Optogenetics for 100 Euros

Larval zebrafish, Drosophila (fruit fly), and Caenorhabditis elegans (roundworm) have become key model organisms in modern neuroscience due to their low maintenance costs and easy sharing of genetic strains across labs. However, the purchase of a commercial solution for experiments using these organisms can be quite costly. Enter FlyPi: a low-cost and modular open-source alternative to commercially available options for optogenetic experimentation.

One of the things that larval zebrafish, fruit flies, and roundworms have in common is that scientists can monitor them individually or in groups in a behavioural arena while controlling the activity of select neurons using optogenetic (light-based) or thermogenetic (heat-based) tools.

FlyPi is based on a 3D-printed mainframe, a Raspberry Pi computer, and a high-definition camera system supplemented by Arduino-based optical and thermal control circuits. FlyPi features optional modules for LED-based fluorescence microscopy and optogenetic stimulation as well as a Peltier-based temperature simulator for thermogenetics. The complete version with all modules costs approximately €200 with a layman’s purchasing habits, but for those of us who live on the dark side of eBay or the depths of Taobao, it shouldn’t cost more than €100.

Once assembled, all of the functions of FlyPi can be controlled through a graphical user interface. As an example for how FlyPi can be used, the authors of the paper document its use in a series of “state-of-the-art neurogenetics experiments”, so go check out the recently published open access paper on PLOS. Everything considered the authors hope that the low cost and modular nature, as well as the fully open design of FlyPi, will make it a widely used tool in a range of applications, from the classroom all the way to research labs. Need more lab equipment hacks? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. And while you’re at it, why not take a spin with the RWXBioFuge.

DIY Wind Turbine for Free Energy

With electricity cost going up and the likes of British Gas hiking up their price, everyone could use a bit of free energy. There are a number of ways to harvest renewable energy including solar and wind, however, the cost of setting up a wind farm can be quite high. [Mr Tickles] has uploaded a video where he has a cheaper DIY method of making a DIY wind turbine.

His project uses a commercial ceiling fan as a turbine for converting the wind energy into electricity. PVC pipes are used to mount the entire thing such that it becomes portable. A cardboard fin is used to make the propeller face the wind but there are plans to upgrade it in the future. [Mr Tickles] demonstrates his project by lighting up a lamp and then charging a cell phone.

For the price, this hack is pretty neat and can be extended to work with larger fans. For those who are looking at an even simpler version of this build, check out the most straightforward wind turbine.

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Under the Hood of AMD’s Threadripper

Although AMD has been losing market share to Intel over the past decade, they’ve recently started to pick up steam again in the great battle for desktop processor superiority. A large part of this surge comes in the high-end, multi-core processor arena, where it seems like AMD’s threadripper is clearly superior to Intel’s competition. Thanks to overclocking expert [der8auer] we can finally see what’s going on inside of this huge chunk of silicon.

The elephant in the room is the number of dies on this chip. It has a massive footprint to accommodate all four dies, each with eight cores. However, it seems as though two of the cores are deactivated due to a combination of manufacturing processes and thermal issues. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, either, or a reason not to use this processor if you need to utilize a huge number of cores, though; it seems as though AMD found it could use existing manufacturing techniques to save on the cost of production, while still making a competitive product.

Additionally, a larger die size than required opens the door for potentially activating the two currently disabled chips in the future. This could be the thing that brings AMD back into competition with Intel, although both companies still maintain the horrible practice of crippling their chips’ security from the start.

The Amazon Echo As A Listening Device

It is an inevitability that following swiftly on the heels of the release of a new device there will be an announcement of its rooting, reverse engineering, or other revealing of its hackability. Now the device in question is the Amazon Echo, as MWR Labs announce their work in persuading an Echo to yield the live audio from the microphone and turn the voice assistant device into a covert listening device.

The work hinges on a previous discovery and reverse engineering (PDF) of Amazon’s debug connector on the base of the Echo, which exposes both an SD card interface and a serial terminal. Following that work, they were able to gain root access to the device, analyze the structure of the audio buffers and how the different Echo processes use them, and run Amazon’s own “shmbuf_tool” application to pipe raw audio data to a network stream. Astoundingly this could be done without compromising the normal operation of the device.

It should be stressed, that this is an exploit that requires physical access to the device and a bit of knowledge to perform. But it’s not inconceivable that it could be made into a near-automated process requiring only a device with a set of pogo pins to be mated with an Echo that has had its cover quickly removed.

That said, inevitably there will be enough unused Echos floating around before too long that their rootability will make them useful to people in our community. We look forward to what interesting projects people come up with using rooted Echos.

This isn’t the first time we’ve covered the use of an Echo as a listening device.

Via Hacker News.

Amazon Echo image: FASTILY [CC BY-SA 4.0].

Superconference Interview: SpriteTM

SpriteTM, or [Jeroen Domburg], has a bit of a following around these parts. He’s installed Linux on a hard drive the hard way. He can play Snake on his keyboard. He’s cared for several generations of Tamagotchis. In short, there are very few people who have both the technical ability and sense of humor to pull off what [Sprite] does.

At last year’s Supercon, we pulled Sprite aside to talk about his work and his latest hack, the tiniest Game Boy ever. He talked about his Supercon keynote, and how to hack the crypto challenge in last year’s Superconference badge in an hour without solving any of the puzzles. Now, we’re happy to present that interview today, available below.

While we very much doubt many people could — or would — take four conference badges and rick roll the entire Superconference for the badge hacking session, we’re still looking for eager and capable presenters. The Call for Proposals is now open for the 2017 Hackaday Superconference. If you have a story of hardware heroics, creativity in CPLDs, a passion for prototyping, or an ambition for technological art, we want you to share your story. Even if you don’t, that’s fine, too: tickets are still available for the Superconference in Pasadena, California on November 11th and 12th.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Pi-Driven Google Glass

[Ricardo Ferro] didn’t want to buy a Google Glass, so he made his own.

The Raspberry Pi Zero Prism consists of a 3D-printed headset the side-pieces of which hold a variety of electronic components, including a Pi Zero running Raspbian Jessie, a Pi Noir IR camera, a WiFi/Bluetooth module and a whole mess of SMD tactile push buttons. Video output is provided by a Kopin 922K display module. This module is usually used in smart goggles and uses a prism to reflect information into the wearer’s field of view.

One application [Ricardo] envisions for this Open Source Google Glass is using it in conjunction with facial recognition software and the YouTube-favorite IR camera trick of seeing through clothing. No, he’s not using it for that idea, and you should get your mind out of the gutter. [Ricardo] wants to identify masked criminals. Setting aside the technological challenges of making that technology work, we think that walking around with x-ray specs is likely to get those specs broken off your face by someone who wears clothes for modesty purposes. Still, it’s a fascinating project and we love the way the prism and video assembly comes together.

Mini Hacker Breaks Down How To Build It

I read the other day that the hot career choice for kids these days is: YouTuber. That means every kid — yes, including mine — has two or three attempts at a YouTube show on their account and then they get into the next big thing and forget about it. On the other hand, sometimes you find someone who has a lot of ideas to share, and the dedication to keep sharing them.

[Kevin Zhou], an 11-year-old from Indonesia, has filmed around  70 videos in the past couple of years, with a fantastic variety of nerdy projects ranging from Mindstorms to Arduino to wood shop projects, and even a Blender tutorial. His projects show a lot of complexity, with serious, real-world concepts, and he shares the technical details about the various components in the project, and he walks you through the code as well.

He made a Mindstorms carving machine, pictured above, with a gantry system holding a motor steady while the user carves into a block of floral foam with LEGO bits. He does a lot of home automation projects using an Arduino and relay board, as well as a number of water-pumping robots. He doesn’t stick to one medium or technology. He has a jigsaw and in one video he shows how to build a Thor’s hammer out of wood. He prints out each layer’s design on office paper and glues the paper to a piece of wood, cutting out the cross-sections on his jigsaw. The whole stack is glued together and clamped. [Kevin]’s design featured a hollow space inside to save weight, which he cut by drilling a 1-inch hole in the center with his drill press, then threading the jigsaw blade through the hole to cut out the inside. As an amateur woodcrafter myself, I like seeing him branching out working on small wood projects.

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