Escape rooms are awesome for people who like to solve puzzles, see how things work, or enjoy a mystery. Everyone reading this falls into at least one of those categories. We enjoy puzzles and mysteries, but we have a fondness for seeing how things work. To this end, we direct your attention to [doktorinjh]’s “Bomb Disarming Puzzle in a Suitcase” Game, which is a mysterious puzzle box he built himself. I guess the mystery is mostly in the gameplay, which you can watch below because he shows us his build photos and describes the hardware inside.
At its heart is an Arduino Mega, a wise choice since our back-of-the-napkin estimation puts his I/O count over forty-five and the Mega can handle them all with a few pins to spare. Working inside the confines of a briefcase came with its own challenges, but we adore the way he used the hexagon theme in the top panel to allow for knob clearance. It was so subtle that we almost missed it.
Researchers have created an audio speaker using ultra-thin wood film. The new material demonstrates high tensile strength and increased Young’s modulus, as well as acoustic properties contributing to higher resonance frequency and greater displacement amplitude compared to a commercial polypropylene diaphragm in an audio speaker.
Typically, acoustic membranes have to remain very thin (on the micron scale) and robust in order to allow for a highly sensitive frequency response and vibrational amplitude. Materials made from plastic, metal, ceramic, and carbon have been used by engineers and physicists in an attempt to enhance the quality of sound. While plastic thin films are most commonly manufactured, they have a pretty bad impact on the environment. Meanwhile, metal, ceramic, and carbon-based materials are more expensive and less attractive to manufacturers as a result.
Cellulose-based materials have been making an entrance in acoustics research with their environmentally friendly nature and natural wooden structure. Materials like bagasse, wood fibers, chitin, cotton, bacterial cellulose, and lignocellulose are all contenders for effective alternatives to parts currently produced from plastics.
The process for building the ultra-thin film involved removing lignin and hemicellulose from balsa wood, resulting in a highly porous material. The result is hot pressed for a thickness reduction of 97%. The cellulose nano-fibers remain oriented but more densely packed compared to natural wood. In addition, the fibers required higher energy to be pulled apart while remaining flexible and foldable.
At one point in time, plastics seemed to be the hottest new material, but perhaps wood is making a comeback?
An NES cartridge in its most basic form is a surprisingly simple device, it contains two ROMs hosting all the code and assets of its game, and a Nintendo code chip that provided what was a state-of-the-art consumer DRM system for the 1980s. Decades later its inner workings have been extensively reverse-engineered, and there have been quite a few custom and reprogrammable cartridge designs produced.
This hasn’t stopped [Troy Denton] and [Brad Taylor] making a cartridge of their own though, and the result of their labours is a fully USB reprogrammable cartridge for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It provides nonvolatile storage and is a simpler design than you might expect, using a pair of 1 megabit Flash chips and emulating Nintendo’s DRM with an ATtiny microcontroller.
In itself it’s an interesting enough design, but what makes the write-up stand out is the description of having the boards manufactured by a PCBA service, and their subsequent debugging. A surface-mount micro USB socket that shorted out the USB power required a bit of rework to place Kapton tape beneath it, while another clever patch uses the NES clock signal to provide a read-only line for the memory. It’s also interesting to hear about their manual “crowdfunding” approach which was to ask around if anyone else wanted one so they could bring unit cost down by producing more cartridges.
The economies of scale generally dictate that anything produced in large enough numbers will eventually become cheap. But despite the fact that a few thousand of them are tearing across the sky above our heads at any given moment, turbine jet engines are still expensive to produce compared to other forms of propulsion. The United States Air Force Research Laboratory is hoping to change that by developing their own in-house, open source turbine engine that they believe could reduce costs by as much as 75%.
The Responsive Open Source Engine (ROSE) is designed to be cheap enough that it can be disposable, which has obvious military applications for the Air Force such as small jet-powered drones or even missiles. But even for the pacifists in the audience, it’s hard not to get excited about the idea of a low-cost open source turbine. Obviously an engine this small would have limited use to commercial aviation, but hackers and makers have always been obsessed with small jet engines, and getting one fired up and self-sustaining has traditionally been something of a badge of honor.
Since ROSE has been developed in-house by the Air Force, they have complete ownership of the engine’s intellectual property. This allows them to license the design to manufacturers for actual production rather than buying an existing engine from a single manufacturer and paying whatever their asking price is. The Air Force will be able to shop ROSE around to potential venders and get the best price for fabrication. Depending on how complex the engine is to manufacture, even smaller firms could get in on the action. The hope is that this competition will serve to not only improve the design, but also to keep costs down.
We know what you’re thinking. Where is the design, and what license is it released under? Unfortunately, that aspect of ROSE seems unclear. The engine is still in development so the Air Force isn’t ready to show off the design. But even when it’s complete, we’re fairly skeptical about who will actually have access to it. Open Source is in the name of the project and to live up to that the design needs to be available to the general public. From a purely tactical standpoint keeping the design of a cheap and reliable jet engine away from potential enemy states would seem to be a logical precaution, but is at cross purposes to what Open Source means. Don’t expect to be seeing it on GitHub anytime soon. Nuclear reactors are still fair game, though.
For many of us, the term “wearable technology” conjures up mental images of the Borg from Star Trek: harsh mechanical shapes and exposed wiring grafted haphazardly onto a human form that’s left with a range of motion just north of the pre-oilcan Tin Man. It’s simply a projection of the sort of hardware we’re used to. Hacker projects are more often than not a mass of wires and PCBs held in check with the liberal application of hot glue, with little in the way of what could be called organic design. That might be fine when you’re building a bench power supply, but unfortunately there are not many right angles to be found on the human body.
Thankfully, we have designers like Sophy Wong. Despite using tools and software that most of us would associate with mechanical design, her artistic eye and knowledge of fashion helps her create flexible components that conform to the natural contours of the wearer’s body. Anyone can take an existing piece of hardware and strap it to a person’s arm, but her creations are designed to fit like a tailored piece of clothing; a necessary evolution if wearable technology is ever going to progress past high-tech wrist watches.
Featuring graceful curves and tessellated patterns that create a complex and undeniably futuristic look, many of her pieces would be exceptionally difficult to create without modern additive or subtractive manufacturing methods. But even still, Sophy explains that 3D printers and laser cutters aren’t magic; these machines free us from time consuming repetitive tasks, but the skill and effort necessary to create the design files they require are far from trivial.
Mention the term “heavy industry” and the first thing to come to mind might well be the metal foundry. With immense machines and cauldrons of molten metal being shuttled about by crane and rail, the image of the foundry is like a scene from Dante’s Inferno, with fumes filling a vast impersonal factory, and sparks flying through the air. It looks like a dangerous place, as much to the soul as to the body, as workers file in each day to suffer mindlessly at the hearths and ladles, consumed in dirty, exhausting work even as it consumes them.
Things are not always as they appear, of course. While there’s no doubting the risks associated with working in a foundry such as the sprawling Renfrew works of Babcock and Wilcox Ltd. in the middle of the previous century, as the video below shows the work there was anything but mindless, and the products churned out by the millions from this factory and places like it throughout the world were critical to today’s technology.
If you’re going to do it yourself, you might as well outdo yourself. That seems to be the thinking behind this scratch-built CNC mill, and it’s only just getting started.
According to [Kris Temmerman], the build will cost about $10,000 by the time he’s done. So it’s not cheap, and a personal CNC from Tormach can be had for less, but that’s missing the point entirely. [Kris] built most of the structural elements for the vertical mill from cheap, readily available steel tubing, of the kind used for support columns in commercial buildings. Mounted to those are thick, precision-ground steel plates, which eat up a fair fraction of the budget. Those in turn hold 35 mm linear bearings and ball screws for the three axes, each powered by a beefy servo. The spindle is a BT30 with a power drawbar, belt-driven by an external motor that [Kris] doesn’t share the specs on, but judging from the way it flings chips during the test cut in the video below, we’d say it’s pretty powerful.
There’s still plenty to do, not least of which is stiffening the column; perhaps filling it with epoxy granite would do the trick? But it sure looks like [Kris] is building a winner here, and if he keeps the level of craftsmanship up going forward, he’ll have a top-quality machine on his hands.