Laser Arm Cannon Scares More than Metroids

There’s an interesting side effect of creating a popular piece of science fiction: if you wait long enough, say 30 or 40 years, there’s a good chance that somebody will manage to knock that pesky “fiction” bit off the end. That’s how we got flip phones that looked like the communicators from Star Trek, and rockets that come in for a landing on a tail of flame. Admittedly it’s a trick that doesn’t always work, but we’re not in the business of betting against sufficiently obsessed nerds either.

Coming in right on schedule 32 years after the release of Metroid on the Nintendo Entertainment System, we now have a functional laser arm cannon as used by the game’s protagonist Samus Aran, courtesy of [Hyper_Ion]. It’s not quite as capable as its video game counterpart, but if your particular corner of the solar system is under assault from black balloons you should be in good shape. Incidentally no word yet on a DIY Power Suit that folds the wearer up into a tiny ball, but no rush on that one.

Modeled after the version of the weapon Samus carried in 2002’s iconic Metroid Prime, [Hyper_Ion] 3D printed the cannon in a number of pieces that screw together in order to achieve the impressive final dimensions. He printed it at 0.3 mm layers to speed up the process, but as you can probably imagine, printing life-size designs like this is not for the faint of heart or short of time. While the use of printed threads does make the design a bit more complex, the fact that the cannon isn’t glued together and can be broken down for maintenance or storage is a huge advantage.

Ever popular NeoPixel strips give the cannon a bit of flash, and a speaker driven by a 2N2222 transistor on an Arduino Nano’s digital pin allows for some rudimentary sound effects with nothing more than a PWM signal. In the video after the break you can see how the lights and sounds serve as a warning system for the laser itself, as the cannon can be seen “charging up” for a few seconds before emitting a beam.

Of course, this is the part of the project that might have some readers recoiling in horror. To provide some real-world punch, [Hyper_Ion] has equipped his arm cannon with a 2.5W 450nm laser module intended for desktop engraving machines. To say this thing is dangerous is probably an understatement, so we wouldn’t blame you if you decided to leave the laser module off your own version. But it certainly looks cool, and as long as you’ve got some proper eye protection there’s (probably) more dangerous things you can do in the privacy of your own home.

Shame this kind of technology wasn’t really practical back when [Ryan Fitzpatrick] made this fantastic Power Suit helmet for a Metroid fan production.

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The Boldport Cordwood And Cuttlefish, Together As A Guitar Tuner

As regular readers will know, here at Hackaday we are great enthusiasts for the PCB as an art form. On a special level of their own in that arena are the Boldport kits from [Saar Drimer], superlative objets d’art that are beautifully presented and a joy to build.

The trouble some people find with some of their Boldport kits though is that they are just too good. What can you do with them, when getting too busy with hacking them would despoil their beauty? [Paul Gallagher] has the answer in one case, he’s used not one kit but two of them as for a guitar tuner project.

At its heart is a Boldport Cuttlefish ATmega328 development board, and for its display it uses a Cordwood Puzzle as an LED array. All the details are available on a GitHub page, and it’s a modified version of an Arduino guitar tuner he found on Instructables. In particular he’s using a different pre-amp for an electret microphone, and a low-pass filter with a 723Hz cut-off to reduce harmonic content that was confusing the Arduino’s algorithm.

The result is a simple-to-use device with an LED for each string of his guitar, which you can see in the very short YouTube clip below. It joins many other tuners we’ve featured over the years, of which just one is this ATmega168-powered project with MIDI-out.

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BladeRF 2.0 Micro is Smaller, More Powerful

When it was launched in 2013, the BladeRF was one of the most powerful of the new generation of Software Defined Radios. Now, Nuand, the producers of the BladeRF are looking to up the ante again with the BladeRF 2.0 Micro. This new version has a huge list of changes and improvements, including a more bad-ass FPGA processor and support for receiving and transmitting from 47 MHz all the way up to 6 GHz, with 2x MIMO support and an impressive 56 Mhz of bandwidth. It also retains backwards compatibility with the original BladeRF, meaning that any software written to support it (which most SDR packages do) will just work with the new device.

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Metroid, Zelda, and Castelvania Auto-Mapped with NES Emulation & Heuristics

The NES was one of the flagship consoles of the glorious era that was the 1980s. Many of the most popular games on the platform involved some sort of adventure through scrolling screens — Metroid, Super Mario, and Zelda all used this common technique. For many games, keeping track of the map was a huge chore and meant mapping by hand on graph paper or using the screenshots published in Nintendo Power magazine. These day’s there’s a better way. [Daniel] set out to automatically map these huge two-dimensional worlds, developing software he calls WideNES to do it.

WideNES is an add-on to [Daniel]’s own NES emulator, ANESE. As part of the emulator, WideNES can easily read the various registers of the NES’s Picture Processing Unit, or PPU. The registers of the PPU are used to control the display of the background and sprite layers of NES graphics, and by monitoring these, it is possible to detect and map out the display of levels in various NES games.

It’s an interesting piece of software that relies on a thorough understanding of the NES display hardware, as well as the implementation of some neat tricks to deal with edge cases such as vertical scrolling in The Legend of Zelda or room changes in games like Castlevania — the use of perceptual hashing is particularly genius. There’s source and more available on the project page, including a GitHub link, if you’re interested in getting down to brass tacks.

We’re impressed by the manner in which WideNES is able to so neatly map out these games of yesteryear, and can’t wait to see where the project goes next. [Daniel] notes that it should be possible to integrate into more popular emulators without too much trouble. If that’s not enough, check out this reverse-emulation Nintendo hack.

[Thanks to Michael for the tip!]

Turning A Fitness Tracker Into An EEG

Several years ago, a company called Neurosky came out with an interesting chipset meant to be put in an EEG headset. This chipset would track your brainwaves, do some fancy math, and output a few numbers based on the Delta, Gamma, Alpha, and Beta waves in your brain. Of course, the senseable thing to do with this technology would be to put it in a Star Wars-branded toy where you pretend to be a Jedi. All was good with the world, and a few people hacked these Jedi Mind Trainers for some interesting builds.

But the Neurosky chip was still a black box. No one knew how it worked. The ‘concentration’ number had no relation to anything, except how hard you were apparently concentrating. In an effort to break this black box and build upon years worth of EEG hacks, [Curt White] is hacking a fitness tracker for EEG analysis for his entry into the Hackaday Prize.

The hardware in question for this build is a B20 Fitness Tracker, an ungodly cheap piece of hardware that contains an ADS1292 bioimpedance sensor that can be used for ECG, EMG, and EEG. There’s also an nRF microcontroller with Bluetooth that’s easily programmed with an Arduino. All the building blocks are there.

Right now, [Curt] has successfully opened up one of these fitness trackers and has done enough of a teardown to get the data off of the bioimpedence sensor. The trick now is to emulate the ‘concentration’ and ‘relaxation’ values the Neurosky chip puts out. This is fairly difficult, as what these values actually mean in terms of brainwaves is a bit opaque, but [Curt] has some filters and some tools to pull data from the brain and output something. Now it’s just a question of outputting the right values.

It’s a fantastic hack, that is sure to be a lot more affordable than buying some old Star Wars toys or paying a licensing fee to Neurosky. This is commodity hardware hacked to do something it was never intended to do, and an excellent entry to this year’s Hackaday Prize.

GSM Phone Network At EMF Camp Built on Raspberry Pi and LimeSDR

The Electromagnetic Field 2018 hacker camp in the UK will have its own GSM phone network, and as we have already covered its badge will be a fully-functional GSM phone. This is as far as we are aware a first in the world of badges, and though it may not be a first in hacker camp connectivity it is still no mean achievement at the base station side. To find out more we talked to two of the people behind the network, on the radio side Lime Microsystems‘ [Andrew Back], and on the network side Nexmo‘s developer advocate, [Sam Machin].

There are sixteen base stations spread around the site, of which each one is a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ with a LimeSDR Mini. Development of the system was undertaken prior to the release of the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s PoE board, so they take a separate 24V supply which powers the Pi through a DC-to-DC converter. This arrangement allows for a significant voltage drop should any long cable runs be required.

On the software side the base stations all run the Osmocom (Open Source Mobile Communications) cellular base station infrastructure package. It was a fine decision between the all-in-one Osmocom NITB package and the fully modular Osmocom, going for the former for its reliability. It was commented that this would not necessarily be the case at a future event but that it made sense in the present. It appears on the network as a SIP phone system, meaning that it can easily integrate with the existing DECT network. Let’s take a look at how the network operates from the user side, and the licencing loophole that makes everything possible.

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Competitive Soldering is Now a Thing

At Hackaday, we’re constantly impressed by the skill and technique that goes into soldering up some homebrew creations. We’re not just talking about hand-soldering 80-pin QFNs without a stencil, either: there are people building charlieplexed LED arrays out of bare copper wire, and using Kynar wire for mechanical stability. There are some very, very talented people out there, and they all work in the medium of wire, heat, and flux.

At this year’s DEF CON, we opened the floodgates to competitive soldering. Along with [Bunny] from Hardware Hacking Village and the many volunteers from the HHV and Soldering Skills Village, dozens competed to solder up a tiny kit full of LEDs and microscopic resistors.

The kit in question was an SMD Challenge Kit put together my MakersBox, and consisted of a small PCB, an SOIC-8 ATtiny, and a LED and resistor for 1206, 0805, 0603, 0402, and 0201 sizes. The contest is done in rounds. Six challengers compete at a time, and everyone is given 35 minutes to complete the kit.

We’ve seen — and participated in — soldering challenges before, and each one has a slightly unique twist to make it that much more interesting. For example, at this summer’s Toorcamp, the soldering challenge was to simply drink a beer before moving to the next size of parts. You would solder the 1206 LED and resistor sober, drink a beer, solder the 0805, drink a beer, and keep plugging away until you get to the 01005 parts. Yes, people were able to do it.

Of course, being DEF CON and all, we were trying to be a bit more formal, and drinking before noon is uncouth. The rules for this Soldering Challenge award points on five categories: the total time taken, if the components are actually soldered down, a ‘functionality’ test, the orientation of the parts, and the quality of the solder joints.

The winners of the soldering challenge, at the Hackaday Breakfast Meetup at DEF CON 26

So, with those rules in place, who won the Soldering Challenge at this year’s DEF CON? Out of a total 25 points, the top scorers are:

  • [True] – 23 pts
  • [Rushan] – 19 pts
  • [Ryan] – 18 pts
  • [Beardbyte] – 18 pts
  • [Casey] – 18 pts
  • [Bob] – 18 pts
  • [Nick] – 18 pts
  • [JEGEVA] – 18 pts

The Soldering Challenge had an incredible turnout, and the entire Soldering Skills Village was packed to the gills with folks eager to pick up an iron. The results were phenomenal!

We’d like to extend a note of thanks to [Bunny], the Hardware Hacking Village, the Soldering Skills Village, and MakersBox for making this happening. It was truly a magical experience, and now that competitive soldering is a thing, we’re going to be doing this a few more times. How do you think this could be improved? Leave a note in the comments.