Bionic Implants Can Go Obsolete And Unsupported, Too

When a piece of hardware goes unsupported by a company, it can be frustrating. Bugs may no longer get fixed, or in the worst cases, perfectly good hardware can stop working entirely as software licences time out. Sadly, for a group reliant on retinal implants from company Second Sight, the company has since stopped producing and supporting the devices that give them a crude form of bionic sight.

The devices themselves consist of electrodes implanted into the retina, which can send signals to the nervous system which appear as spots of light to the user. A camera feed is used to capture images which are then translated into signals sent to the retinal electrodes. The results are low-resolution to say the least, and the vision supplied is crude, but it gives users that are blind a rudimentary sense that they never had before. It’s very much a visual equivalent to the cochlear implant technology.

The story is altogether too familiar; Second Sight Medical Products came out with a cutting-edge device, raised money and put it out into the world, only to go bankrupt down the road, leaving its users high and dry. Over 350 people have the implants fitted in one eye, while one Terry Byland is the sole person to have implants in both his left and right eyeballs. Performance of the device was mixed, with some users raving about the device while others questioned its utility.

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$60 PC Oscilloscope Review

Owning an oscilloscope is a real gamechanger and these days, scopes are more capable and less expensive than ever before. However, there is a big difference between scopes that cost several hundred dollars which are usually quite good and many of the very inexpensive — below $100 — instruments that are often — but not always — little more than toys. [Adrian] looks at a PC-based scope from Hantek that costs about $60. Is it a toy? Or a useful tool? He answers the question in the video below.

The Hantek 6022BE sports two channels with a 20 MHz bandwidth and 48 million samples per second. The device included probes, too. Of course, you also need a PC, although there is apparently third-party software for Android if you don’t want to lug a laptop around.

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Here’s How Those Battery-Free Flashing Phone Stickers Worked

The late 90s and early 2000s were a breakout time for mobile phones, with cheap GSM handsets ushering in the era in which pretty much everybody had a phone. Back then, a popular way to customize one’s phone was to install a sticker that would flash when the phone rang. These required no batteries or any other connection to the phone, and [Big Clive] has dived in to explain how they worked.¬†

The simple schematic of the flashing sticker circuit. The flashing was generated by the pulses of RF energy from the smartphone.

It’s an old-fashioned teardown that requires a bit of cutting to get inside the sticker itself. A typical example had three LEDs in series for a total voltage drop of around 7V, hooked up to two diodes and a PCB trace antenna. A later evolution used raw unpackaged components bonded to the PCB. Future versions went down to a single diode, using the LEDs to serve as the second. The basic theory was that the PCB traces would pick up RF transmitted by the phone when a call was coming in, lighting the LEDs.

In the 2G era, the freuqencies used were on the order of 300 MHz to 1.9GHz. A combination of the change in frequencies used by modern phone technology and the lower transmit powers used by handsets means that the stickers don’t work properly with modern phones according to [Big Clive].

Incidentally, you might like to consider running your own old-school cellphone network. Video after the break.

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3D Printed Climbing Holds, Now With Texture

Technology enables all kinds of possibilities to mold our environments in the way we best see fit. Plenty of ski resorts use snowmaking to extend their seasons, there are wave pools for surfing hundreds of miles away from oceans, and if you don’t live near any mountains you can build your own climbing wall as well. For the latter, many have turned to 3D printers to create more rock-like climbing grips but plastic doesn’t tend to behave the same as rock unless you do what [Giles Barton-Owen] did and incorporate salt into the prints.

For small manufacturers, typically the way that the rock texture is mimicked is by somehow incorporating sand, permanently, into the grip itself. This works well enough but is often too rough on climbers’ hands or otherwise doesn’t faithfully replicate a rock climbing experience. For these grips, instead of including sand, salt crystals of a particular size were added to a resin that was formed over the 3D printed grip. Once the resin cures substantially, the water-soluble salt can be washed away leaving a perfect texture to grab onto with chalked hands.

While this might not be a scalable method for large-scale climbing grip manufacturers, [Giles] hopes this method will help smaller operations or even DIY climbers to build more realistic grips without having to break the bank. In fact, he has already found some success at his local climbing gym using these grips. The method may be more difficult to scale for larger manufacturers but for anyone who wants to try it out themselves, all that’s needed for this build is a 3D printer, salt, and time.

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A 3D-printed mechanical system that moves weather symbols around

3D Printed Mechanical Contraption Shows Live Weather Forecast

“What’s the weather going to be like today?” is a question that’s near-permanently on the mind of those living in places like Britain, where brilliant sunshine can follow thick clouds, only to turn into drizzle an hour later. Nowadays you simply need to glance at your phone to know whether you need to pack an umbrella, but where’s the fun in that? Why not have a huge mechanical display to show you a summary of today’s weather?

As a fan of automatons and other contraptions filled with gears and pulleys, [Mike] decided to build just such a machine for his latest Mikey Makes video. It uses brightly coloured indicators inspired by the BBC’s famous “fluffy cloud” symbols that can show various combinations of sunshine, clouds, rain and snow. These symbols are moved around by dozens of gears, levers, swinging arms and other moving parts which were all 3D printed. We especially like the system that folds out rays of sunshine from behind the cloud; you can see it working in the video embedded below.

Live weather data is fetched through an open weather API by an Arduino MKR WiFi 1010. This then drives the mechanical system through a pair of motor driver ICs. The heavy work is performed by stepper motors and servos, while micro-switches and optical detectors determine the end point of each movement.

If you’re into weather displays, you’re in luck: we’ve featured many different styles over the years, including e-paper screens, analog gauges, split-flap displays and even a miniature recreation of the local weather.

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You Break It, We Fix It

Apple’s AirTags have caused a stir, but for all the wrong reasons. First, they turn all iPhones into Bluetooth LE beacon repeaters, without the owner’s permission. The phones listen for the AirTags, encrypt their location, and send the data on to the iCloud, where the tag’s owner can decrypt the location and track it down. Bad people have figured out that this lets them track their targets without their knowledge, turning all iPhone users into potential accomplices to stalkings, or worse.

Naturally, Apple has tried to respond by implementing some privacy-protecting features. But they’re imperfect to the point of being almost useless. For instance, AirTags now beep once they’ve been out of range of their owner’s phone for a while, which would surely alert the target that they’re being tracked, right? Well, unless the evil-doer took the speaker out, or bought one with the speaker already removed — and there’s a surprising market for these online.

If you want to know that you’re being traced, Apple “innovated with the first-ever proactive system to alert you of unwanted tracking”, which almost helped patch up the problem they created, but it only runs on Apple phones. It’s not clear what they meant by “first-ever” because hackers and researchers from the SeeMoo group at the Technical University of Darmstadt beat them to it by at least four months with the open-source AirGuard project that runs on the other 75% of phones out there.

Along the way, the SeeMoo group also reverse engineered the AirTag system, allowing anything that can send BLE beacons to play along. This opened the door for [Fabian Br√§unlein]’s ID-hopping “Find You” attack that breaks all of the tracker-detectors by using an ESP32 instead of an AirTag. His basic point is that most of the privacy guarantees that Apple is trying to make on the “Find My” system rely on criminals using unmodified AirTags, and that’s not very likely.

To be fair, Apple can’t win here. They want to build a tracking network where only the good people do the tracking. But the device can’t tell if you’re looking for your misplaced keys or stalking a swimsuit model. It can’t tell if you’re silencing it because you don’t want it beeping around your dog’s neck while you’re away at work, or because you’ve planted it on a luxury car that you’d like to lift when its owners are away. There’s no technological solution for that fundamental problem.

But hackers are patching up the holes they can, and making the other holes visible, so that we can at least have a reasonable discussion about the tech’s tradeoffs. Apple seems content to have naively opened up a Pandora’s box of privacy violation. Somehow it’s up to us to figure out a way to close it.

Wordle bot

Solving Wordle By Adding Machine Vision To A 3D Printer

Truth be told, we haven’t jumped on the Wordle bandwagon yet, mainly because we don’t need to be provided with yet another diversion — we’re more than capable of finding our own rabbit holes to fall down, thank you very much. But the word puzzle does look intriguing, and since the rules and the interface are pretty simple, it’s no wonder we’ve seen a few efforts like this automated Wordle solver crop up lately.

The goal of Wordle is to find a specific five-letter, more-or-less-common English word in as few guesses as possible. Clues are given at each turn in the form of color-coding the letters to indicate whether they appear in the word and in what order. [iamflimflam1]’s approach was to attach a Raspberry Pi camera over the bed of a 3D printer and attach a phone stylus in place of the print head. A phone running Wordle is placed on the printer bed, and Open CV is used to find both the screen of the phone, as well as the position of the phone on the printer bed. From there, the robot uses the stylus to enter an opening word, analyzes the colors of the boxes, and narrows in on a solution.

The video below shows the bot in use, and source code is available if you want to try it yourself. If you need a deeper dive into Wordle solving algorithms, and indeed other variant puzzles in the *dle space, check out this recent article on reverse engineering the popular game.

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