two hands holding a wider version of a purple gameboy advance

The Stretch Limo Of Game Boys

Here at Hackaday, we see all sorts of projects, some born out of a deep necessity or itch that couldn’t be scratched. Others are born out of a world of “why not” and it is perhaps these projects that put the biggest smile on our faces. The WideBoy Advance by [Elliot] of Retro Future is one such project.

Starting with a working Game Boy Advance and a donor one with a busted motherboard, the frankenstein-ification could start. A Dremel split one case in half and removed the sides on another, while trusty old car body filler helps fill and smooth the gaps. A particularly clever trick is to use the Dremel to create channels for the filler to adhere easier. Several areas had to be built up with filler and glued in bits of plastic as a base. As you can see in the video below, the countless hours of sanding, priming, sanding, and more priming led to a beautifully smooth finish. The choice of purple paint really sells the impression of a factory-fresh Game Boy Advance.

The working circuit board was desoldered and the donor board was cut into pieces to fit in the extended sides. Using some magnet wire, connections were bridged over to the original motherboard via the test points on the PCB. [Elliot] didn’t opt to swap the screen to an IPS display or add a backlight. These quality of life improvements are nice, but a dead giveaway that Nintendo didn’t make it. The goal is to get the user to wonder, even if just for a second, what if Nintendo just happened to make this wide one-off handheld console.

[Elliot] made it simply because he found it interesting and enjoyed the form of the thing he made. Is it a hack? Is it art? Probably a little bit of both. This isn’t his first modified Nintendo handheld either. He previously made a long Nintendo Gameboy DMG-01. We love seeing all the wild hacks and tweaks made to Game Boy line, such as this Game Boy Color inside the DMG-01.

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Beginning The Machine Shop Journey With A DIY CNC

Building a good quality machine shop may seem to present a chicken-and-egg problem, at least for anyone not willing to mortgage their home for the money needed to buy all of these tools new. Namely, that building good tools often requires good tools. To help solve this problem, [Ryan] designed and built this CNC machine which can be built with nothing other than common tools, hardware store supplies, and some readily available parts from the internet.

Since it’s being built from consumer-grade material, [Ryan] has the design philosophy of “buying precision” which means that most of the parts needed for this build are precise enough for their purpose without needing to be worked in any way before incorporation into the mill. For example, he uses a granite plate because it’s hard, flat, heavy, and sturdy enough at the time of purchase to be placed into the machine right away. Similarly, his linear guides do not need to be modified before being put to work with a high degree of precision and minimal calibration. From there, he applies the KISS principle and uses the simplest parts available. With this design process he is able to “bootstrap” a high quality mill for around $1500 USD without needing any extra tools than the ones you likely already have.

The RIG-CNC as it is known has also been made completely open source which further cements its bootstrapability, and there is a lot more detail on the project page and in the video linked below. This project is unique not simply for the mill build from common parts and tools, but because this design philosophy is so robust. Good design goes a lot farther in our builds than a lot of us might realize, and good design often results in more maintainable, hackable things that work for more uses than the original creators may have even thought about.

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Minimalist Robot Arm Really Stacks Up

There’s nothing like a little weekend project, especially one that ends up better than you expected. And when you literally build a robotic arm out of workshop scraps, so much the better.

Longtime readers will no doubt recognize the build style used here as that of [Norbert Heinz], aka “Homofaciens” on YouTube. [Norbert] has a way of making trash do his bidding, and has shown us all kinds of seemingly impossible feats of mechatronics with just what’s lying around. In this case, his robot arm is made from scrap wooden roofing battens, or what we’d call furring strips here in the US. The softwood isn’t something you’d think would make a great material for building robots, but [Norbert] makes its characteristics work for him, like using wax-lubricated holes for hinge points. Steppers and lead screws cannibalized from an old CNC build, along with the drive electronics, provide the motion. It’s a bit — compliant — but precise enough to pick up nuts and stack them nicely. The video below gives an overview of the build, and detailed instructions are available too.

We always appreciated [Norbert]’s minimalist builds, and seeing what can be accomplished with almost nothing is always inspirational. If you’re not familiar with his work, check out his cardboard and paperclip CNC plotter, his tin can encoders, or his plasma-powered printer.

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A 3D-Printed Block And Tackle For Those Annoying Lifts

Perhaps the humble block and tackle — multiple parallel pulleys to reduce the effort of lifting — is not such a common sight as it once was in this age of hydraulic loaders, but it remains a useful mechanism for whenever there is a lifting task. To that end [semi] has produced a 3D-printed block and tackle system, which as can be seen in the video below the break, makes lifting moderately heavy loads a breeze.

It’s a simple enough mechanism, with the 3D printer supplying pulleys, chocks, and attachment points, and steel bolts holding everything together. It’s demonstrated with a maximum weight of 20 kilograms (44 pounds), and though perhaps some hesitation might be in order before trusting it with 200 Kg of engine, we’re guessing it would be capable of much more that what we’re shown. Should you wish to give it a try, the files can be found on Thingiverse.

The block and tackle should hold a special place in the hearts of engineers everywhere, as the first product manufactured using mass-production techniques. It shouldn’t be a surprise that this early-19th century factory came from the work of Marc Brunel, father of Isambard Kingdom Brunel who we’ve made the subject of a previous Hackaday piece.

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Building An Archery Mech Suit To Skip Practice

According to legend, King Edward III once said: “If you want to train a longbowman, start with his grandfather.” Consistently making accurate hits with any bow, especially on moving targets, takes many hours of practice. Or, if you’re [Shane Wighton], you can spend a comparable amount of time building, debugging, and rebuilding a robotically-enhanced bow to do it.

The goal was to shoot flying targets out of the air, so [Shane] had to create a system that could track the position of the bow and the target, and automatically adjust the position of the bow and loose the arrow at exactly the right moment to intercept the target. The position tracking was done with the same Optitrack cameras [Shane] used on his robotic basketball hoop, with reflective marking balls on the bow, target, and the release mechanism. The auto-aiming is done with a two-axis rack and pinion mechanism driven by a pair of stepper motors. [Shane] first used the cheapest recurve bow he could find online, which caused accuracy issues likely related to the Archer’s paradox. The setup also made him repeatedly hit himself in the face, because the servo-operated release mechanism would release unexpectedly without having a proper anchor with his draw hand.

[Shane] eventually upgraded to a compound bow, which reduced the tension he had to hold while lining up the shot, but also increased the weight of the system dramatically. This leads him to fully embrace the mech suit look, and use a Steadicam vest to hold the weight of the bow. This finally allowed him to reliably William Tell shots and hit the flying targets.

Whether it’s an all-in-one electronic golf club, an explosive baseball bat, or a robotic pool cue, [Shane] is certainly adept at using impressive engineering skills to compensate for his lack of physical skill, or just his willfully closed eyes. Continue reading “Building An Archery Mech Suit To Skip Practice”

Neuromorphic Computing: What Is It And Where Are We At?

For the last hundred or so years, collectively as humanity, we’ve been dreaming, thinking, writing, singing, and producing movies about a machine that could think, reason, and be intelligent in a similar way to us. The stories beginning with “Erewhon” published in 1872 by Sam Butler, Edgar Allan Poe’s “Maelzel’s Chess Player,” and the 1927 film “Metropolis” showed the idea that a machine could think and reason like a person. Not in magic or fantastical way. They drew from the automata of ancient Greece and Egypt and combined notions of philosophers such as Aristotle, Ramon Llull, Hobbes, and thousands of others.

Their notions of the human mind led them to believe that all rational thought could be expressed as algebra or logic. Later the arrival of circuits, computers, and Moore’s law led to continual speculation that human-level intelligence was just around the corner. Some have heralded it as the savior of humanity, where others portray a calamity as a second intelligent entity rises to crush the first (humans).

The flame of computerized artificial intelligence has brightly burned a few times before, such as in the 1950s, 1980s, and 2010s. Unfortunately, both prior AI booms have been followed by an “AI winter” that falls out of fashion for failing to deliver on expectations. This winter is often blamed on a lack of computer power, inadequate understanding of the brain, or hype and over-speculation. In the midst of our current AI summer, most AI researchers focus on using the steadily increasing computer power available to increase the depth of their neural nets. Despite their name, neural nets are inspired by the neurons in the brain and share only surface-level similarities.

Some researchers believe that human-level general intelligence can be achieved by simply adding more and more layers to these simplified convolutional systems fed by an ever-increasing trove of data. This point is backed up by the incredible things these networks can produce, and it gets a little better every year. However, despite what wonders deep neural nets produce, they still specialize and excel at just one thing. A superhuman Atari playing AI cannot make music or think about weather patterns without a human adding those capabilities. Furthermore, the quality of the input data dramatically impacts the quality of the net, and the ability to make an inference is limited, producing disappointing results in some domains. Some think that recurrent neural nets will never gain the sort of general intelligence and flexibility that our brains offer.

However, some researchers are trying to creating something more brainlike by, you guessed it, more closely emulates a brain. Given that we are in a golden age of computer architecture, now seems the time to create new hardware. This type of hardware is known as Neuromorphic hardware.

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Why You Can’t Make A Wearable Display With A Transparent OLED

After seeing the cheap transparent OLED displays that have recently hit the market, you might have thought of using them as an affordable way to build your own wearable display. To save you the inevitable disappointment that would result from such a build, [Zach Freedman] took it upon himself to test out the idea, and show why transparent wearable displays are a harder than it looks.

He put together a headband with integrated microcontroller that holds the transparent OLED over the user’s eye, but unfortunately, anything shown on the display ends up being more or less invisible to the wearer. As [Zach] explains in the video after the break, the human eye is physically incapable of focusing on any object at  such a short distance. Contrary to what many people might think, the hard part of wearable displays is not in the display itself, but rather the optics.  For a wearable display to work, all the light beams from the display need to be focused into your eyeball by lenses and or reflectors, without distorting your view of everything beyond the lens. This requires, lightweight and distortion-free collimators and beam splitters, which are expensive and hard to make.

While these transparent OLEDs might not make practical heads-up displays, they are still a cool part for projects like a volumetric display. It’s certainly possible to build your own smart glasses or augmented reality glasses, you just need to focus on getting the optics right.