Yet Another Robotic Rubik’s Solver

The Rubik’s Cube was a smash hit when it came out in 1974, and continues to maintain a following to this day. It can be difficult to solve, but many take up the challenge. The Arduino Rubik’s Solver is a robot that uses electronics and maths to get the job done.

The system consists of computer-based software and a hardware system working in concert to solve the cube. Webcam images are processed on a computer which determines the current state of the cube, and the necessary moves required to solve it. The solving rig is constructed from steel rods, lasercut acrylic, and 3D printed parts, along with an Arduino and six stepper motors. The Arduino receives instructions from the solving computer over USB serial link. These are then used to command the stepper motors to manipulate the cube in the correct fashion.

It’s no speed demon, but the contraption is capable of solving a cube without any problems. Manipulation of the cube is reliable and smooth, and the build is neat and tidy thanks to its carefully designed components. Of course, there are now even Rubik’s Cubes that can solve themselves. Video after the break.

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Artistic Attempt To Send Digital Signals Via Fungus

Art projects can fundamentally be anything you like, as long as you say they’re art at the end of it all. They don’t always work, or work well, but they often explore new ideas. Often, artists working on installations fall back on similar tools and techniques used by the maker community. [Julian] is no exception, and his Biotic Explorers work has many touchstones that will be familiar to the Hackaday set.

The device attempted to send signals via Mycellium fungus.

The Biotic Explorers Research Group is a broad art project, involving the creation of a fictitious scientific association. [Julian] created imaginary scientists, reports, and research to flesh out this world. The project culminates in the development of a prototype communications system, which uses pH sensors at either end of a fungal network in soil to send messages.

Liquids are applied to change the pH of the system, which can be picked up at the other end of the soil bed. The pH levels are read as digital signals, with pH levels either side of neutral reading as high and low bits. pH sensors can be expensive, so [Julian] chose the cheapest available, and tapped into their LCD display lines to read their output into an microcontroller. The system displays data using commonly available OLED displays, and hobby servo motors are used to control the dispensing of liquid.

Due to time constraints, [Julian] was unable to get the system fully functional. Sending data as pH levels through fungus proved unreliable and slow, but we suspect with further development, the system could be improved. Regardless, the project serves as an excellent example of the work that goes into a functional art installation. The thesis sheds further detail on the development of the project.

We’re no strangers to an art installation here – whether it’s Markov chains or glowing balloons.

Building An Ergonomic Keyboard

Despite the passing of several decades since that scene in Star Trek IV, the Voyage Home in which Mr. Scott remarks “A keyboard! How quaint!“, here on earth, they remain a central plank of our user interface experience. A plank is an appropriate metaphor, for the traditional keyboard with its layout derived from typewriters and intended to minimize type bar collisions has remained the same flat and un-ergonomic device for well over a century. If like [Tom Arrell] you suffer from repetitive strain injury to your hands and wrists from using a keyboard then a more ergonomic alternative is a must. His solution was to build his own keyboard in two halves.

He was inspired by a colleague’s Ergodox, but balked at the price. Then he found the Dactyl, an open source 3D printed keyboard in two halves, and resolved to build his own. Unlike the Dactyl, however, he wanted his ‘board to be able to operate as either a linked pair operating as one or a pair of separate keyboards. In went a pair of Sparkfun Pro Micro boards to his slightly modified Dactyl, along with a full complement of Cherry MX Brown switches.

The final product lacks key labels so is not for the faint-hearted. But he persevered with it and after a couple of weeks was able to use it without a crib sheet. It’s a bit higher than its commercial equivalent so it needs some improvised wrist rests, but for the price, he’s not complaining.

This isn’t the first keyboard with two halves we’ve shown you, here’s one from 2017.

Via Hacker News.

Teardown The Things You Love

This two-decade old blinkenlights project (YouTube link, and also below the break) would look at home among current $1 soldering kits except for a few key differences. Firstly, it has the teardown artist’s name on the back and comes from an era when DIY circuit boards really meant doing things yourself including the artwork, etching, and drilling. The battery holders are our favorite feature. Instead of being a part on a BOM, this board has some wire loops soldered in place and relies on a pair of venerable LR44 alkaline cells instead of the CR2032s we all enjoy today.

Given the age of the project, [Big Clive] is not revisiting his old masterpiece just for nostalgia, he is having to retrace his old circuit and do a teardown on his own work because the schematic was lost to time. We think there is value to revisiting old work like an archaeologist would approach an ancient necklace. Some of us used to comment our code religiously for fear that we would forget what went through our learning minds and need to be reminded of that rigor.

If you want another battery holder that doesn’t need a part number, check out one that leverages the semi-flexible nature of thin PCBs or fake the batteries altogether. Continue reading “Teardown The Things You Love”

Biological Hacking In The 19th Century Or How The World Almost Lost Wine

While it isn’t quite universal, a lot of people enjoy a glass of wine now and again. But the world faced a crisis in the 1800s that almost destroyed some of the world’s great wines. Science — or some might say hacking — saved the day, even though it isn’t well known outside of serious oenophiles. You might wonder how biological hacking occurred in the 19th century. It did. It wasn’t as fast or efficient, but fortunately for wine drinkers, it got the job done.

When people tell me about new cybersecurity threats, I usually point out that cybercrime isn’t new. People have been stealing money, tricking people into actions, and impersonating other people for centuries. The computer just makes it easier. Even computing itself isn’t a new idea. Counting on your fingers and counting with electrons is just a matter of degree. Surely, though, mashing up biology is a more recent scientific advancement, right? While it is true that CRISPR can make editing genes a weekend garage project, people have been changing the biology of plants and animals for centuries using techniques like selective breeding and grafting. Not as effective, but sometimes effective enough.

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Disrupting Cell Biology Hack Chat With Incuvers

Join us on Wednesday 5 June 2019 at noon Pacific for the Disrupting Cell Biology Hack Chat with Incuvers!

A lot of today’s most successful tech companies have creation myths that include a garage in some suburban neighborhood where all the magic happened. Whether there was literally a garage is not the point; the fact that modest beginnings can lead to big things is. For medical instrument concern Incuvers, the garage was actually a biology lab at the University of Ottawa, and what became the company’s first product started as a simple incubator project consisting of a Styrofoam cooler, a space blanket, and a Soda Stream CO2 cylinder controlled by an Arduino.

From that humble prototype sprang more refined designs that eventually became marketable products, setting the fledgling company on a course to make a huge impact on the field of cell biology with innovative incubators, including one that can image cell growth in real time. What it takes to go from prototype to product has been a common theme in this year’s Hack Chats, and Noah, Sebastian, and David from Incuvers will drop by Wednesday to talk about that and more.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday June 5 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Recovering Data From Floppies With Errors

Those of us of advancing years will remember the era of the floppy disc. Maybe not that of the 8-inch drive, but probably its 5.25-inch and certainly its 3.5-inch cousins. Some will remember the floppy disc fondly, while for others there will be recollections of slow and unreliable media with inadequate capacity, whose ability to hold data for any length of time was severely questionable. Add three decades to the time a disc has spent in storage, and those data errors become frequent. The life of a retrocomputing enthusiast hoping to preserve aged software is made extremely difficult by them, and [] has a few tips to help with recovery.

It’s written with specific reference to Commodore 5.25-inch floppies, but aside from some of the specific software, the techniques could be applied to any discs. Most interesting is his explanation of the mechanisms that lead to bad discs or bad sectors, before he looks at some of the mitigations that might be employed. Cleaning the disc or the drive head with alcohol is explored, then taking a dump of the raw data for detailed inspection and disassembly in search of checksum errors. If in your youth a floppy disc was just something you put in a drive and you never investigated further, perhaps this piece will fill in some of the gaps.

If the thought of a stack of Commodore 64 floppies fills you with dread, how about using an emulator?

Header image: PrixeH [CC BY-SA 3.0].