Hackaday Podcast 106: Connector Kerfuffle, Tuning Fork Time, Spinach Contact Prints, And Tesla’s Permanent Memory

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys recount the coolest hacks from the past week. Most clocks keep time with a quartz crystal, but we discuss one that uses a tuning fork… like the kind you use to tune a piano. Ghidra is a powerful reverse engineering tool developed by the NSA that was recently put to good use changing an embedded thermometer display from Celsius to Fahrenheit. We talk turkey on the Texas power grid problems and Tesla’s eMMC failures. And of course there’s some room for nostalgia as we walk down memory lane with the BASIC programming language.

Take a look at 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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Tesla Recalls Cars With EMMC Failures, Calls Part A ‘Wear Item’

It’s a problem familiar to anyone who’s spent a decent amount of time playing with a Raspberry Pi – over time, the flash in the SD card reaches its write cycle limits, and causes a cavalcade of confusing errors before failing entirely. While flash storage is fast, compact, and mechanically reliable, it has always had a writeable lifespan much shorter than magnetic technologies.

Flash storage failures in the computer behind Tesla’s famous touch screen are causing headaches for drivers.

Of course, with proper wear levelling techniques and careful use, these issues can be mitigated successfully. The surprising thing is when a major automaker fails to implement such basic features, as was the case with several Tesla models. Due to the car’s Linux operating system logging excessively to its 8 GB eMMC storage, the flash modules have been wearing out. This leads to widespread failures in the car, typically putting it into limp mode and disabling many features controlled via the touchscreen.

With the issue affecting important subsystems such as the heater, defroster, and warning systems, the NHTSA wrote to the automaker in January requesting a recall. Tesla’s response acquiesced to this request with some consternation, downplaying the severity of the issue. Now they are claiming that the eMMC chip, ball-grid soldered to the motherboard, inaccessible without disassembling the dash, and not specifically mentioned in the owner’s manual, should be considered a “wear item”, and thus should not be subject to such scrutiny. Continue reading “Tesla Recalls Cars With EMMC Failures, Calls Part A ‘Wear Item’”

Extremely Simple Tesla Coil With Only 3 Components

Tesla Coils are a favourite here at Hackaday – just try searching through the archives, and see the number of results you get for all types of cool projects. [mircemk] adds to this list with his Extremely simple Tesla Coil with only 3 Components. But Be Warned — most Tesla coil designs can be dangerous and ought to be handled with care — and this one particularly so. It connects directly to the 220 V utility supply. If you touch any exposed, conductive part on the primary side, “Not only will it kill You, it will hurt the whole time you’re dying”. Making sure there is an ELCB in the supply line will ensure such an eventuality does not happen.

No prizes for guessing that the circuit is straight forward. It can be built with parts lying around the typical hacker den. Since the coil runs directly off 220 V, [mircemk] uses a pair of fluorescent lamp ballasts (chokes) to limit current flow. And if ballasts are hard to come by, you can use incandescent filament lamps instead. The function of the “spark gap” is done by either a modified door bell or a 220 V relay. This repeatedly charges the capacitor and connects it across the primary coil, setting up the resonant current flow between them. The rest of the parts are what you would expect to see in any Tesla coil. A high voltage rating capacitor and a few turns of heavy gauge copper wire form the primary LC oscillator tank circuit, while the secondary is about 1000 turns of thinner copper wire. Depending on the exact gauge of wires used, number of turns and the diameter of the coils, you may need to experiment with the value of the capacitor to obtain the most electrifying output.

If you have to look for one advantage of such a circuit, it’s that there is not much that can fail in terms of components, other than the doorbell / relay, making it a very robust, long lasting solution. If you’d rather build something less dangerous, do check out the huge collection of Tesla Coil projects that we have featured over the years.

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Automatic Winder Takes The Drudgery Out Of Tesla Coil Builds

What is it about coil winding automation projects that’s just so captivating? Maybe it’s knowing what a labor saver they can be once you’ve got a few manually wound coils under your belt. Or perhaps it’s just the generally satisfying nature of any machine that does an exacting task smoothly and precisely. Whatever it is, this automatic Tesla coil winder has it in abundance.

According to [aa-epilectrik]’s account, the back story of this build is that while musical Tesla coils are a big part of the performance of musical group ArcAttack, they’re also cool enough in their own right to offer DIY kits for sale. This rig takes on the job of producing the coils, which at least takes some of the drudgery out of the build. There’s no build log, but there are enough details on reddit and Instagram to work out the basics. The main spindle is driven by a gearmotor while the winding carriage translates along a linear slide thanks to a stepper-driven lead screw. The spool holding the fine magnet wire needs to hold proper tension to prevent tangling; this is achieved through by applying some torque to the spool with a small DC motor.

There are some great design elements in this one, not least being the way tension is controlled by measuring the movement of an idler pulley using a linear pot. At top speed, the machine looks like it complete a coil in just about three minutes, which seems pretty reasonable with such neat results. Another interesting point: ArcAttack numbers [Anouk Wipprecht], whom we’ve featured a couple of times on these pages, among its collaborators. Small world.

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Tesla Begins “Full Self Driving” Public Beta As Waymo And Cruise Go Unattended

Self-driving technology is a holy grail that promises to forever change the way we interact with cars. Thus far, there’s been plenty of hype and excitement, but full vehicles that remove the driver from the equation have remained far off. Tesla have long posited themselves as a market leader in this area, with their Autopilot technology allowing some limited autonomy on select highways. However, in a recent announcement, they have heralded the arrival of a new “Full Self Driving” ability for select beta testers in their early access program.

Taking Things Up A Notch

Telsa’s update notes highlight the new “Full Self-Driving” capabilities. Drivers are expected to pay continuous attention and be prepared to take over at any time, as the system “may do the wrong thing at the worst time.”

The new software update further extends the capabilities of Tesla vehicles to drive semi-autonomously. Despite the boastful “Full Self Driving” moniker, or FSD for short, it’s still classified as a Level 2 driving automation system, which relies on human intervention as a backup. This means that the driver must be paying attention and ready to take over in an instant, at all times. Users are instructed to keep their hands on the wheel at all times, but predictably, videos have already surfaced of users ignoring this measure.

The major difference between FSD and the previous Autopilot software is the ability to navigate city streets. Formerly, Tesla vehicles were only able to self-drive on highways, where the more regular flow of traffic is easier to handle. City streets introduce far greater complexity, with hazards like parked cars, pedestrians, bicycles, and complicated intersections. Unlike others in the field, who are investing heavily in LIDAR technology, Tesla’s system relies entirely on cameras and radar to navigate the world around it. Continue reading “Tesla Begins “Full Self Driving” Public Beta As Waymo And Cruise Go Unattended”

This (mostly) Transparent Tesla Coil Shows It All

You’d be forgiven for assuming that a Tesla coil is some absurdly complex piece of high-voltage trickery. Clarke’s third law states that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, and lighting up a neon tube from across the room sure looks a lot like magic. But in his latest Plasma Channel video, [Jay Bowles] tries to set the record straight by demonstrating a see-through Tesla coil that leaves nothing to the imagination.

Of course, we haven’t yet mastered the technology required to produce transparent copper wire, so you can’t actually see through the primary and secondary coils themselves. But [Jay] did wind them on acrylic tubes to prove there aren’t any pixies hiding in there. The base of the coil is also made out of acrylic, which lets everyone see just how straightforward the whole thing is.

Beyond the coils, this build utilizes the DIY high-voltage power supply that [Jay] detailed a few months back. There’s also a bank of capacitors mounted to a small piece of acrylic, and a clever adjustable spark gap that’s made of little more than a few strategically placed pieces of copper pipe and an alligator clip. Beyond a few little details that might not be obvious at first glance, such as grounding the secondary coil to a layer of aluminum tape on the bottom of the base, it’s all right there in the open. No magic, just science.

[Jay] estimates this beauty can produce voltages in excess of 100,000 volts, and provides a demonstration of its capabilities in the video after the break. Unfortunately, before he could really put the new see-through coil through its paces, it took a tumble and was destroyed. A reminder that acrylic enclosures may be pretty, but they certainly aren’t invulnerable. With the value of hindsight, we’re sure the rebuilt version will be even better than the original.

If you’d rather not have your illusions shattered, we’ve seen plenty of complex Tesla coils to balance this one out. With witchcraft like PCB coils and SMD components, some of them still seem pretty magical.

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Firmware Hints That Tesla’s Driver Camera Is Watching

Currently, if you want to use the Autopilot or Self-Driving modes on a Tesla vehicle you need to keep your hands on the wheel at all times. That’s because, ultimately, the human driver is still the responsible party. Tesla is adamant about the fact that functions which allow the car to steer itself within a lane, avoid obstacles, and intelligently adjust its speed to match traffic all constitute a driver assistance system. If somebody figures out how to fool the wheel sensor and take a nap while their shiny new electric car is hurtling down the freeway, they want no part of it.

So it makes sense that the company’s official line regarding the driver-facing camera in the Model 3 and Model Y is that it’s there to record what the driver was doing in the seconds leading up to an impact. As explained in the release notes of the June 2020 firmware update, Tesla owners can opt-in to providing this data:

Help Tesla continue to develop safer vehicles by sharing camera data from your vehicle. This update will allow you to enable the built-in cabin camera above the rearview mirror. If enabled, Tesla will automatically capture images and a short video clip just prior to a collision or safety event to help engineers develop safety features and enhancements in the future.

But [green], who’s spent the last several years poking and prodding at the Tesla’s firmware and self-driving capabilities, recently found some compelling hints that there’s more to the story. As part of the vehicle’s image recognition system, which usually is tasked with picking up other vehicles or pedestrians, they found several interesting classes that don’t seem necessary given the official explanation of what the cabin camera is doing.

If all Tesla wanted was a few seconds of video uploaded to their offices each time one of their vehicles got into an accident, they wouldn’t need to be running image recognition configured to detect distracted drivers against it in real-time. While you could make the argument that this data would be useful to them, there would still be no reason to do it in the vehicle when it could be analyzed as part of the crash investigation. It seems far more likely that Tesla is laying the groundwork for a system that could give the vehicle another way of determining if the driver is paying attention.

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