Hackaday Prize Entry: You Have No Free Will

The concept of free will is the perfect example of human arrogance ever conceived. If a gas molecule collides with another gas molecule, simple physics can determine the momentum of the first gas molecule, the kinetic energy imparted to the second gas molecule, and the resulting trajectories of both molecule. Chemical reactions are likewise easy to calculate. Scale a system up to something the size of a human brain, and you have a perfectly predictable system. It’s complex, yes, but predetermined since the beginning of time. You are without moral agency, or any independent thought of your own. You are merely a passive observer in a vast, cold, uncaring universe. You are cursed with the awareness of this fact.

For his Hackaday Prize project, [Patrick Glover] is proving we don’t have free will. Will he win the Hackaday Prize? That’s up for the cold machinations of fate to decide.

In the 1980s, psychologist [Benjamin Libet] performed an experiment. He connected an EEG to a subject’s arm and head, and asked them to flex their wrist whenever they felt like it. It turns out, an area of your brain generates an EEG potential a significant time before the subject is aware of deciding to flex their wrist. This is a foundational study in the physiology of consciousness, and direct evidence an IRB is okay with giving subjects an existential crisis.

[Patrick] is in the process of replicating the [Libet] study. Unlike the 1980s experiment, [Patrick] has access to handy Arduino shields and MATLAB, making the experimental setup very easy. The results, of course, will be the subject of philosophical debates continuing until the heat death of the universe, but we already knew that, didn’t we?

Check out the comments below for objectors predictably saying they do, in fact, have free will.

NFL to Experiment with Chipped Balls

NFL preseason starts in just a few weeks. This year, it will come with a bit of a technological upgrade. The league plans to experiment with custom microchip-equipped footballs. Unfortunately, this move has nothing to do with policing under-inflation — the idea is to verify through hard data that a narrower set of goal posts would mean fewer successful kicking plays.

Why? Kicking plays across the league have been more accurate than ever in the last couple of seasons, and the NFL would like things to be a bit more competitive. Just last year, extra point kicks were moved back from the 20 to the 33-yard line. Kickers already use brand-new balls that are harder and more slippery than the field balls, so narrowing the goal from the standard 18’6″ width is the natural next step. A corresponding pair of sensors in the uprights will reveal exactly how close the ball is when it passes between them.

The chips will only be in K-balls, and only in those kicked during the 2016 preseason. If all goes well, the league may continue their use in Thursday night games this season. We couldn’t find any detail on these custom-made chips, but assume that it’s some kind of transmitter/receiver pair. Let the speculation begin.

Main image: Field goal attempt during the Fog Bowl via Sports Illustrated

[via Gizmodo]

Arduino Absentmindedly Blows Bubbles

If you ever wanted to make an occasion festive with bubbles, [Sandeep_UNO] may have the project for you. As you can see in the video below (and, yes, it should have the phone rotated and it doesn’t), his Arduino uses a servo motor to dip a bubble wand into soap solution and then pulls it in front of a fan. The entire operation repeats over and over again.

There’s not a lot of detail and no code that we could find, but honestly, if you know how to drive a servo motor from an Arduino, the rest is pretty easy to figure out. Look closely at the motion of the robot. What is often accomplished with a spinning wheel of bubble wands and a constant fan becomes much more interesting when applied intermittently. The lazy cadence is what you expect to see from human operation and that adds something to the effect.

We’ve seen faster bubble blowers, but they were not so simple. We’ve even looked at other bubble-blowing robots. If you want to find out more about servo motors in general, our own [Richard Bauguley] has what you need to know.

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Modest Motor Has Revolutionary Applications

Satellites make many of our everyday activities possible, and the technology continues to improve by leaps and bounds. A prototype, recently completed by [Arda Tüysüz]’s team at ETH Zürich’s Power Electronics Systems Lab in collaboration with its Celeroton spinoff, aims to improve satellite attitude positioning with a high speed, magnetically levitated motor.

Beginning as a doctoral thesis work led by [Tüysüz], the motor builds on existing technologies, but has been arranged into a new application — with great effect. Currently, the maneuvering motors on board satellites are operated at a low rpm to reduce wear, must be sealed in a low-nitrogen environment to prevent rusting of the components, and the microvibrations induced by the ball-bearings in the motors reduces the positioning accuracy. With one felling swoop, this new prototype motor overcomes all of those problems.

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Hacklet 118 – Infrared and Universal Remote Controls

The first remote control for a TV was the Zenith Space Command back in the 1950’s. Space Command used sounds at ultrasonic frequencies to control the set. It wasn’t until the 1980’s and the Viewstar cable box that infrared entered the picture. Remote controls spread like wildfire. It wasn’t long before every piece of consumer electronics had one. Coffee tables were littered with the devices. It didn’t take long for universal remotes to hit the scene. [Woz] himself worked on the CL9 Core device, back in 1987. Even in today’s world of smart TV’s and the internet of things, universal remotes are still a big item. Hackers, makers, and engineers are always trying to build a device that works better for them. This week’s Hacklet is about some of the best universal and IR remote projects on Hackaday.io!

smoteWe start with [Harikrishna] and zmote. Zmote is an open source WiFi enabled, infrared,  360° remote control. That’s a mouthful. It might be easier to say it’s an ESP8266 and some IR LEDs. An ESP-01 module connects the device to WiFi and provides the 32-bit processor which runs the show. Learning functionality comes courtesy of a TSOP1738 modulated infrared receiver. The beauty of the Zmote is in the software. REST and MQTT connectivity are available. Everything is MIT licensed, and all the code is available on Github.



Next up is [Benjamin Kenobi] with TV Remote Control, Limited. Not everyone can operate the tiny buttons on a modern remote. [Benjamin] built this device for Easton, a special kid with a disability that impairs his motor skills. The 3D printed case holds two buttons – one for power, and one to change the channel. An Arduino Nano running [Ken Shirriff’s] IR library is the brains of the operation. The IR signal timing is hard coded for simplicity. One problem [Ben] ran into was the Nano’s high current draw, even in sleep mode. Batteries wouldn’t last a week. A simple diode circuit with a reed relay keeps the Nano shut down until Easton presses a button.


openirNext we have [Nevyn] with OpenIR – Infrared Remote Control. A dead DSLR remote shutter release was all the motivation [Nevyn] needed to start work on his own universal remote control. OpenIR can be connected to (and controlled by) just about anything with a UART – a PC via an FTDI cable, a Bluetooth module, even an ESP8266. The module can be programmed by entering pulse length data through a custom Windows application. The Windows app even allows the user to view the pulses graphically, like a scope. The data is stored on an EEPROM on OpenIR’s PCB. Once programmed, the OpenIR board is ready to control the world.

onebuttonFinally, we have [facelessloser] with One button TV remote. This project may be the simplest open source remote control this side of TV-B-GONE. He wanted to build a simple remote control for his young daughter to scan between the various kids channels. A simple toggle switch turns the device on, and one button performs the rest of the magic. [Facelessloser] wanted to “move up” from an Arduino to an ATtiny85. This project became part of his ATtiny education. A custom PCB from OSH Park ties things together. A simple black project box keeps the electronics safe from tiny fingers – at least until she’s old enough to use a screwdriver.

If you want to see more IR and universal remote projects, check out our new infrared and universal remote projects list. See a project I might have missed? 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!

Unusual 72-Bulb Display Mechanism Found in Vintage Clock

It’s hard to beat a vintage clock for something that you can hack, and that your significant other might actually let you display in your home. It’s practical and it’s art all at the same time! But, finding that perfect vintage clock for restoration can be a bit tricky. A crowd favorite is to choose something with intricate mechanisms and gears — the motion of a mechanical display is just so fascinating.


[Gavin] managed to find a clock that is every bit as interesting without any moving parts. The clock uses a unique system of bulbs and screen masks to project each digit of the time onto glass, which creates a pretty cool look you’re not likely to see on other devices. As cheap as LCD and 7-segment displays are these days, it’s hard to imagine a time when an intricate solution like this — using 72 light bulbs — was considered practical.

Of course, what isn’t practical is replacing 72 incandescent bulbs, just to have them start the process of burning out all over again. [Gavin’s] solution to this problem was to replace the incandescent bulbs with LEDs. After getting the color temperature right (to replicate the vintage warm glow), he was able to use a jig system to get the LEDs positioned correctly to project the digits properly.

This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve seen a unique clock design, but there is something intriguing about seeing a design like this that never quite caught on. It’s a little bit of technological history that even your significant other will think is cool.

4-Bit Audio Output Via Voltage Reference

[Bruce Land] switched his microprocessor programming class over from Atmel parts to Microchip’s PIC32 series, and that means that he’s got a slightly different set of peripherals to play with. One thing that both chips lack, however is a digital-to-analog converter (DAC). Or do they? (Dun-dun-dun-duuuuhnnnn!)

The PIC part has a programmable, sixteen-level voltage reference. And what is a Vref if not a calibrated DAC? With that in mind, [Bruce] took to documenting its performance and starting to push it far beyond the manufacturer’s intentions. Turns out that the Vref has around 200 kHz of bandwidth. (Who would update a voltage reference 200,000 times per second?)

Anyway, [Bruce] being [Bruce], he noticed that the bits weren’t changing very often in anything more than the least significant bit: audio waveforms, sampled fast enough, are fairly continuous. This suggests using a differential PCM encoding, which knocks the bitrate down by 50% and saves a lot on storage. (Links to all the code for this experiment is inline with his writeup.)

The audio hacks that come out of [Bruce]’s Cornell ECE classes are always a treat. From the lock that you have to sing to open, to chiptunes programmed into an FPGA, there’s something for music fans of all inclinations.