DIY PC Test Bench Puts Hardware Troubleshooting Out In The Open

If you’ve built a few PCs, you know how frustrating troubleshooting can be. Finding a faulty component inside the cramped confines of a case can be painful — whether its literal when sharp edges draw blood, or just figurative when you have to open that cramped case multiple times to make adjustments.

[Colonel Camp] decided to make life a bit easier by building this PC test bench which makes component troubleshooting much easier and can be built with old parts you probably have lying around. [Camp] was inspired by an old Linus PC Tech Tips video on the same topic. The key to the build is an old PC case. These cases are often riveted together, s a drill makes quick work of disassembling the chassis to easily get to all of the components. The motherboard pan and rear panel/card cage become the top shelf of the test bench, while the outer shell of the case becomes the base and a storage area. Two pieces of lumber support the upper shelf. The build was primed and painted with several coats of grey.

[Camp] built up his testbench with a modest motherboard, cooler and a 970 video card. He loaded up Manjaro Linux to verify everything worked. The basic hardware has already been replaced with a new system including a ridiculously huge cooler. But that’s all in a day’s work for a test bench PC.

We’ve seen some wild workbenches over the years, and this one fits right in for all your PC projects. Check out the video after the break!

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DIY Personal Assistant Robot Hears And Sees All

Who wouldn’t want a robot that can fetch them a glass of water? [Saral Tayal] didn’t just think that, he jumped right in and built his own personal assistant robot. This isn’t just some remote-controlled rover though. The robot actually listens to his voice and recognizes his face.

The body of the robot is the common “Rover 5” platform, to which [Saral] added a number of 3D printed parts. A forklift like sled gives the robot the ability to pick things up. Some of the parts are more about form than function – [Saral] loves NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers, so he added some simulated solar cells and other greebles.

The Logitech webcam up front is very functional — images are fed to machine learning models, while audio is processed to listen for commands. This robot can find and pick up 90 unique objects.

The robot’s brains are a Raspberry Pi. It uses TensorFlow for object recognition. Some of the models [Saral] is using are pretty large – so big that the Pi could only manage a couple of frames per second at 100% CPU utilization. A Google Coral coprocessor sped things up quite a bit, while only using about 30% of the Pi’s processor.

It takes several motors to control to robot’s tracks and sled. This is handled by two Roboclaw motor controllers which themselves are commanded by the Pi.

We’ve seen quite a few mobile robot rovers over the years, but [Saral’s] ‘bot is one of the most functional designs out there. Even better is the fact that it is completely open source. You can find the code and 3D models on his GitHub repo.

Check out a video of the personal assistant rover in action after the break.

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GPS And ADS-B Problems Cause Cancelled Flights

Something strange has been going on in the friendly skies over the last day or so. Flights are being canceled. Aircraft are grounded. Passengers are understandably upset. The core of the issue is GPS and ADS-B systems. The ADS-B system depends on GPS data to function properly, but over this weekend a problem with the quality of the GPS data has disrupted normal ADS-B features on some planes, leading to the cancellations.

What is ADS-B and Why Is It Having Trouble?

Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) is a communication system used in aircraft worldwide. Planes transmit location, speed, flight number, and other information on 1090 MHz. This data is picked up by ground stations and eventually displayed on air traffic controller screens. Aircraft also receive this data from each other as part of the Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS).

ADS-B isn’t a complex or encrypted signal. In fact, anyone with a cheap RTL-SDR can receive the signal. Aviation buffs know how cool it is to see a map of all the aircraft flying above your house. Plenty of hackers have worked on these systems, and we’ve covered that here on Hackaday. In the USA, the FAA will effectively require all aircraft to carry ADS-B transponders by January 1st, 2020. So as you can imagine, most aircraft already have the systems installed.

The ADS-B system in a plane needs to get position data before it can transmit. These days, that data comes from a global satellite navigation system. In the USA, that means GPS. GPS is currently having some problems though. This is where Receiver autonomous integrity monitoring (RAIM) comes in. Safety-critical GPS systems (those in planes and ships) cross-check their current position. If GPS is sending degraded or incorrect data, it is sent to the FAA who displays it on their website. The non-precision approach current outage map is showing degraded service all over the US Eastern seaboard, as well as the North. The cause of this signal degradation is currently unknown.

What Hardware is Affected?

GPS isn’t down though — you can walk outside with your cell phone to verify that. However, it is degraded. How a plane’s GPS system reacts to that depends on the software built into the GPS receiver. If the system fails, the pilots will have to rely on older systems like VOR to navigate. But ADS-B will have even more problems. An aircraft ADS-B system needs position data to operate.  If you can’t transmit your position information, air traffic controllers need to rely on old fashioned radar to determine position. All of this adds up to a safety of flight problem, which means grounding the aircraft.

Digging through canceled flight lists, one can glean which aircraft are having issues. From the early reports, it seems like Bombardier CRJ 700 and 900 have problems. Folks on Airliners.net are speculating that any aircraft with Rockwell Collins flight management systems are having problems.

This is not a small issue, there are hundreds or thousands of canceled flights. The FAA set up a teleconference to assess the issue. Since then, the FAA has issued a blanket waiver to all affected flights. They can fly, but only up to 28,000 feet.

This is a developing story, and we’ll be keeping an eye on it. Seeing how the industry handles major problems is always educational, and there will be much to learn in the coming days.

Hacker Dosed With LSD While Restoring Historical Synth

[Eliot Curtis] found himself a little too close to 1960’s counterculture while restoring a vintage modular synthesizer — he began tripping out on acid. The instrument in question is a Buchla Model 100. The Buchla is a modular synth. Instead of a keyboard, it used capacitance-sensitive touch plates. This particular model 100 was purchased by California State University East Bay Campus. The synth was popular for a while, but eventually fell into disuse, and was stored in a classroom closet.

Modular synths are experiencing a renaissance, as can be seen right here on Hackaday. The Buchla was pulled out of storage and given a proper restoration. [Eliot Curtis] is the Broadcast Operations Manager at KPIX 5, the San Francisco CBS TV station. He also is the hacker who volunteered to restore the Buchla.
During the restoration, [Curtis] found residue and crystals stuck under one of the knobs of the Control Voltage Processing Module. Was it flux, conformal coating, or something else? [Eliot] hit the board with contact cleaner and wiped it down. Within 45 minutes, he was feeling a strange tingling. It was the beginning of a nine-hour LSD trip. Three independent tests on the module came back positive for LSD.

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD for short) can be readily absorbed through the skin, which is exactly what happened to [Eliot]. Synth designer [Don Buchla] was friends with [Owsley Stanley], who worked for the Grateful Dead and allegedly cooked up some very potent LSD. Some of Buchla’s modules even found their way into Ken Keesey’s hands, where they wound up on his famous bus “further”. As it turns out there were rumors that modules had been dipped in LSD back in the ’60s. Why someone would do that to an electronic module, we’re not sure — they must have been on drugs. [Eliot] recovered from his brush with the ’60s and continued with the restoration with gloves on.

If there is a moral here, it should be to take precautions when working on equipment which might contain dangerous substances. We’ve learned this lesson ourselves cracking open broken laptops. You might find anything from coffee to soda, to pet urine or worse. A box of nitrile gloves definitely should be standard equipment in any hacker’s lab.

Set Your Nuts (and Bolts) Free With This Induction Heater

[Amon] built an induction heater to break stuck bolts loose. If you work on cars, machines, or anything big and metal, sooner or later you’re going to run into stuck nuts and bolts. Getting them unstuck usually involves penetrating oil, heat from a torch, and cheater bars. Heat usually works well, as heating the bolt makes the metal expand, helping it to break free. Torches aren’t exactly precision instruments though, and things can get interesting using one in tight spaces.

Fire isn’t the only way to heat a bolt through. Electricity can do the job as well. But why use a heating coil when you can grab an induction heater. Mechanics have had induction heaters in their toolboxes now for a few years, under names such as Bolt Buster or Mini Ductor. These devices cost several hundred dollars. However, you can purchase a 1000 watt induction heater from the usual sources for around $30. These are open frame Zero Voltage Switching (ZVS) power supplies, with uninsulated copper coils.

[Amon] bought one of these induction heaters, along with a beefy 24V, 40 amp switch mode supply to power it. He built the two into a plastic enclosure. A relay energizes the induction heater, so it isn’t always running. The key to this build is the handle. Rather than mount the induction coil directly on the supply, [Amon] ran two extension wires to a 3d printed gun style handle. This keeps the bulky part of the heater away from the work. The copper tube coil was re-shaped to better work with the gun. Some fiberglass sleeve keeps everything insulated, even at extreme temperatures.

The result is a very useful heater, ready to bust loose some bolts. We’ve seen homebuilt ZVS supplies powering induction coils before. It will be interesting to see how well these commercial units hold up.

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Comprinter Hides A Laptop Inside A Printer

Sometimes we find projects that border on the absurd but are too cool to pass up. The Comprinter is exactly that. [Mason Stooksbury] had a dream. An all-in-one scanner printer that was also a computer. What would turn heads more than walking into a hackerspace with a printer, plugging your headphones in, then opening up the top to reveal a monitor?

[Mason’s] dream became possible when friends gave him some old laptops and a dead Kodak printer. After going through the laptops, he picked a Dell Inspiron 1440 to be the donor machine. The printer and laptop were both carefully stripped down. [Mason’s] goal for the project was to build a “beautiful” printer/computer. No bodges allowed. He spent most of his time planning out how to mount the motherboard and display inside the scanner section of the chassis.

The actual assembly was quite fiddly. Working with only an inch or so of clearance, [Mason] installed standoffs for the motherboard and display. He to do all this without breaking the wires for the display and WiFi antennas.

Once the main parts of the laptop were assembled, [Mason] completed the build with a nine-port USB hub, some internally mounted speakers and a USB keyboard mounted in the paper tray. The twelve-hour operation was a complete success. What looks to be a cheap inkjet actually hides a complete laptop running Xubuntu. The only downside is that the printer doesn’t actually print, but [Mason] is quick to note that if the printer hadn’t been broken in the first place, it would work fine — all the modifications are in the scanner section.

We’ve seen some wild casemods over the years, including a Nintendo in a toaster, a modern PC stuffed into an original Xbox, and Raspberry Pi’s stuffed into just about everything.

Barn Door Tracker Needs No Special Tools

If you want to take a long exposure photograph, you need a tripod to hold your camera steady. But a tripod won’t help when the ground it’s standing on is moving. That’s exactly the problem [Emvilza] ran into when he wanted to take minutes or hours long photographs of the night sky. His solution was to build a barn door tracker, which he carefully documented in both English and Spanish.

Barn door trackers, also known as scotch mounts have been used by photographers for many years to cancel out the rotation of the earth. This causes stars to appear frozen in the sky and allows for photographs of very dim celestial objects. These trackers range from simple hand-cranked affairs to complex mechanical creations. [Emvilza] decided to have a go at designing and building his own tracker, using only basic tools, as he didn’t have access to a CNC or 3D printer.

The tracker itself is built from wood, with metal hardware. [Emvilza] spent a ton of time designing the tracker using SketchUp. The carefully drawn plans ensured everything would fit together and operate correctly.

One of the toughest parts was accurately bending a threaded rod enough to make it work with the tracker, but not bind the drive system. The mount’s motion comes from a threaded rod. The rod is driven by a stepper motor.  Control and sensing is handled by an ATmega328 programmed using the Arduino toolchain. [Emvilza] learned Eagle and designed a PCB. Rather than etch a board, he simply built the circuit on perfboard, following his layout and traces.

The end result is a tracker that looks and performs great — just check out the images on [Emvilza’s] site to see some examples. Not only that, [Emvilza’s] well written documentation will help anyone looking to build a tracker in the future!