LEGO Row Boat Is The Poolside Companion You Didn’t Know You Needed

Maybe it’s the upbeat music, or the views of a placid lake at sunset, or perhaps it’s just seeing those little plastic rods pumping away with all their might. Whatever the reason may be, the video [Vimal Patel] posted of his little remote controlled LEGO row boat cruising around on the open water is sure to put a smile on the face of even the most jaded hacker.

[Vimal] tells us that his creation is made up of over 140 unmodified LEGO parts, and is controlled over Bluetooth which connects to an app on his phone. While we would like to see some more detail on the reciprocating module he came up with to drive the boat’s paddles, we have to admit that the images he provided in his flickr album for the project are impeccable overall. If the toy boat game doesn’t work out for [Vimal], we think he definitely has what it takes to get into the advertising department for a car manufacturer.

[Vimal] was even kind enough to provide a LEGO Digital Designer file for the project, which in the world of little rainbow colored blocks is akin to releasing the source code, so you can build up your own fleet before next summer.

It’s worth noting that [Vimal] is something of a virtuoso in the world of modular building blocks, and no stranger here at Hackaday. His self lacing shoe impressed earlier this year, and this isn’t even his first LEGO watercraft.

All he has to do now to reach the true pinnacle of LEGO construction is to start building with giant versions of everyone’s favorite block.

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Xerox Alto CRTs Needed a Tiny Lightbulb to Function

In the real world, components don’t work like we imagine they do. Wires have resistance, resistors have inductance, and capacitors have resistance. However, some designers like to take advantage of those imperfections, something our old friend [Ken Shirriff] noted when he was restoring the CRT of a Xerox Alto.

[Ken] tried to connect a Xerox monitor to the Alto and — since it was almost as old as the Alto — he wasn’t surprised that it didn’t work. What did surprise him, though, is that when he turned the monitor off, a perfect picture appeared for just a split second as the unit powered off. What could that mean?

Keep in mind this is a CRT device. So a perfect picture means you have vertical and horizontal sweep all at the right frequency. It also means you have high voltage and drive on the electron guns. If you are too young to remember all that, [Ken] covers the details in his post.

He found that the CRT grid voltage wasn’t present during operation. The voltage derived from the high voltage supply but, mysteriously, the high voltage was fine. There was a small lightbulb in the grid voltage circuit. A 28V device about like a flashlight bulb. It measured open and that turned out to be due to a broken lead. Repairing the broken lead to the bulb put the monitor back in operation.

On paper, a light bulb lights up when you put current through it. In real life, it is a bit more complicated. An incandescent filament starts off as almost a dead short and draws a lot of current for a very brief time. As the current flows, the filament gets hot and the resistance goes up. That reduces the current draw. This effect — known as inrush current — is the scourge of designers trying to turn on light bulbs with transistors or other electronic switches.

However, the unknown Xerox power supply designer used that effect as a current limiter. The short 600V pulses would hardly notice the light bulb but if too much current or time elapsed, the resistance of the bulb would rise preventing too much current from flowing for too long. With the bulb open, the negative brightness grid provided an impassible barrier to the electrons. Apparently, the brightness grid lost power a bit earlier than the rest of the circuit and with it out of the way — or perhaps, partially out of the way — the picture was fine until the rest of the circuit also lost power.

We looked at [Ken’s] efforts on this machine earlier this year. Light bulbs, by the way, aren’t the only thing that changes resistance in response to some stimulus. You might enjoy the 1972 commercial from Xerox touting the Alto’s ability to do advanced tasks like e-mail and printing.

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Hackaday Links: October 15, 2017

For the last few months we’ve been running The Hackaday Prize, a challenge for you to build the best bit of hardware. Right now — I mean right now — you should be finishing up your project, crossing your t’s and dotting your lowercase j’s. The last challenge in the Prize ends tomorrow. After that, we’re going to pick 20 finalists for the Anything Goes challenge, then send the finalists off to our fantastic team of judges. Time to get to work! Make sure your project meets all the requirements!

It’s been a few weeks, so it’s time to start talking about Star Trek. I’m paying ten dollars a month to watch Star Trek: Discovery. I was going to pay that anyway, but I think this might actually be worth it. Highlights include Cardassian voles and Gorn skeletons. Also on the Star Trek front is The Orville, [Seth MacFarlane]’s TNG-inspired show. The Orville has far surpassed my expectations and is more Star Trek than Discovery. Leave your thoughts below.

It’s a new edition of Project Binky! Two blokes are spending years stuffing a 4WD Celica into a Mini. It’s the must-watch YouTube series of the decade.

AstroPrint now has an app. If you’re managing a 3D printer remotely and you’re not using Octoprint, you’re probably using AstroPrint. Now it’s in app format.

Have fifty bucks and want to blow it on something cool? A company is selling used LED display tiles on eBay. You get a case of ten for fifty bucks. Will you be able to drive them? Who knows and who cares? It’s fifty bucks for massive blinkies.

[Peter] is building an ultralight in his basement. For this YouTube update, he’s making the wings.

Oh it’s deer season, so here’s how you make deer jerky.

If you’re messing around with Z-Wave modules and Raspberry Pis, there’s a contest for you. The grand prize is an all-expense paid trip to CES2018 in Las Vegas. Why anyone would be enthusiastic about a trip to CES is beyond me, but the Excalibur arcade has Crazy Taxi, so that’s cool.

Go is the language all the cool kids are using. GoCV gives Go programmers access to OpenCV.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Modular, Rapid Deployment Power Station

After a disaster hits, one obvious concern is getting everyone’s power restored. Even if the power plants are operational after something like a hurricane or earthquake, often the power lines that deliver that energy are destroyed. While the power company works to rebuild their infrastructure, [David Ngheim]’s mobile, rapid deployment power station can help get people back on their feet quickly. As a bonus, it uses renewable energy sources for power generation.

The modular power station was already tested at Burning Man, providing power to around 100 people. Using sets of 250 Watt panels, wind turbines, and scalable battery banks, the units all snap together like Lego and can fit inside a standard container truck or even the back of a pickup for smaller sizes. The whole thing is plug-and-play and outputs AC thanks to inverters that also ship with the units.

With all of the natural disasters we’ve seen lately, from Texas to Puerto Rico to California, this entry into the Hackaday Prize will surely gain some traction as many areas struggle to rebuild their homes and communities. With this tool under a government’s belt, restoration of power at least can be greatly simplified and hastened.

Cheap 3D Printers Make Cheaper(er) Bioprinters

In case you missed it, prices on 3D printers have hit an all time low. The hardware is largely standardized and the software is almost exclusively open source, so it makes sense that eventually somebody was going to start knocking these things out cheap. There are now many 3D printers available for less than $300 USD, and a few are even dipping under the $200 mark. Realistically, this is about as cheap as these machines are ever going to get.

A startup by the name of 3D Cultures has recently started capitalizing on the availability of these inexpensive high-precision three dimensional motion platforms by co-opting an existing consumer 3D printer to deliver their Tissue Scribe bioprinter. Some may call this cheating, but we see it for what it really is: a huge savings in cost and R&D time. Why design your own kinematics when somebody else has already done it for you?

Despite the C-3PO level of disguise that 3D Cultures attempted by putting stickers over the original logo, the donor machine for the Tissue Scribe is very obviously a Monoprice Select Mini, the undisputed king of beginner printers. The big change of course comes from the removal of the extruder and hotend, which has been replaced with an apparatus that can heat and depress a standard syringe.

At the very basic level, bioprinting is performed in the exact same way as normal 3D printing; it’s merely a difference in materials. While 3D printing uses molten plastic, bioprinting is done with organic materials like algae or collagen. In the Tissue Scribe, the traditional 3D printer hotend has been replaced with a syringe full of the organic material to be printed which is slowly pushed down by a NEMA 17 stepper motor and 8mm leadscrew.

The hotend heating element and thermistor that once were used to melt plastic are still here, but now handle warming the metal frame used to hold the syringe. In theory these changes would have only required some tweaks to the firmware calibration to get working. Frankly, it makes perfect sense, and is certainly a much easier to pull off than some of the earlier attempts at homebrew biological printers we’ve seen.

We won’t comment on the Tissue Scribe’s price point of $999 USD except to say that in the field of bioprinters, that’s pocket change. Still, it seems inevitable that somebody will build and document their own bolt-on biological extruder now that 3D Cultures has shown how simple it really is, so they may find themselves undercut in the near future.

If all this talk of hot extruded collagen has got you interested, we’ve seen some excellent resources on the emerging field of bioprinting that will probably be right up your alley.

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One More Day for Hackaday Prize Glory

This is your last day to enter the 2017 Hackaday Prize. The theme is to Build Something that Matters, so don’t sit on the sidelines.

You have great power to make a change in the world. Put your mind to a problem you believe is worth solving and inspire us with your build. Whether it’s a turnkey solution or a seed idea that inspires those around you, let’s work on making the world a little bit better place. Get your entry for Anything Goes in by Monday morning.

As Entries Close, Finalists Polish Their Projects

There have been five challenge rounds of the Hackaday Prize and we’ve seen more than 1000 entries. From each round, 20 finalists were chosen who were awarded $1000 each but we’re just getting started. The top five prizes totaling $75,000 still remain.

A panel of fantastic Hackaday Prize Judges will begin reviewing the final round projects on October 21st. Finalists are continuing to refine their projects since being selected, adding project logs, a bill of material, design files, and a project video. This all leads to the awarding of the Grand Prize on Saturday, November 11th at the Hackaday Superconference.

Encryption For The Most Meager Of Devices

It seems that new stories of insecure-by-design IoT devices surface weekly, as the uneasy boundary is explored between the appliance and the Internet-connected computer. Manufacturers like shifting physical items rather than software patches, and firmware developers may not always be from the frontline of Internet security.

An interesting aside on the security of IoT traffic comes from [boz], who has taken a look at encryption of very low data rate streams from underpowered devices. Imagine perhaps that you have an Internet-connected sensor which supplies only a few readings a day that you would like to keep private. Given that your sensor has to run on tiny power resources so a super-powerful processor is out of the question, how do you secure your data? Simple encryption schemes are too easily broken.

He makes the argument for encryption from a rather unexpected source: a one-time pad. We imagine a one-time pad as a book with pages of numbers, perhaps as used by spies in Cold-War-era East Berlin or something. Surely storing one of those would be a major undertaking! In fact a one-time pad is simply a sequence of random keys that are stepped through, one per message, and if your message is only relatively few bytes a day then you have no need to generate more than a few K of pad data to securely encrypt it for years. Given that even pretty meager modern microcontrollers have significant amounts of flash at their disposal, pad storage for sensor data of this type is no longer a hurdle.

Where some controversy might creep in is the suggestion that a pad could be recycled when its last entry has been used. You don’t have to be a cryptologist to know that reusing a one-time pad weakens the integrity of the cypher, but he has a valid answer there too, If the repeat cycle is five years, your opponent must have serious dedication to capture all packets, and at that point it’s worth asking yourself just how sensitive the sensor data in question really is.