RaspiReader, An Open Source Fingerprint Reader

In 2008, the then German interior minister, [Wolfgang Schäuble] had his fingerprint reproduced by members of the German Chaos Computer Club, or CCC, and published on a piece of plastic film distributed with their magazine. [Schäuble] was a keen proponent of mass gathering of biometric information by the state, and his widely circulated fingerprint lifted from a water glass served as an effective demonstration against the supposed infallibility of biometric information.

Diagram showing the fingerprint reader's operation.
Diagram showing the fingerprint reader’s operation.

It was reported at the time that the plastic [Schäuble] fingerprint could fool the commercial scanners of the day, including those used by the German passport agency, and the episode caused significant embarrassment to the politician. The idea of “spoofing” a fingerprint would completely undermine the plans for biometric data collection that were a significant policy feature for several European governments of the day.

It is interesting then to read a paper from Cornell University, “RaspiReader: An Open Source Fingerprint Reader Facilitating Spoof Detection” (PDF downloadable from the linked page) by [Joshua J. Engelsma], [Kai Cao], and [Anil K. Jain] investigates the mechanism of an optical fingerprint reader and presents a design using the ever-popular Raspberry Pi that attempts to detect and defeat attempts at spoofing. For the uninitiated is serves as a fascinating primer on FTIR (Frustrated Total Internal Reflection) photography of fingerprints, and describes their technique combining it with a conventional image to detect spoofing. Best of all, the whole thing is open-source, meaning that you too can try building one yourself.

If [Cao] and [Jain] sound familiar, maybe it’s from their Samsung Galaxy fingerprint hack last year, so it’s neat to see them at work on the defense side. If you think that fingerprints make good passwords, you’ve got some background reading to do. If you just can’t get enough fingerprints, read [Al Williams]’ fundamentals of fingerprint scanning piece from earlier this year.

Via Hacker News.

The (Robot) Body Electric

If you deal with electronics, you probably think of static electricity as a bad thing. It blows up MOSFETs and ICs and we take a lot of pains to prevent that kind of damage. But a start-up company called Grabit is using static electricity as a way to allow robots to manipulate the real world. In particular, Nike is using these robots to build shoes. You can see a demo video, below.

Traditional robots use human-like hands or claw-like grippers to mimic how humans handle material. But Grabit has multiple patents on electroadhesion. The original focus was wall-climbing robots, but the real pay off has been in manufacturing robots since the electrostatic robots can do things that mechanical hands are a long way from duplicating.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Elderly Autonomous Fall Detection

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [having11] is building a simple and cheap fall detection notification button that can be worn by senior citizens, young kids or others affected by medical conditions. [having11] did some fact-finding, and it appears that falls are one of the leading causes of injury for seniors, according to data available from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This device will sense a fall and send a text message or email to a recipient caregiver, loved one, or friend. The notification can also be manually triggered using a pushbutton. There’s a 5-second delay before it actually sends the alert, allowing a false trigger to be canceled. On receiving the alert, the recipient can decide how to proceed and if the situation requires a call to emergency services.

The device uses an ESP8266, a MPU6050 MEMS gyro-accelerometer combo, and MyDevices Cayenne IoT service. The Cayenne IoT service is free for Makers and non-commercial use at the moment. The only other components needed are a few discretes and a small LiPo battery, keeping the cost of the device under $10. The whole assembly is housed in a 3D printed enclosure. The next steps would probably be to make it more compact and design a housing that can be worn as an arm or chest band or on a waist belt. An important requirement of such monitoring devices is being able to notify when/before it is unable to fulfill its primary requirements. Towards that end, maybe adding a low battery and low WiFi signal strength indicators would be nice.

If you have more suggestions on making this better, chime in with your comments below.

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The Day Six Spaceships Landed In England

The BBC, as the British national broadcaster for so many decades, now finds itself also performing the function of keeper of a significant part of the collective national memory. Thus they have an unrivaled resource of quality film and audio recordings on hand for when they look back on the anniversary of a particular story, and the retrospectives they create from them can make for a particularly fascinating read.

This week has seen the fiftieth anniversary of a very unusual event, the day six flying saucers were found to have crash-landed in a straight line across the width of Southern England. It was as though a formation of invaders had entered the atmosphere in a manoeuvre gone wrong, and maintained their relative positions as they hurtled towards the unsuspecting countryside.

Except of course, there were no aliens, and there were no flying saucers. Instead there was a particularly resourceful group of apprentices from the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, and the saucers were beautifully made fibreglass and metal creations. They contained electronic sound generators to give an alien-sounding beeping noise, and a fermenting mixture of flour and water for an alien-looking ectoplasmic goo should anybody decide to drill into them. The police were called and the RAF were scrambled, and a media frenzy occurred before finally the jolly hoaxters were unmasked. In those simpler times everyone had a good laugh and got on with their lives, while without a doubt now there would have been a full-blown terrorism scare and a biohazard alert over all that flour paste.

A Hackaday writer never admits her age, but this is a story that happened well before the arrival of this particular scribe. We salute and envy these 1960s pranksters, and hope that they went on to do great things. If you are a British resident you can see an accompanying TV report on their southern regional news programme, Inside Out, on BBC One South East and South today at 19:30 BST, or via BBC iPlayer should you miss it.

Flying saucer confectionery image: jo-h [CC BY 2.0].

Tough Pi-ano can Take a Punch

There will be no delicate solos for [24 Hour Engineer’s] Tough Pi-ano. It was built to soak punishment from aggressive youngsters in musical therapy, specifically those on the autism spectrum and those with Down’s syndrome. The Tough Pi-ano will be bolted to a wall with heavy-duty shelf brackets so it can’t fall on anyone. The keyboard is covered in plastic and it doesn’t have any exposed metal so there will be no splinters.

[24 Hour Engineer] made a short video demonstration and if you listen closely, he has a pun in all but one sentence. We love that kind of easter egg in YouTube videos. Check it out after the break.

Inside the 48-key instrument are four Raspberry Pi Zeros where each Pi controls one octave. The redundancy ensures that a hardware failure only drops out a single octave and the kids can keep playing until replacement parts arrive. Each Pi has identical programming and a thumbwheel switch tells it which octave it will be emulating.

Programming was done with Python and Pygame and all the inputs are run to a homemade “hat” where the wires are soldered. Pygame’s sole responsibility is to monitor the GPIO and then play the appropriate note when a button is pressed, slapped, punched or sat upon.

Similar in name, the Touch Piano has no moving parts or perhaps you would rather use your Raspberry Pi in an upright piano.

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Impressive Drawing Machine For One Made So Simply

Not all of us have CNC machines, laser cutters and 3D printers, and I’ll bet most of us didn’t start out that well equipped. The low-cost drawing machine that [jegatheesan] made for his daughter reminds us that you can prototype, and then make a functioning mechanical Da Vinci with very basic materials and mostly hand tools. He also wrote his own drawing software, with an interface that has its own simplicity.

There really are a lot of things to like about [jegatheesan]’s project. He first works out the math himself by doing something the likes of which we’ve all enjoyed, digging out the old school trigonometry and algebra books for a refresher. Then he got started on his prototype, made using a cardboard tube for the main support and straws and safety pins for the drawing arms. He already had a motor shield for his Arduino but it supported only 2 servos, so he made his own 3-servo shield. In the end, the prototype told him he had to redo some calculations, allowing him to move on to the final machine.

One thing we can say about the final machine is that hot glue must truly be the maker’s connect-all — you won’t find many screws here. Even the servos are held in place with copious quantities of glue. And the mechanism for lifting the pen is also quite clever. The whole thing is mounted on two vertical guide rods, so that it can easily slide up and down. To get it to actually move up and down, he glued a toy car wheel off-center on a servo arm. When the servo turns, the off-center wheel acts like a cam, pushing down on the wooden base to either lift the machine up or lower it down, depending on where the wheel is in its rotation.

See his hackaday.io page for the full step-by-step development process. But first check out the videos below to see how impressive such a simply made machine is in action.

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A Floppy Drive For Apple’s Pippin

The Pippin was Apple’s first and last foray into gaming consoles. At its heart, the Pippin was a strange ‘multimedia device’ with a CD-ROM, the potential for Internet access, a few neat controllers, and the guts of a very bare-bones PowerPC Macintosh. Think of a cross between a 3DO and WebTV, and you’ll get an idea of what Apple was trying to build here.

The Pippin is rare, and that means the related accessories, ranging from magneto-optical drives to floppy drives, are incredibly hard to come by. Now, one of those peripherals isn’t rare anymore; [Pierre] has cloned the (passive) PCB that allows a Macintosh floppy drive to plug directly into the Pippin.

The expansion capabilities for the Pippin are locked away inside a PCI connector strategically located on the bottom of this set-top box. The official floppy drive accessory injection molded case, a standard Mac floppy drive, and a PCB. After finding one of these rare floppy drive accessories, [Pierre] simply took a meter to all the pins, traced out the circuit, and created a PCB with a PCI connector on one end, and 20-pin connector on the other. The PCB is shared on OSH Park if you want to check this out.

Although recreating this hardware was relatively easy, testing it was not. The first test used the Floppy Emu, a neat device that allows old Macs to read disk images off an SD card. This worked beautifully, but testing it out with a real floppy drive did not. Some disks simply didn’t work, although [Pierre] is chalking that one up to a problem with the USB floppy drive and a Mac running Sierra.