYC and he told me that there were about only 800 entries to compete against.

I didn’t enter until a day or two before the deadline, which is where we are today. The deadline for this year’s 2015 Hackaday Prize is on Monday. Again there are around 800 entries to compete against.

When I entered the competition last year I never dreamed that I’d be managing the same contest this year. I didn’t know much about contests, and I certainly never thought that the odds of winning anything were very good. It is very easy to talk yourself into thinking that everyone else’s project has a better chance of winning.

So now that I’m working in it, I see all of the entries every day, I talk to all of you daily about your projects (which is an awesome part of my life, thank you!) and I can tell you that everyone else’s project does not have a better chance of winning than yours.

Best Product Has Crazy Good Odds

New to the 2015 Hackaday Prize we added a Best Product category. The Best Product is meant to encourage that small window of opportunity between project prototype and product. We ask that products entered into this category get 3 copies of that product to us before we close entries on Monday. Three copies means that you can duplicate your product, but you still may not yet be in a place where you can turn that into a company.

The crazy thing is that we haven’t received so many entries for this, and the prize for Best Product, besides keeping you in the running for the main Hackaday Prize, is $100,000 and 6 months free rent in the Supplyframe Design Lab. This is a recipe for a successful business start.

The odds are insanely good this time around. For Best Product so far, we’ve got under 100 entries. This means you have a 1 in under 100 chance of winning $100,000. For the main Hackaday Prize, we’ve got under 1000 entries and 5 prizes, so you have a 5 in 1000 chance of winning some portion of $500,000 in cash or prizes.

How do you make sure you’re actually in the running?  You complete the requirements! Make your project logs, your cell phone video and your system diagram. You can do this in under a day, so make it happen!

Read the Official Rules Here

Why Enter?

Last year’s Hackaday Prize theme was to “design a connected device” so we upped the bar a little this year. Actually, we upped the bar a lot with a theme of “design a solution to an important problem”. We want you to come up with ideas that have the potential to help a lot of people. We want you to not only think about winning money and trips to space, but to think about others. We gave away stuff — lots of stuff — during the contest to encourage those ideas. I think we all won with that.

We started Hack Chats weekly for the past couple of months and I’ve seen people get job offers, collaborate and start new projects from those chats. So, come to the Hack Chats, get your Prize entries in and use your smarts to effect change!

Octopart and Altium Join Forces

Octopart, the search engine for electronic parts, is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Altium.

This acquisition is neither Altium’s first parts database purchase, nor is it Octopart’s first interaction with Altium. Ciiva, a parts and datasheet search engine was acquired by Altium a few years ago, and Altium Circuit Maker features an interface to the Octopart database.

Under the deal, Octopart will remain independent of Altium and operate out of their NYC office, and plans are for the part search engine to remain free and open.

Disclosure: Hackaday’s parent company, Supplyframe, also runs and, component search tools.