Aquarium Plotter Shows Sisyphish’s Submerged Sand Stripes

Sisyphus is cursed to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity. Pet fish generally content themselves to swimming the same lap over and over in a glass tank. Perpetuity can be soothing, so long as you’re not shouldering a boulder.

[Zach Frew] wants to integrate and automate the boulder on a smaller scale and one that can benefit his aquarium full of colorful Taiwanese bee shrimp. Instead of an inert rock and a Greek, Sisyphish uses a magnet and servo motors connected to a microcontroller to draw Spirograph-style shapes in the tank’s sand.

There are a couple of gears beneath the tank to trace the geometric patterns but they’re clear of any water. One gear rotates about the center of the cylindrical tank while the other holds a magnet and adjusts the distance from the center. Pilots, and select nerds, will recognize this as rho-theta positioning. Despite the uncommon coordinate system, the circular plotter accepts G-code. We love when math gets turned into gorgeous designs, and shrimp love when those tasty microbes get shaken from their gravelly hiding places.

We adore the dry sand plotters that came before, and Sisyphus himself appeared in a LEGO format that made us question our proficiency with the blocks.

Continue reading “Aquarium Plotter Shows Sisyphish’s Submerged Sand Stripes”

Automated Sentry Turret For Your Secret Lab

There are few things as frustrating when you’re trying to get some serious hacking done than intruders repeatedly showing up without permission. [All Parts Combined] has the solution for you, with a Kinect-based robotic sentry turret to keep them at bay.

The system consists of a Microsoft Kinect V2 connected to a PC, which runs an app to do all the processing, and outputs the targeting information to an Arduino over serial. The Arduino controls a simple 2-axis servo mount with an electric airsoft gun zip-tied to it. The trigger switch is replaced with a relay, also connected to the Arduino.

The Kinect V2 comes with SDKs that really simplify tracking human movement, and outputs the data in an easy-to-use format. [All Parts Combined] used the SDK in Unity, which allows him to choose which body parts to track. He added scripts that detect a few basic gestures, issues voice commands, and generates the serial commands for the Arduino. The servo angles are calculated with simple geometry, using XY coordinates of the target received from the SDK, and the known distance between the Kinect and turret. When an intruder enters the Kinect’s field of view it immediately starts aiming at the intruder’s heart, issues a “Hands Up!” command, and tells the intruder to leave. If the intruder doesn’t comply, it starts an audible countdown before firing. [All Parts Combined] also added a secret disarming gesture (double hand pistols), which turns the turret into an apologetic comrade. All it needs is a Portal-inspired enclosure.

It’s a fun project that illustrates how the Kinect can make complex computer vision tasks relatively simple. Unfortunately the V2 is no longer in production, having been replaced by the more expensive, developer focused Azure Kinect. We’ve covered several Kinect-based projects, including a 3D room scanner and a robotic basketball hoop.

Continue reading “Automated Sentry Turret For Your Secret Lab”

Hackaday Links: June 6, 2021

There are a bunch of newly minted millionaires this week, after it was announced that Stack OverFlow would be acquired for $1.8 billion by European tech investment firm Prosus. While not exactly a household name, Prosus is a big player in the Chinese tech scene, where it has about a 30% stake in Chinese internet company Tencent. They trimmed their holdings in the company a bit recently, raising $15 billion in cash, which we assume will be used to fund the SO purchase. As with all such changes, there’s considerable angst out in the community about how this could impact everyone’s favorite coding help site. The SO leadership are all adamant that nothing will change, but only time will tell.

Continue reading “Hackaday Links: June 6, 2021”

QMESH: LoRa Mesh Networked Voice Communications

LoRa is great for sending short data packets over long ranges but is not normally suitable for voice communications. [Dan Fay] is looking to change this with QMesh, a synchronized, flooded mesh network protocol for ham radio applications.

In a flooded mesh network every node repeats every message it receives. This has the theoretical advantage of making the network self-healing if a single node stops working, but often just means that the nodes will interfere with each other. Thanks to some characteristics of LoRa, [Dan] is using several tricks to get around this packet collision problem. LoRa network can make use of the “capture effect”, which allows a receiver to differentiate between two packets if the power level difference is large enough. This is further improved by adding forward error correction and slightly changing the frequency and timing of the LoRa chirps. QMesh also implements TDMA (Time Division Multiple Access) by splitting transmission into time slots, and only transmitting every third slot. This means it is operating on a 33% duty cycle, which is much higher than the 0.1%-10% allowed on license-free ISM-bands, which legally limits it to the ham bands.

On the hardware side, [Dan] has been using the STM32 NUCLEO-144 development boards with F4/L4/F7/H7 microcontrollers and a custom shield with a 1 W LoRa module and OLED screen. While [Dan] wants to eventually build handheld radios, he plans to first develop small FM repeaters that encode voice as codec2 and use QMesh as a backhaul. QMesh is still under development, but we would love to see the results of some long-range testing, and we are excited to see how it matures.

If your interested in a more basic LoRa-based human-to-human messaging system, take a look at Meshtastic. It’s been going very rapidly over the past year. To learn more about LoRa and other digital modulation schemes, check out the crash course we did with an SDR a while back.

Sailing Faster Than The Wind Itself

If you search the outer reaches of the internet you will find all sorts of web sites and videos purporting to answer to free energy in the form of perpetual motion machines and other fantastical structures that bend the laws of physics to breaking point. We’d love them to be true but we have [Émilie du Châtelet] and her law of conservation of energy to thank for dashing those hopes. So when along comes a machine that appears to violate a fundamental Law of Physics, it’s reasonably met with skepticism. But the wind-powered vehicle built by [Rick Cavallaro] looks as though it might just achieve that which was previously thought impossible. It’s a machine that can move with the wind at a speed faster than the wind itself.

A fundamental law of sailing boats is that when they are sailing with the wind, i.e. in the same direction as the wind, they can’t sail faster than the wind itself. Sailing boats can go faster than the wind powering them by sailing across it at an angle to create lift from their sails, but this effect doesn’t work as the angle tends towards that of the wind.

The vehicle in the video below the break is a sleek and lightweight machine with a large propeller above it, which we are told is not the windmill power source we might imagine it to be. Instead it mimics the effect of a pair of sailing boats sailing across the wind in a spiral around a long cylinder, and thus becomes in effect a fan when turned by the motoin in the craft’s wheels. The drive comes from the wind working on the craft itself, and thus as can be seen from the motion of a streamer on its front, it can overtake the wind. It seems too good to be true at first sight but the explanation holds water. Now we want a ride too!

For fairly obvious reasons, the fantastical world of pseudo-physics isn’t our bag here at Hackaday. But if something might hold promise we’ll at least give it a look. Not all such things we cover turn out to change those Laws of Physics, though.

Continue reading “Sailing Faster Than The Wind Itself”

Differential Drive Doesn’t Quite Work As Expected

Placing two motors together in a shared drive is a simple enough task. By using something like a chain or a belt to couple them, or even placing them on the same shaft, the torque can be effectively doubled without too much hassle. But finding a way to keep the torque the same while adding the speeds of the motors, rather than the torques, is a little bit more complicated. [Levi Janssen] takes us through his prototype gearbox that attempts to do just that, although not everything works exactly as he predicts.

The prototype is based on the same principles as a differential, but reverses the direction of power flow. In something like a car, a single input from a driveshaft is sent to two output shafts that can vary in speed. In this differential drive, two input shafts at varying speeds drive a single output shaft that has a speed that is the sum of the two input speeds. Not only would this allow for higher output speeds than either of the two motors but in theory it could allow for arbitrarily fine speed control by spinning the two motors in opposite directions.

The first design uses two BLDC motors coupled to their own cycloidal drives. Each motor is placed in a housing which can rotate, and the housings are coupled to each other with a belt. This allows the secondary motor to spin the housing of the primary motor without impacting the actual speed that the primary motor is spinning. It’s all a lot to take in, but watching the video once (or twice) definitely helps to wrap one’s mind around it.

The tests of the drive didn’t go quite as planned when [Levi] got around to measuring the stall torque. It turns out that torque can’t be summed in the way he was expecting, although the drive is still able to increase the speed higher than either of the two motors. It still has some limited uses though as he notes in the video, but didn’t meet all of his expectations. It’s still an interesting build and great proof-of-concept otherwise though, and if you’re not clear on some of the design choices he made there are some other builds out there that take deep dives into cycloidal gearing or even a teardown of a standard automotive differential.

Continue reading “Differential Drive Doesn’t Quite Work As Expected”

Is 32-bits Really Dead?

While some of us are still clinging onto our favorite 8-bit microprocessors, ARM announced they will be killing off the 32-bit architecture in 2022 and/or 2023. Over on the GaryExplains YouTube channel, [Gary Sims] posted a great review of the current 32- vs 64-bit state-of-affairs — not just for ARM but for Intel and AMD processors as well. And it’s a dismal outlook for you 32-bit fans.

ARM announced last Fall that there would be no more 32-bit support as of 2022, then this March they made a similar announcement but with a 2023 deadline. [Gary] tries to parse these statements, and takes an educated guess at what the disparity means (spoiler alert — he predicts that one more 32-bit core will soon be released).

[Gary] clearly breaks down the 32-bit situation by operating systems such as Linux, Windows, MacOS, Android, and iOS, and how all of these have been transitioning to 64-bits over recent years. He does a thorough job, and concludes that the transition is already well underway. And while Linux and Windows have not completely dropped 32-bit support, the writing is on the wall.

Take note, however, that this discussion regards the Cortex-A family of cores found in smart phones, tablets, computers, and powerful embedded applications like autonomous vehicles. The popular 32-bit Cortex-M family of low-cost / low-power cores that are used in so many embedded system designs will remain 32-bits for the foreseeable future.

After watching [Gary]’s presentation, if you want to learn more, check out the writeup that [Maya Posch] did on the details of the latest ARMv9 ISA a few weeks ago. Also watch this 8-bit vs 32-bit presentation by our Editor-in-Chief [Mike Szczys]. Despite being from five years ago, it is still quite applicable today. What about 16-bit MCUs — the old Intel/AMD embedded 80186 processor, the 8051 follow-ons like the 80C196, 80C251, or 8051XA, the 6502 follow-ons like the 65C816, Zilog’s Z8000, the Renesas M16C, etc. — is anyone using them anymore? If so, or if you’re using a 4-bit MCU these days, let us know in the comments below.

Continue reading “Is 32-bits Really Dead?”