Come To The Hackaday Cambridge Mini Unconference!

Hackaday would like to invite you to a Mini Unconference on Saturday 16th of March, hosted by our friends at Cambridge Makespace, UK.

One of our most successful engagements with our community over the years here at Hackaday has been the Unconference. A group of you our readers join us for a while and deliver a series of 8-minute lightning talks about what is on their mind. This could be a project, a trend, a technological discovery, or whatever, and they combine to form a fascinating cross-section of the state of our world at any given time. Delivering a talk isn’t essential so don’t worry if you’re shy, but we hope that many of you will have something to share.

This is a mini unconference since we have room for only about fifty or so people in a more intimate venue. Cambridge Makespace is a successful hackerspace in the British university city, and they have been so kind as to host the event for us in their classroom. We’ll convene after lunch and have two afternoon sessions with a break for coffee and snacks, and finish up by getting some pizzas in before heading out to enjoy what Cambridge has to offer. Places are limited, so if you know you are going to be able to make it to Cambridge, sign up without delay.

Three Engines For Every Lada

If you don’t live in a former Eastern Bloc country, odds are that you’ve never seen a Lada driving around your neighborhood. This car is ubiquitous in Russia and its neighboring countries, though, and for good reason: price. Lada gave many people access to affordable transportation who otherwise would have been walking, but this low price means that it’s a great platform for some excellent car hacks as well.

The guys at [Garage 54], an auto shop in Russia, outfitted one of these discount classics with two extra engines. This goes beyond normal bolt-on modifications you typically see to get modest horsepower gains from a daily driver. The crew had to weld a frame extending out of the front of the car to hold all the extra weight, plus fabricate all the parts needed to get the crankshafts on each engine to connect to each other. After that, it was the “simple” job of tuning the engines to all behave with one another.

This video is really worth watching, as the car was also upgraded with a dually setup on the back with studded tires for extra grip on their ice track. Odds are pretty good that this car isn’t street legal so this is likely the only place they’ll be able to drive it. Other things can be built out of Ladas as well, like lawn mowers for example.

Thanks to [g_alan_e] for the tip!

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Look Ma, No Glue! Electrostatic Adhesion As If By Magic

One of the projects at the recent Hacker Hotel hacker camp in the Netherlands appeared to have achieved the impossible. A vertical PCB surface was holding pieces of paper as though they were pinned to it as on a notice board, yet there was no adhesive or fixings in sight. Was Harry Potter among the attendees, ready with a crafty bit of magic at a waggle of a wizard’s wand, or was a clever hack at work?

Of course, it was the latter, as [Jan-Henrik Hemsing], had created an electrostatic adhesion plate because he was curious about the phenomenon. A PCB with extra insulation has an array of conductors on one side that carry a very high voltage. High enough for electrostatic attraction to secure a piece of paper to the PCB.

The voltage is generated from an AC source by a Cockroft-Walton multiplier on the back of the PCB, and the front is coated with Plasti-Dip for insulation. It seems that soldermask is not a reliable insulator at such high voltages.

Using the board, [Jan] was able to attach a piece of paper to it with a shearing force of 5mN at 3kV applied voltage, which may not sound like much but appeared to be just enough to carefully pick the contraption up by the piece of paper. The boards are designed for tessellation, so larger arrays could easily be assembled.

We’ve never had a project quite like this one, but we have brought you an electrostatic ping-pong ball accelerator.

Model Car Indicates Door Is Ajar

The amount of technology in modern cars is truly staggering. Heated seats, keyless entry, and arrays of helpful cameras are all becoming increasingly common in all but the cheapest of models. [mathisox] drives a slightly older Volkswagen van, which has been converted into a camper. Unfortunately, it lacks a proper door ajar display. Nevermind that, though – there’s a charming solution to this problem.

Rather than stick to the automotive standard of boring indicator lights and low-resolution LCD displays, [mathisox] took a more analogous approach. A small model car matching his van was sourced and quickly gutted for the project. It was then fitted with servos to open and close the doors and rear hatch. The servos are controlled by an Arduino Nano, which reads the door switches in the vehicle and actuates the appropriate parts on the model.

With the model car stuck prominently on the dashboard, it serves as a clear visual indicator of the current status of the vehicle’s doors. It’s far less intrusive than those old Chryslers which repeatedly insisted that a door is a jar.

[Thanks to Raffael for the tip!]

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Truly Random MIDI Control

Generating random data is incredibly hard, and most of the random data around you isn’t truly random, but merely pseudo-random. For really random data, you’ll have to look at something like radioactive decay or *holds up spork* something like this. YouTube commenters will also suffice. The idea of using random data for generating musical notes is nothing new, but [Danny]’s experimental MIDI controller is something else. It’s a MIDI controller with the control removed, generating random musical notes based on radioactive decay.

The design of this controller is based on an off-the-shelf Geiger counter kit attached to an Arduino. The Arduino code simply counts up in a loop, and when the Geiger tube is triggered, an interrupt sets off a bit of code to generate a MIDI note. That’s simple enough, but where this project excels is its documentation. There’s a zine going through all the functions of this MIDI controller. There are single note or sequencer functions, a definable root note and scale type, an octave range, and velocity of the note can be set.

This is just a MIDI controller and doesn’t generate any noise on its own, but the video of the device in action shows off the range. [Danny] is getting everything from driving bass lines to strange ambient music out of this thing with the help of some synths and samplers. All the code and necessary files are available on the GitHub, with the video available below.

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A Nurse Call System Becomes Turing Complete

George Mallory, a famous English mountaineer, once suggested that it was of no use to climb mountains. Instead, he posited, the only reason to climb a mountain is because it is there. Likewise, when you become an expert in nurse call systems like those found in hospitals, you may find that you do things with them that are of similar use. Making a Turing-complete nurse call system is something you do because you can.

[Erik] has been working on this particular call system, known as Netrix, and used Wireshark to sniff out all of its protocols. With this information he realized that it would be possible to use the system’s routing features to perform all of the tasks that any Turing complete system can do: conditional branching and memory access. He set up a virtual machine and set about implementing all of these tasks using the nurse call system’s features.

The setup for this project is impressive, and belies an extensive knowledge of this one proprietary system but also of computer science in general. It’s interesting to see how something can be formed into a working computer system from parts that otherwise might not be used that way. Even things that aren’t electronic can be used as Turing-complete computers.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

RGB Word Clock Doesn’t Skimp On The Features

Like most pieces of technology, word clocks seem to be getting better and better every year. As hackers get their hands on better microcontrollers and more capable LED controllers, these builds not only look more polished, but get improved features and functions. Luckily for us, the rise of these advanced modular components means they’re getting easier to build too. For an example of these parallel traits, look no further than VERBIS by [Andrei Erdei].

This colorful word clock is powered by an ESP8266, a 8×8 RGB LED matrix, and a WS2812 RGB LED controller module. [Andrei] used the diminutive ESP-01 which can plug right into the LED controller, and just needs a 3.3 VDC regulator board to complete the very compact electronics package.

To keep the LEDs from interfering with each other, [Andrei] has designed a 3D printed grid which fits over the matrix board. On top of that goes a piece of paper that has the letters printed on it. He mentions that he was able to get good results printing this “stencil” out on an inkjet printer by simply running the same piece of paper through a few times; picking up more black ink each time it went through. Judging by the sharp characters seen in the video after the break, the trick worked well.

With his hardware put together, [Andrei] turned his attention to the software. We really think the project shines here, as his clock not only supports NTP for automatically setting the time over the Internet, but offers a full web interface to control various functions such as the LED colors. You can even change the NTP server and network configuration right from the UI, which is a nice touch compared to just hard coding the values into the code. Even if you don’t use the same hardware, the open source control software is definitely something you should look into if you’re building your own word clock.

We recently covered another easy to build word clock that used an LED matrix and not a whole lot else, but it was quite tiny. This build is a much more reasonable size for a desk, but you’ll probably need to break out the laser cutter if you want to get much bigger.

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