Swarm Vs. Iridium: Which Satellite IoT Service Is Right For You?

In a world where it seems like everyone’s face is glued to a device screen, the idea that wireless service might be anything other than universal seems just plain silly. But it’s not, as witnessed by vast gaps in cell carrier coverage maps, not to mention the 70% of the planet covered by oceans. The lack of universal coverage can be a real pain for IoT applications, which is a gap that satellite-based IoT services aim to fill.

But which service is right for your application? To help answer that question, [Mike Krumpus] has performed the valuable work of comparing the services offered by Swarm and Iridium in a real-world IoT shootout. On the face of it, the match-up seems a little lopsided — Iridium has been around forever and has a constellation of big satellites and an extensive ground-based infrastructure. But as our own [Al Williams] discovered when he tested out Swarm, there’s something to be said for having a lot of 1/4U Cubesats up there.

[Mike] picked up the gauntlet and did head-to-head tests of the two services under real-world conditions. Using the same Swarm development kit that [Al] used for his test, alongside an Iridium dev board of his own design, [Mike] did basic tests on uplink and downlink times for a short message on each service. We couldn’t find specs on the test message length, but Swarm’s FAQ indicates that packets are limited to 192 bytes, so we assume they’re both in that ballpark. Iridium was the clear winner on uplink and downlink times, which makes sense because Swarm’s constellation is much smaller at this point and leaves large gaps in coverage. But when you consider costs, Swarm wins the day; what would cost over $1,500 with Iridium would set you back a mere $60 with Swarm.

The bottom line, as always, depends on your application and budget, but [Mike]’s work makes it easier to do that analysis.

Svelte VR Headsets Coming?

According to Standford and NVidia researchers, VR adoption is slowed by the bulky headsets required. They want to offer a slim solution. A SIGGRAPH paper earlier this year lays out their plan or you can watch the video below. There’s also a second video, also below, covers some technical questions and answers.

The traditional headset has a display right in front of your eyes. Special lenses can make them skinnier, but this new method provides displays that can be a few millimeters thick. The technology seems pretty intense and appears to create a hologram at different apparent places using a laser, a geometric phase lens, and a pupil-replicating waveguide.

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Fusion 360 Logo

Local Simulation Feature To Be Removed From All Autodesk Fusion 360 Versions

The removal of features from Autodesk products would appear to be turning into something of a routine at this point, with the announced removal of local simulations the latest in this series. Previously Autodesk had severely cut down the features available with a Personal Use license, but these latest changes (effective September 6) affect even paying customers, no matter which tier.

While previously executed local simulations on designs will remain accessible, any updates to these simulations, as well as any new simulations will have to use Autodesk’s cloud-based solver. This includes the linear stress, modal frequencies, thermal, and thermal stress simulation types, with each type of simulation study costing a number of Cloud Tokens.

Solving a linear simulation should initially cost 0 tokens, but the other types between 3 – 6 tokens, with the exact cost per token likely to vary per region. This means that instead of solving simulations for free on one’s own hardware, the only option in a matter of weeks will be solely through Autodesk’s cloud-based offerings.

Naturally, we can see this change going over exceedingly well with Fusion 360 users and we’re looking forward to seeing how Autodesk will spin the inevitable backlash.

(Thanks, [Jeremy Herbert] for the tip)

Homebrew Biped Bot Shows Off Some Impressive Moves

We’ve seen enough DIY robotic platforms here on Hackaday to know that most of them take the literal and figurative path of least resistance. That is, they tend to be some type of wheeled rover. But of course, there are plenty of other forms of locomotion, should you want to take on something a bit more challenging.

This biped robot from [Tast’s Robots] is a perfect example. While it’s still technically wheeled, its self-balancing nature makes things quite a bit more complex. It doesn’t just stand upright either, it also has a unique ability to crouch down by rotating its motorized knees and hips. As demonstrated in the video below, it can even navigate relatively uneven terrain — pulling off such a smooth transition between hardwood and carpet is no easy feat for a self-balancing bot like this.

But the best part? It isn’t just fully open source, it’s also designed to be built with only the tools and capabilities available to the average home gamer. That means 3D printed components, wooden dowels, and RC car parts. Even the power supply, a Ryobi 18 V tool battery, is easy to source and relatively hacker friendly.

Just as impressive as the hardware is the suite of software packages developed to handle things like balancing, locomotion, and reverse kinematics. Each one is maintained and documented as their own individual Apache-licensed projects, making them far easier to utilize than they would be if it was all implemented as one monolithic system.

If you really want to ditch the wheels, we’ve seen a few biped walkers in the past. But frankly, none of them can compare to the capabilities and scope of this project.

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Hackaday Prize 2022: Solar Power Through Pyrolysis

We’re all familiar with solar cells, be they photovoltaic, or for heating water. But they are only the more common ways of converting the sun’s energey into usable power, and to the extended list there is now an addition courtesy of [Dennis]. He’s using the sun to drive the pyrolysis of biomass waste, releasing hydrogen fuel.

For those who aren’t familiar with the chemistry, pyrolysis refers to chemical reactions triggered by heat. In this case, when organic biomass is heated in the absence of oxygen it breaks down and releases the gaseous products of that breakdown as well as a mass of carbon. The idea behind this pyrolysis cell is that a Fresnel lens will focus the sun on a reaction chamber, providing the required heat for the reaction to occur. A test with a magnifier and a test tube proves that there’s something in it.

Of course, sharp-eyed readers will notice that this isn’t quite in the same vein as other cells which convert the Sun’s energy into a usable form, in that while it provides an input of energy for the pyrolysis the chemical energy in the resulting gas comes mostly from the original biomass. There is a silver lining to the prospect of burning gas though, in that the left-over carbon can be incorporated into the soil as biochar, an effective carbon sink.

We’ve seen a project pursuing a similar chemistry before, though not using solar energy to do it.

Cyberdeck Builders Talk Shop In Roundtable Chat

In honor of our recently announced 2022 Cyberdeck Contest, we decided to do things a little differently for this week’s Hack Chat. Rather than pick just one host, we looked back through the archive and selected some of the most impressive builds we’ve seen and asked their creators if they’d like to take part in a freewheeling discussion about their creations and the nascent community surrounding these bespoke computing devices.

Despite conflicting time zones and at least one international vacation, we were able to put together an impressive panel to helm this special Cyberdeck Brainstorming Hack Chat:

So what did this accomplished group of cyberdeck builders have to talk about? Well, quite a bit. During a lively conversation, these creators not only swapped stories and details about their own builds, but answered questions from those looking for inspiration and guidance.

bootdsc’s radio-packed VirtuScope

The discussion immediately kicked off with what’s perhaps the most obvious question: why build a cyberdeck if we already have laptops and smartphones — mobile computing form factors which [Io Tenino] admits are likely as close to perfect as we can get with current technology. Most of the builders agreed that a big part of the appeal is artistic, as the design and construction of their personal deck allowed them to show off their creativity.

But what of productivity? Can these custom machines do more than look good on a shelf? There seemed to be consensus that it was difficult to compete with a standard laptop in terms of general purpose computing, but that a cyberdeck tailored to a specific use case could be a powerful tool.

For example, [bootdsc] built a high-power WiFi adapter as well as an RTL-SDR receiver and up-converter into the VirtuScope, while [Io Tenino] says the Joopyter’s integrated printer is occasionally used to run off a grocery list. [H3lix] also mentioned that the trend towards ever-thinner laptops has meant removing ports and expansion options which used to be taken for granted, a potentially frustrating situation for hardware hackers that a cyberdeck can alleviate.

Naturally, the Chat also covered more technical aspects of cyberdeck design. There was quite a bit of discussion about powering these custom machines, and whether or not internal batteries were even a necessary design consideration. In keeping with the survivalist theme, [cyzoonic] included 18650 cells and an integrated charger, while [Io Tenino] is content to use a standard USB battery bank. Ultimately, like most aspects of an individual’s cyberdeck, the answer largely depended on what the user personally wished to accomplish.

[Io Tenino]’s Joopyter comes from a decade that never existed.
As you might expect with [Back7] in attendance, there were also several questions about the logistics of using a Pelican case as the enclosure for your build. Different techniques were discussed for mounting hardware within the case without compromising its integrity, such as gluing your fasteners to the inside of the case, or 3D printing an internal framework.

Others wondered if the protection provided by these cases was really necessary given the relatively easy life most of these machines will lead, especially given their considerable cost. Although to that end, we also saw some suggestions for alternative cases which provide a similar look and feel at a more hacker-friendly price point.

Though they are certainly popular, Pelican cases are just one option when planning your own build. Many chose to 3D print their own enclosures, and there’s even the argument to be made that the rise of desktop 3D printing has helped make cyberdeck construction more practical than it has been in the past. Others prefer to use the chassis of an old computer or other piece of consumer electronics as a backbone for their deck, which fits well with the cyberpunk piecemeal aesthetic. That said, the Chat seemed in agreement that care needed to be taken so as not to destroy a rare or valuable piece of vintage hardware in the process.

This Hack Chat was a great chance to get some behind the scenes info about these fantastic builds, but even if you didn’t have a specific question, it was an inspiring discussion to say the least. We’re willing to bet that the design for some of the cyberdecks that get entered into the contest will have been shaped, at least in part, due to this unique exchange of niche ideas and information. Special thanks to [bootdsc], [Back7], [H3lix], [a8ksh4], [Io Tenino], and [cyzoonic] for taking the time to share this glimpse into their fascinating community with us.

The Hack Chat is a weekly online chat session hosted by leading experts from all corners of the hardware hacking universe. It’s a great way for hackers connect in a fun and informal way, but if you can’t make it live, these overview posts as well as the transcripts posted to Hackaday.io make sure you don’t miss out.

Hackaday Podcast 181: 3D Printing With Volcano Nuts, The Hackaday Bookshelf, And A Puzzlebot

This week, Editor-in-Chief Elliot Williams and Assignments Editor Kristina Panos convened in a secret location to say what we will about the choicest hacks of the past week. We kick things off by discussing the brand new Cyberdeck contest, which is the first of it’s type, but certainly won’t be the last. In other contest news, we recently announced the winners of the Hack it Back Challenge of the Hackaday Prize, which ran the gamut from bodysnatching builds to rad resto-mods and resto-recreations.

IBM’s Linkway, French edition. Très tubulaire, non?

Taking top honors in wow factor this week is [Stuff Made Here]’s jigsaw puzzle-solving robot. This monster can currently tackle small laser-cut puzzles, but is destined to solve an all-white 5000-piece nightmare once all the engineering pieces have come together.

Then we took a field trip to Zip Tie City, where the plastic’s green ♻ and the wiring’s pretty, admired volcano nuts from afar, and briefly considered the idea of a 3D printer with a heating zone of programmable length.

Finally, we take a look at a creatively destructive robot that’s akin to a useless machine, bloviate about books you should read, and dance around the topic of learning by playing.


Direct download.

Check out the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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