Commodore SX-64 Keyboard Upgraded From Trash To Treasure

Released in 1984, the Commodore SX-64 Executive Computer was one of the first portable luggable color computers. It cost twice as much as a Commodore 64, had a tiny 5″ diagonal screen, and couldn’t actually support both 5¼” drives as advertised. On the upside, people say it had a slightly better keyboard than its classic cousin.

[Drygol] agreed to restore the keyboard from a friend’s Commodore SX-64 sight-unseen, and boy was this thing in bad shape. Most people would probably consider the condition a shame and write it off as a lost cause, since two of the corners were missing most of their plastic. But [Drygol] isn’t most people. [Drygol] had mad restoration skills to begin with, and this project honed them to a razor’s edge.

Plenty of the other vintage computer restorations [Drygol] has done required plastic welding, which uses heat or a lot of friction to smooth over cracks. Some of those have not stood the test of time, so he’s now in the habit of stabilizing cracks with brass mesh before filling them with fiberglass putty.

The best part is how [Drygol] managed to rebuild the corners using the same methods, soldering the brass mesh at the 90° joins, and reinforcing them with thick copper wire before beginning the painstaking putty/sand/putty process. The use of blank copper clad boards as straight edges and thickness gauges is genius.

There’s a whole lot to learn here, and the adventure beings with something that probably keeps a lot of people from trying stuff like this in the first place: how do you safely remove the badges?

You’re right, plastic welding is awesome. There even used to be a toy plastic welder. But there’s no need to troll the electronic auction bay to give it a try — just use a cheap soldering iron.

FreeDVDBoot Opens Up The PlayStation 2 Like Never Before

For many generations, home consoles have featured copy protection. Aiming to stop users from playing pirated games as well as running homebrew code, hackers often race to find vulnerabilities shortly after each new launch. Of course, finding workarounds can sometimes be more of a marathon than a sprint. [Grifter]’s new hack may come many years after the PlayStation 2 has since faded from store shelves, but remains impressive nonetheless.

The goal was to find a way to run unsigned code on the PlayStation 2 without using any complex external hardware. Hacked memory cards, network interfaces, and other trickery were ruled out. Instead, sights were set on using the only other way in to the console – through the DVD drive.

The only burnable media the PS2 DVD drive will normally read comes in the form of DVD video discs. Thus, [grifter]’s search began in the code of the on-board DVD player software. After finding potential overflow targets in the code, it was possible to exploit these to run unsigned code.

It’s not yet a fully-polished piece of code, and [grifter] notes that additional work may be required to get the exploit working on all firmware versions of the console. Regardless, it’s as simple a hack as you could possibly ask for – burn the disc, and away you go! It reminds us fondly of the Sega Saturn hack exploiting the MJPEG interface. Video after the break. Continue reading “FreeDVDBoot Opens Up The PlayStation 2 Like Never Before”

Automating The Disinfection Of Large Spaces With Robots

What do you do when you have to disinfect an entire warehouse? You could send a group of people through the place with UV-C lamps, but that would take a long time as said humans cannot be in the same area as the UV-C radiation, as much as they may like the smell of BBQ chicken. Constantly repositioning the lamps or installing countless lamps would get in the way during normal operation. The answer is to strap UV-C lights to a robot according to MIT’s CSAIL, and have it ride around the space.

As can be seen in the video (also embedded after the break), a CSAIL group has been working with telepresence robotics company Ava Robotics and the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB). Their goal was to create a robotic system that could autonomously disinfect a GBFB warehouse using UV-C without exposing any humans to the harmful radiation. While the robotics can be controlled remotely, they can also map the space and navigate between waypoints.

While testing the system, the team used a UV-C dosimeter to confirm the effectiveness of this setup. With the robot driving along at a leisurely 0.22 miles per hour (~0.35 kilometer per hour), it was able to cover approximately 4,000 square feet (~372 square meter) in about half an hour. They estimated that about 90% of viruses like SARS-CoV-2 could be neutralized this way.

During trial runs, they discovered the need to have the robot adapt to the constantly changing layout of the warehouse, including which aisles require which UV-C depending on how full they are. Having multiple of these robots in the same space coordinate with each other would also be a useful feature addition.

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Experimenting With Vibratory Wind Generators

We’ve all got a pretty good mental image of the traditional wind-powered generator: essentially a big propeller on a stick. Some might also be familiar with vertical wind turbines, which can operate no matter which way the wind is blowing. In either case, they use some form of rotating structure to harness the wind’s energy.

But as demonstrated by [Robert Murray-Smith], it’s possible to generate electrical power from wind without any moving parts. With simple components, he shows how you can build a device capable of harnessing the wind with nothing more than vibrations. Alright, so we suppose that means the parts are technically moving, but you get the idea.

In the video after the break, [Robert] shows two different devices that operate under the same basic principle. For the first, he cuts the cone out of a standard speaker and glues a flat stick to the voice coil. As the stick moves back and forth in the wind, the coil inside of the magnet’s field and produces a measurable voltage. This proves the idea has merit and can be thrown together easily, but isn’t terribly elegant.

For the revised version, he glues a coil to a small piece of neoprene rubber, which in turn is glued to a slat taken from a Venetian blind. On the opposite side of the coil, he glues a magnet. When the blind slat starts vibrating in the wind, the oscillation of the magnet relative to the coil is enough to produce a current. It’s tiny, of course. But if you had hundreds or even thousands of these electric “blades of grass”, you could potentially build up quite a bit of energy.

If this all sounds a bit too theoretical for your tastes, you can always 3D print yourself a more traditional wind turbine. We’ve even seen them in vertical form, if you want to get fancy.

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The Challenges Of Monitoring Water Streams And Surviving Mother Nature

Small waterways give life in the form of drinking and irrigation water, but can also be very destructive when flooding occurs. In the US, monitoring of these waterways is done by mainly by the USGS, with accurate but expensive monitoring stations. This means that there is a limit to how many monitoring stations can be deployed. In an effort to come up with a more cost-efficient monitoring solution, [Rohan Menon] and [Ian Vernooy] created Aquametric, a simple water level, temperature and conductivity measuring station.

The device is built around a Particle Electron that features a STM32 microcontroller and a 3G modem. An automotive ultrasonic sensors measures water level, a thermistor measures temperature and a pair of parallel aluminum plates are used to measure conductivity. All the data from the prototype is output to a live dashboard. The biggest challenges for the system came with field deployment.

The great outdoors can be rather merciless with our ideas and electronic devices. [Rohan] and [Ian] did some tests with LoRa, but quickly found that the terrain severely limited the effective range. Power was another challenge, first testing with a solar panel and lithium battery. This proved unreliable especially at temperatures near freezing, so they decided to use 18 AA batteries instead and optimized power usage.

The mounting system is still an ongoing challenge. A metal pole driven into the riverbed at a wider part ended up bent (probably from ice sheets) and covered in debris to the point that it affected water level readings. They then moved to a narrower and shallower section in the hopes of avoiding debris, but the rocky bottom prevented them from effectively driving in a pole. So the mounted the pole on a steel plate which was then packet with rock to keep it in place. This too failed when it tipped over from rising water levels, submerging the entire sensor unit. Surprisingly it survived with only a little moisture getting inside.

For the 2020 Hackaday Prize, Field Ready and Conservation X Labs have issued challenges that need require some careful consideration and testing to build things that can survive the real world. So go forth and hack!

Your Own Open Source ASIC: SkyWater-PDK Plans First 130 Nm Wafer In 2020

You might have caught Maya Posch’s article about the first open-source ASIC tools from Google and SkyWater Technology. It envisions increased access to make custom chips — Application Specific Integrated Circuits — designed using open-source tools, and made real through existing chip fabrication facilities. My first thought? How much does it cost to tape out? That is, how do I take the design on my screen and get actual parts in my hands? I asked Google’s Tim Ansel to explain some more about the project’s goals and how I was going to get my parts.

The goals are pretty straightforward. Tim and his collaborators would like to see hardware open up in the same way software has. The model where teams of people build on each other’s work either in direct collaboration or indirectly has led to many very powerful pieces of software. Tim’s had some success getting people interested in FPGA development and helped produce open tools for doing so. Custom ASICs are the next logical step.

Continue reading “Your Own Open Source ASIC: SkyWater-PDK Plans First 130 Nm Wafer In 2020”

Aggressive Indoor Flying Thanks To SteamVR

With lockdown regulations sweeping the globe, many have found themselves spending altogether too much time inside with not a lot to do. [Peter Hall] is one such individual, with a penchant for flying quadcopters. With the great outdoors all but denied, he instead endeavoured to find a way to make flying inside a more exciting experience. We’d say he’s succeeded.

The setup involves using a SteamVR virtual reality tracker to monitor the position of a quadcopter inside a room. This data is then passed back to the quadcopter at a high rate, giving the autopilot fast, accurate data upon which to execute manoeuvres. PyOpenVR is used to do the motion tracking, and in combination with MAVProxy, sends the information over MAVLink back to the copter’s ArduPilot.

While such a setup could be used to simply stop the copter crashing into things, [Peter] doesn’t like to do things by half measures. Instead, he took full advantage of the capabilities of the system, enabling the copter to fly aggressively in an incredibly small space.

It’s an impressive setup, and one that we’re sure could have further applications for those exploring the use of drones indoors. We’ve seen MAVLink used for nefarious purposes, too. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Aggressive Indoor Flying Thanks To SteamVR”