Google Builds A Synthesizer With Neural Nets And Raspberry Pis.

AI is the new hotness! It’s 1965 or 1985 all over again! We’re in the AI Rennisance Mk. 2, and Google, in an attempt to showcase how AI can allow creators to be more… creative has released a synthesizer built around neural networks.

The NSynth Super is an experimental physical interface from Magenta, a research group within the Big G that explores how machine learning tools can create art and music in new ways. The NSynth Super does this by mashing together a Kaoss Pad, samples that sound like General MIDI patches, and a neural network.

Here’s how the NSynth works: The NSynth hardware accepts MIDI signals from a keyboard, DAW, or whatever. These MIDI commands are fed into an openFrameworks app that uses pre-compiled (with Machine Learning™!) samples from various instruments. This openFrameworks app combines and mixes these samples in relation to whatever the user inputs via the NSynth controller. If you’ve ever wanted to hear what the combination of a snare drum and a bassoon sounds like, this does it. Basically, you’re looking at a Kaoss pad controlling rompler that takes four samples and combines them, with the power of Neural Networks. The project comes with a set of pre-compiled and neural networked samples, but you can use this interface to mix your own samples, provided you have a beefy computer with an expensive GPU.

Not to undermine the work that went into this project, but thousands of synth heads will be disappointed by this project. The creation of new audio samples requires training with a GPU; the hardest and most computationally expensive part of neural networks is the training, not the performance. Without a nice graphics card, you’re limited to whatever samples Google has provided here.

Since this is Open Source, all the files are available, and it’s a project that uses a Raspberry Pi with a laser-cut enclosure, there is a huge demand for this machine learning Kaoss pad. The good news is that there’s a group buy on Hackaday.io, and there’s already a seller on Tindie should you want a bare PCB. You can, of course, roll your own, and the Digikey cart for all the SMD parts comes to about $40 USD. This doesn’t include the OLED ($2 from China), the Raspberry Pi, or the laser cut enclosure, but it’s a start. Of course, for those of you who haven’t passed the 0805 SMD solder test, it looks like a few people will be selling assembled versions (less Pi) for $50-$60.

Is it cool? Yes, but a basement-bound producer that wants to add this to a track will quickly learn that training machine learning algorithms cost far more than playing with machine algorithms. The hardware is neat, but brace yourself for disappointment. Just like AI suffered in the late 60s and the late 80s. We’re in the AI Renaissance Mk. 2, after all.

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3D Printed Antenna is Broadband

Antennas are a tricky thing, most of them have a fairly narrow range of frequencies where they work well. But there are a few designs that can be very broadband, such as the discone antenna. If you haven’t seen one before, the antenna looks like — well — a disk and a cone. There are lots of ways to make one, but [mkarliner] used a 3D printer and some aluminum tape to create one and was nice enough to share the plans with the Internet.

As built, the antenna works from 400 MHz and up, so it can cover some ham bands and ADS-B frequencies. The plastic parts act as an anchor and allow for coax routing. In addition, the printed parts can hold a one-inch mast for mounting.

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Cracking an Encrypted External Hard Drive

As far as hobbies go, auditing high security external hard drives is not terribly popular. But it’s what [Raphaël Rigo] is into, and truth be told, we’re glad it’s how he gets his kicks. Not only does it make for fascinating content for us to salivate over, but it’s nice to know there’s somebody with his particular skill set out there keeping an eye out for dodgy hardware.

No word on how the “Secret Wang” performs

The latest device to catch his watchful eye is the Aigo “Patriot” SK8671. In a series of posts on his blog, [Raphaël] tears down the drive and proceeds to launch several attacks against it until he finally stumbles upon the trick to dump the user’s encryption PIN. It’s not exactly easy, it did take him about a week of work to sort it all out, but it’s bad enough that you should probably take this particular item off the wishlist on your favorite overseas importer.

[Raphaël] treats us to a proper teardown, including gratuitous images of chips under the microscope. He’s able to identify a number of components on the board, including a PM25LD010 SPI flash chip, Jmicron JMS539 USB-SATA controller, and Cypress CY8C21434 microcontroller. By hooking his logic analyzer up to the SPI chip he was able to dump its contents, but didn’t find anything that seemed particularly useful.

The second post in the series has all the gory details on how he eventually gained access to the CY8C21434 microcontroller, including a description of the methods which didn’t work (something we always love to see). [Raphaël] goes into great detail about the attack that eventually busted the device open: “cold boot stepping”. This method allowed him to painstakingly copy the contents of the chip’s flash; pulling 8192 bytes from the microcontroller took approximately 48 hours. By comparing flash dumps he was able to eventually discover where the PIN was being stored, and as an added bonus, found it was in plaintext. A bit of Python later, and he had a tool to pull the PIN from the drive’s chip.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a “secure” hard drive that ended up being anything but. We’ve even been witness to a safe being opened over Bluetooth. Seems like this whole “Security by Obscurity” thing might not be such a hot idea after all…

Go Big Or Go Home – This Arduino RC Car Can Take You There

Whether we like it or not, eventually the day will come where we have to admit that we outgrew our childhood toys — unless, of course, we tech them up in the name of science. And in some cases we might get away with simply scaling things up to be more fitting for an adult size. [kenmacken] demonstrates how to do both, by building himself a full-size 1:1 RC car. No, we didn’t forget a digit here, he remodeled an actual Honda Civic into a radio controlled car, and documented every step along the way, hoping to inspire and guide others to follow in his footsteps.

To control the Civic with a standard RC transmitter, [kenmacken] equipped it with a high torque servo, some linear actuators, and an electronic power steering module to handle all the mechanical aspects for acceleration, breaking, gear selection, and steering. At the center of it all is a regular, off-the-shelf Arduino Uno. His write-up features plenty of videos demonstrating each single component, and of course, him controlling the car — which you will also find after the break.

[kenmacken]’s ultimate goal is to eventually remove the radio control to build a fully autonomous self-driving car, and you can see some initial experimenting with GPS waypoint driving at the end of his tutorial. We have seen the same concept in a regular RC car before, and we have also seen it taken further using neural networks. Considering his background in computer vision, it will be interesting to find out which path [kenmacken] will go here in the future.

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Are you Dying to Upload Your Brain?

Cryonics — freezing humans for later revival — has been a staple of science fiction for ages. Maybe you want to be cured of something presently incurable or you just want to see the future. Of course, ignoring the problem of why anyone wants to thaw out a 500-year-old person, no one has a proven technology for thawing out one of these corpsicles. You are essentially betting that science will figure that out sometime before your freezer breaks down. A new startup called Nectome funded by Y Combinator wants to change your thinking about preservation. Instead of freezing they will pump you full of preservatives that preserve your brain including fine structures that scientists currently believe contain your memories.

Nectome’s strategy isn’t to have you revived like in conventional cryonics. They think the technology to do high definition scans of your preserved brain will exist soon. Those scans might allow future scientists to recreate your brain in a simulation. That isn’t really the same as coming back to life, though. At least we don’t imagine it is.

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Mechanisms: Gears

Even before the Industrial Revolution, gears of one kind or another have been put to work both for and against us. From ancient water wheels and windmills that ground grain and pounded flax, to the drive trains that power machines of war from siege engines to main battle tanks, gears have been essential parts of almost every mechanical device ever built. The next installment of our series on Mechanisms will take a brief look at gears and their applications.

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