Hackaday Prize Entry: Simpsons Hands

The creators of this Hackaday Prize entry say every month a new 3D-printed prosthetic solution comes on the scene. That doesn’t mean they’re not doing something different with their entry; yes, they’re still building a prosthetic hand, but they’re putting their own spin on it. This one isn’t using a string/cable/tendon setup, and the hand doesn’t even have four fingers. [Giovanni] and [Jenny] are going their own way, and what they’ve come up with is pretty special.

The most obvious feature of this prosthetic hand is a missing digit – Simpsons Hands – but this makes a lot of sense if you think about it. It’s doubtful any 3D-printed prosthetic hand will play a piano or touch type in the near future, so a pinkie finger is an appendix; an unneeded vanity that just increases the BOM and makes things harder to fit together.

Apart from the Simpsons Hands, this prosthetic hand is more or less what you would expect. The circuitry is just an Adafruit ATmega board, the mechanism is just a few servos, and the mechanics are well designed in carbon fiber PLA. What makes this prosthetic hand special for the team is that it’s the first of its kind in their native Colombia. Even if there’s a new 3D-printed prosthetic hand on Thingiverse every few weeks, this project makes it a truly global effort, and a great entry for the Hackaday Prize.

The BITX Transceiver Comes Of Age

There was a time when the idea of building your own single-sideband transceiver was too daunting for all but the most hardcore of amateur radio constructors. After all the process of creating SSB is complex enough in itself without adding the extra complexity of a receiver and the associated switching circuitry.

In 2003 an Indian radio amateur, [Ashhar Farhan], [VU2ESE] changed all that. His BitX SSB transceiver used a bidirectional amplifier design and readily available components such that it could be built by almost anyone using dead bug construction techniques for an extremely reasonable price.

Over the years since [Ashhar] first published his circuit, his design has been taken and enhanced, been presented in kit form, and extended to other bands by multiple other radio amateurs. Until now though it seems as though he himself has taken very little advantage of his work.

It is therefore with great interest that we note a new 40-meter BitX transceiver on the market from a company founded by the man himself. The transceiver itself is an Indian-assembled PCB with an updated circuit using a 12 MHz IF, varicap tuning, and large surface-mount components for easy modification. Just as with the original circuit, there is a full technical run-down of its operation should you wish to build one yourself. For a rather impressive $45 though you might wish to put down the soldering iron, it looks very much worth the wait for international postage.

We don’t often feature commercial product launches here on Hackaday, though we are besieged by people trying to persuade us to do so. So why this one? When the creator of a design that has been as significant as the BitX has been to its community of builders releases a new version it is newsworthy in itself, and if they are commercializing their work then they deserve that reward.

We’ve featured the BitX here in the past, with a rather impressive dead-bug build, and a look at a multiband version. We’re sure that this design thread has more to deliver, and look forward to more.

Thanks [WB9FLW] for the tip.

Turning Broken Toy Into Laser Target Practice

[Mathieu] wrote in with his laser target practice game. It’s not the most amazing hack in the history of hackery, but it’s an excellent example of the type of simple and fun things you can do with just a little bit of microcontrollering.

Flasergun8irst off, the gun is a broken toy gun that used to shoot something other than red collimated light beams. The Arduino knockoff inside reacts to a trigger pull and fires the laser for around 200 milliseconds. The gun also has a “gas gauge” that fills up with repeated shots and cools down over time. And therein lies the game — a simple race to ten, where each player only has a fixed number of shots over time.

The targets are simply a light sensor, scorekeeping LED display, and a buzzer that builds tension by beeping at you as the countdown timer ticks down. The bodies are made out of 3D-printed corners that connect some of [Mathieu]’s excess wooden goat-cheese lids.

All the code is up on GitHub so you can make your own with stuff that you’ve got lying around the house. The “gun” can be anything that you can embed a laser in that makes it aimable. Good clean fun!

Germans React to UK’s micro:bit

Getting kids interested in programming is all the rage right now, and the UK is certainly taking pole position with its BBC micro:bit, just recently distributed to every seventh-grader in the land. Germany, proud of its education system and technological prowess, is caught playing catch-up. Until now.

The Calliope Mini (translated here) is essentially a micro:bit clone, but one that has learned from the experience of its spiritual forefather — the connection points are spread around the outside of the board where the crocodile clips won’t accidentally touch each other.

Not content to simply copy, the Calliope also adds additional functionality. A microphone and speaker are integrated onboard, as is a Grove-style I2C connector. They’ve even added a TI DRV8837 H-bridge motor driver, so students could make a rolling robot straight out of the box.

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Will the Real Schrodinger’s Cat Please Stand Up

The story of Schrodinger’s cat is well known, and one of quantum theory’s most popular phrases on the world stage. You can find his cat on t-shirts, bumper stickers, internet memes and the like. However, few know the origins of the cat, and how it came into being. I suspect many do not understand it beyond the “dead and alive at the same time” catchphrase as well. Not surprisingly, it was Einstein who was at the center of the idea behind Schrodinger’s cat. In a vibrant discussion between the two via letters across the Atlantic, Schrodinger echoed Einstein’s concerns with the following:

Contained in a steel chamber is a Geiger counter prepared with a tiny amount of uranium, so small that in the next hour it is just as probable to expect one atomic decay as none. An amplified relay provides that the first atomic decay shatters a small bottle of prussic acid. This and -cruelly- a cat is also trapped in the steel chamber. According to the wave function for the total system, after an hour, sit venia verbo [pardon my language], the living and dead cat are smeared out in equal measure.

This was the first mention of Schrodinger’s cat, and one would not be incorrect in stating that this paragraph from a letter was where the cat was born. However, the original idea behind the thought experiment was from Einstein and his loathing of the wording of the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) paper. He expressed his frustrations with Schrodinger with a few simple examples, who then catapulted it into his famous paradox . In this article we’re going to explore not so much the cat, but the meaning behind the thought experiment and what it is meant to convey, while keeping it simple enough for anyone to understand. So next time you see it on a t-shirt, you will be able to articulate the true meaning and know the real Schrodinger’s cat.

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Electromagnetic Pulse: Pure Hollywood?

Imagine you’re in charge of a major heist. Right as your crew is about to rob the main vault, you need all of the electronics in the building to fail at exactly the right moment with no other collateral damage (except, maybe, to your raggedy panel van). Obviously you will turn to one of the entertainment industry’s tired tropes, the electromagnetic pulse! The only problem is that if you were to use a real one rather than a Hollywood prop either there would be practically no effect, a large crater where the vault used to be, or most of humanity would be in deep trouble. After all, the real world isn’t quite as convenient as the movies make it seem.

emp-electromagnetic-pulse-jra-1cg_wq4mp4-shot0001Our curiosity into this phenomenon was piqued when we featured an “EMP generator” from [FPS Weapons]. The device doesn’t create an enrapturing movie-esque EMP pulse suitable for taking down a casino or two, but it does spew a healthy amount of broadband electromagnetic interference (EMI) in every direction. It probably also doesn’t send the EMI very far; as we’ve seen in many other projects, it’s hard to transfer energy through the air. It got us wondering, though: what is the difference between being annoying and creating a weapon? And, is there any practical use for a device like this?

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What’s The Deal With Atmel And Microchip?

It’s been nearly a year since Microchip acquired Atmel for $3.56 Billion. As with any merger, acquisition, or buyout, there has been concern and speculation over what will become of the Atmel catalog, the Microchip catalog, and Microchip’s strategy for the coming years.

For the Hackaday audience, this is a far more important issue than Intel’s acquisition of Altera, On Semi and Fairchild, and even Avago’s purchase of Broadcom in the largest semiconductor deal in history. The reason Microchip’s acquisition of Atmel is such an important issue is simply due to the fact the Hackaday community uses a lot of their parts. This was a holy war, and even changing the name of a line of chips to ‘MCMega’ would result in a consumer rebellion, or at least a lot of very annoying tweets.

For the record, I’ve tried my best to figure out what’s going on with Microchip’s acquisition of Atmel for the last few months. I’ve talked to a few Microchip reps, a few Atmel reps, and talked to a few ‘out of band’ connections – people who should know what’s going on but aren’t directly tied to either Atmel or Microchip. The best I’ve come up with is a strange silence. From my perspective, it seems like something is going on, but no one is saying anything.

Take the following with several grains of salt, but Microchip recently got in touch with me regarding their strategy following their Atmel acquisition. In a few thousand words, they outlined what’s going on in casa Microchip, and what will happen to the Atmel portfolio in the future.

Broad Strokes

In broad strokes, the Microchip PR team wanted to emphasize a few of the plans regarding their cores, software, and how Microchip parts are made obsolete. In simple, bullet point terms, this is what Microchip passed on to me, to pass on to you:

  • Microchip will continue their philosophy of customer-driven obsolescence. This has historically been true – Microchip does not EOL parts lightly, and the state of the art from 1995 is still, somewhere, in their catalog.
  • We plan to support both Atmel Studio 7 and MPLAB® X for the foreseeable future.
  • Microchip has never focused on “one core”, but rather on the whole solution providing “one platform.” This is also true. A year ago, Microchip had the MIPS-based PIC-32 cores, a few older PIC cores, and recently Microchip has released a few ARM cores. Atmel, likewise, has the family tree of 8 and 32-bit AVR cores and the ARM-based SAM cores.
  • We will continue to support and invest in growing our 8-bit PIC® and AVR MCU product families.

Specifics

In addition to the broad strokes outlined above, Microchip also sent along a few questions and answers from Ganesh Moorthy, Microchip’s President and COO. These statements dig a little bit deeper into what’s in store for the Microchip and Atmel portfolios:

How will the 32-bit products complement each other? Atmel has a few 32-bit microcontrollers, like the SAM and AT32 series. Microchip has the PIC-32. The answer to this question is, “Many of the 32-bit MCU products are largely complementary because of their different strengths and focus.  For example, the SAM series has specific families targeting lower power consumption and 5 volts where PIC32 has families more optimally suited for audio and graphics solutions. We plan to continue investing in both SAM and PIC32 families of products.

Will Atmel’s START support 8-bit AVRs? “Yes, although it is too early to commit to any specific dates at this stage, we consider modern rapid prototyping tools, such as START and the MPLAB Code Configurator, strategic for the our customers to deliver innovative and competitive solutions in this fast-paced industry.”

Now that Microchip has a complete portfolio of low-power, inexpensive 32-bit microcontrollers, will the focus on 8-bit product be inevitably reduced? No, we see that in actual embedded control applications there is still a large demand for the type of qualities that are uniquely provided by an 8-bit product such as: ease-of-use, 5V operation, robustness, noise immunity, real-time performance, long endurance, integration of analog and digital peripherals, extremely low-static power consumption and more. We don’t think that the number of bits is an appropriate / sufficient way to classify a complex product such as the modern microcontroller. We believe that having the right peripherals is actually what matters most.”

Security, Memories, WiFi, and Analog products. For both Atmel and Microchip, the most visible products in each of their portfolios is the lineup of microcontrollers. This isn’t the limit of their portfolios, though: Atmel has space-grade memories, Microchip has some very useful networking chips, and both companies have a number of security and crypto chips. In the statements given by Moorthy, very little will change. The reason for this is the relative lack of overlap in these devices. Even in segments where there is significant overlap, no EOLs are planned, circling back to the, “philosophy of customer-driven obsolescence.” In other words, if people keep buying it, it’s not going away.

The Takeaway

What is the future of Microchip post-Atmel acquisition? From what I’m seeing, not much. Microchip is falling back on their philosophy of ‘customer-driven obsolescence’. What does that mean? Any non-biased assessment of Microchip’s EOL policy is extremely generous. The chip found in the Basic Stamp 1, from 1993, is still available. It’s not recommended for new designs, but you can still buy it. That’s impressive any way you look at it.

The one thing we’re not getting out of this pseudo press release is information about what Atmel will be called in a few years. Will the Atmel mark be subsumed by a gigantic letter ‘M’? Will the company retain two different trademarks? There is no public information about this.

Yes, I know this post is a nearly verbatim copy of a pseudo press release. I’m not particularly happy this information was presented to me this way, but then again, the Atmel/Microchip ecosystem has been impressively secretive. This is the only information that exists, though, and I’m glad to have it in any event.

That said, there are a lot of people in the Hackaday community that want to know what the deal is with Microchip and Atmel. Short of pulling Jerry Seinfeld out of retirement, this is the best we’re going to get for now. Of course, if you have any info or speculation, the comments below are wide open.