Robotics Module Challenge: Build Robot, Win Prizes

Brand new today, we’re going to go all in with the Robotics Module Challenge! This is the newest part of the 2018 Hackaday Prize which is only six weeks old, and already we’ve seen almost six hundred incredible entries. But a new challenge means a fresh start and a perfect time for you to begin your entry.

This is your call to build a module that can be used in robotics projects across the world. Twenty module designs will be awarded $1,000 and and chance at the five top prizes including the $50,000 grand prize!

Robotics is the kitchen sink of the world of electronics. You have to deal with motors, sensors, spinny lidar doohickies, computer vision, mechatronics, and unexpected prototyping issues accounting for the coefficient of friction of 3D printed parts. Robotics is where you show your skills, and this is your chance to show the world what you’ve got.

Wouldn’t it be great if there were some more ways to skip around the hard parts? That is the Robotics Module Challenge in a nutshell. We want to see great modular Open Hardware designs that can be used by roboticists all over the world. This might be a motor controller, a chassis or limb design system, a sensor network scheme, a communications system, data collection and delivery — basically anything related to robotics. Build a prototype that shows how your module is used and document all the info needed to incorporate and riff on your design in other robot builds.

Start your entry now and show us your take on a great bit of Open Hardware.

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What Does ‘Crypto’ Actually Mean?

This article is about crypto. It’s in the title, and the first sentence, yet the topic still remains hidden.

At Hackaday, we are deeply concerned with language. Part of this is the fact that we are a purely text-based publication, yes, but a better reason is right there in the masthead. This is Hackaday, and for more than a decade, we have countered to the notion that ‘hackers’ are only bad actors. We have railed against co-opted language for our entire existence, and our more successful stories are entirely about the use and abuse of language.

Part of this is due to the nature of the Internet. Pedantry is an acceptable substitute for wisdom, it seems, and choosing the right word isn’t just a matter of semantics — it’s a compiler error. The wrong word shuts down all discussion. Use the phrase, ‘fused deposition modeling’ when describing a filament-based 3D printer, and some will inevitably reach for their pitchforks and torches; the correct phrase is, ‘fused filament fabrication’, the term preferred by the RepRap community because it is legally unencumbered by patents. That’s actually a neat tidbit, but the phrase describing a technology is covered by a trademark, and not by a patent.

The technical side of the Internet, or at least the subpopulation concerned about backdoors, 0-days, and commitments to hodl, is now at a semantic crossroads. ‘Crypto’ is starting to mean ‘cryptocurrency’. The netsec and technology-minded populations of the Internet are now deeply concerned over language. Cryptocurrency enthusiasts have usurped the word ‘crypto’, and the folks that were hacking around with DES thirty years ago aren’t happy. A DH key exchange has nothing to do with virtual cats bought with Etherium, and there’s no way anyone losing money to ICO scams could come up with an encryption protocol as elegant as ROT-13.

But language changes. Now, cryptographers are dealing with the same problem hackers had in the 90s, and this time there’s nothing as cool as rollerblading into the Gibson to fall back on. Does ‘crypto’ mean ‘cryptography’, or does ‘crypto’ mean cryptocurrency? If frequency of usage determines the correct definition, a quick perusal of the press releases in my email quickly reveals a winner. It’s cryptocurrency by a mile. However, cryptography has been around much, much longer than cryptocurrency. What’s the right definition of ‘crypto’? Does it mean cryptography, or does it mean cryptocurrency?

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Spoofing Cell Networks with a USB to VGA Adapter

RTL-SDR brought cheap and ubiquitous Software Defined Radio (SDR) to the masses, opening up whole swaths of the RF spectrum which were simply unavailable to the average hacker previously. Because the RTL-SDR supported devices were designed as TV tuners, they had no capability to transmit. For the price they are still an absolutely fantastic deal, and deserve to be in any modern hacker’s toolkit, but sometimes you want to reach out and touch someone.

GSM network broadcast from a VGA adapter

Now you can. At OsmoDevCon [Steve Markgraf] released osmo-fl2k, a tool which allows transmit-only SDR through cheap USB 3.0 to VGA adapters based on the Fresco Logic FL2000 chip. Available through the usual overseas suppliers for as little has $5 USD, these devices can be used unmodified to transmit low-power FM, DAB, DVB-T, GSM, UMTS and GPS signals.

In a demonstration on the project page, one of these USB VGA adapters is used to broadcast a GSM cellular network which is picked up by the adjacent cell phones. Another example shows how it can be used to broadcast FM radio. A GitHub repository has been set up which includes more examples. The signals transmitted from the FL2000 chip are obviously quite weak, but the next step will logically be the hardware modifications necessary to boost transmission to more useful levels.

To say this is a big deal is something of an understatement. For a few bucks, you’ll be able to get a device to spoof cellular networks and GPS signals. This was possible before, of course, but took SDR hardware that was generally outside the budget of the casual experimenter. If you bought a HackRF or an Ettus Research rig, you were probably responsible enough not to get into trouble with it, but that’s not necessarily the case anymore. As exciting as this technology is, we would be wise to approach it with caution. In an increasingly automated world, GPS spoofing can have some pretty bad results.

The Simplest Possible DIY Ultrasonic Levitator

We thought that making things levitate in mid-air by the power of sound was a little bit more like magic, or at least required fancy equipment. It turns out that you can do it yourself easily enough with parts that any decent hacker’s closet should have in abundance: a motor-driver IC, two ultrasonic distance pingers, and a microcontroller. This article shows you how (translated here, scroll down).

But aside from a few clever tricks, there’s not that much to show. The two HC-SR04 ultrasonic distance sensors are standard fare, and are just being used as a cheap source of 40 kHz transducers. The circuit uses a microcontroller, but any source of 40 kHz square waves should suffice. Those of you who could do that with a 555 (or a Raspberry Pi), this one’s for you! A stepper motor driver bumps up the voltage applied to the transducers, but you could use plain-vanilla transistors as well.

It’s all the little details that count, however. You need to position the two ultrasonic drivers fairly precisely to create a standing wave, and while you can start at 8.25 mm and trial-and-error it, the article demonstrates using an oscilloscope to align the capsules by driving one and reading the signal out of the other and tweaking them until they’re in phase. Clever!

The author also takes the ultrasonic-transparent grille from one of the unused receivers and uses it as a spoon to help position the styrofoam bits in the sound waves. We always wondered how you’d do that!

It turns out that it’s easy to make a DIY ultrasonic levitation desk toy, and none of the parts are expensive or critical. The missing ingredient is just the gumption to try it, and now we have that, too.

As cool as they are, the HC-SR04 modules aren’t perfect for all distance sensing applications. Here’s everything you need to know about them, including hacks to make them work up-close. And since HC-SR04 sensors come cheapest in ten-packs, you’ll be wondering what you’re going to do with the other eight. That problem has apparently also been solved.