Using Voice Commands To Start A Jeep

If you’ve got a car built in the last 5 years or so, it’s quite likely it’s started by the push of a button when in the presence of a keyfob. Older vehicles make do with the twist of a key. Of course, starting a car by voice command would be cool, and that’s what [John Forsyth] set out to do.

The build uses a Macbook to handle voice recognition, using its Dictation feature. With a hefty download, it’s capable of doing the task offline, making things easier. The dictated words are passed to a Python script, which searches for words like “start” and “go” as a trigger. When an appropriate command is received, the Python script sends a signal over a USB-serial connection to an attached Arduino. The Arduino then toggles a relay connected to the Jeep’s external starter solenoid, starting the vehicle.

As a fan of recent popular films, [John] programmed the system to respond to the command “Jarvis, let’s get things going!”, causing the vehicle to spring into life. There’s room for future improvement, too – the system could benefit from being a little more compact, and there’s a long delay between finishing the sentence and the vehicle starting. A Raspberry Pi and faster dictation software could likely help in this regard.

We’ve seen voice commands used for everything from chess to finding electronic components. Video after the break.

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A Quick And Easy Recipe For Synthetic Rubies

With what it takes to make synthetic diamonds – the crushing pressures, the searing temperatures – you’d think similar conditions would be needed for any synthetic gemstone. Apparently not, though, as [NightHawkInLight] reveals his trivially easy method for making synthetic rubies.

Like their gemstone cousin the sapphire, rubies are just a variety of corundum, or aluminum oxide. Where sapphire gets its blue tint mainly from iron, rubies get their pink to blood-red hue from chromium. So [NightHawkInLight]’s recipe starts with aluminum oxide grit-blasting powder and chromium (III) oxide, a common green pigment and one of the safer compounds in a family that includes spectacularly toxic species like hexavalent chromium compounds. When mixed together, the two powders are heated in a graphite crucible using an arc welder with a carbon electrode. The crucible appears to be made from an EDM electrode; we’ve seen them used for air bearings before, but small crucibles are another great use for the stuff. There’s some finesse required to keep the nascent rubies from scattering all over the place, but in the end, [NightHawkInLight] was rewarded with a large, deep pink ruby.

This looks like a fun, quick little project to try sometime. We wonder if the method can be refined to create the guts of a ruby laser, or if perhaps it can be used to create sapphires instead.

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DARPA Challenge Autonomous Robot Teams To Navigate Unfinished Nuclear Power Plant

Robots might be finding their footing above ground, but today’s autonomous robots have a difficult time operating underground. DARPA wanted to give the state of the art a push forward, so they are running a Subterranean (SubT) Challenge which just wrapped up its latest round. A great review of this Urban Circuit competition (and some of the teams participating in it) has been published by IEEE Spectrum. This is the second of three underground problem subdomains presented to the participants, six months apart, preparing them for the final event which will combine all three types.

If you missed the livestream or prefer edited highlight videos, they’re all part of DARPAtv’s Subterranean Challenge playlist. Today it starts with a compilation of Urban Circuit highlights and continues to other videos. Including team profiles, video walkthrough of competition courses, actual competition footage, edited recap videos, and the awards ceremony. Half of the playlist are video from the Tunnels Circuit six months ago, so we can compare to see how teams performed and what they’ve learned along the way. Many more lessons were learned in the just-completed Urban Circuit and teams will spend the next six months improving their robots. By then we’ll have the Caves Circuit competition with teams ready to learn new lessons about operating robots underground.

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ESP8266 Adds Web Control To Old Home Theater

There was a time when you could hold onto a TV or A/V receiver for the better part of the decade and not feel as though you were missing out on the latest and greatest features. But today you’re lucky to get three years out of a “smart” TV before it’s either supplanted by a vastly improved version, or falls victim to some weird issue that (surprise, surprise) means you need to buy a new one.

A simple touch interface hosted on the ESP8266

Not content with the status quo of planned obsolescence, [aamarioneta] recently set out to add a sprinkling of modern convenience to a circa 2008 Denon AVR 2308 home theater receiver. Like any good A/V receiver, the AVR 2308 features a dizzying array of ports on the back panel, one of which happens to be for an external infrared receiver. This turned out to be the perfect place to jack in an ESP8266, earning this 12 year old receiver an honorary membership into the Internet of Things.

The interesting thing about this hack is that there’s actually no IR involved. Sure, the code could be used to drive an IR LED attached to the ESP8266’s GPIO pins, and the AVR 2308 would respond as if the original remote was being used; but where’s the fun in that? Thanks to the receiver port, they’re able to inject the IR codes directly into the device. It’s the same protocol, just without the photons.

With a simple web-interface running on the ESP8266, they can control the AVR 2308 from a smartphone’s browser anywhere in the house. From here it would only take a few more lines of code to tie it into an existing home automation system or add in support for Alexa voice control.

We love seeing projects that add modern features to older hardware, as that’s one less piece of gear sent to an early grave because its owner felt they were behind the curve. It’s getting a bit unfriendly out there for consumers, and anything that puts the power back into the owner’s hands is a step in the right direction.

Mithro Runs Down Open Source FPGA Toolchains

Tim [Mithro] Ansell has a lot to tell you about the current state of open FPGA tooling: 115 slides in 25 minutes if you’re counting. His SymbiFlow project aims to be the GCC of FPGA toolchains: cross-platform, multi-platform, completely free, and all-encompassing. That means that it’s an umbrella framework for all of the work that everyone else is doing, from work on synthesis and verification tools, to placing and routing, to vendor-specific chip libraries. His talk catches you up with the state of the art at the end of 2019, and it’s embedded below. Spoiler alert: SymbiFlow has the big Xilinx 7-series FPGAs in its crosshairs, and is closing in. SymbiFlow is that close to getting a networked Linux system on the FPGA fabric in a Xilinx 7 today, completely independent of any vendor tools.

But let’s step back a sec for a little background. When you code for an FPGA, words you type get turned into a bitstream of ones and zeroes that flip perhaps a few million switches inside the chip. Going from a higher-level language to a bitstream is a lot like compiling normal programming languages, except with the twist that the resulting computational logic doesn’t map straight into a machine language, but rather into lower-level physical hardware on the FPGA. So “compilation” for FPGAs involves two steps: synthesis and place-and-routing. Synthesis takes the higher-level language that you write and turns it into a set of networks and timing requirements that represent the same logic, and can work across chip families. Yosys is the open-source synthesis tool of choice here.

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From Hacker Hotel 2020: Badges, Sharks, Tentacles, Old-School Hacking, And Much More

The North Sea in a winter storm is a spectacular sight, one of foam-crested waves and squalls driven on the gale. It’s not a place to spend a lot of time if you are a land-lubber, so to cross it twice in a few weeks must mean there is something very much worth seeing on its other side.

More of that exotic cruise ship lifestyle.
More of that exotic cruise ship lifestyle.

But one of the best antidotes to February weather in the European hacker community was Hacker Hotel 2020. Around 350 people came from all the countries of the northwest of the continent to the comfort and hospitality of the Westcord Hotel de Veluwe in the eastern Netherlands, to experience a hacker camp with all the convenience and luxury of a resort hotel rather than a muddy field.

Three days in this environment results in a camp that’s just a bit special, and one that’s very much worth a visit if your range extends this far.

An Upscale Hotel Gets The Hacker Treatment

The Hacker Hotel badge 2020 has many hidden depths
The Hacker Hotel badge 2020 has many hidden depths

Our small party of Brits arrived a day early, on a damp Thursday morning ready to lend a hand with the set-up. Slowly an upscale business conference centre was transformed into a hacker camp venue, with conference rooms turned into lecture halls, lighting and video equipment in place and 3-phase power cables snaking along the skirting boards. A large hardware hacking area was set up in one wing of the building, then the EventInfra people came in and laid out a hacker-camp-grade wireless and wired network that delivered connectivity everywhere. The contrast between the two worlds is significant, but together they make for a unique experience.

One by one, hackers arrived from all points of the compass, bearing crates of the usual cool stuff. An amateur TV satellite earth station, a brace of oversized delta 3D printers, a coin-pushing game that’s familiar from other camps. And smaller projects; little roving robots, indoor-sized multirotors, and several crates of outdated Chinese photo-frames that it’s said can be hacked to run a Linux distro.

This is the lifeblood of a hacker camp, but of course the signature piece of hardware for any hacker camp is its badge. In this Hacker Hotel 2020 didn’t disappoint, with a beautifully designed Ancient Egyptian-themed badge that concealed an array of puzzles across multiple levels. We’ll cover the badge in detail in a separate piece, but suffice to say that it is something of a tour de force. For now let’s jump into all of people and activities on offer at the con.

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Hackaday Podcast 057: Dismantled LCD Panels, Unexpected Dynamometer, A Flappy POV, And Dastardly Encryption

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams are onto an LCD and motors kick this week. Two different LCD screen teardowns caught our eye as one lets you stare into the void while using your iMac and the other tries to convince us to be not afraid of de-laminating the LCD stackup. On the motors front, it’s all about using magnets and coils in slightly different ways; there’s a bike generator that uses a planar alternator design, a dynamometer for testing motor power that itself is built from a motor, and a flex-PCB persistence of vision display that’s a motor/display hybrid. We round out the episode with talk of the newly revealed espionage saga that was Crypto AG, and riveting discussion of calculators, both real and virtual.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (~60 MB)

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