Hackaday Prize Entry: A Cheap Robotic Microscope

The microscope is one of the most useful instruments for the biological sciences, but they are expensive. Lucky for us, a factory in China can turn out webcams and plastic lenses and sell them for pennies. That’s the idea behind Flypi – a cheap microscope for scientific experiments and diagnostics that’s based on the ever-popular Raspberry Pi.

Flypi is designed to be a simple scientific tool and educational device. With that comes the challenges of being very cheap and very capable. It’s based around a Raspberry Pi and the Pi camera, with the relevant software for taking snapshots, recording movies, and controlling a few different modules that extend the capabilities of this machine. These modules include a Peltier element to heat or cool the sample, a temperature sensor, RGB LED, LED ring, LED matrix, and a special blue LED for activating fluorescent molecules in a sample.

The brains behind the Flypi, [Andre Chagas], designed the Flypi to be cheap. He’s certainly managed that with a frame that is mostly 3D printed, and some surprisingly inexpensive electronics. Already the Flypi is doing real science, including tracking bugs wandering around a petri dish and fluorescence microscopy of a zebrafish’s heart. Not bad for a relatively simple tool, and a great entry for the Hackaday Prize.

Mergers and Acquisitions: Analog and Linear

Analog Devices and Linear Technology have announced today they will combine forces to create a semiconductor company worth $30 Billion.

This news follows the very recent acquisition of ARM Holdings by Japan’s SoftBank, and the later mergers, purchases or acquisitions of On and Fairchild, Avago and Broadcom, NXP and Freescale, and Microchip and AtmelIntel and Altera, and a few more we’re forgetting at the moment.

Both Analog and Linear address similar markets; Analog Devices is best known for amps, interface, and power management ICs. Linear, likewise, isn’t known for ‘fun’ devices, but without their products the ‘fun’ components wouldn’t work. Because the product lines are so complimentary, the resulting company will stand to save $150 Million annually after the deal closes.

Analog and Linear are only the latest in a long line of semiconductor mergers and acquisitions, but it will certainly not be the last. The entire industry is consolidating, and the only way to grow is by teaming up with other companies. This leads the question if there will eventually only be one gigantic semiconductor company in the future. You’ll get different answers to that question from different people. Hughes, Fairchild, Convair, Douglas, McDonnell Douglas, North American, Grumman, Northrop, Northrop Grumman, Bell, Cessna, Schweizer and Sikorsky would say yes. Lockheed Martin and Boeing would say no. It’s the same thing.

Pressure-formed Parabolic Mirror from a Mylar Blanket

Parabolic reflectors are pretty handy devices. Whether you’re building a microwave antenna or a long-distance directional microphone, suitable commercial dishes aren’t that hard to come by. But a big, shiny mirror for your solar death-ray needs is another matter, which is where this pressure-formed space blanket mirror might come in handy.

Pressure-forming was a great choice for [NighthawkInLight]’s mirror. We’ve covered pressure-formed plastic domes before, and this process is similar. A sheet of PVC with a recessed air fitting forms the platen. The metallized Mylar space blanket, stretched across a wooden frame to pull out the wrinkles and folds, is applied to a circle of epoxy on the platen. After curing, a few puffs with a bicycle tire pump forms the curve and stretches the film even smoother. [NighthawkInLight]’s first attempt at supporting the film with spray foam insulation was a bust, but the later attempt with fiberglass mesh worked great. A little edge support for the resulting shiny taco shell and the mirror was capable of the required degree of destructive potential.

We doubt this process can be optimized enough to produce astronomy-grade mirrors for visible light, but it still has a lot of potential applications. Maybe a fiberglass radio astronomy dish could be pressure-formed directly with a rig like this?

Ugly DIY Portable Soldering Iron

If you’ve ever wanted a battery-operated soldering iron and you just can’t stand the thought of buying one, you might check out the video below from [Just5mins]. In it, he takes a candy tube, some scrap materials, a lithium ion battery, a nichrome wire, a USB charger, and a switch and turns it into an apparently practical soldering iron.

Paradoxically, [Just5mins] used a soldering iron to build this one, so it probably can’t be your only soldering iron, although we suppose you could figure something out in a pinch. Maybe in rep-rap style, make a poor quality one with no soldering and use it to solder up the next one.

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Pokemon Go – Bot Edition

A wild Python appeared, and it wants to play Pokemon Go. Python bots are taking over the game when you can’t, and they are good. Since you’re likely to bump into one sooner or later, here’s an overview:

One of the first workable bots and the origin of a lot of (dirty) code, as well as the (not dirty at all) Pokemon Trainer Club client secret, is [Mila432’s] Pokemon Go Bot. One of his initial goals was to make better sense of the API, which worked out better than he hoped.

Not wanting to impetuously destroy the numerous helpful applications that had been built upon the already partially known API, he decided to keep the project off Niantic’s radar. The most recent (and most powerful) version of his bot has not been released. The current version works fine within its limited functionality: Wandering around and looting Pokestops.

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Editor Wars

As a rule, I try hard not to get sucked into religious wars. You know, Coke vs Pepsi. C++ vs Java. Chrome vs Firefox. There are two I can’t help but jump into: PC vs Mac (although, now that Mac has turned into Unix, that’s almost more habit than anything else) and–the big one–Emacs vs vi.

If you use Linux, Unix, or anything similar, you are probably at least aware of the violence surrounding this argument. Windows users aren’t immune, although fewer of them know the details. If you aren’t familiar with these two programs, they are–in a way–text editors. However, that’s like calling a shopping mall “a store.” Technically, that’s correct, but the connotation is all wrong.

Like most religious wars, this one is partly based on history that might not be as relevant as it used to be. Full disclosure: I’m firmly in the Emacs camp. Many of my friends are fans of vi–I try not to hold it against them. I’ll try to be balanced and fair in my discussion, unless I’m talking about my preference. I don’t have to be fair when it comes to my opinions. Just to be clear: I know how to use vi. My preference isn’t based out of not wanting to learn something new.

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We Declare The Grandmaster Of Pokemon Go GPS Cheats

Since Pokemon Go blew up the world a couple of weeks ago we’ve been trying to catch ’em all. Not the Pokemon; we’ve been trying to collect all the hardware hacks, and in particular the most complete GPS spoofing hack. We are now ready to declare the first Grandmaster GPS spoofing hack for Pokemon Go. It broadcasts fake GPS signals to your phone allowing the player to “walk around” the real world using a gaming joystick.

Just about everything about this looks right to us. They’re transmitting radio signals and are doing the responsible thing by using an RF shield box that includes a GPS antenna. Hardware setup means popping the phone inside and hooking up the signal generator and GPS evaluation hardware. Google Earth then becomes the navigation interface — a joystick allows for live player movements, coordinates are converted to GPS signals which are transmitted inside of the box.

Now, we did say “just about right”. First off, that RF shielding box isn’t going to stop your fake GPS signals when you leave the lid open (done so they can get at the phone’s touchscreen). That can probably be forgiven for the prototype version, but it’s that accelerometer data that is a bigger question mark.

When we looked at the previous SDR-based RF spoofing and the Xcode GPS cheats for Pokemon Go there were a number of people leaving comments that Niantic, the devs responsible for Pokemon Go, will eventually realize you’re cheating because accelerometer data doesn’t match up to the amount of GPS movement going on. What do you think? Is this app sophisticated enough to pick up on this type of RF hacking?

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