Computer Space Replica Is Up And Running

You never forget your first time — watching someone pour several quid’s worth of 10p pieces into a Space Invader machine in 1978, upsetting for a youngster who wanted to have a turn. We’re still waiting, but [Alston] has found an interesting way to get around those arcade video game hoggers by building a replica of Computer Space, the first commercial arcade video game.

Released in 1971, the groundbreaking game was designed by gaming legends [Nolan Bushnell] and [Ted Dabney], and came in a striking curvy fiberglass case that was molded by a manufacturer of swimming pools. [Alston] hasn’t built the case yet, but he does have the electronics up and running.

The electronics of Computer Space are interesting, because there is no microprocessor in there. Instead, it is built from discrete components. [Nolan] had originally planned to use a mini computer called the Data General Nova 800. However, he realized that he could make it cheaper by building it out of discrete components. As [Nolan] described it in an oral history at the Smithsonian [PDF link], the idea came to him after a post-Thanksgiving dinner nap:

“Screw the minicomputer. Get rid of it. Do it all in hardware. Make the game out of this collection, just make it a simple state machine. And the minute that happened, it was like knife through butter. Not only did I get the cost down, but what was budgeted for $1,500 worth of minicomputer, the whole damn computer cost me less than $300 in glue parts. So, I knew that I had something.”

That decision makes it an interesting project to build a replica. Although you can emulate it on a modern computer easily (there is even a version that runs in CSS in the browser). [Alston] is going the hard route, building replica PCBs and using the same components where possible, helped by people who have documented it. So far, the boards are and running and displaying a grainy, pixelated image on a portable TV.

The next step is to take the replica electronics box he has built and make a cabinet to put it into. That’s a big project, and [Alston] is looking for someone with an original cabinet that he can examine and document.

The Path To Profiling Extraterrestrial Atmospheres With Astrophotonics

A major part of finding extraterrestrial life is to be able to profile the atmosphere of any planets outside of our solar system. This is not an easy task, as these planets are usually found through the slight darkening of their star as they pass in front of it (transition). Although spectroscopy is the ideal way to profile the chemical composure of such a planet, having a massive, extremely bright star right next to the planet is more than enough to completely overpower the faint light reflecting off the planet’s surface and through its atmosphere. This is a major issue that the upcoming Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx, also called the Habitable Worlds Observatory, or HWO) hopes to address using a range of technologies, including a coronagraph that should block out most of the stellar glare.

While this solves much of the issue, there are still a range of issues which the new field of astrophotonics seeks to address, as detailed in a recent paper by Nemanja Jovanovic and colleagues. This involves not only profiling chemical compositions, but also increasing the precision when monitoring for planet transit events using e.g. semiconductors-based laser frequency combs. These are generally combined with a spectral flattener, which in experimental on-chip form are significantly less bulky than previous setups, to the point where they don’t necessarily have to be Earth-based.

Continue reading “The Path To Profiling Extraterrestrial Atmospheres With Astrophotonics”

2023 Halloween Hackfest: Ouija Robot Is Even Creepier Than The Real Thing

When you’re a kid, nothing says spooky like turning off the lights and bringing out the Ouija board. For decades, this mystifying oracle has purported to channel the dead by spelling out messages using a board with numbers, letters, yes/no, and a heart-shaped windowed bit of plastic called a planchette.

While the action of a standard Ouija board owes itself to something called the ideomotor phenomenon, this motorized Ouija robot by [Ronald McCollum] is powered by tweets.

That’s right, the mannequin hand uses the planchette to spell out the tweets with a rather crisp snap of the wrist. [Ronald] impressively coded all the positions by hand, with each letter being comprised of both a hand position and planchette position.

This project utilizes both an Adafruit Crickit board and a Raspberry Pi, mostly because [Ronald] wanted to use the Crickit for something, and added the Pi to spell out the tweets on the display in real time. Check it out in action after the break, and stick around for a bonus video of the numbers being laser-cut.

Speaking of creepy motion, here’s a refrigerator clock that uses those colorful alphanumeric magnets.

Continue reading “2023 Halloween Hackfest: Ouija Robot Is Even Creepier Than The Real Thing”

Two hands hold an electric motor rotor and a 3D printed coil structure next to each other. A multimeter in the background displays 297.0 mV.

ModuCoil – A Modular Coil For Motor And Generator Projects

While renewable energy offers many opportunities for decentralizing energy production, it can sometimes feel that doing so on a truly local level remains unachievable with increasingly large utility-scale deployments re-centralizing the technology. [AdamEnt] hopes to help others seize the means of energy production with the development of the ModuCoil.

This modular coil is intended to be used in motor and generator applications, and features a 3D printed structure to wind your copper about as well as a series of ferromagnetic machine screws and nuts meant to boost the field strength. This project really emphasizes the rapid part of rapid prototyping with this version 2 of the coil following only a week after the first.

[AdamEnt] only reached a peak of ~600 mV in the short test of a single coil, but is optimistic the current design could hit 1V/coil given a fully wound coil actually affixed to something instead of just held in his hand. It’s definitely early stages, but we think this could be the start of an interesting ecosystem of motor and generator designs.

If you want to learn more about how those big wind turbines work, look here, or you could check out a 3D printed brushless motor, or where all that copper comes from anyway.

Continue reading “ModuCoil – A Modular Coil For Motor And Generator Projects”

Hackaday Prize 2023: An Agricultural Robot That Looks Ready For The Field

In the world of agriculture, not all enterprises are large arable cropland affairs upon which tractors do their work traversing strip by strip under the hot sun. Many farms raise far more intensive crops on a much smaller scale, and across varying terrain. When it comes to automation these farms offer their own special challenges, but with the benefit of a smaller machine reducing some of the engineering tasks. There’s an entry in this year’s Hackaday prize which typifies this, [KP]’s Agrofelis robot is a small four-wheeled carrier platform designed to deliver autonomous help on smaller farms. It’s shown servicing a vineyard with probably one of the most bad-ass pictures you could think of as a pesticide duster on its implement platform makes it look for all the world like a futuristic weapon.

A sturdy tubular frame houses the battery bank and brains, while motive power is provided by four bicycle derived motorized wheels with disk brakes. Interestingly this machine steers mechanically rather than the skid-steering found in so many such platforms. On top is a two degrees of freedom rotating mount which serves as the implement system — akin to a 3-point linkage on a tractor. This is the basis of the bad-ass pesticide duster turret mentioned above. Running it all is a Nvidia Jetson Nano, with input from a range of sensors including global positioning and LIDAR.

The attention to detail in this agricultural robot is clearly very high, and we could see machines like it becoming indispensable in the coming decades. Many tasks on a small farm are time-consuming and involve carrying or wheeling a small machine around performing the same task over and over. Something like this could take that load off the farmer. We’ve been there, and sure would appreciate something to do the job.

While we’re on the subject of farm robots, this one’s not the only Prize entry this year.

Displays We Love Hacking: The HD44780 Family

There are too many different kinds of displays – some of them, you already know. I’d like to help you navigate the hobbyist-accessible display world – let’s take a journey together, technology by technology, get a high-level overview of everything you could want to know about it, and learn all the details you never knew you needed to know. In the end, I’d like you to be able to find the best displays for any project you might have in mind, whatever it could be.

There’s a HD44780 clone IC under this epoxy blob! CC0 1.0

Today, let’s take a look at a well-known LCD technology – the HD44780 displays, a type of display that we hobbyists have been working with since the 1980s. Its name comes from the HD44780 driver chip – a character display driver IC that connects to a raw display panel and provides an easy interface.

HD44780 displays are not known for power efficiency, cutting-edge technology, ultimate flexibility, or small size, for that matter. However, they’re tried and true, easy to drive, require little to no computing power on your MCU, and you will be able to buy them for the foreseeable future. They’re not about to get taken off the market, and they deserve a certain kind of place in our parts boxes, too.

If you work with HD44780 displays for a project or two, you might acquire a new useless superpower – noticing just how many HD44780 displays are still in use in all sorts of user-facing devices, public or private. Going out and about in your day-to-day life, you can encounter a familiar 16 x 2 grid of characters in cash registers, public transport ticket machines, home security panels, industrial and factory equipment, public coffee machines, and other microcontroller-assisted places of all kinds! Continue reading “Displays We Love Hacking: The HD44780 Family”

Modeling Space Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, October 4 at noon Pacific for the Modeling Space Hack Chat with Bryan Murphy and Sam Treadgold!

We’re going to go out on a limb here and guess that a fair number of Hackaday readers went through a phase of model building growing up. To further push out that branch, we’ll further guess that some of those models included spacecraft, both real and imaginary. And with good reason — you don’t get to space without some interesting engineering, a lot of which is reflected in the design of the vehicles intended to get there. Rockets are cool, satellites are cooler still, and if you can’t actually go to space yourself, or at least be the person building the actual hardware, at least you can build a model and dare to dream.

But while a model on a stand or hanging from the ceiling on fishing line can certainly stimulate the imagination, wouldn’t it be better if a model did something? Bryan Murphy and Sam Treadgold think so, which is why they’ve been working on the “ISS Mimic,” which we recently featured. The 3D-printed 1:100 scale model of the International Space Station is equipped with servos that move the station’s solar panels in real-time based on publically available telemetry. It’s way more engaging than a static model, especially for kids just getting into STEM and related fields.

join-hack-chatBryan and Sam will stop by the Hack Chat to talk not just about the ISS Mimic, but about everything that has to do with modeling space. Who wouldn’t love a desktop version of a Martian or lunar rover keeping pace with its full-scale counterpart? And wouldn’t it be great to be able to visualize just how far away Voyager is right now? If it’s out there, we should be able to bring it home, at least in model form.

Our Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, October 4 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.