Hacker Challenge: Sail the Atlantic

We found it incredible that — apparently — no one has sailed an autonomous sailboat across the Atlantic successfully. Compared to an electric craft, sail-powered platforms ought to reduce having to carry batteries or other fuel and enable long-duration missions. The problem, of course, is the sailing conditions in the Atlantic.

The challenge is the focus of the Microtranssat challenge which started in 2010. You can think of the challenge as a race, but not in the conventional sense. Participants can launch their 8 foot (or less) craft any time between July and December, and it doesn’t matter which direction they go. They simply have to cross the Atlantic. If more than one boat makes it, the fastest is the winner.

The current leader is the SailBuoy. This Norwegian entry has made it halfway, but no further. However, it has sailed quite a distance in other places, so perhaps it will make it soon. You can see SailBuoy afloat in the video below.

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AMSAT MPPT Goes to Infinity and Beyond

AMSAT, the Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation, joined forces with students from Rochester Institute of Technology to create a MPPT attached to a Fox-1B CubeSat. It successfully launched into orbit on November 18th strapped to the back of a Delta II rocket. This analog MPPT, or Maximum Power Point Tracker, is used for optimizing the draw of a power cell in correspondence to the output of solar panels on the 10cm x 10cm satellite. In a nutshell, this works by matching the voltage of the two together. If you haven’t gotten a chance to play around with one of these first hand, Hackaday’s own [Elliot Williams] wrote up a thorough explanation of the glorious MPPT’s efficiency.

This little guy is currently hurtling along in an orbit every 90 minutes. During each of these elliptical trajectories, the satellite undergoes brutal heating and cooling cycles. The team calculated that this package will undergo a total of 29,200 orbits around Earth during its 5 year mission. This means that there are 29,200 tests for it to crack — quite literally — under pressure. To add another level of difficulty, the undergrad team didn’t have funding for automated board assembly. This meant that they had to hand solder over 400 micro components onto this board, adding additional human error to be accounted for in the likelihood of a failure. But so far, this puppy is going strong. This truly shows the struggles that can be overcome with a little elbow grease, hard work, and plain ‘ole good engineering.

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Over-Engineered Clock Uses No Less Than Five ESP32s

When [Proto G] enters into an Instructables contest whose only requirement is for the project to be wireless; he does so with style. Let’s put aside for a minute that he’s using a separate ESP32 board for each of the clock’s characters – that’s one for the hour, then one for the colon, one for the minutes and other colon and then the seconds. If you’re keeping count, that’s FIVE ESP32s. But like we said… put that aside and take into account that he’s using three different wireless communication protocols to make the five ESP32s get cozy with one another:

  1. His phone is connected to a cell tower.
  2. One of the ESP is connected to his phone to get the time.
  3. Two other ESPs connect to his phone and send minutes and seconds info to two more ESPs via the board’s internal communication protocol – ESPNOW

In case you’re wondering; the boards he’s using each have an OLED, battery, USB-to-serial converter and of course the ESP32. [Proto G] felt he could add some more complication to his project by crushing the programming connector on one of the boards with his chair. He had to break out the soldering iron and some jumper wire to make a quick but effective repair.

Be sure to check out his Instructables page for more great projects!

Entry-Level 3D Printer Becomes Budget PCB Machine

A funny thing happened on [Marco Rep]’s way to upgrading his 3D printer. Instead of ending up with a heated bed, his $300 3D printer can now etch 0.2-mm PCB traces. And the results are pretty impressive, all the more so since so little effort and expense were involved.

The printer in question is a Cetus3D, one of the newer generation of affordable machines. The printer has nice linear bearings but not a lot of other amenities, hence [Marco]’s desire to add a heated bed. But hiding beneath the covers was a suspicious transistor wired to a spare connector on the print head; a little sleuthing and a call to the factory revealed that the pin is intended for accessory use and can be controlled from G-code. With a few mods to the cheap UV laser module [Marco] had on hand, a printed holder for the laser, and a somewhat manual software toolchain, PCBs with 0.2-mm traces were soon being etched. The video below shows that the printer isn’t perfect for the job; despite the smooth linear bearings, the low mass of the printer results in vibration that shows up as wavy traces. But the results are more than acceptable, especially for $330.

This isn’t [Marco]’s first budget laser-etching rodeo. He recently tried the same thing using a cheap CNC laser engraver with similar results. That was a $200 dedicated engraver, this is a $300 3D printer with a $30 laser. It seems hard to lose at prices like these.

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IoTP: The Internet of Toilet Paper

Our first impression of this IoT toilet paper roll was that somebody was pulling our leg. Watching the infomercial-esque video below is alternately hilarious and horrifying, but it leaves you with the unmistakable feeling that this is all a joke, and a pretty good one at that.  Right up until you get to the big Kimberly-Clark logo at the end, that is, and you realize that the international paper concern must be looking at this seriously.

When you read [zvizvi]’s Instructables post, you find out that this project is indeed a legitimate attempt to meld an Amazon Dash button with your toilet paper dispenser. For his proof-of-concept build, [zvizvi] started with a gag “talking TP” roll off eBay, designed to play back a voice clip when the paper is used. It had all the right guts, and being just the size for a Wemos Mini and an accelerometer for motion detection was a bonus. The smart spindle can tally the amount of paper used, so you’ll never be caught without a square to spare. And of course, critical TP usage parameters are uploaded to a cloud server, so that more toilet paper can be rushed to your door when you’re getting low.

The whole idea, including justification based on monitoring TP use as a proxy for bowel health, seems ridiculous, but we suspect there may be some brilliance here. Joke if you will, but in the end it’s probably better than an Internet of Farts.

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The Flight That Made The Calculator And Changed The World

It was the fall of 1965 and Jack Kilby and Patrick Haggerty of Texas Instruments sat on a flight as Haggerty explained his idea for a calculator that could fit in the palm of a hand. This was a huge challenge since at that time calculators were the size of typewriters and plugged into wall sockets for their power. Kilby, who’d co-invented the integrated circuit just seven years earlier while at TI, lived to solve problems.

Fig. 2 from US 3,819,921 Miniature electronic calculator
Fig. 2 from US 3,819,921 Miniature electronic calculator

By the time they landed, Kilby had decided they should come up with a calculator that could fit in your pocket, cost less than $100, and could add, subtract, multiply, divide and maybe do square roots. He chose the code name, Project Cal Tech, for this endeavor, which seemed logical as TI had previously had a Project MIT.

Rather than study how existing calculators worked, they decided to start from scratch. The task was broken into five parts: the keyboard, the memory, the processor, the power supply, and some form of output. The processing portion came down to a four-chip design, one more than was initially hoped for. The output was also tricky for the time. CRTs were out of the question, neon lights required too high a voltage and LEDs were still not bright enough. In the end, they developed a thermal printer that burned images into heat-sensitive paper.

Just over twelve months later, with the parts all spread out on a table, it quietly spat out correct answers. A patent application was filed resulting in US patent 3,819,921, Miniature electronic calculator, which outlined the basic design for all the calculators to follow. This, idea borne of a discussion on an airplane, was a pivotal moment that changed the way we teach every student, and brought the power of solid-state computing technology into everyday life.

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Jeroen Domburg Miniaturizes a Mac

His name may not ring a bell, but his handle will — Sprite_tm, a regular to these pages and to Hackaday events around the world. Hailing from The Netherlands by way of Shanghai, Jeroen Domburg dropped by the Hackaday Superconference 2017 to give a talk on a pet project of his: turning a Macintosh into, well, a pet.

You could say this is Jeroen’s second minification of vintage hardware. At last year’s Hackaday Superconference, he brought out the tiniest Game Boy ever made. This incredible hardware and software hack stuffs a complete Game Boy into something you can lose in your pocket. How do you top a miniature version of the most iconic video game system ever made? By creating a miniature version of the most iconic computer ever made, of course.

The tiny object in front of Jeroen in the title image is, in fact, a working Macintosh Plus that he built. Recreating mid-80’s technology using 2017 parts seems like it would be easy, and while it’s obviously easier than breaking the laws of physics to go the other direction, Jeroen faced some serious challenges along the way, which he goes into some detail about in his talk.

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