Useless Machine Is A Clock

Useless machines are a fun class of devices which typically turn themselves off once they are switched on, hence their name. Even though there’s no real point, they’re fun to build and to operate nonetheless. [Burke] has followed this idea in spirit by putting an old clock he had to use with his take on a useless machine of sorts. But instead of simply powering itself off when turned on, this useless machine dislodges itself from its wall mount and falls to the ground anytime anyone looks at it.

It’s difficult to tell if this clock was originally broken when he started this project, or if many rounds of checking the time have caused the clock to damage itself, but either way this project is an instant classic. Powered by a small battery driving a Raspberry Pi, the single-board computer runs OpenCV and is programmed to recognize any face pointed in its general direction. When it does, it activates a small servo which knocks it off of its wall, rendering it unarguably useless.

[Burke] doesn’t really know why he had this idea, but it’s goofy and fun. The duct tape that holds everything together is the ultimate finishing touch as well, and we can’t really justify spending too much on fit and finish for a project that tosses itself around one’s room. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more refined useless machine, we have seen some that have an impressive level of intricacy.

Thanks to [alchemyx] for the tip!

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Hacking The Wooly Mammoth

In case you can’t get enough Jurassic Park movies, you can look forward to plans a biotech company has to hybridize endangered Asian elephants with long-extinct wooly mammoths using gene splicing and other exotic techniques.

Expect a long movie, the team hopes to have calves after six years and we don’t think a theme park is in the making. The claim is that mammoth traits will help the elephants reclaim the tundra, but we can’t help but think it is just an excuse to reanimate an extinct animal. If you read popular press reports, there is some question if the ecological mission claimed by the company is realistic. However, we can’t deny it would be cool to bring an animal back from extinction — sort of.

We aren’t DNA wizards, so we only partially understand what’s being proposed. Apparently, skin cells from a modern elephant will serve as a base to accept extracted mammoth DNA. This might seem far-fetched but turns out the mammoth lived much more recently than we usually think. When they die in their natural deep-freeze environment, they are often well preserved.

Once the gene splicing is set up, a surrogate elephant will carry the embryo to term. The hope is that the improved breed would be able to further interbreed with natural species, although with the gestation and maturity times of elephants, this will be a very long time to bear fruit.

So how do you feel about it? Will we face a movie-level disaster? Will we get some lab curiosity creatures? Will it save the tundra? Let us know what you think in the comments.

DNA manipulation has gone from moon-shot-level tech to readily accessible in a very short amount of time. In particular, CRISPR, changes everything and is both exciting and scary on what it puts in the hands of nearly anyone.

Harp Uses Frikin’ Lasers

We aren’t sure if you really need lasers to build [HoPE’s] laser harp. It is little more than some photocells and has an Arduino generate tones based on the signals. Still, you need to excite the photocells somehow, and lasers are cheap enough these days.

Mechanically, the device is a pretty large wooden structure. There are six lasers aligned to six light sensors. Each sensor is read by an analog input pin on an Arduino armed with a music-generation shield. We’ve seen plenty of these in the past, but the simplicity of this one is engaging.

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Robert Dunn holds a button in his hand for controlling a spot welder

Gorgeous Battery Welder Hits The Spot

Raise you’re hand if you’ve ever soldered directly to a battery even though you know better. We’ve all been there. Sometimes we get away with it when we have a small pack and don’t care about longevity. But when [Robert Dunn] needed to build a battery pack out of about 120 Lithium Ion cells, he knew that he had to do it The Right Way and use a battery spot welder. Of course, buying one is too simple for a hacker like [Robert]. And so it was that he decided to Build a Spot Welder from an old Microwave Oven and way too much mahogany, which you can view below the break.

A Battery Cell with a spot welding tab attached
Spot Welding leaves two familiar divots in the attached tab, which can be soldered or welded as need.

For the unfamiliar, a battery spot welder is the magical device that attaches tabs to rechargeable batteries. You’ll notice that all battery packs with cylindrical cells have a tab with two small dimples. These dimples are where high amperage electricity quickly heats the battery terminal and the tab until they’re red hot, welding them together. The operation is done and over in less than a second, well before any heat damage can be done. The tab can then be soldered to or spot welded to another cell.

One of the most critical parts of spot welding batteries is timing. While [Robert Dunn] admits that a 555 timer or even just a manual switch and relay could have done the job, he opted for an Arduino Uno with a 4 character 7 segment LED display that shows the welding time in milliseconds. A 3d printed trigger and welder handle wrap up the hardware nicely.

The build is topped off by a custom mahogany enclosure that is quite a bit overdone. But if one has the wood, the time, the tools and skills (and a YouTube channel perhaps?) there’s no reason not to put in the extra effort! [Robert]’s resulting build is almost too nice, but it’ll certainly get the job done.

Of course, spot welders are almost standard fare here at Hackaday, and we’ve covered The Good, The Bad, and The Solar. Do you have a battery welder project that deserves a spot in Hackaday’s rotation? By all means, send it over to the Tip Line!

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Lithium Mine To Battery Line: Tesla Battery Day And The Future Of EVs

After last year’s Tesla Battery Day presentation and the flurry of information that came out of it, [The Limiting Factor] spent many months researching the countless topics behind Tesla’s announced plans, the resource markets for everything from lithium to copper and cobalt, and what all of this means for electrical vehicles (EVs) as well as batteries for both battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and power storage.

A number of these changes are immediate, such as the use of battery packs as a structural element to save the weight of a supporting structure, while others such as the shift away from cobalt in battery cathodes being a more long-term prospective, along with the plans for Tesla to set up its own lithium clay mining operation in the US. Also impossible to pin down: when the famous ‘tabless’ 4680 cells that Tesla plans to use instead of the current 18650 cells will be mass-produced and when they will enable the promised 16% increase.

Even so, in the over 1 hour long video (also linked below after the break), the overall perspective seems fairly optimistic, with LFP (lithium iron phosphate) batteries also getting a shout out. One obvious indication of process to point out is that the cobalt-free battery is already used in Model 3 Teslas, most commonly in Chinese models.

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The World’s First Autonomous Electric Cargo Ship Is Due To Set Sail

Maritime shipping is big business, with gigantic container ships responsible for moving the vast majority of the world’s goods from point A to points B, C and D. Of course, there’s a significant environmental impact from all this activity, something ill befitting the cleaner, cooler world we hope the future will be. Thus, alternatives to the fossil fuel burning ships of old must be found. To that end, Norwegian company Yara International has developed a zero-emission ship by the name of Yara Birkeland, which aims to show the way forward into a world of electric, autonomous sea transport. 

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3D Objects Without Scanning

There are many scanners — both commercial and homemade — that can take a variety of scans or images of a 3D object and convert it into something like a 3D printable file. When the process works, it works well, but the results can be finicky at best and will require a lot of manual tuning. According to [Samuel Garbett], you might as well just draw your own model using Blender. He shows you how using a Red Bull can which, granted, isn’t exactly the most complicated thing ever, but it isn’t the simplest either.

He does take one photo of the can, so there is a camera involved at some point. He also takes measurements using calipers, something you probably already have laying around.

Since it is just a can, there aren’t many required pictures or measurements as, say, a starship model. Once you have the measurements, of course, you could use the tool of your choice and since we aren’t very adept with Blender, we might have used something we think is easier like FreeCAD or OpenSCAD. However, Blender has a lot of power, so we suspect making the jump from can to the USS Enterprise might be more realistic for a Blender user.

Besides, it is good to see how other tools work and we were surprised that Blender could be relatively simple to use. Every time we see [Jared’s] channel, we think we should learn more about Blender. But if you have your heart set on a real scanner, there are plenty of open source designs you can print.