Glitching Square Wave Clock Is Designed To Confuse

[Voja Antonic] has built a clock that tells the time in binary with square waves, and trolls the uninitiated in electronics.

The clock itself is very attractive. If you look closely you can see the circuitry backlit behind the dot LED matrix display. The whole thing is housed in a nicely folded steel case. RGB LEDs are used to good effect to highlight some additionally obfuscating circuit schematics. The workmanship is very top notch, and we would gladly host such an object on our desks.

The clock’s standard time telling mode is three sets of square waves showing the binary values for the hours, minutes, and seconds. Every now and then the clock will glitch out. The waves will distort. The colors will change. And every now and then, tantalizingly, the alpha-numeric time will show up for just a split second, before returning to those weird squiggles again.

We’ve seen a whole slew of binary clocks before. This one, for instance. But the waveform display makes us feel just that little bit more at home — it’s just like we’re sitting in front of our oscilloscope.

New Efficiency Standards for Wall Warts in the US

The common household wall wart is now under stricter regulation from the US Government. We can all testify to the waste heat produced by many cheap wall warts. Simply pick one at random in your house, and hold it; it will almost certainly be warm. This regulation hopes to save $300 million in wasted electricity, and reap the benefits, ecologically, of burning that much less fuel.

The old standard.

We don’t know what this means practically for the consumer. Will your AliExpress wall warts be turned away at the shore now? Will this increase the cost of the devices? Will it make them less safe? More safe? It’s always hard to see where new regulation will go. Also, could it help us get revenge on that knock-off laptop adapter we bought that go hot it melted a section of carpet?

However, it does look like most warts will go from a mandated 50-ish percent efficiency to 85% and up. This is a pretty big change, and some hold-out manufacturers are going to have to switch gears to newer circuit designs if they want to keep up. We’re also interested to hear the thoughts of those of you outside of the US. Is the US finally catching up, or is this something new?

Gatling Gun Shoots Arrows Out of Coke Bottles

[JoergSprave] has done it again. His latest, most ridiculous weapon? A Gatling gun that fires crossbow bolts, using compressed air inside coke bottles — and an electric screwdriver.

For those of you not aware, [Joerg] is our favorite eccentric German maker, a purveyor of slingshots and all things ridiculous and weaponised. He runs the SlingShot Channel on YouTube, and has graced us with things like a slingshot cannon (firing 220lb balls!), a machete slingshot for the upcoming zombie apocalypse, and more.

Each coke bottle has a quick release pneumatic air valve, with a wooden lever attached to it to make opening the valve easier and quicker. The coke bottles are pressurized separately using an air compressor, but can also be filled using a bicycle pump — he got his hands on a pump capable of putting out 300 PSI! Word of safety though — you really don’t want to use coke bottles as pressure vessels — but [Joerge] is crazy so we’ll let it slide. Continue reading “Gatling Gun Shoots Arrows Out of Coke Bottles”

Frickin’ Amazing Clock

Wwood_clock_05e’ve featured a lot of clock builds, but this one, as the title suggests, is frickin’ amazing. Talented art student [Kango Suzuki] built this Wooden Mechanical Clock (Google translation from Japanese) as a project while on his way to major in product design. There’s a better translation at this link. And be sure to check out the video of it in motion below the break.

[Kango]’s design brief was to do something that is “easy for humans to do, but difficult for machines”. Writing longhand fits the bill, although building the machine wasn’t easy for a human either — he needed six months just to plan the project.

The clock writes time in hours and minutes on a magnetic board. After each minute, the escapement mechanism sets in motion almost 400 wooden cogs, gears and cams. The board is tilted first to erase the old numbers, and then the new numbers are written using four stylii.

The clock doesn’t have any micro controllers, Arduinos, servos or any other electronics. The whole mechanism is powered via gravity using a set of four weights. [Kango] says his biggest challenge was getting the mechanism to write the numbers simultaneously. While he managed the geometry right, the cumulative distortion and flex in the hundreds of wooden parts caused the numbers to be distorted until he tuned around the error.

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Embed with Elliot: Audio Playback with Direct Digital Synthesis

Direct-digital synthesis (DDS) is a sample-playback technique that is useful for adding a little bit of audio to your projects without additional hardware. Want your robot to say ouch when it bumps into a wall? Or to play a flute solo? Of course, you could just buy a cheap WAV playback shield or module and write all of the samples to an SD card. Then you wouldn’t have to know anything about how microcontrollers can produce pitched audio, and could just skip the rest of this column and get on with your life.

Harmonic distortion down ~45db on an Arduino
~45db signal to noise ratio from an Arduino

But that’s not the way we roll. We’re going to embed the audio data in the code, and play it back with absolutely minimal additional hardware. And we’ll also gain control of the process. If you want to play your samples faster or slower, or add a tremolo effect, you’re going to want to take things into your own hands. We’re going to show you how to take a single sample of data and play it back at any pitch you’d like. DDS, oversimplified, is a way to make these modifications in pitch possible even though you’re using a fixed-frequency clock.

The same techniques used here can turn your microcontroller into a cheap and cheerful function generator that’s good for under a hundred kilohertz using PWM, and much faster with a better analog output. Hackaday’s own [Bil Herd] has a nice video post about the hardware side of digital signal generation that makes a great companion to this one if you’d like to go that route. But we’ll be focusing here on audio, because it’s easier, hands-on, and fun.

Continue reading “Embed with Elliot: Audio Playback with Direct Digital Synthesis”

Swarm of Robot Boats Coming To An Ocean Near You Soon

Planning a hostile takeover of your local swimming pool? This might help: [Dr Anders Lyhne Christensen] sent us a note about his work at the BioMachines Lab of the Institute of Telecommunications in Portugal. They have been building a swarm of robot boats to experiment with autonomous swarms, with some excellent results.

In an autonomous swarm, each robot makes its own decisions and talks to its neighbors, and the combined behavior of the swarm produces an overall behavior, like ants in a nest. They’ve created swarms that can autonomously navigate, patrol an area or monitor the temperature in an area and return to base to report the results. In an excellent video, [Anders] outlines how they used computational evolution to create these behaviors, randomly mutating a neural net to find the best approach, which is then sent to the real boats.

Perhaps coolest of all: the whole project is open source, with the brains of each boat running on a Raspberry Pi, and a CNC milled foam hull with 3D printed component mounts. Each boat costs about 300 Euro (about $340), but you could reduce the cost a bit by salvaging components and once the less-expensive Pi Zero becomes obtainable. This project will no doubt be useful for many an evil genius who is sick of being splashed by the toughs at the local pool: a swarm of killer robots surrounding them would be an excellent way to keep them at bay.

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Cover Your Glass: A Lesson in Design Trades

Penn and Teller once had a show about “What is the best?” Engineers know that’s not a complete question. Think about a car. What makes the “best” car? It depends on why you want a car. For a race car driver, it might be that speed is the most important factor. A mom might value safety. Someone who commutes four hours a day might like a car that’s comfortable. A teenager wants something affordable.

If you think about it, though, it is even more complicated than that. For example, just about everyone wants a car that is safe. Reliability is pretty important, too. So the reality is, most people want a car that has multiple attributes. Worse still, they sometimes conflict; making one better will make some other ones worse. Mom wants a safe car, but not one that takes half a day to drive to the corner market. Nor does she want to pay a half million dollars for a safe car.

Continue reading “Cover Your Glass: A Lesson in Design Trades”