These Micro Mice Have Macro Control

Few things fascinate a simple Hackaday writer as much as a tiny robot. We’ve been watching [Keri]’s utterly beguiling micromouse builds for a while now, but the fifth version of the KERISE series (machine translation) of ‘bots takes the design to new heights.

A family of mice v1 (largest) to v5 (smallest)

For context, micromouse is a competition where robots complete to solve mazes of varying pattern but standardized size by driving through them with no guidance or compute offboard of the robot itself. Historically the mazes were 3 meter squares composed of a 16 x 16 grid of cells, each 180mm on a side and 50mm tall, which puts bounds on the size of the robots involved.

What are the hallmarks of a [Keri] micromouse design? Well this is micromouse, so everything is pretty small. But [Keri]’s attention to detail in forming miniaturized mechanisms and 3D structures out of PCBs really stands out. They’ve been building micromouse robots since 2016, testing new design features with each iteration. Versions three and four had a wild suction fan to improve traction for faster maneuvering, but the KERISE v5 removes this to emphasize light weight and small size. The resulting vehicle is a shocking 30mm x 32mm! We’re following along through a translation to English, but we gather that [Keri] feels that there is still plenty of space on the main PCBA now that the fan is gone.

The KERISE v5 front end

The processor is a now familiar ESP32-PICO-D4, though the wireless radios are unused so far. As far as environmental sensing is concerned the v5 has an impressive compliment given its micro size. For position sensing there are custom magnetic encoders and a 3 DOF IMU. And for sensing the maze there are four side-looking IR emitter/receiver pairs and one forward-looking VL6180X laser rangefinder for measurements out to 100 or 150mm. Most of these sensors are mounted on little PCB ‘blades’ which are double sided (check out how the PCB shields the IR emitter from it’s receiver!) and soldered into slots perpendicular to the PCBA that makes up the main chassis. It goes without saying that the rest of the frame is built up of custom 3D printed parts and gearboxes.

If you’d like to build a KERISE yourself, [Keri] has what looks to be complete mechanical, electrical, and firmware sources for v1, v2, and v3 on their Github. To see the KERISE v5 dance on a spinning sheet of paper, check out the video after the break. You don’t want to miss it!

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A UV Curing Wand For Everyone

The average person’s experience with an ultraviolet (UV) wand is getting a cavity at the dentist. However, anyone with a resin-based 3d printer knows how important a UV curing system is. Often times some spots on a print need a little bit of extra UV to firm up. [Mile] has set out to create an open-source UV curing wand named Photon that is cost-effective and easy to build.

What’s interesting here is that there are dozens if not hundreds of UV curing systems ranging from $5 LED flashlights to larger industrial flood systems. [Mile] dives right in and shows the trade-offs that those cheaper modules are making as well as what the commercial systems are doing that he isn’t. [Mile’s] Photon wand tries to be energy efficient with more irradiated power while staying at a lower cost. This is done by carefully selecting the CSP LEDs instead of traditional wire-bonded and making sure the light source is properly focused and cooled. From the clean PCB and slick case, it is quite clear that [Mile] has gone the extra step to make this production-friendly. Since there are two industry-standard wavelengths that resins cure at (364nm and 405nm), the LED modules in Photon are user-replaceable.

What we love about this project is looking past what is readily available and diving deep. First understanding the drawbacks and limitations of what is there, then setting a goal and pushing through to something different. This isn’t the first UV curing tool we’ve seen recently, so it seems there is a clear need for something better that’s what is out there today.

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Hackaday Links: December 6, 2020

By now you’ve no doubt heard of the sudden but not unexpected demise of the iconic Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico. We have been covering the agonizing end of Arecibo from almost the moment the first cable broke in August to a eulogy, and most recently its final catastrophic collapse this week. That last article contained amazing video of the final collapse, including up-close and personal drone shots of the cable breaking. For a more in-depth analysis of the collapse, it’s hard to beat Scott Manley’s frame-by-frame analysis, which really goes into detail about what happened. Seeing the paint spalling off the cables as they stretch and distort under loads far greater than they were designed for is both terrifying and fascinating.

Exciting news from Australia as the sample return capsule from JAXA’s Hayabusa2 asteroid explorer returned safely to Earth Saturday. We covered Hayabusa2 in our roundup of extraterrestrial excavations a while back, describing how it used both a tantalum bullet and a shaped-charge penetrator to blast regolith from the surface of asteroid 162173 Ryugu. Samples of the debris were hoovered up and hermetically sealed for the long ride back to Earth, which culminated in the fiery re-entry and safe landing in the midst of the Australian outback. Planetary scientists are no doubt eager to get a look inside the capsule and analyze the precious milligrams of space dust. In the meantime, Hayabusa2, with 66 kilograms of propellant remaining, is off on an extended mission to visit more asteroids for the next eleven years or so.

The 2020 Remoticon has been wrapped up for most of a month now, but one thing we noticed was how much everyone seemed to like the Friday evening Bring-a-Hack event that was hosted on Remo. To kind of keep that meetup momentum going and to help everyone slide into the holiday season with a little more cheer, we’re putting together a “Holiday with Hackaday & Tindie” meetup on Tuesday, December 15 at noon Pacific time. The details haven’t been shared yet, but our guess is that this will certainly be a “bring-a-hack friendly” event. We’ll share more details when we get them this week, but for now, hop over to the Remo event page and reserve your spot.

On the Buzzword Bingo scorecard, “Artificial Intelligence” is a square that can almost be checked off by default these days, as companies rush to stretch the definition of the term to fit almost every product in the neverending search for market share. But even those products that actually have machine learning built into them are only as good as the data sets used to train them. That can be a problem for voice-recognition systems; while there are massive databases of utterances in just about every language, the likes of Amazon and Google aren’t too willing to share what they’ve leveraged from their smart speaker using customer base. What’s the little person to do? Perhaps the People’s Speech database will help. Part of the MLCommons project, it has 86,000 hours of speech data, mostly derived from audiobooks, a clever source indeed since the speech and the text can be easily aligned. The database also pulls audio and the corresponding text from Wikipedia and other random sources around the web. It’s a small dataset, to be sure, but it’s a start.

And finally, divers in the Baltic Sea have dredged up a bit of treasure: a Nazi Enigma machine. Divers in Gelting Bay near the border of Germany and Denmark found what appeared to be an old typewriter caught in one of the abandoned fishing nets they were searching for. When they realized what it was — even crusted in 80-years-worth of corrosion and muck some keys still look like they’re brand new — they called in archaeologists to take over recovery. Gelting Bay was the scene of a mass scuttling of U-boats in the final days of World War II, so this Engima may have been pitched overboard before by a Nazi commander before pulling the plug on his boat. It’ll take years to restore, but it’ll be quite a museum piece when it’s done.

Leaking Data By Ultrasound

Human ears are capable of perceiving frequencies from roughly 20 Hz up to 20 kHz, at least when new. Correspondingly, our audio hardware is designed more or less to target these frequencies. However, there’s often a little extra capability at the upper edges, which [Jacek] shows can be exploited to exfiltrate data.

The hack takes advantage of the fact that most computers can run their soundcards at a sample rate of up to 48 kHz, which thanks to the Nyquist theorem means they can output frequencies up to around 24 kHz — still outside the range of human hearing. Computers and laptops often use small speaker drivers too, which are able to readily generate sound at this frequency. Through the use of a simple Linux shell script, [Jacek] is able to have a laptop output Morse code over ultrasound, and pick it up with nothing more than a laptop’s internal microphone at up to 20 meters away.

[Jacek] enjoys exploring alternative data exfiltration methods; he’s previously experimented with Ethernet leaks on the Raspberry Pi. Of course, with any airgap attack, the real challenge is often getting the remote machine to run the exfiltration script when there’s no existing remote admin access to be had. Video after the break.

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No-Battery Pressure Sensors For Bike Tyres

Finding out you’ve got a flat tyres halfway into a long ride is a frustrating experience for a cyclist. Maintaining the

While the epoxy does a great job of sealing the PCB to the valve extension, the overmoulding process would likely be key to producing a product with shelf-quality fit and finish. This test run was done with 3D printed ABS moulds.

correct tyre pressures is key to a good ride, whether you’re stacking up the miles on the road or tackling tricky single track in the mountains. [CaptMcAllister] has put together a device that makes keeping an eye on your tyres easy.

The device consists of an ultra low power microcontroller from Texas Instruments, paired with a pressure sensor. Set up for Near Field Communication, or NFC, it’s designed to be powered by the smartphone that queries the microcontroller for a reading. We featured a prototype back in 2015 which required mounting the device within the inner tube of the tyre itself. However, this required invasive installation and the devices tended to wear out over time due to flex damaging the delicate copper coil antenna.

The new design consists of the same microcontroller hardware, but mounted in a modified valve extension that fits to the fill valve of the bicycle tyre. The PCB is directly epoxied on to the valve extension, ensuring air can’t leak out over time. The assembly is then overmoulded in an injection moulding process to provide further sealing and protection against the elements. This should help immensely in rough-and-tumble mountain biking applications.

The new device provides a simple screw-on solution for tire pressure monitoring that’s set and forget — no batteries required. [CaptMcAllister] is currently investigating options for a production run, and given the simple design, we imagine it couldn’t be too hard to rattle off a few hundred or thousand units. We could imagine it would also pair well with a microcontroller, NFC reader, and a display setup on the handlebars to give live readings where required. We look forward in earnest to seeing where this project goes next!

Parkinson’s Spoon Uses Control Theory For Good

When we first saw [Barqunics’] design for a self-stabilizing spoon for people suffering from Parkinson’s disease, we wondered how well something like that could work. But take a look at the video below and you’ll see this does a fine job of responding to the user’s hand movements and keeping the spoon perfectly level through a wide range of motion.

There’s at least one commercial product that attempts to stabilize a spoon in the same way so that people suffering from that affliction can retain a measure of independence. This shows that you don’t need injection molding and factory made boards to prove the concept. An MPU6050 provides sensor information and two servo motors control the spoon using PID control.

PID — short for proportional, integral, derivative — is a way to adjust something to a desired point. For example, consider trying to heat a cup of water to 95 °C. If you simply turn the heater on full blast until you get to 95 °C, the water will actually get hotter because you’ll overshoot. Using PID, the amount of heating provided will depend on how far off you are now (proportional), how far off you’ve been over the long term (integral), and how much change you’ve effected recently (derivative). The same algorithm works for spoon-balancing and many other types of controls.

This isn’t the first bootstrapped assistive spoon project we’ve seen. We even looked at the commercial version, awhile back.

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Ground Off Part Number Leads To Chip Detective Work

Sometimes when a piece of electronics lands on the bench, you find that its chips have their markings sanded off. The manufacturer is trying to make the task of the reverse engineer less easy, thus protecting their market. [Maurizio Butti] found an unexpected one in an electronic switch designed for remote control systems, it had the simple job of listening to the PWM signal from a receiver in a model aircraft or similar and opening or closing a FET.

From previous experience he suspected it might be a microcontroller from STC based on the location of power, ground, Rx, and Tx pins. This 8051-compatible device could be readily reprogrammed, so he has able to create his own firmware for it. He’s published the code and it’s pretty simple, as it simply replicates the original. He acknowledges that this might seem odd, but makes the point that it is left open for future upgrades such as for example repeatedly cycling the output as in a flashing light.

We don’t see so much of the STC chips here aside from one of their earlier offerings, but the 8051 core features here more regularly as it’s found in Nordic’s NRF24 series of wireless-capable chips.