Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: CANcrusher

In 2007, everyone discovered you could blink an LED with an Arduino. A few years after that, someone discovered you could make a PID controller work with an Arduino, and a great number of sous vide cooker hacks showed up on the Internet. Trends in electronics projects come and go, and this year we have CANbus sniffers and development platforms. One of these CAN dev platforms, CANcrusher, is a semifinalist for the Hackaday Prize, and does a great job at poking and prodding a CANbus.

Like a lot of very excellent projects, the CANcrusher is based on a Teensy 3.1 microcontroller. This, along with the MCP2515 CAN controller gives the CANcrusher three independent CAN channels supporting DW-CAN, SW-CAN, and LSFT. The software for the device can stream data directly to a computer over USB.

Simply providing an interface for a CAN bus is something that has been done to death, and to improve upon the many CANbus projects out there, the CANcrusher is adding Bluetooth, a GSM radio, SD datalogging, and a real time clock. It’s a great project for the Hackaday Prize with multiple videos explaining how it works and what it can do. You can check out the entry video for the CANcrusher below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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Two-Axis Solar Tracker

Solar panels are an amazing piece of engineering, but without exactly the right conditions they can be pretty fickle. One of the most important conditions is that the panel be pointed at the sun, and precise aiming of the panel can be done with a solar tracker. Solar trackers can improve the energy harvesting ability of a solar panel by a substantial margin, and now [Jay] has a two-axis tracker that is also portable.

The core of the project is a Raspberry Pi, chosen after [Jay] found that an Arduino didn’t have enough memory for all of the functionality that he wanted. The Pi and the motor control electronics were stuffed into a Pelican case for weatherproofing. The actual solar tracking is done entirely in software, only requiring a latitude and longitude in order to know where the sun is. This is much easier (and cheaper) than relying on GPS or an optical system for information about the location of the sun.

Be sure to check out the video below of the solar tracker in action. Even without the panel (or the sun, for that matter) the tracker is able to precisely locate the panel for maximum energy efficiency. And, if you’d like to get even MORE power from your solar panel, you should check out a maximum power point tracking system as well.

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ESP8266 In Commercial Products

The hobbyist electronics market is still tiny, and even though random companies are coming out with some very interesting hardware, these parts and components aren’t exactly meant for us. The ESP8266 WiFi module is a slight deviation from this trend, with hundreds of different ESP dev boards floating around, and weirdos buying them by the bag.

[4ndreas] finally found the ESP8266 in a product; it’s not a very noteworthy observation until you realize how much work has gone into the development of open source toolchains for the ESP.

[4ndreas] found an RGB LED strip on Ali Express that could be controlled by WiFi. Inside, he found everyone’s favorite WiFi module, and by shorting two pins, he started up the controller in bootloader mode.

Because of the massive amount of open source development surrounding the ESP8266, there are a host of tools that can be used to program this cheap LED controller. [4ndreas] took a swing at writing his own firmware for the controller and came up with this project.

It’s not a killer project, but it does demonstrate the power of open source toolchains for cheap WiFi modules. This is only the first product found with an ESP8266 inside, but there are undoubtedly others out there just waiting to be taken apart and controlled in more advanced ways.

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Raspberry Pi Halt and Catch… Well, Halt

As far back as we can remember, there have always been hacks, exploits, and just curiosity about undocumented CPU instructions. The Z80 had them. Even the HP41C calculator had some undocumented codes. The HCF (Halt and Catch Fire) instruction was apocryphal, but we always heard the old video controller chips could be coaxed into blowing up certain monitors. You don’t hear too much about things like that lately, perhaps because fewer people are working in assembly language.

[Sergi Àlvarez i Capilla] not only works in assembly language, he was writing an ARM assembler when he noticed something funny. Instructions are built in a regular pattern and some of the patterns were missing. What to do? [Sergi] lost no time trying them out.

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You Own Your MRI Brainscan; Do Something Interesting With It

The most complicated and fascinating gadget you will ever own is your brain. Why not pay tribute to this wonder by creating a 3D scale model that you can print yourself? If you have had a full-head MRI scan, it is simple to take this data and create a 3D model that you can print out on any 3D printer. Here’s how to print your brain.

To begin, you are going to need an MRI scan. Unfortunately, the low-field MRI that [Peter Jansen] is working on won’t quite cut it (yet): you’ll have to get the pros to do it. The type of scan also matters, because we want a scan that focusses in on the brain itself, not the bits around it. What type you get depends on what your doctor wants to know, as the radiologist can run a lot of different scans and analysis of the data to show different types of tissue. After looking through the scans that I got, I settled on one that was labelled eB1000i(BRAIN) With and Without Contrast. To a radiologist, that information means a lot, telling you what type of scan it is, and that it was done with a contrast agent, a metal dye that is injected to make water-rich tissues (like my brain) more visible. The number refers to something called the diffusion weighting, which helps the doctor look for swelling that can indicate things like strokes, tumors, etc. There’s a good guide to some of the jargon here.

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Could Solid-State Batteries Last a Lifetime?

Researchers from MIT and the Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology have been developing a new material that could potentially revolutionize the battery industry. A solid electrolyte that won’t wear out, lasting exponentially longer than current battery chemistry.

It also has the possibility to increase battery life, storage, and the safety of batteries — as liquid electrolytes are the main reason batteries catch on fire.

Sound too good to be true? The idea for solid-state batteries has been around for awhile, but it sounds like MIT and Samsung may have figured it out. The current materials used for solid electrolytes have difficulty conducting ions fast enough in order to be useful — but according to the researchers, they’ve discovered formula for the secret sauce. They’ve published their findings on Nature.com, which is sadly behind a pay wall.

Another great benefit of solid-state batteries is they would be able to operate at freezing temperatures without a problem. What do you think? Is Samsung blowing smoke, or will they actually release a battery you never have to replace?

The Problem With Kickstarter: A Lack Of Transparency

Since 2010, over one and a half billion dollars has been transferred from Kickstarter backers to project creators, and with Kickstarter’s 5% cut taken on each dollar collected, that means Kickstarter has had somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 to 80 million dollars in revenue in the last five years. That’s a success by any measure, and as with this huge amount of money, questions must be asked about the transparency of Kickstarter.

This is not a post about a Kickstarter project for an impossible project, a project that breaks the laws of physics, or one that is hyped beyond all reasonable expectations. This is a post about Kickstarter itself, and it’s been a long time coming. In the past, Kickstarter has shown at least some transparency by cancelling projects that are obvious rebrandings of white label goods – a direct violation of their rules. Kickstarter has even cancelled projects that violate the laws of physics, like this wireless charging Bluetooth tag. It’s a start, but Kickstarter has a much larger problem on its plate: the Staff Pick problem.

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