Computers May Someday Need A Drink

“We want to put water right into your processor.” If that statement makes you sweat, that is good. Sweating is what we’re talking about, but it’s more involved than adding some water like a potted plant. Sweating works naturally by allowing liquid to evaporate, and that phase change is endothermic which is why it feels cool. Evaporative coolers that work in this way, also known as swamp coolers, haven’t been put into computers before because they are full of sloshy water. Researchers in South Korea and the United States of America have been working on an evaporative cooling system mimicking the way some insects keep themselves cool by breathing through their exoskeletons while living in damp soil.

Springtails are little bugs that have to keep the water and air separate, so they don’t drown in the wet dirt where they live. Mother Nature’s solution was for them to evolve to do this with columns that have sharp edges at the exit. Imagine you slowly add water to a test tube, it won’t spill as soon as you reach the top, it will form a dome. This is the meniscus. At a large scale, say a river dam, as soon as you get over the dam you would expect spillage, but at the test tube level you can see a curve. At the scale of the springtail, exuded water will form a globe and resist water pressure. That resistance to water pressure allows this type of water cooling to self-regulate. Those globes provide a lot of surface area, and as they evaporate, they allow more water to replenish the globe. Of course, excessive pressure will turn them into the smallest squirt guns.

We have invented a lot by copying Mother Nature. Velcro was inspired by burrs, and some of our most clever robots copy insects. We can also be jerks about it.

Tracktorino Shields You From Poor Interfaces

On-screen controls in a digital audio workstation expand the power of a DJ or musician, but they are not intuitive for everyone. The tactility of buttons, knobs, sliders and real-world controls feels nothing like using a mouse, trackpad, or even a touchscreen. Unfortunately, devices meant to put control into a DJs hands can be unavailable due to location or cost. [Gustavo Silveira] took charge of the situation so he could help other DJs and musicians take control of their workstations with a customized MIDI interface for Traktor DJ software.

MIDI is a widely used serial protocol which has evolved from a DIN connector to USB, and now it is also wireless. This means that the Traktorino is not locked to Traktor despite the namesake. On the Hackaday.io page, there’s even a list of other workstations it will work with, but since many workstations, all the good ones anyway, accept MIDI hardware like this, the real list is a lot longer.

The custom circuit board is actually a shield. Using an Arduino UNO, the current poster child of the Arduino world, opens up the accessibility for many people who don’t know specialized software. A vector drawing for a lasercut enclosure is also included. This means that even the labeling on the buttons are not locked into English language.

Here’s another project which combined laser cutting and MIDI to make some very clever buttons or turn your DIN MIDI connector into USB.

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This Thermal Printer has Serious Game

[Dhole], like the fox, isn’t the first to connect his computer to a Game Boy printer but he has done a remarkable job of documenting the process so well that anyone can follow. The operation is described well enough that it isn’t necessary to scrutinize his code, so don’t be put off if C and Rust are not your first choices. The whole thing is written like a story in three chapters.

The first chapter is about hacking a link cable between two Game Boys. First, he explains the necessity and process of setting the speed of his microcontroller, a NUCLEO-F411RE development board by STMicroelectronics. Once the rate is set, he builds a sniffer by observing the traffic on the cable and listens in on two Game Boys playing Tetris in competition mode. We can’t help but think that some 8-bit cheating would be possible if Tetris thought your opponent instantly had a screen overflowing with tetrominoes. Spying on a couple of Game Boys meant that no undue stress was put on the printer.

Chapter two built on the first chapter by using the protocol to understand how the printer expects to be spoken to. There is plenty of documentation about this already, and it is thoughtfully referenced. It becomes possible to convince a Game Boy that the connected microcontroller is a printer so it will oblige by sending an image. Since there isn’t a reason to wait for printing hardware, the transfer is nearly instantaneous. In the image above, you can see a picture of [Dhole] taken by a Game Boy camera.

The final chapter, now that all the protocols are understood, is also the climax where the computer and microcontroller convince the printer they are a Game Boy that wants to print an image. In the finale, we get another lesson about measuring controller frequency without an oscilloscope. If you are looking for the hack, there it is. There is a handful of success in the form of old receipts with superimposed grayscale images since virgin thermal printer paper by Nintendo costs as much as a used printer.

This story had a happy ending but grab your reading glasses for the smallest Game Boy and here’s someone who wrote their own Game Boy color game.

Why Won’t This Darn Thing Charge?

What is more fun than plugging in your phone and coming back to find your battery on empty? Stepping on a LEGO block with bare feet or arriving hungry at a restaurant after closing probably qualify. [Alex Sidorenko] won’t clean your floors or order you a pizza, but he can help you understand why cheap chargers won’t always power expensive devices. He also shows how to build an adapter to make them work despite themselves.

The cheapest smart device chargers take electricity from your home or car and convert it to five volts of direct current. That voltage sits on the power rails of a USB socket until you plug in a cable. If you’re fortunate, you might get a measly fuse.

Smart device manufacturers don’t make money when you buy an off-brand charger, and they can’t speak to the current protection of them, so they started to add features on their own chargers to protect their components and profit margins. In the case of dedicated chargers, a simple resistor across the data lines tells your phone it is acceptable power. Other devices are more finicky, but [Alex Sidorenko] shows how they work and provides Eagle files to build whatever flavor you want. Just be positive that your power supply is worthy of the reliability these boards promise to the device.

Now you know why connecting a homemade benchtop power supply to a USB cable seems good on paper but doesn’t always get the job done. Always be safe when you make your own power supplies.

Learning Software In A Soft Exosuit

Wearables and robots don’t often intersect, because most robots rely on rigid bodies and programming while we don’t. Exoskeletons are an instance where robots interact with our bodies, and a soft exosuit is even closer to our physiology. Machine learning is closer to our minds than a simple state machine. The combination of machine learning software and a soft exosuit is a match made in heaven for the Harvard Biodesign Lab and Agile Robotics Lab.

Machine learning studies a walker’s steady gait for twenty periods while vitals are monitored to assess how much energy is being expended. After watching, the taught machine assists instead of assessing. This type of personalization has been done in the past, but the addition of machine learning shows that the necessary customization can be programmed into each machine without a team of humans.

Exoskeletons are no stranger to these pages, our 2017 Hackaday Prize gave $1000 to an open-source set of robotic legs and reported on an exoskeleton to keep seniors safe.

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Medium Machine Mediates Microcontroller Messages

Connecting computers to human brains is currently limited to the scope of science fiction and a few cutting-edge laboratories. Tapping into some nerves farther from our central wetware is possible and [Peter Buczkowski] shows us his stylish machine for implanting a pattern into our brains without actively having to memorize anything.

His Medium Machine leverages a TENS unit to activate forearm muscles in a pattern programmed into an Arduino. Users place their forearm across two aluminum electrodes mounted on a tasteful wooden platform and extend a single finger over a button. Electrical impulses trigger the muscles which press the button. That’s all. After repeating the pattern a few times, the users should be able to recite it back on command even if they aren’t aware of what it means. If this sounds like some [Johnny Mnemonic] memory cache, you are absolutely correct. This project draws inspiration from the [William Gibson] novel which became a [Keanu Reeves] movie.

Users can be programmed with a Morse code message or the secret knock to open an attic library or play a little tune. How about learning a piano song?

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A Machinist’s Foray Into Jewelry Making

Machinists are expected to make functional items from stock material, at least hat’s the one-line job description even though it glosses over many important details. [Eclix] wanted a birthday gift for his girlfriend that wasn’t just jewelry, indeed he wanted jewelry made with his own hands. After all, nothing in his skillset prohibits him from making beautiful things. He admits there were mistakes, but in the end, he came up with a recipe for two pairs of earrings, one set with sapphires and one with diamonds.

He set the gems in sterling silver which was machined to have sockets the exact diameter and depth of the stones. The back end of the rods were machined down to form the post for the clutch making each earring a single piece of metal and a single gemstone. Maintaining a single piece also eliminates the need for welding or soldering which is messy according to the pictures.

This type of cross-discipline skill is one of the things that gives Hackaday its variety. In that regard, consider the art store for your hacking needs and don’t forget the humble library.