Testing The Atlas ICBM: A 1958 Time Capsule Video

The control room during the 1958 Atlas B 4B test. (Source: Convair)
The control room during the 1958 Atlas B 4B test. (Source: Convair)

Recently the [Periscope Film] channel on YouTube published a 1960 color documentary featuring the 1958 launch of the Atlas B (SM-65B) ICBM, in its second, Missile 4B iteration. This was the second model of the second prototype, which earned the distinction of being the first truly intercontinental ballistic missile upon its successful test completion, which saw the payload plummeting into its designated part of the Atlantic Ocean. This was a much better result than the previous test of the 3B, which suffered a yaw gyro issue that caused the missile to disintegrate partway into the flight.

In this historic documentary, the Atlas B’s manufacturer – Convair – takes us through all the elements of the test range, including all the downrange stations, their functions and how all the data from the test is captured, recorded (on reel to reel tape) and integrated into one coherent data set. This includes radar data, telemetry received from the missile, as well as the data tape that the ICBM ejects from the payload section shortly before impact.

Although it’s also a promotion piece for Convair Astronautics, this does little to mar the documentary aspect, which is narrated by William Conrad, who manages to both instill a sense of technological wonder and grim foreboding against the scenery of 1950s military high-tech in the midst of a heating up Cold War.

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A black plastic trim piece from a vehicle interior. It has slight flecking in its texture. It is sitting on an off-white bench overlooking a workshop.

Can Car Parts Grow On Trees?

Cars don’t grow on trees, but Ford is designing car parts from olive tree cuttings. [via Electrek]

Ford is no stranger to designing parts from plants for their vehicles. Henry famously liked to beat on the Soy Bean Car with a blunted axe to tout the benefits of bioplastic panels. Researchers at Ford’s Cologne, Germany facility have detailed their work to use waste from olive orchards as part of a new biocomposite from the LIVE COMPOLIVE program.

Fibers from the olive tree cuttings are mixed with recycled plastic and injection molded to form panels. The video below features interior panels that are currently made with traditional plastics that could be swapped over to the new composite. Since these cuttings are a waste product from food production, there isn’t the tension akin to that presented via biofuels vs food. We’re curious what Precious Plastics could do with this, especially if the fibers are able to reinforce the matrix.

If you want to see some other unusual uses for waste wood, why not checkout a “paper” bottle or 3D printing with sawdust?

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Alarm Panel Hack Defeats Encryption By Ignoring It

As frustrating as it may be for a company to lock you into its ecosystem by encrypting their protocols, you have to admit that it presents an enticing challenge. Cracking encryption can be more trouble than it’s worth, though, especially when a device gives you all the tools you need to do an end-run around their encryption.

We’ll explain. For [Valdez], the encrypted communication protocols between a DSC alarm panel and the control pads on the system were serious impediments to integration into Home Assistant. While there are integrations available for these alarm panels, they rely on third-party clouds, which means that not only is your security system potentially telling another computer all your juicy details, but there’s also the very real possibility that the cloud system can either break or be shut down; remember the Chamberlain MyQ fiasco?

With these facts in mind, [Valdez] came up with a clever workaround to DSC encryption by focusing on physically interfacing with the keypad. The device has a common 16×2 LCD and a 25-key keypad, and a little poking around with a multimeter and a $20 logic analyzer eventually showed that the LCD had an HD44780 controller, and revealed all the lines needed to decode the display with an ESP32. Next up was interfacing with the keypad, which also involved a little multimeter work to determine that the keys were hooked up in a 5×5 matrix. Ten GPIOs on the ESP32 made it possible to virtually push any key; however, the ten relays [Valdez] originally used to do the switching proved unwieldy. That led to an optocoupler design, sadly not as clicky but certainly more compact and streamlined, and enabling complete control over the alarm system from Home Assistant.

We love this solution because, as [Valdez] aptly points out, the weakest point in any system is the place where it can’t be encrypted. Information has to flow between the user and the control panel, and by providing the electronic equivalents to eyes and fingers, the underlying encryption is moot. Hats off to [Valdez] for an excellent hack, and for sharing the wealth with the HA community.

‘Radar’ Glasses Grant Vision-free Distance Sensing

[tpsully]’s Radar Glasses are designed as a way of sensing the world without the benefits of normal vision. They consist of a distance sensor on the front and a vibration motor mounted to the bridge for haptic feedback. The little motor vibrates in proportion to the sensor’s readings, providing hands-free and intuitive feedback to the wearer. Inspired in part by his own experiences with temporary blindness, [tpsully] prototyped the glasses from an accessibility perspective.

The sensor is a VL53L1X time-of-flight sensor, a LiDAR sensor that measures distances with the help of pulsed laser light. The glasses do not actually use RADAR (which is radio-based), but the operation is in a sense quite similar.

The VL53L1X has a maximum range of up to 4 meters (roughly 13 feet) in a relatively narrow field of view. A user therefore scans their surroundings by sweeping their head across a desired area, feeling the vibration intensity change in response, and allowing them to build up a sort of mental depth map of the immediate area. This physical scanning resembles RADAR antenna sweeps, and serves essentially the same purpose.

There are some other projects with similar ideas, such as the wrist-mounted digital white cane and the hip-mounted Walk-Bot which integrates multiple angles of sensing, but something about the glasses form factor seems attractively intuitive.

Thanks to [Daniel] for the tip, and remember that if you have something you’d like to let us know about, the tips line is where you can do that.

You Wouldn’t Download A House

Shelter is one of the most basic of human needs, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that we continually come up with new ways to build homes. Most building systems are open source to an extent, and the WikiHouse project tries to update the process for the internet age. 

WikiHouse is a modular building system similar to structural insulated panels (SIPs) but designed to be made on a CNC and insulated in the shop before heading to the site. Using this system, you can get the advantages of a manufactured home, but in a more distributed manner. Plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) can be used to make up the chassis of the blocks which can then be assembled very quickly on site versus traditional wooden construction.

One of the more interesting aspects of WikiHouse is that it takes design for disassembly seriously. How many houses have parts that are still good when they’re demolished to make way for something new? In most places, the good is hauled to the dump along with the bad because it isn’t economical to separate the two. Building with end of life in mind makes it so much easier to recover those materials and not waste them. There are certainly examples of careful material recovery, but they’re few and far between.

If you’re looking for some other ways to quickly build a house from wood, checkout the PlyPad or Brikawood.

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Hackaday Podcast Episode 253: More Wood Robot, Glitching And Fuming Nitric Acid, We Heart USB-C

This week Hackaday Editors Elliot Williams and Tom Nardi start things off with a traffic report from the Moon, which has suddenly become a popular destination for wayward robots.

Anonymizing an ATtiny85 via laser

From there, they’ll go over a fire-tending contraption that’s equal parts madness and brilliance, two decades of routers being liberated by OpenWRT, impressive feats of chip decapping, and USB-C’s glorious rise to power.

You’ll also hear about the latest developments in laptop RAM, exploits against the flash encryption used on the ESP32, and Android powered oscilloscopes. The duo will wrap things up with horror stories from the self-checkout aisle, and a look at the fantastical rolling power station that Dan Maloney has been building in his driveway.

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!

Oh look, an MP3 version!

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Z80 I/O Madness

While the 8080 started the personal computer revolution, the Z80 was quickly a winner because it was easier to use and had more capabilities. [Noel] found out though that the Z80 OUT instruction is a little odd and, in fact, some of the period documentation was incorrect.

Many CPUs used memory-mapped I/O, but the 8080 and Z80 had dedicated I/O addressing pins and instructions so you could fill up the memory map with actual memory and still have some I/O devices. A quick look in the famous Zak’s book on Z80 programming indicates that an instruction like OUT (C),A would write the A register to the output device indicated by the BC register pair (even though the instruction only mentions C. However, [Noel] missed the note about the B register and saw in the Zilog documentation that it did. Since he didn’t read the note in the Zak’s book until later, he assumed it was a discrepancy. Therefore, he went to the silicon to get the correct answer.

Breadboarding a little Z80 system allowed him to look at the actual behavior of the instruction. However, he also didn’t appreciate the syntax of the assembly language statements. We’ve done enough Z80 assembly that none of it struck us as particularly crazy, especially since odd instruction mnemonics were the norm in those days.

Still, it was interesting to see him work through all the instructions. He then looks at how Amstrad used or abused the instructions to do something even stranger.

If you want to breadboard a minimal Z80 system, consider this one. If you enjoy abuse of the Z80 I/O system, you don’t want to miss this Z80 hack for “protected mode.”

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