We will have all at some point seen a fascinating project online, only to find not enough information to really appreciate and understand it. Such a project came [Bill Meara]’s way over at the SolderSmoke podcast, and he was fortunately able to glean more from its creator. What [Tom] had made from junkbox parts was a fairly traditional analogue receiver for the 20m amateur band which would be quite an achievement in itself, but what makes it special is its use of an FPGA to augment the analogue tuning.
A traditional analogue radio has a local oscillator which is mixed with the signal from the antenna, and an intermediate frequency of the difference between oscillator and desired signal is filtered from the result and amplified. The oscillator on older receivers would have used a free running tuned circuit, while a newer device might use a phase-locked loop to derive a stable frequency from a crystal.
What [Tom]’s receiver does is take a free-running traditional receiver and use the FPGA as a helper. It has a frequency meter that drives the display, but it also uses the measured figure to adjust the oscillator and keep it on frequency. It has two modes; while tuning it’s a traditional analogue receiver, but when left alone the FPGA stops it drifting. We like it, it’s definitely a special project.
Radio control toys can be great fun to play with. However, at the bottom end of the market, sometimes you find you’ve bought something that just doesn’t work quite right. [saulemmetquinn] found that with a cheap RC helicopter, and set about re-engineering the design in Tinkercad.
The entire frame of the original helicopter was discarded, replaced with one made out of CAD-designed and 3D printed components. The end result is far lighter and less cumbersome than the original design, while also managing to look a lot more like an actual helicopter. It also served to correct some of the problems which [saulemmetquinn] stated made the original toy difficult to fly.
Assembling your own tiny helicopter motors and mechanisms would be quite difficult, and time consuming. [saulemmetquinn] was instead able to leverage the good parts of the original design, and build something better from that. It’s very much the essence of hacking, right there.
For readers that might not spend their free time watching spools of PLA slowly unwind, The Spaghetti Detective (TSD) is an open source project that aims to use computer vision and machine learning to identify when a 3D print has failed and resulted in a pile of plastic “spaghetti” on the build plate. Once users have installed the OctoPrint plugin, they need to point it to either a self-hosted server that’s running on a relatively powerful machine, or TSD’s paid cloud service that handles all the AI heavy lifting for a monthly fee.
Unfortunately, 73 of those cloud customers ended up getting a bit more than they bargained for when a configuration flub allowed strangers to take control of their printers. In a frank blog post, TSD founder Kenneth Jiang owns up to the August 19th mistake and explains exactly what happened, who was impacted, and how changes to the server-side code should prevent similar issues going forward.
For the record, it appears no permanent damage was done, and everyone who was potentially impacted by this issue has been notified. There was a fairly narrow window of opportunity for anyone to stumble upon the issue in the first place, meaning any bad actors would have had to be particularly quick on their keyboards to come up with some nefarious plot to sabotage any printers connected to TSD. That said, one user took to Reddit to show off the physical warning their printer spit out; the apparent handiwork of a fellow customer that discovered the glitch on their own.
According to Jiang, the issue stemmed from how TSD associates printers and users. When the server sees multiple connections coming from the same public IP, it’s assumed they’re physically connected to the same local network. This allows the server to link the OctoPrint plugin running on a Raspberry Pi to the user’s phone or computer. But on the night in question, an incorrectly configured load-balancing system stopped passing the source IP addresses to the server. This made TSD believe all of the printers and users who connected during this time period were on the same LAN, allowing anyone to connect with whatever machine they wished.
The mix-up only lasted about six hours, and so far, only the one user has actually reported their printer being remotely controlled by an outside party. After fixing the load-balancing configuration, the team also pushed an update to the TSD code which puts a cap on how many printers the server will associate with a given IP address. This seems like a reasonable enough precaution, though it’s not immediately obvious how this change would impact users who wish to add multiple printers to their account at the same time, such as in the case of a print farm.
While no doubt an embarrassing misstep for the team at The Spaghetti Detective, we can at least appreciate how swiftly they dealt with the issue and their transparency in bringing the flaw to light. This is also an excellent example of how open source allows the community to independently evaluate the fixes applied by the developer in response to a discovered flaw. Jiang says the team will be launching a full security audit of their own as well, so expect more changes getting pushed to the repository in the near future.
We were impressed with TSD when we first covered it back in 2019, and glad to see the project has flourished since we last checked in. Trust is difficult to gain and easy to lose, but we hope the team’s handling of this issue shows they’re on top of things and willing to do right by their community even if it means getting some egg on their face from time to time.
As of this writing, one of the better confirmations for this report can be found on the RealSense SDK GitHub repository README. The good news is that core depth-sensing RealSense products will continue business as usual for the foreseeable future, balanced by the bad news that some interesting offshoots (facial authentication, motion tracking) will be declared “End of Life” immediately and phased out over the next six months.
This information tells us while those living out on the bleeding edge will have to scramble, there is no immediate crisis for everyone else, whether they be researchers, hobbyists, or product planners. But this also means there will be no future RealSense cameras, kicking off many “What’s Next?” discussions in various communities. Like this thread on ROS (Robot Operating System) Discourse.
Three popular alternatives offer distinctly different tradeoffs. The “Been Around The Block” name is Occipital, with their more expensive Structure Pro sensor. The “Old Name, New Face” option is Microsoft Azure Kinect, the latest non-gaming-focused successor to the gaming peripheral that started it all. And let’s not forget OAK-D as the “New Kid On The Block” that started with a crowdfunding campaign and building an user community by doing things like holding contests. Each of these will appeal to a different niche, and we’ll keep our eye open in the future. Let’s see if any of them find the success that eluded the original Kinect, Google’s Tango, and now Intel’s RealSense.
Accessibility is one obvious approach to this challenge. But you can also consider the example of reference designs in datasheets. Manufacturers know you don’t want to re-invent the wheel to use their switch-mode power supply so they give you information on how to lay it out on the PCB and what parts to choose. Now take that idea and run with it. This could be a modular design that takes the wizardry out of building electronic projects. But it could just as easily be a aimed at the end user — perhaps lab equipment that’s normally expensive and requires expertise to operate but you’ve reimagined it to have most of that expertise built in.
Need some more help figuring out what this is all about? Let’s look at some of the projects that have already been entered. With devices all around us that have superb cameras and dazzling screens, [Timo] realized it wouldn’t take much to turn one into an inspection microscope, which is just what’s been done with nothing more than a 3D-printed stand and a desk lamp.
[Alain] put his electronics knowledge, and the availability of cheap modules, to great use for his non-verbal son. The PECS Communication Board has a grid of sixteen images, each is a button to act as input. He makes the point that tablet apps exist for this, but durability and cost are both issues that his approach helps address.
There are already a ton of other great entries for this round of the Hackaday Prize, but it wouldn’t be complete without yours. Ten will be chosen to receive $500 each and move on to the finals with a $25,000 grand prize on the line. Start your project right now on Hackaday.io and use the left sidebar drop down menu on your project page to enter it.
You have until Monday morning when the next round begins. Good luck!
This last point is a critical one for the mission [Ali Shtarbanov] from the MIT Media Lab is setting out for this project. He reminds us that in decades gone by, there was a significant barrier to entry for anyone building electronics prototypes. Information about how to get started was also much harder to by before the internet really got into gear.
It’s a similar story for software, with tools like Scratch and Python lowering the barrier to entry and allowing more people to get their toes wet and build some confidence.
But despite some earlier work by projects like the Soft Robotics Toolkit and Programmable-Air, making a start on lowering the bar for pneumatics support for soft robotics, and related applications, the project author still finds areas for further improvement. FlowIO was designed from the ground-up to be wearable. It appears to be much smaller, more portable and supports more air ports and a greater array of sensing and connectivity than previous Open Source work to date.
Creative Commons Hardware
Whilst you can take all the plans (free account signup required) and build yourself a FlowIO rig of your very own, the project author offers another solution. Following on from the Wikipedia model of free sharing and distribution of information, FlowIO offers its hardware for free, for the common good. Supported by donations to the project, more hardware is produced and distributed to those who need it. The only ask is that redundant kits are passed on or returned to base for upgrade, rather than landfill.
Bitcoin. The magical internet money is often derided as “worthless” and “made up” by those who forget that all currencies only have value because we believe in them. Perhaps the world’s strongest currency not backed up by guns and ammo, Bitcoin nonetheless remains a controversial invention, as do the many cryptocurrencies that followed in its wake.