Boeing’s New Microlattice, Now the Lightest “Metal” Ever

Mr McGuire: I just want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr McGuire: Plastics.

You may recognize the above dialog from the movie “The Graduate” starring a young [Dustin Hoffman], whose character is getting advice about what line of work he should get into after university. Maybe Mr McGuire’s advice should have been “Microlattice.”

If you take a step back for a moment and survey the state of materials, you’ll see that not much has changed in the last 50 years. We’re still building homes out of dead trees, and most cars are still made out of iron(although that is starting to change.) It’s only been just recently has there been advances in batteries technology – and that only came about with the force of a trillion-dollar mobile phone industry behind it. So we’re excited by any new advance we see, and Boeing’s new “Microlattice” tickles our fancy.

Boeing isn’t giving away the recipe just yet, but here is what we know: it’s 99.99% empty space, making it extremely light. It’s so light, that if you drop it, it floats to the ground. It’s also compressible, giving it the ability to absorb energy and spring back (you can see it in action in the after the break.) It’s made by creating a sacrificial skeletal structure the shape of the final lattice, then coating that template with nickel-phosphorus alloy. The temporary inner structure is then etched away, leaving a “microlattice” of tiny interconnected hollow rods with wall thickness of about 100 nanometers. Of course it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to figure out why Boeing is interested in such materials, they are eye it as an extremely lightweight building material for planes and spacecraft.

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Use the Esp As a Serial Adapter

One of the most useful tools in the hardware hackers toolbox is a USB to serial adapter. With this, you can flash new firmware to routers, and ply the vast binary seas of embedded hardware. The common form of the USB to Serial adapter is an FTDI breakout board. This requires drivers, though, and there is actually a simpler – and wireless – solution: the ESP8266 WiFi module.

Despite being the best little IoT device on the block, the ESP8266 was originally designed to be a USB to WiFi adapter. In our haste to build WiFi throwies, WiFi blinkies, and freaking WiFi server farms, we seem to have forgotten that there’s still a use for a device that turns a 3.3V TTL into a WiFi connection. It’s the perfect device for reflashing a cheap WiFI router with new firmware, or just providing you with wireless serial connections to go along with your wireless Internet.

This project uses jeelabs’ ESP-link firmware for the ESP8266. It’s a simple bridge between WiFi and serial, and can function as an AVR programmer in a pinch. The web interface for this firmware is very nice, but you really don’t need it; the entire purpose of this firmware is to be even more transparent than an FTDI USB to serial adapter. For the next time you’re flashing a router with OpenWRT, don’t bother digging out the USB adapter; an ESP is all you need.

Making a Crossbow for the Zombie Apocalypse

Curious if he could, [Gignathiosis] decided he wanted to try building his own crossbow. So he did.

He built the entire weapon using hand-tools, minus a drill for the holes, though he could have gotten a brace for that bit. The most impressive part is that he used a hacksaw to carve up a block of aluminum into the trigger release — a job normally done by a mill. The only modern components on the bow is the limb (which he ordered off Amazon) and a bit of tactical rail for his scope. The end result is a gorgeous hand-made cross-bow.

There’s just something so satisfying about manufacturing old technology using hand tools. It probably has something to do with the thought that, if you ended up back in time somehow, you could use your 21st century knowledge as a hacker to change the world… and maybe become a ruler — or a magician — as long as you don’t do something that results in your entire existence vanishing.

Though if you really wanted to mess up history — take back a fully-automatic crossbow with you instead.

Atmel Introduces Rad Hard Microcontrollers

The Internet is full of extremely clever people, and most of the time they don’t realize how stupid they actually are. Every time there’s a rocket launch, there’s usually a few cubesats tucked away under a fairing. These cubesats were designed and built by university students around the globe, so whenever a few of these cubesats go up, Internet armchair EEs inevitably cut these students down: “That microcontroller isn’t going to last in space. There’s too much radiation. It’ll be dead in a day,” they say. This argument disregards the fact that iPods work for months aboard the space station, Thinkpads work for years, and the fact that putting commercial-grade microcontrollers in low earth orbit has been done thousands of times before with mountains of data to back up the practice.

For every problem, imagined or not, there’s a solution. Now, finally, Atmel has released a rad tolerant AVR for space applications. It’s the ATmegaS128, the space-grade version of the ‘mega128. This chip is in a 64-lead ceramic package, has all the features you would expect from the ATmega128 and is, like any ‘mega128, Arduino compatible.

Atmel has an oddly large space-rated rad-hard portfolio, with space-grade FPGAs, memories, communications ICs, ASICs, memories, and now microcontrollers in their lineup.

While microcontrollers that aren’t radiation tolerant have gone up in cubesats and larger commercial birds over the years, the commercial-grade stuff is usually reserved for low Earth orbit stuff. For venturing more than a few hundred miles above the Earth, into the range of GPS satellites and to geosynchronous orbit 25,000 miles above, radiation shielding is needed.

Will you ever need a space-grade, rad-hard Arduino? Probably not. This new announcement is rather cool, though, and we can’t wait for the first space grade Arduino clone to show up in the Hackaday tips line.

Hacklet 81 – Tracked Projects

Sometimes wheels just don’t cut it. When the going gets tough, the tough make tracks. Continuous track drive systems – aka tank treads, or tracks, have been around for centuries. The first known use in relatively modern history is a system designed in 1770’s by [Richard Lovell Edgeworth]. Since then there has been a slew of engineers, hackers, and makers who have contributed to this versatile drive system. Today, tread systems find their way into plenty of robotics and transportation projects. This week’s Hacklet is all about some of the best track drive projects on Hackaday.io!

track1We start with [jupdyke] and Modular Continuous Track System. [Jupdyke] has made a project out of making the tracks themselves. These tracks are strong – shore 70A urethane rubber is no joke! Quite a bit of research and experimentation has gone into this project. [Jupdyke] started with 3D printed parts, before moving on to molded 2 part rubber. The rubber is cast in custom machined aluminum molds. The molds are even heated to ensure a quality casting. Rubber alone doesn’t make a track though. The backbone of these tracks are machined steel pins. The pins go through the treads and connect through roller chain components. We’re betting a set of these tracks could easily carry a person!

robot-tankNext up is [williamg42] with Expandable Ruggedized Robotic Platform. [Williamg42] describes this vehicle as “able to operate in harsh environments”. We would shorten that to “It’s a beast”. Some incredible machine work has gone into this robot, especially on the suspension and idler wheels. Everything is made of metal – the frame is 8020 aluminum extrusion covered in plates. The suspension is aluminum and steel. Motors are mini-CIM motors. This robot isn’t lacking on brains, as a BeagleBone black controls it through a custom cape board. Next time we go out on a desert trek, we want this ‘bot at our side!

ttbn-alphaFrom the mind of [TinHead] comes TTBN Alpha, a TelePresence robot. TTBN alpha is based on a Raspberry Pi. Rather than start with Raspbian, [TinHead] built his own lightweight Linux distribution with buildroot. Control is through a web interface. The operator’s view of the world is through the electronic eye of a Logitech C110 webcam. [TinHead] printed his own tracks, using straightened paperclips as pins. Two servos modified for continuous rotation serve as the main drive motors.

 

surocam

Finally we have [Hendra Kusumah] with Surveillance Robot Camera (SUROCAM). SUROCAM was [Hendra’s] project for both the 2014 and 2015 Hackaday Prize. The chassis is based upon the common RP5 robot kit. This robot’s DC motors are driven by the classic L298n driver chip. Unlike TTBN Alpha above, SUROCAM uses a full Raspbian install, so this Pi is ready for anything. The code is written in Python, and pagekite and ngrok to help make connections to the outside world.

If you want to see more tank treaded rovers, check out our new tracked projects list. Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet; As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Kids and Hacking: The One Hour Egg Drop

In the last Hacking and Kids post, I talked about an activity you can do with kids when you don’t have a lot of time or resources. The key idea was to have fun and learn a little bit about open and closed loop control. One of the things I usually briefly mention when I do that is the idea of a design trade: Why, for example, a robot might use wheels instead of legs, or treads instead of wheels.

Engineers and makers perform trades like this all the time. Suppose you are building a data logging system. You want precise samples, large storage capacity, and many channels. But you also want a low cost and low power drain. You might also want high reliability. All of these requirements will lead to different trades. A hard drive would provide a lot of space, but is more expensive, less reliable, larger, and more power hungry than, say, an SD card. So there isn’t a right choice. It depends on which of the factors are most important for this particular design. A data logger in a well-powered rack might be well served to have a terrabyte hard drive, while a battery powered logger in a matchbox that will be up on the side of a mountain might be better off with an SD card.

We can all relate to that example, but it is pretty boring to a kid. You probably can’t get them to design a data logger, anyway. But if I have about an hour and a little prep time, I have a different way to get the same point across. It is a modified version of the classic “egg drop”, but it is simple enough to do in an hour with very little preparation time.

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Why Should You Get a Ham Radio License?

Several of the authors you read on Hackaday are ham radio operators and we’ve often kicked around having a Hacker Chat about “Why be a ham today?” After all, you can talk to anyone in the world over the Internet or via phone, right? What’s the draw?

The Radio Society of Great Britain had the same thought, apparently, and produced a great video to answer the question. They mention the usual things: learning about technology, learning about people in other parts of the world, disaster communications, and radiosport (which seems to be more popular outside the United States; people compete to find hidden transmitters).

In addition, they talked a lot about how hams get involved with space communications, ranging from talking via satellites, to talking to people on the space station, to actually building small satellites. As the narrator says, there are “hundreds of ways to have techie fun” with ham radio.

One thing we noticed they showed but didn’t say a lot about, though, is the educational opportunities. You can learn a lot, and working with kids to help them learn is often very rewarding (and you usually learn something, too). Just to forestall the comments that this post isn’t hack related, we’ll note two things: there is a Raspberry Pi shown and just past the two-minute mark, there is a very clever hacked together Morse code key.

We talk a lot about ham radio, ranging from Arduino-based digital modes to putting together portable stations (you can see a similar one in the video, too). One other thing we noticed they don’t mention: it is generally much easier to get a license today than ever before. Most countries (including the United States) have abolished the Morse code requirements, so while some hams still enjoy CW (hamspeak for operating Morse code), it isn’t a requirement.

Video below.

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