Spice Up Your Shop with a VW Pickup Wall Decoration

Seeing a half car is always a disconcerting experience. Especially when that half car is about 14 feet up in the air. [PanasonicModelRC6015] — We’ll call him [RC6015] for short — has gone and mounted 1/2 (actually more like 1/4) of a VW Rabbit Caddy pickup MK1 up on his shop wall.

The caddy started life as a regular 1983 VW pickup. Unfortunately, the years had not been kind to it. The body panels were in good shape, but there were serious rust problems in the floors, strut towers, rockers, and control arm mounts. According to [RC6015], this is beyond “weld on few replacement panels”, though he’s been heavily questioned on it in his Reddit thread.

Cutting the truck down was easy – a reciprocating saw did most of the work. The VW has a unibody design, so there was still some frame there to hold things together. A 2×12 board then was then bolted from the front of the truck to the rear. This made everything stable and provided a solid mounting point. A second 2×12 was lag bolted to several studs on the wall. Then it was just a matter of lifting the truck into position and bolting the two boards together. We’re guessing the [RC6015]’s wall has solid wood studs. Don’t try hanging a 500 lb truck from the wall if you’ve only got thin metal studs behind your sheetrock.

Just in case you’re wondering, the Panasonic Model RC-6015 is a vintage flip display alarm clock, the same one Marty used in Back to the Future.

If a truck on the wall is a bit much for your shop, check out this wall mounted weather display.

Self Driving Potato Hits the Road

Potatoes deserve to roam the earth, so [Marek Baczynski] created the first self-driving potato, ushering in a new era of potato rights. Potato batteries have been around forever. Anyone who’s played Portal 2 knows that with a copper and zinc electrode, you can get a bit of current out of a potato. Tubers have been powering clocks for decades in science classrooms around the world. It’s time for something — revolutionary.

[Marek] knew that powering a timepiece wasn’t enough for his potato, so he picked up a Texas Instruments BQ25504 boost converter energy harvesting chip. A potato can output around 0.4 V at 0.6 mA. The 25504 uses this power to slowly charge a capacitor. Every fifteen minutes or so, enough energy is stored to power a motor for a short time. [Marek] built a car for his potato — or more fittingly, he built his potato into a car.

The starch-powered capacitor moves the potato car about 8 cm per cycle. Over the course of a day, the potato can travel around 7.5 meters. Not very far, but hey, that’s further than the average potato travels on its own power. Of course, any traveling potato needs a name, so [Marek] dubbed his new pet “Pontus”. Check out the video after the break to see the ultimate fate of poor Pontus.

Now that potatoes are mobile, we’re going to need a potato detection system. Humanity’s only hope is to fight fire with fire – break out the potato cannons!

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Ask Hackaday: SawStop — Bastion of Safety or Patent Troll

At first glance, SawStop seems like a hacker’s dream. A garage tinkerer comes up with a great idea, builds a product around it, and the world becomes a better place. As time has gone on, other companies have introduced similar products. Recently, SawStop successfully stopped Bosch from importing saws equipped with their Reaxx safety system into the USA. This not only impacts sales of new saws, but parts for existing equipment. Who gets screwed here? Unfortunately, it’s the owners of the Bosch saws, who now have a safety feature they might not be able to use in the future. This has earned some bad press for SawStop in forums and on websites like Reddit, where users have gone as far as to call SawStop a patent troll. Is that true or just Internet puffery? Read on and decide for yourself.

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Amazon Echo Show

Back in May, Amazon announced the Echo Show, its new version of Alexa with a 7 inch touchscreen. The Echo Show is an interesting device, but will the great unwashed masses pony up $229 to buy the show? That’s $50 more than the original Echo, or $180 more than the Echo Dot. With 5.2 million units sold in 2016, Echo has been a resounding success. This has been in part due to Amazon’s open approach to the API. Anyone can build an Alexa compatible device using a Raspberry Pi. Google has (finally) followed suit with their Home device.

It’s not just the hardware that is accessible. Skills Kit, the programmer interface for extending Echo’s functionality, is also open. At CES this year, Alexa was the belle of the ball. Third party devices are being introduced from all corners, all of them connecting to Amazon’s cloud and responding to the “Alexa” keyword.

The Echo Show takes the family in a new direction. Adding a touch screen gives the user a window on the the world not available with voice interactions. Echo Show also includes a camera, which opens up a whole new set of privacy and security questions. Amazon touts it as a device for viewing security cameras, watching YouTube videos, and making video calls. This puts Echo Show dangerously close to the internet appliance category, essentially a barren wasteland littered with the corpses of previous devices. Does anyone remember when Palm tried this with the 3Com Ergo Audrey? How about the i-Opener? Will Alexa persevere and succeed where others have failed? A lot of it will depend on the third party developers, and how Amazon treats them.

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The Red Special: Brian May’s Handmade Guitar

Guitarists are a special breed, and many of them have a close connection with the instruments they play. It might be a specific brand of guitar, or a certain setup required to achieve the sound they’re looking for. No one has a closer bond with an instrument than Brian May to his Red Special. The guitar he toured with and played through his career with Queen and beyond had very humble beginnings. It was built from scratch by Brian and his father Harold May.

A young Brian May playing the brand new Red Special. Note the disk magnets of the original handmade pickups

It was the early 1960’s and a young teenaged Brian May wanted an electric guitar. The problem was that the relatively new instruments were still quite expensive — into the hundreds of dollars. Well beyond the means of the modest family’s budget. All was not lost though. Brian’s father Harold was an electrical engineer and a hacker of sorts. He built the family’s radio, TV, and even furniture around the house. Harold proposed the two build a new electric guitar from scratch as a father-son project. This was the beginning of a two-year odyssey that resulted in the creation of one of the world’s most famous musical instruments.

Brian was already an accomplished guitarist, learning first on his dad’s George Formby Banjo-ukulele, and graduating to an Egmond acoustic guitar. Brian’s first forays into electric guitars came from experimenting with that Egmond. If you look close, you can even see the influence it had on the final design of the Red Special.

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Sony Unveils Swarm Robots for Kids

Sony recently unveiled Toio, an educational robotics toy for young programmers. We all know Sony as an electronics giant, but they do dabble in robotics from time to time. The AIBO dog family is probably their most famous creation, though there is also QRIO, a bipedal humanoid, and on the stranger side, the Rolly.

Toio consists of two small cube robots which roll around the desktop. You can control them with handheld rings, or run programs on them. The robots are charged by a base station, which also has a cartridge slot. Sony is marketing this as an ecosystem that can be expanded by buying packs which consist of accessories and a software cartridge. It looks like the cartridge is yet another proprietary memory card format. Is Sony ever going to learn?

There isn’t much hard information on Toio yet. We know it will be released in Japan on December 1st and will cost around ¥ 20,000, or about 200 USD. No word yet on a worldwide release.

The striking thing about this kit is how well the two robots know each other’s position. Tape a paper pair of pants, and they “walk” like two feet. Attach a paper linkage between them, and they turn in perfect sync, like two gears. Add some paper strips, and the two robots work together to form a gripper.  We can only guess that Sony is using cameras on the bottom of each robot to determine position — possibly with the aid of an encoded work surface — similar to Anoto paper. Whatever technology it is, here’s to hoping Sony puts out an SDK for researchers and hackers to get in on the fun with these little robots.

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Starship One: The Ultimate 90’s Synthesizer

We’ve seen some crazy music production stations over the years. But this synthesizer system may just take the cake. Starship One is the creation of [Marc Brasse]. At first glance, this music battle station looks like it belongs on the bridge of the Enterprise. The resemblance is not entirely unintentional. [Marc] himself says “Commander Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation might actually (have) like(d) it if he did not have such a conservative taste in music.”

At the core of Starship One are two underappreciated synths from the 90’s. The Technics WSA1, and a Gem S3 turbo. Both were keyboards ahead of their time. The WSA1 is a modeling synth, a sound generation trend in the ’90s which sounded great, but never quite caught on. The other strike against it was that it was built by Technics, who had a reputation for building HiFi equipment and home keyboards. Professionals just didn’t pick it up.

The Gem S3 had a similar story — built by a company called General Music, the keyboard was a great design with incredible piano action, but never quite made it. [Marc] wasn’t turned off by the lineage of these two synths. In fact, he embraced them. [Marc] explains more about his philosophy in creating the Starship One in this PDF document.

[Marc] combined these two instruments with Fatar MP1 bass pedals, a ribbon controller, and more additional components than we could ever hope to name here. The frame of the synth is built from a discarded retail CD sales rack. Extruded aluminum pieces came from a sun slat curtain. Just about every part was reused to build one beast of a workstation.

If you’re wondering what the strange keyboard layout is, it’s a Janko keyboard adapter [Marc] custom made. Instead of 88 notes, there are 264 keys, arranged so that every chord has the same fingering, regardless of the scale being played.

Want more modulation? Check out this ARM based FM synth, or this monster post of open source synths!