We admit that a hack enabling a 34-year-old video game peripheral to be controlled by a mobile app wasn’t something we were expecting to see today, but if controlling something with something else isn’t the definition of a classic hack, we don’t know what is. The folks at [Croxel Inc.] worked out a way to control R.O.B. using a phone app to demo out their expertise in building hardware and software prototypes, a service they offer at their website.
R.O.B. was a little robot with movable clamp arms bundled with the 1985 release of the NES, an effort by Nintendo of America to drive sales of the console after the gaming crash of 1983 by making it look less like a video game and more like a toy. The robot receives inputs from light sensors in its head, which would be pointed towards the TV playing one of the only two games released with support for it. [Croxel] used this to their advantage, and in order to control the robot without needing a whole NES, they fabricated a board using a BGM111 Bluetooth Low-Energy module which can receive outside inputs and translate them to the light commands the robot recognizes.
To avoid having to modify the rare toy itself and having to filter out any external light, the hack consists of a 3D printed “goggles” enclosure that fits over R.O.B.’s eyes, covering them entirely. The board is fitted inside it to shine the control light into its eyes, while also flashing “eye” indicators on the outside to give it an additional charming 80s look. The inputs, which are promptly obeyed, are then given by a phone paired to the module using a custom app skinned to look like a classic NES controller.
In our opinion, the primary evidence of a properly lived childhood is an enormous box of every conceivable Lego piece, from simple bricks to girders and gears, all with a small town’s worth of minifigs swimming through it. It takes years of birthdays and Christmases to accumulate a Lego collection best measured by the pound, but like anything worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.
But what to do with such a collection? Digging through it to find Just the Right Piece™ can be frustrating, and bringing order to the chaos with manual sorting is just so impractical. How about putting some of those bricks to work with a machine-vision Lego sorter built from Lego?
[Daniel West]’s approach is hardly new – we’ve even featured brick-built Lego sorters before – but we’re impressed by its architecture. First, the mechanical system is amazing. It uses a series of conveyors to transport bricks from a hopper, winnowing the stream down as it goes. The final step is a vibratory feeder that places one piece on a conveyor at a time. Those pass under a camera attached to a Raspberry Pi, where OpenCV does background subtraction from the video stream, applies bounding boxes to the parts, and runs the images through a convolutional neural network (CNN) that’s been trained on a database of every Lego part. Servo-controlled gates then direct the parts into one of 18 bins. See it in action in the video below.
We must admit that we’re not sure what the sorting criteria are, as some bins seem nearly as chaotic as the input mix. Still, we appreciate the fine engineering, and award extra style points for all the Lego goodness.
We would love to be a fly on the wall Christmas morning to see [Wilksyonreddit]’s kid tear the paper off of this adult-level busy box. Can you imagine the unbridled glee? It should certainly make the arduous six-month build worth the trouble. Here’s hoping the walls are sturdy, because we predict they will be bounced off of.
This gift that keeps on giving has an Arduino MEGA clone inside and a couple of shift registers to deal with all those buttons and switches. In addition to all the buttons, switches, and the number pad, there are two 3D-printed touch sensor pads that can detect little fingers up to four inches away. Although he’s already built a few games and activities for it, [Wilksy] posted this in r/duino looking for more ideas. There’s a lot to work with here on baby’s first nuclear missile launch console, both input- and output-wise. We humbly suggest 4D Simon, though we must admit to fantasizing about MIDI controllers.
Hidden inside this Christmas present is an Easter egg we think you’ll appreciate. Enter the right code, and the box becomes a treasure trove of Back to the Future sound effects and audio clips. Video’s after the break, McFly.
This box would make a great Kerbal Space Program controller, too, like this one.
Many problems in engineering can be solved simply by throwing money at the them. It’s really when you start to apply constraints that the real innovation happens. The Probe-Scope Team’s vision is of a USB oscilloscope with 60MHz bandwidth and 25Msps. The cool twist is that by adding another probe to a free USB port on your computer you’re essentially adding a channel. By the time you get to four you’re at the same price as a normal oscilloscope but with an arguably more flexible set-up.
The project is also open source. When compared to popular oscilloscopes such as a Rigol it has pretty comparable performance considering how many components each channel on a discount scope usually share due to clever switching circuitry.
The probe is based around an Analog Devices ADC whose data is handled by a tag team of a Lattice FPGA and a 32bit PIC micro controller. You can see all the code and design files on their github. Their write-up contains a very thorough explanation of the circuitry. We hope they keep the project momentum going!
Digital electronics are all well and good, but it’s hard to ignore the organic, living qualities of the analog realm. It’s these circuits that Kelly Heaton spends her time with, building artistic creations that meld the fine arts with classic analog hardware to speak to the relationship between electronics and nature. During her talk at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference, Kelly shared the story of her journey toward what she calls Electronic Naturalism, and what the future might bring.
Kelly got her start like many in the maker scene. Hers was a journey that began by taking things apart, with the original Furby being a particular inspiration. After understanding the makeup of the device, she began to experiment, leading to the creation of the Reflection Loop sculpture in 2001, with the engineering assistance of Steven Grey. Featuring 400 reprogrammed Furbys, the device was just the beginning of Kelly’s artistic experimentation. With an interest in electronics that mimicked life, Kelly then moved on to the Tickle Me Elmo. Live Pelt (2003) put 64 of the shaking Muppets into a wearable coat, that no doubt became unnerving to wear for extended periods.
Analog electronics parallel living organisms while programmable logic merely simulates life.
Wanting to create art with a strong relationship to organic processes, Kelly focused on working with discrete components and analog circuitry. Basic building blocks such as the astable multivibrator became key tools that were used in different combinations to produce the desired effects. Through chaining several oscillators together, along with analog sequencers, circuits could be created that mimicked the sound of crickets in a backyard, or a Carolina wren singing in a tree.
Two months after its surprise reveal at the 2019 East Coast RepRap Festival, the Prusa Mini has started shipping out to the first wave of early adopters. True to form, with the hardware now officially released to the public, the company has begun the process of releasing the design as open source. In their GitHub repository, owners can already find the KiCad files for the new “Buddy” control board and STLs for the machine’s printable parts.
But even so, not everyone feels that Prusa Research has made the Mini as “open” as its predecessors. Some concerned owners have pointed out that according to the documentation for the Buddy board, they’ll need to physically snap off a section of the PCB so they can flash custom firmware images via Device Firmware Upgrade (DFU) mode. Once this piece of the board has been broken off, which the documentation refers to as the Appendix, Prusa Research will no longer honor any warranty claims for the electronic components of the printer.
For the hardcore tinkerers out there, this news may come as something of a shock. Previous Prusa printers have enjoyed a fairly active firmware development community, and indeed, features that started out as user-developed modifications eventually made their way into the official upstream firmware. What’s more, certain hardware modifications require firmware tweaks to complete.
Prusa Research explains their stance by saying that there’s no way the company can verify the safety of community developed firmware builds. If thermal runaway protections have been disabled or otherwise compromised, the results could be disastrous. We’ve already seen it happen with other printers, so it’s hard to fault them for being cautious here. The company is also quick to point out that the installation of an unofficial firmware has always invalidated the printer’s warranty; physically breaking the board on the Mini is simply meant as a way to ensure the user understands they’re about to leave the beaten path.
How much support is a manufacturer obligated to provide to a user who’s modified their hardware? It’s of course an issue we’ve covered many times before. But here the situation is rather unique, as the user is being told they have to literally break a piece off of their device to unlock certain advanced functionality. If Prusa wanted to prevent users from running alternate firmware entirely they could have done so (or at least tried to), but instead they’ve created a scenario that forces the prospective tinkerer to either back down or fully commit.
So how did Prusa integrate this unusual feature into their brand new 32-bit control board? Perhaps more importantly, how is this going to impact those who want to hack their printers? Let’s find out.
Join us on Wednesday, December 18 at noon Pacific for the Weird World of Microwaves Hack Chat with Shahriar Shahramian! We’ve been following him on The Signal Path for years and are excited to pick his brain on what is often considered one of the dark arts of electronics.
No matter how much you learn about electronics, there always seems to be another door to open. You think you know a thing or two once you learn about basic circuits, and then you discover RF circuits. Things start to get a little strange there, and stranger still as the wavelengths decrease and you start getting into the microwave bands. That’s where you see feed lines become waveguides, PCB traces act as components, and antennas that look more like musical instruments.
Shahriar is no stranger to this land. He’s been studying millimeter-wave systems for decades, and his day job is researching millimeter-wave ASICs for Nokia Bell Labs in New Jersey, the birthplace of the transistor. In his spare time, Shahriar runs The Signal Path, a popular blog and YouTube channel where he dives tear-downs, explanations, and repairs of incredibly sophisticated and often outrageously expensive equipment.
We’ll be sitting down with Shahriar this week for the last Hack Chat of 2019 with a peek inside his weird, wonderful world of microwaves. Join us with your questions about RF systems, microwaves in the communication industry, and perhaps even how he manages to find the gear featured on his channel.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.