Hackaday Prize Entry: MyComm Handheld Satellite Messenger

We live in a connected world, but that world ends not far beyond the outermost cell phone tower. [John Grant] wants to be connected everywhere, even in regions where no mobile network is available, so he is building a solar powered, handheld satellite messenger: The MyComm – his entry for the Hackaday Prize.

The MyComm is a handheld touch-screen device, much like a smartphone, that connects to the Iridium satellite network to send and receive text messages. At the heart of his build, [John] uses a RockBLOCK Mk2 Iridium SatComm Module hooked up to a Teensy 3.1. The firmware is built upon a FreeRTOS port for proper task management. Project contributor [Jack] crafted an intuitive GUI that includes an on-screen keyboard to write, send and receive messages. A micro SD card stores all messages and contact list entries. Eventually, the system will be equipped with a solar cell, charging regulator and LiPo battery for worldwide, unconditional connectivity.

2016 will be an interesting year for the Iridium network since the first satellites for the improved (and backward-compatible) “Iridium NEXT” network are expected to launch soon. At times the 66 Iridium satellites currently covering the entire globe were considered a $5B heap of space junk due to deficiencies in reliability and security. Yet, it’s still there, with maker-friendly modems being available at $250 and pay-per-use rates of about 7 ct/kB (free downstream for SDR-Hackers). Enjoy the video of [Jack] explaining the MyComm user interface:

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Bright Idea for a Name Tag

Looking for a quick DIY project to separate yourself from the crowd at your next business function or maker expo? Take a leaf out of [Pete Prodoehl’s] book and make your own name tag complete with blinking LED!

Minimalist, yet flashy (sorry!), this quick project can be completed inside a few hours with few resources, and is a great way to display your DIY handiwork. Continue reading “Bright Idea for a Name Tag”

Automating 3D Printers With Robots

3D printers were never meant to be used for production. They’re not manufacturing machines, they’re prototyping machines. That doesn’t mean 3D printers can’t be used in a manufacturing context, it’s just very hard – you’d need someone manning a fleet of machines, or some sort of ‘automated build platform’ that won’t be invented for exactly fourteen years.

In the absence of someone paid to watch printers print, [Mark], [Robert], and [James] at tend.ai have created a way to manage a fleet of printers with a robot arm. It’s a robotic arm that automatically monitors the LCD on a rack full of 3D printers, plucks the finished prints off the bed, drops the parts in a box, and starts another print.

Tend.ai is in the business of cloud robotics, and have designed a system that takes any robotic arm, any webcam, and provides the backend for this robotic arm to – wait for it – tend to other machines. As a demo, it works well. Parts are picked up off of the machines, dropped into boxes, and another print run started.

As a tech demo for a cloud robotics platform, you can’t do much better than this. As a way to automate a fleet of 3D printers, I can only wonder how this robot arm system would work with large, flat printed parts. A robotic gripper could always be replaced with a spatula, I guess.

You can check out the demo and the ‘how they did it’ video below.

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Removing DRM From Aaron Swartz’s eBook

After his death, Aaron Swartz became one of the Internet’s most famous defenders of the free exchange of information, one of the most polarizing figures on the topic of intellectual property, and the most famous person that still held on to the ideals the Internet was founded on. Aaron was against DRM, fought for the users, and encouraged open access to information.

Early this year, Verso Books published the collected writings of Aaron Swartz. This eBook, according to Verso, contains ‘social DRM’, a watermarking technology that Verso estimates will, “contribute £200,000 to the publisher’s revenue in its first year.” This watermarking technology embeds uniquely identifiable personal information into individual copies of eBooks.

With a heavy sigh, you realize you do not live in the best of all possible worlds.

The Institute for Biblio-Immunology had a similar reaction to Verso Books’ watermarking technology applied to the collected writings of Aaron Swartz. In a communique released late last weekend, they cracked this watermarking scheme and released the code to remove this ‘social DRM’ from ePub files.

The watermarking technology in Aaron Swartz’s eBook comes courtesy of BooXtream, a security solution where every eBook sold is unique using advanced watermarking and personalization features. “A publication that has been BooXtreamed can be traced back to the shop and even the individual customer,” the BooXtream website claims, and stands in complete opposition to all of Aaron Swartz’s beliefs.

After analyzing several digital copies of Aaron Swartz’s eBook, the Institute for Biblio-Immunology is confident they have a tool that removes BooXtrem’s watermarks in EPUB eBooks. Several watermarks were found, including the very visible – Ex Libris images, disclaimer page watermarks, and footer watermarks – and the very hidden, including image metadata, filename watermarks, and timestamp fingerprints.

While the Institute believes this tool can be used to de-BooXtream all currently available ‘social DRM’ed’ eBooks, they do expect the watermarking techniques will be quickly modified. This communique from the Institute of Biblio-Immunology merely provides the background of what BooXtream does, not the prescription for the disease of ‘social DRM’. These techniques can be applied to further social DRM’ed eBooks, which, we think, is what Aaron would have done.

PinJig Soldering Clamp has Pins Seized by Airport Security

There’s an old adage that when performing a live demo, previously working hacks will mysteriously go awry. In this case, the hardware demo was doomed before it ever arrived at the conference.

PinJig is an interesting take on though-hole soldering. As its name indicates, it’s a jig which holds through-hole components in place as the board is flipped on its side (or even upside down). This is accomplished by 2000 steel pins which are locked in place after being nestled around all of the board’s components. Unfortunately, carrying this prototype onto an international flight didn’t work out. [Niall Barrett] told us that on his way from Ireland to Bay Area Maker Faire he was required to ditch the 3-inch steel pins that make up the jig, or not get on the plane.

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Taking Killer Robots Seriously

Killer robots are a mainstay of science fiction. But unlike teleportation and flying cars, they are something that we are likely to see within our lifetime. The only thing that’s stopping countries like the USA, South Korea, the UK, or France from deploying autonomous killing machine in the very near term is that they’re likely to be illegal under current international humanitarian law (IHL) — the rules of war.

But if you just sighed in relief that the fate of humanity is safe, think again. The reason that autonomous killing machines are illegal is essentially a technicality, and worse, it’s a technicality that’s based on the current state of technology. The short version of the story, as it stands right now, is that the only thing making autonomous robotic killing weapons illegal is that it’s difficult for a robot to tell a friend from an enemy. When technology catches up with human judgement, all bets are off.

Think I’m insane? The United Nations Office at Geneva (UNOG), the folks who bring you the rules of warfare, started up a working group on killer robots three years ago, and the report from their 2016 meeting just came out. Now’s as good a time as any to start taking killer robots seriously.

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Ghostbuster Proton Pack Made from Everything

[John Fin] put a lot of work into his Ghostbuster’s proton pack prop with full-featured user control and effects. What appealed to us well beyond the exquisite build is the extra effort taken to write down the whole process in a PDF for anyone wishing to imitate him.

Mr. Fusion is just a Krups Coffee Grinder. Also, Santa isn't real.
Mr. Fusion is just a Krups Coffee Grinder. Also, Santa isn’t real.

We all know that a lot of famous props are creatively rearranged household items. The famous Mr. Fusion from Back to The Future is actually a Krups coffee grinder with some logos adhered.

[John]’s prop is no different. The cyclotron is a five gallon bucket. A garlic powder container fills another function. As you look at it more and more items can be picked out. Is that a spark plug wire? The handles on that are suspiciously similar to a power tool case’s. It all comes together, and while it’s not screen accurate you’d have to be an extreme prop fanatic to tell.

Naturally, the core of [John]’s prop is an Arduino. It stores the sound files on a SD Card shield. It controls all the lights sounds and motors on the prop. This isn’t quite a point and shoot. You must toggle on the power, generator, and arming mechanisms before actually firing. If you do it out of order, the electronics will issue an alarm as warning, and each step in the process has its own unique audio and animated lighting.

Since the Proton Pack went so well, he also built a PKE meter and Ghost Trap to go along with his backpack. He’s ready to take on Vigo at anytime. You can see a video of his prop in action after the break.

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