Let The Cards Fall Where They May, With A Robotic Rain Man

Finally,  a useful application for machine vision! Forget all that self-driving nonsense and facial recognition stuff – we’ve finally got an AI that can count cards at the blackjack table.

The system that [Edje Electronics] has built, dubbed “Rain Man 2.0” in homage to the classic title character created by [Dustin Hoffman] for the 1988 film, aims to tilt the odds at the blackjack table away from the house by counting cards. He explains one such strategy, a hi-low count, in the video below, which Rain Man 2.0 implements with the help of a webcam and YOLO for real-time object detection. Cards are detected in any orientation based on their suit and rank thanks to an extensive training set of card images, which [Edje] generated synthetically via some trickery with OpenCV. A script automated the process and yielded a rich training set of 50,000 images for YOLO. A Python program implements the trained model into a real-time card counting application.

Rain Man 2.0 is an improvement over [Edje]’s earlier Tensor Flow card counter, but it still has limitations. It can’t count into a six-deck shoe as the fictional [Rain Man] could, at least not yet. And even though cheater’s justice probably isn’t all cattle prods and hammers these days, the hardware needed for this hack is not likely to slip past casino security. So [Edje] has wisely limited its use to practicing his card counting skills. Eventually, he wants to turn Rain Man into a complete AI blackjack player, and explore its potential for other games and to help the visually impaired.

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Well-Built Sentry Gun Addresses The Menace Of Indoor Micro-UAVs

What is this world coming to when you can’t even enjoy sitting in your living room without some jamoke flying a drone in through the window? Is nothing sacred? Won’t someone think of the children?

Apparently [Drew Pilcher] did, and the result is this anti-drone sentry gun.  It’s a sturdily built machine – one might even say it’s overbuilt. The gimbal is made from machined steel pieces, and the swivels are a pair of Sherline stepper-controlled rotary tables with 1/40 of a degree accuracy selling for $400 each. Riding atop that is a Nerf rifle, which is cocked by a stepper-actuated linear slide, as well as a Kinect for object tracking. The tracking app is a little rough – just OpenCV hacked onto the Kinect SDK – but good enough for testing. The gun tracks as smoothly as one would expect given the expensive hardware, and the auto-cocking feature works well if a bit slowly. Based as it is on Nerf technology, this sentry is only indicated for the control of the micro-drones seen in the snuff video below, but really, anyone afflicted by indoor infestations of Phantoms or Mavics has bigger problems to worry about.

Over-engineered? Perhaps, but it’s better than letting the menace of indoor drones go unanswered. And it’s far from the first sentry gun we’ve seen, targeting everything from cats to squirrels using lasers, paintballs, and even plain water.

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Perovskites: Not Just For Solar Cells Anymore

If you’ve been around long enough, you’ll know there’s a long history of advances in materials science that get blown far out of proportion by both the technical and the popular media. Most of the recent ones seem to center on the chemistry of carbon, particularly graphene and nanotubes. Head back a little in time and superconductors were all the rage, and before that it was advanced ceramics, semiconductors, and synthetic diamonds. There’s always some new miracle material to be breathlessly and endlessly reported on by the media, with hopeful tales of how one or the other will be our salvation from <insert catastrophe du jour here>.

While there’s no denying that each of these materials has led to huge advancements in science, industry, and the quality of life for billions, the development cycle from lab to commercialization is generally a tad slower than the press would have one believe. And so when a new material starts to gain traction in the headlines, as perovskites have recently, we feel like it’s a good opportunity to take a close look, to try to smooth out the ups and downs of the hype curve and manage expectations.

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Prusa Printer Gets An LCD-ectomy, Gains A VFD

What’s wrong with the OEM display on a Prusa I3 Mk3? Nothing at all. Then why replace the stock LCD with a vacuum fluorescent display? Because VFDs are much, much cooler than LCDs.

(Pedantic Editor’s Note: VFDs actually run a little warm.)

At least that’s the reasoning [Scott M. Baker] applied to his Prusa upgrade. We have to admit to a certain affection for all retro displays relying on the excitation of gasses. Nixies, Numitrons, and even the lowly neon pilot light all have a certain charm of their own, but by our reckoning the VFD leads the pack. [Scott] chose a high-quality Noritake 4×20 alphanumeric display module for his upgrade, thriftily watching eBay for bargains rather than buying from the big distributors. The module has a pinout that’s compatible with the OEM LCD, so replacing it is a snap. [Scott] simplified that further by buying a replacement Prusa control board with no display, to which he soldered the Noritake module. Back inside the bezel, the VFD is bright and crisp. We like the blue-green digits against the Prusa red-orange, but [Scott] has an orange filter on order for the VFD to make everything monochromatic. That’ll be a nice look too.

A completely none functional hack, to be sure, but sometimes aesthetics need attention too. And it’s possible that a display switch would help the colorblind use the UI better, like this oscilloscope mod aims to do.

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BioSentinel Mission Aims To Put Yeast Into Deep Space

It’s a truly exciting time for space enthusiasts. Humanity is finally shaking itself out of the half-century-long doldrums of deep space exploration and planning a return to the Moon and a push to Mars. Yes, exciting things have happened since the glory days of Apollo. We’ve reached out into the outer planets, drilled holes in asteroids, and made tracks across the face of Mars in an improbably durable rover. We’ve built magnificent space telescopes, created a permanent space station to replace a couple of temporary ones, and put an intricate constellation of satellites into service.

Those are all laudable achievements, but not a single living creature has intentionally achieved approached Earth escape velocity since three astronauts and five mice did it aboard Apollo 17 at 3:46 AM on December 7, 1972. Since then, we’ve all been stuck down here at the bottom of Earth’s gravity well, with only a lucky few of us getting a tease of what space travel is really like with low Earth orbit (LEO) missions.

But if NASA has its way, and certain difficulties with launch vehicles can be ironed out, in 2020 Earthlings will once again slip the surly bonds and make a trip to deep space. Of course those Earthlings will just be cultures of yeast carried into orbit around the Sun on a cubesat, but it’s a start, and it’s a good bet that more complex organisms won’t be far behind.

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Vintage Speech Synthesizer Croons The Oldies

If you listened to the National Weather Service Weather Radio in the US about 25 years ago, you’ll no doubt remember [Perfect Paul], one of the synthesized voices used to read current conditions and weather forecasts. The voice came from a DECtalk DTC01, a not inexpensive voice synthesizer first made in 1984 that also gave voice to [Stephen Hawking] for many years.

Long obsolete, the DECtalk boxes have a devoted following with hobbyists who like to stretch what the device can do. Some even like to make it sing, after a fashion, and [Michael] decided that making a DECtalk sing “Xanadu”, the theme song from the 1980 [Olivia Newton-John] musical extravaganza, was a good idea. Whether it actually was is debatable, and we’ll take exception with having that particular ditty stuck in our head as a result, but we don’t judge except on the merits of the hack.

It’s actually easy if you have a DECtalk; the song is a straight ASCII file with remarkably concise instructions on which phonemes the box needs to generate. Along with inflection, tone, and timing instructions, the text file looks almost completely unlike English while still somehow being readable. The DECtalk accepts the file over RS-232, which would be easy enough to do with a modern computer, but [Michael] upped his game a bit by using a TRS-80 Model 100 computer as a serial terminal. The synthesized song is in the video below, with the original included for reference by those who didn’t experience endure the late disco-era glory days.

DECtalks seem pretty rare in the wild, so we appreciate this glimpse at what they can do. There are other retro speech synthesizer hacks, though: the simulated walnut goodness of the Votrax and the MicroVox come to mind, as does the venerable TI Speak and Spell.

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Fusion 360 For 3D-Printing Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday 12 June 2019 at noon Pacific for the Fusion 360 for 3D-Printing Hack Chat with Vladimir Mariano!

There’s no way to overstate the importance of the design and manufacturing tools we now all use on a daily basis. What once took a well-equipped machine shop and years of experience to accomplish can now be designed using free software and built using 3D-printers and a host of other CNC tools, all right on the desktop.

The number of doors this manufacturing revolution has opened are uncountable, and through his popular Desktop Makes YouTube channel and other outlets, Vladimir’s mission is to help people navigate through this world and discover their inner maker. He co-founded the Fairfield County Maker’s Guild in Connecticut and founded the CT Robotics Academy. From 3D-printing and design to electronics and programming, Vladimir teaches it all. He’ll join us for the Hack Chat to discuss the desktop manufacturing revolution in general, plus answer your questions on his main tools, Fusion 360 and 3D-printing.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday June 12 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.