A row of electromagnetic coils fastened to a metal track

Propel Paper Planes, Bisect Sausages With Electromagnets

Are you still launching paper airplanes using your hands? That’s like a baby’s toy! [Tom Stanton] and his homebrew electromagnetic rail launcher are sure to bring your paper airplane game into the 21st century.

To be fair, these kinds of linear motors can be used for more than just launching paper airplanes, and can already be found in niche industrial applications, mass transportation systems and roller coasters. And, yes, the potential to leverage electromagnetism in the theater of war is also being vigorously explored by many of the world’s superpowers in the form of Gauss rifles and railguns. In the meantime, the video (after the break) proves that it’s entirely possible to build a rudimentary yet effective linear motor in your makerspace, using relatively basic components and fundamental physics.

In short, these launch systems use electromagnetism and well timed electronics to propel a mass of magnetic material down a straight (or sometimes curved) track. Multiple pairs of coils are placed along the track, with each pair subsequently energized by high current as the payload approaches. By using many coils in succession, the mass and its payload can be accelerated to high speed.

While a homemade rail launcher is unlikely to turn the tides of war, [Tom Stanton] explores their lethal potential with an experiment involving high-speed video and supermarket sausages, with gruesome results.

If you’re looking for more, why not check out our our previous coverage on electromagnetic weaponry?

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Hexagonal Mirror Array Hides Hidden Message

[Ben Bartlett] recently got engaged, and the proposal had a unique bit of help in the form of a 3D-printed hexagonal mirror array, whose mirrors are angled just right to spell out a message with the reflections. A small test is shown above projecting a heart, but the real deal was a bigger version reflecting the message “MARRY ME?” into sand at sunset. Who could say no to something like that? Luckily for all of us, [Ben] shared all the details of what went into designing and building such a thoughtful and fascinating device.

Mirrors on the 3D-printed array are angled just right to reflect light into a message.

Essentially, the array of mirrors works a bit like a projector. Each individual reflection can be can be thought of as a pixel, and the projected position of each can be modified by the precise angle of each mirror. With the help of some Python code, [Ben] calculated the exact angles needed to spell out “MARRY ME?” and generated the necessary 3D model. A smaller-scale test (shown in the header image above) was successful, and after that it was just a matter of printing the array and gluing on some mirrors.

Of course, that’s the short version. In practice there were quite a few troublesome issues that demonstrated the value of using early tests to discover hidden problems. For one thing, mirror angle and alignment is crucial, which meant that anything that could affect the shape of the array was a potential problem. Glue that expands or otherwise changes shape as it dries or cures could slightly change a mirror’s angle, so cyanoacrylate (CA) glue was preferred. However, the tiniest bit of CA glue will mess up a mirror’s surface in a hurry, so care was needed during assembly.

The gleaming hexagonal mirrors are reminiscent of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Another gotcha was when [Ben] suddenly realized, twenty hours into printing the final assembly, that the message needed to be reversed! As designed, the array he was printing would project “?EM YRRAM” and this wasn’t caught during testing because the test pattern (a heart) was symmetrical. Fortunately there was time to correct the error and start again, but it was close. [Ben]’s code has an optional visualization function, which was invaluable for verifying that things would actually turn out as expected. As it happens, the project took right up to the last minute to complete and there wasn’t quite time to check everything 100% before the big moment, but it all turned out alright. What’s life without a little mystery and danger, anyway?

The pictures are great, but you won’t regret taking the time to read through the project page (don’t miss the annotated Python code) because [Ben] goes into just the right level of detail. The end result looks fantastic, and makes an excellent keepsake with a charming story.

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Hackaday Links: November 14, 2021

If you’re an infrastructure dweeb, it’s hard to drive past an electrical substation and not appreciate the engineering involved in building something like that. A moment’s thought will also make it hard to miss just how vulnerable a substation is to attack, especially those located way out in the hinterlands. And now we’re learning that late year, someone in Pennsylvania noticed this vulnerability and acted on it by attacking a substation with a commercial drone. Rather than trying to fly explosives over the substation fence, the attacker instead chose to dangle a copper wire tether under the drone, in an attempt to cause a short circuit. The attempt apparently failed when the drone crashed before contacting any conductors, and the attacker appears to have been ignorant of the extensive protective gear employed at substations that likely would have made a successful attack only a temporary outage. But it still points to the vulnerability of the grid to even low-skill, low-cost attacks.

We’ve probably all had the experience of using someone’s janky app and thinking, “Pfft! I could write something better than this!” That’s what a bunch of parents of school-age kids in Sweden thought, and they went ahead and did exactly that. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out quite the way they expected. The problem app was called Skolplattform, which was supposed to make it easy for Stockholm’s parents to keep track of their kids’ progress at school. The app, which cost 1 billion Swedish Krona to develop, is by all accounts a disaster. But some frustrated parents managed to reverse engineer the API and build a new, better one on top of it. This resulted in Öppna Skolplattformen, an open-source app that actually works. Not to be upstaged, the city of Stockholm accused the parents of cyber crimes and data breaches. They also engaged the parents in an “API war”, constantly changing their system to nerf the new app and forcing the parents to rewrite it. In the end, the parents won, with Stockholm changing its position after a police report found that all data being accessed were voluntarily made public by the city. But it’s still a cautionary tale about the dangers of one-upping The Man.

Sam Battles is in a bit of a moral bind, and it’s something that others in our community may run into. Sam is perhaps better known as “Look Mum, No Computer” on YouTube, and as the proprietor of the “This Museum Is (Not) Obsolete” showcase of retro technology in England. He’s also an avid builder of analog synthesizers, including a world-record synth with a thousand oscillators called the “Megadrone.” He’d like to tackle another build to try to break his own records, but in a time of fragile supply chains and other woes too numerous to mention, doing so would likely require the world’s entire supply of some components. Hence the dilemma: do any of us as hobbyists have a moral obligation to tread lightly when it comes to component selection? It’s an interesting question, and one that’s sure to engender strong opinions, which of course we encourage you to share in the comments section. Please just try to keep it civil.

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Forget Radio! Transmitting With Neutrons

Throughout history, people have devised ways to send information across long distances. For centuries we relied on smoke signals, semaphores, and similar physical devices. Electricity changed everything. First the telegraph and then radio transformed communications. Now researchers at the University of Lancaster have demonstrated another way to send wireless data without using electromagnetic radiation. They’ve harnessed fast neutrons from californium-252 and modulated them with information with 100% success.

The setup was interesting. The radioactive material was encased in a cubic meter steel tank filled with water. A pneumatic system can move the material to one edge of the tank which allows fast neutrons to escape. A scintillating detector can pick up the increased neutron activity. It seems like it is akin to using what hams call CW and college professors call OOK (on off keying). You can do that with just about anything you can detect. A flashlight, knocking on wood, or — we suppose — neutrons.

We wondered what the practical application of this might be. The paper suggests that the technique could send data through metal containment structures like those of a nuclear reactor or, perhaps, a spacecraft where you don’t want anything unnecessarily breaching the containment. After all, neutrons cut through things that would stop a conventional radio wave cold.

It seems like you only have to prove you can detect something to make this work — it really doesn’t matter what it is you are detecting. It seems like it would be much harder to do more advanced types of modulation using neutrons. Maybe this is why we don’t hear aliens. They are all Morse code operators with neutron-based telegraphs.

UV sensing amulet

Tiny Talisman Warns Wearer About UV Exposure

Given how important our Sun is, our ancestors can be forgiven for seeing it as a god. And even now that we know what it actually is and how it works, it’s not much of a reach to think that the Sun pours forth evil spirits that can visit disease and death on those who bask too long in its rays. So an amulet of protection against the evil UV rays is a totally reasonable project, right?

As is often the case with [mitxela]’s projects, especially the more bedazzled ones, this one is approximately equal parts electronics and fine metalworking. The bulk of the video below focuses on the metalwork, which is pretty fascinating stuff. The case for the amulet was made from brass and sized to fit a CR2032 coin cell. The back of the amulet is threaded to act as a battery cover, and some fancy lathe work was needed there. The case was also electroplated in gold to prevent tarnishing, and lends a nice look when paired up with the black solder mask of the PCB.

On the electronics side, [mitxela] took pains to keep battery drain as low as possible and to make the best use of the available space, choosing an ATtiny84 to support a TTP223 capacitive sensing chip and a VEML6075 UV sensor. The touch sensor allows the wearer to wake the amulet and cycles through UV modes, which [mitxela] learned were not exactly what the sensor datasheet said they were. This required a few software hacks, but in the end, the amulet does a decent job of reporting the UV index and looks fantastic while doing it.

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Those Bullet Effects In Terminator 2 Weren’t CGI

Remember Terminator 2? Guns were nearly useless against the murderous T-1000, played by Robert Patrick. Bullets fired at the “liquid metal” robot resulted only in a chrome-looking bullet splash that momentarily staggered the killing machine. The effects were done by Stan Winston, who died in 2008, but a video and short blurb shared by the Stan Winston School of Character Arts revealed, to our surprise and delight, that the bullet impact effects were not CGI.

How was this accomplished? First of all, Winston and his team researched the correct “look” for the splash impacts by firing projectiles into mud and painstakingly working to duplicate the resulting shapes. These realistic-looking crater sculpts were then cast in some mixture of foam rubber, and given a chromed look by way of vacuum metallizing (also known as vacuum deposition) which is a way of depositing a thin layer of metal onto a surface. Vacuum deposition is similar to electroplating, but the process does not require the object being coated to have a conductive surface.

These foam rubber splash patterns — which look like metal but aren’t — were deployed using a simple mechanical system. A variety of splashes in different sizes get individually compressed into receptacles in a fiberglass chest plate. Covering each is a kind of trapdoor, each held closed by a single pin on a cable.

To trigger a bullet impact effect, a wireless remote control pulls a cable, which pulls its attached pin, and the compressed splash pattern blossoms forth in an instant, bursting through pre-scored fabric in the process. Sadly there are no photos of the device itself, but you can see it in action in the testing video shared by the Stan Winston School, embedded below.

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A robot that uses CV to detect villagers in Stardew Valley and display their gift preferences on a screen.

Stardew Valley Preferences Bot Is A Gift To The Player

It seems like most narrative games have some kind of drudgery built in. You know, some tedious and repetitious task that you absolutely must do if you want to succeed. In Stardew Valley, that thing is gift giving, which earns you friendship points just like in real life. More important than the giving itself is that each villager has preferences — things they love, like, and hate to receive as gifts. It’s a lot to remember, and most people don’t bother trying and just look it up in the wiki. Well, except for Abigail, who seems to like certain gemstones so much that she must be eating them. She’s hard to forget.

[kutluhan_aktar]’s villager gift preferences bot is a fun and fantastic use of OpenCV. This bot uses a LattePanda Alpha 864s, which is a single-board computer with an Arduino Leonardo built in. It works using template matching, which is basically a game of Where’s Waldo? for computers.

Given a screenshot of each villager in various positions, the LattePanda recognizes them among a given game scene, then does a lookup of their birthday and preferences which the Leonardo prints on a 3.5″ LCD screen. At the same time, it alerts the player with a buzz and big green LED. Be sure to check it out in action after the break.

In Animal Crossing, the drudgery amounts to pressing the A button while catching shooting stars. That’s not a huge problem for a Teensy.

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