It’s The Web, Basically

If you are of a certain age, you probably learned to program in Basic. Even if you aren’t, a lot of microcontroller hobbyists got started on the Basic Stamp, and there are plenty of other places where to venerable language still hides out. But if you want to write cool browser applications, you have to write JavaScript, right? Google will now let you code your web pages in Basic. Known as WWWBasic, this is — of course — a Javascript hack that you can load remotely into a web page and then have your page use Basic for customization. You can even import the thing into Node.js and use Basic inside your JavaScript, although it is hard to think of why you’d want to.

According to the project’s documentation — which is pretty sparse so far, we’re afraid — the Basic program is compiled into JavaScript on page load. There are a few examples, so you can generally pick up what’s available to use. There are graphics, the ability to read a keyboard key, and a way to handle the mouse.

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A $1, Linux-Capable, Hand-Solderable Processor

Over on the EEVblog, someone noticed an interesting chip that’s been apparently flying under our radar for a while. This is an ARM processor capable of running Linux. It’s hand-solderable in a TQFP package, has a built-in Mali GPU, support for a touch panel, and has support for 512MB of DDR3. If you do it right, this will get you into the territory of a BeagleBone or a Raspberry Pi Zero, on a board that’s whatever form factor you can imagine. Here’s the best part: you can get this part for $1 USD in large-ish quantities. A cursory glance at the usual online retailers tells me you can get this part in quantity one for under $3. This is interesting, to say the least.

The chip in question, the Allwinner A13, is a 1GHz ARM Cortex-A8 processor. While it’s not much, it is a chip that can run Linux in a hand-solderable package. There is no HDMI support, you’ll need to add some more chips (that are probably in a BGA package), but, hey, it’s only a dollar.

If you’d like to prototype with this chip, the best options right now are a few boards from Olimex, and a System on Module from the same company. That SoM is an interesting bit of kit, allowing anyone to connect a power supply, load an SD card, and get this chip doing something.

Currently, there aren’t really any good solutions for a cheap Linux system you can build at home, with hand-solderable chips. Yes, you could put Linux on an ATMega, but that’s the worst PC ever. A better option is the Octavo OSD335x SoC, better known as ‘the BeagleBone on a Chip’. This is a BGA chip, but the layout isn’t too bad, and it can be assembled using a $12 toaster oven. The problem with this chip is the price; at quantity 1000, it’s a $25 chip. At quantity one, it’s a $40 chip. NXP’s i.MX6 chips have great software support, but they’re $30 chips, and you’ll need some DDR to make it do something useful, and that doesn’t even touch the fiddlyness of a 600-ball package

While the Allwinner A13 beats all the other options on price and solderability, it should be noted that like all of these random Linux-capable SoCs, the software is a mess. There is a reason those ‘Raspberry Pi killers’ haven’t yet killed the Raspberry Pi, and it’s because the Allwinner chips don’t have documentation and let’s repeat that for emphasis: the software is a mess.

Still, if you’re looking for a cheap chip you can solder at home, this one seems to be the only game in town. We’re really looking forward to seeing what you make with it!

Hacked Electric Toothbrush Defeats Locks With Ease

The movie version of lockpicking tends to emphasize the meticulous, delicate image of the craft. The hero or villain takes out a slim wallet of fine tools, applies them with skill and precision, and quickly defeats the lock. They make it look easy, and while the image isn’t far from reality, there are other ways to pick a lock.

This expedient electric toothbrush lockpick is a surprisingly effective example of the more brute force approach to lockpicking. As [Jolly Peanut] explains, pin tumbler locks work by lining up each pin with the shear line of the cylinder, which allows the lock to turn. This can be accomplished a pin at a time with picks, or en masse by vibrating the pins until they randomly line up with the shear line just long enough for the lock to turn. A locksmith might use a purpose-built tool for the job, but a simple battery-powered electric toothbrush works in a pinch too. [Jolly Peanut] removed the usual business end of the brush to reveal a metal drive rod that vibrates at a high frequency. The rod was slimmed down by a little grinding to fit into the keyway of a lock, and with the application of a little torque, the vibration is enough to pop the pins into the right position. He tries it out on several locks in the video below, and it only takes a few seconds each time.

Such brute force methods have their drawbacks, of course. They’re not exactly subtle, and the noise they create may attract unwanted attention. In that case, hone your manual lockpicking skills with a giant 3D-printed see-through lock.

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Open Source Paramotor Using Quadcopter Tech

Have you ever dreamed of flying, but lack the funds to buy your own airplane, the time to learn, or the whole hangar and airstrip thing? The answer might be in a class of ultralight aircraft called powered paragliders, which consist of a soft inflatable wing and a motor on your back. As you may have guessed, the motor is known as a paramotor, and it’s probably one of the simplest powered aircraft in existence. Usually little more than big propeller, a handheld throttle, and a gas engine.

But not always. The OpenPPG project aims to create a low-cost paramotor with electronics and motors intended for heavyweight multicopters. It provides thrust comparable to gas paramotors for 20 to 40 minutes of flight time, all while being cheaper and easier to maintain. The whole project is open source, so if you don’t want to buy one of their kits or assembled versions, you’re free to use and remix the design into a personal aircraft of your own creation.

It’s still going to cost for a few thousand USD to get a complete paraglider going, but at least you won’t need to pay hangar fees. Thanks to the design which utilizes carbon fiber plates and some clever hinges, the whole thing folds up into a easier to transport and store shape than traditional paramotors with one large propeller. Plus it doesn’t hurt that it looks a lot cooler.

Not only are the motors and speed controls borrowed from the world of quadcopters, but so is the physical layout. A traditional paramotor suffers from a torque issue, as the big propeller wants to twist the motor (and the human daring enough to strap it to his or her back) in the opposite direction. This effect is compensated for in traditional gas-powered paramotor by doing things like mounting the motor at an angle to produce an offset thrust. But like a quadcopter the OpenPPG uses counter-rotating propellers which counteract each others thrust, removing the torque placed on the pilot and simplifying design of the paraglider as a whole.

If you still insist on the fixed-wing experience, you could always get some foam board and hope for the best.

[Thanks to Luke for the tip.]

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Man’s Best Robotic Friend

When it comes to robotics, some of the most interesting work — and certainly the most hilarious — has come from Boston Dynamics, and their team of interns kicking robotic dogs over. It’s an impressive feat of engineering, and even if these robotic pack mules are far too loud for their intended use on the battlefield, it’s a great showcase of how cool a bunch of motors can actually be.

It’s not quite up there with the Boston Dynamics robots, but [Dimitris]’ project for the Hackaday Prize is an almost equally impressive assemblage of motors, 3D printed parts, SLAM processing and inverse kinematics. I suppose you could also kick it over and watch it struggle for laughs, too.

This robotic dog was first modeled in Fusion 360, and was designed with  22 Dynamixel AX-12A robot actuators: big, beefy, serial-controllable servos. Of course, bolting a bunch of motors to a frame is the easy part. The real challenge here is figuring out the kinematics and teaching this robot dog how to walk. This is still a work in progress, but so far [Dimitris] is able to move the spine, keep the feet level with the ground, and have the robot walk a little bit. There’s still work to do, but there’s an incredible amount of work that’s already been done.

The upcoming features for this robot include a RealSense camera mounted on the head for 3D visualization of the surroundings. There’s also plans for a tail, loosely based on some of the tentacle robots we’ve seen. It’s going to be a great project when it’s done, and it’s already an excellent entry for the Hackaday Prize.

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3D Printing in Metal: the Laser and Metal Powder Printers We Saw at IMTS

Last week I went to the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) and it was incredible. This is a toy store for machinists and showcases the best of industrial automation. But one of the coolest trends I found at the show are all the techniques used to 3D print in metal. The best part is that many of the huge machines on display are actually running!

It’s probably better to refer to this as additive manufacturing, because the actual methods can be significantly different from your 3D printer. Below you’ll find examples of three different approaches to this process. I had a great interview with a company doing actual 3D printing in metal using a nozzle-based delivery often called cladding. There’s a demo video of powder layer printing using lasers. And a technique that uses binders as an intermediary step toward the final metal part. Let’s take a look!

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The Desktop Computer Returns As Amiga-Infused Retro Case

The desktop computer is dead. No, I don’t mean computers that are meant to sit either on or underneath a desk. I’m talking about computer cases that are placed on a desk horizontally, probably with a monitor on top. The ‘monitor stand case’ was a mainstay for most of the 80s and 90s, but died out when CRTs became too heavy.

Now, though, there’s an interesting Kickstarter project that aims to bring the desktop computer case back, and it’s doing it as an upgrade to the classic Amiga 500, Amiga 1200, and Amiga 600 computers.

The idea for this project began all the way back in the 80s, with the Checkmate A1500 computer case. This case was designed to add expansion capabilities to the low-end Amiga 500 computer, transforming it into a desktop system with extra floppies, a hard drive, and an expansion port. In effect, you could have a ‘professional’ Amiga system for half the price of Commodore’s product offerings.

Now the Checkmate is back, this time with a case upgrade that will transform an A500, A600, A1200, or even the PPC Aeon Tabor A1222 motherboard. There’s another trick this case has to offer: it’s also compatible with MicroATX and Mini-ITX motherboards, meaning yes, there is now going to be a real desktop case that you can throw a motherboard in and a monitor on top.

The death of the desktop computer is an absolutely tragic tale that has resulted in people dropping towers on a floor and propping up their LCDs on piles of books. The reason why we do this is understandable — when CRTs got too heavy for plastic enclosures, computers became towers. Now, though, we’re all using featherweight LCDs, and computers could easily return to the desktop.