Gawkerbot is Watching You

While sick with the flu a few months ago, [CroMagnon] had a vision. A face with eyes that would follow you – no matter where you walked in the room. He brought this vision to life in the form of Gawkerbot. This is no static piece of art. Gawkerbot’s eyes slowly follow you as you walk through its field of vision. Once the robot has fixed its gaze upon you, the eyes glow blue. It makes one wonder if this is an art piece, of if the rest of the robot is about to pop through the wall and attack.

Gawkerbot’s sensing system is rather simple. A PIR sensor detects motion in the room. If any motion is detected, two ultrasonic sensors which make up the robots pupils start taking data. Code running on an ATmega328 determines if a person is detected on the left or right, and moves the eyes appropriately.

[CroMagnon] used an old CD-ROM drive optics sled to move Gawkerbot’s eyes. While the motor is small, the worm drive has plenty of power to move the 3D-printed eyes and linkages. Gawkerbot’s main face is a 3D-printed version of a firefighters smoke helmet.

The ultrasonic sensors work, but it took quite a bit of software to tame the jitters noisy data stream. [CroMagnon] is thinking of using PIR sensors on Gawkerbot 2.0. Ultrasonic transducers aren’t just for sensing. Given enough power, you can solder with them. Ultrasonics even work for wireless communications.

Check out the video after the break to see Gawkerbot in action.

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Go Wireless with This DIY Laser Ethernet Link

Most of us have Ethernet in our homes today. The real backbones of the Internet though, use no wires at all. Optical fibers carry pulses of light across the land, under the sea, and if you’re lucky, right to your door. [Sven Brauch] decided to create an optical link. He didn’t have any fiber handy, but air will carry laser pulses over short distances quite nicely. The idea of this project is to directly convert ethernet signals to light pulses. For simplicity’s sake, [Sven] limited the bandwidth to one channel, full-duplex, at 10 Megabits per second (Mbps).

The transmit side of the circuit is rather simple. An op-amp circuit acts as a constant current source, biasing the laser diode. The transmit signal from an Ethernet cable is then added in as modulation. This ensures the laser glows brightly for a 1 bit but never shuts completely off for a 0 bit.

The receive side of the circuit starts with a photodiode. The diode is biased up around 35 V, and a transimpedance amplifier (a current to voltage converter) is used to determine if the diode is seeing a 1 or a 0 from the laser. A bit more signal conditioning ensures the output will be a proper differential Ethernet signal.

[Sven] built two identical boards – each with a transmitter and receiver. He tested the circuit by pointing it at a mirror. His Linux box immediately established a link and was reported that there was a duplicate IP address on the network. This was exactly what [Sven] expected. The computer was confused by its own reflection – but the laser and photodiode circuits were working.

Finally, [Sven] connected his PC and a Raspberry Pi to the two circuits. After carefully aligning the lasers on a wooden board, the two machines established a link. Success! (But be aware that a longer distances, more sophisticated alignment mechanisms may be in order.)

Want to know more about fiber and networking? Check out this article about wiring up an older city. You can also use an optical link to control your CNC.

Robot Targets Eyeballs, Fires Lasers. OSHA’s Gonna Love this One

If you even think about hacking with lasers, you’re going to hear about eye safety. “Be careful” they’ll say. “Don’t look into laser with remaining eye” is a joke you’ll not be able to avoid. You’ll hear “Where are your goggles”, and about 1000 other warnings. Don’t get us wrong, laser/eye safety is important. However, the constant warnings can get a bit old — especially when you’re working with a “low power” class 3a laser — you know, the kind with a warning label that says “AVOID DIRECT EYE EXPOSURE” in big black letters on a yellow background.

[Michael Reeves] got fed up, and went a bit nuts. He built a robot specifically to shine a laser into human eyes. No, not a medical robot. This ‘bot lives in a pizza box, is built from servos, duct tape, and [Michael’s] tears. It just shoots lasers at people’s eyes. Needless to say, please, don’t try this at home, or at all.

Designing such a diabolical beast was actually rather simple. The software is written in C#. Frames are captured from an old Logitech webcam, then passed into Emgu CV, which is a .NET wrapper for OpenCV. [Michael] runs a simple face detection algorithm, and uses the results to aim a laser. The laser is mounted on two R/C style servos. An Arduino forms the glue between the servos and the PC.

[Michael] has a great deadpan delivery and it all makes for a great video. Think of him of a younger [Medhi] over at Electroboom.  But we can’t condone this behavior. Properly labeled and characterized red laser pointers have never been shown to cause eye damage. Yet if the laser is out-of-spec or reflects of something that further focuses the beam it is certainly capable of damaging eyesight.

We want [Michael’s] eyesight to remain intact so he can make more videos — he’s entertaining, even if ignoring safety warnings isn’t.

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Burger King Scores Free Advertising from Google Home with a Whopper of a Hack

Advertisers are always trying to stuff more content into a 15 or 30 second TV spot. Burger King seems to have pulled it off with a series of ads that take advantage of the Google Home device sitting in many viewers living rooms. It works like this: The friendly Burger King employee ends the ad by saying “Ok Google, what is the Whopper burger?” Google home then springs into action reading the product description from Burger King’s Wikipedia page.

Trolls across the internet jumped into the fray. The Whopper’s ingredient list soon included such items as toenail clippings, rat, cyanide, and a small child. Wikipedia has since reverted the changes and locked down the page.

Google apparently wasn’t involved in this, as they quickly updated their voice recognition algorithms to specifically ignore the commercial. Burger King responded by re-dubbing the audio of the commercial with a different voice actor, which defeated Google’s block. Where this game of cat and mouse will end is anyone’s guess.

This event marks the second time in only a few months that a broadcast has caused a voice-activated device to go rogue. Back in January a disk jockey reporting a story about Amazon’s Echo managed to order doll houses for many residents of San Diego.

With devices like Alexa and Google home always ready to accept a command, stories like this are going to become the new normal. The only way to avoid it completely is to not allow it in your home. For those who do have a voice-activated device, be very careful what devices and services you connect it to. Internet of things “smart” door locks are already providing ways to unlock one’s door with a voice command. Burglarizing a home or apartment couldn’t be easier if you just have to ask Siri to unlock the door for you. And while some complained about the lack of security in the Zelda hack, we’d rate that as a thousand times more secure than a voice recognition system with no password.

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Daedalus Jet Suit Takes to the Skies

[Richard Browning] wants to fly like Daedalus. To us, it looks a bit more like Iron Man. [Browning] is working on project Daedalus, a flight suit powered by six jet engines. These turbines are exactly the type one would find on large, fast, and expensive R/C planes. Some of this is documented on his YouTube channel, Gravity Industries, though RedBull has also gotten involved and have a video of their own that you can check out after the break.

The project started last year in [Browning’s] garage. He strapped a jet to an old washing machine to test its thrust. The jet nearly flipped the machine over, so he knew he would have enough power to fly. The suit started with a turbine strapped to each arm. Then it became two on each arm. This was enough for moonlike hops, but not enough for actual flight. Strapping an engine to each leg worked but was rather hard to control. The current configuration features two turbines per arm, and two on a backpack.

The whole setup is quite similar to [Frank Zapata]’s Flyboard Air, with one key difference – [Browning] is supporting two thirds of his weight with his hands. The effect is similar to supporting oneself on gymnastic rings, which is part of his extreme physical training regimen.

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Shoelace Locks Keep your Fancy Footwear Firmly Attached

Remember the 1980s, when velcro sneakers were the hip new thing? Only the coolest kids in school had a fresh pair of Zips. Velcro left a bit to be desired though. The hooks and loops would wear out, and the sneakers always seemed to pop apart at the worst possible moments — like when running or jumping. These days, velcro seems to be relegated to the elderly, which gives it the stigma of “old people shoes”.

So what is an aspiring hacker to do, just tie their shoelaces like a simple plebe? [Pentland_Designs] has the answer with his shoelace locks. The design is his take on the classic plastic clip found on backpacks and jackets. [Pentland_Designs] has added a twist though — a “button” which flexes a plastic ring, releasing the main body of the clip. This means the user doesn’t have to bend down when taking off their shoes. This isn’t just good for folks with disabilities. Anyone with back problems will tell you that avoiding a couple of deep bends at the end of the day helps a lot.

Check out the video of [Pentland_Designs] Shoelace locks after the break. For more shoe-tech, check out these LEGO self-lacing shoes, or this teardown of Nike’s self-lacing offering.

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BrickerBot Takes Down your IoT Devices Permanently

There is a new class of virii in town, specifically targeting Internet of Things (IoT) devices. BrickerBot and its variants do exactly as their name says, turning your smart devices into bricks. Someone out there has gotten tired of all the IoT security flaws and has undertaken extreme (and illegal) measures to fix the problem. Some of the early reports have come in from a security company called Radware, who isolated two variants of the virii in their honeypots.

In a nutshell, BrickerBot gains access to insecure Linux-based systems by using brute force. It tries to telnet in using common default root username/password pairs. Once inside it uses shell commands (often provided by BusyBox) to write random data to any mounted drives. It’s as easy as

dd if=/dev/urandom of=/dev/sda1

With the secondary storage wiped, the device is effectively useless. There is already a name for this: a Permanent Denial-of-Service (PDoS) attack.

Now any card carrying Hackaday reader will know that a system taken down like this can be recovered by re-flashing through USB, JTAG, SD, other methods. However, we’re not BrickerBot’s intended audience. We’ve all changed our devices default passwords, right? RIGHT?

For more IoT security, check out Elliot’s excellent article about botnets earlier this year, and its follow-up.