What Can You Learn From an Eggbot?

An eggbot is probably the easiest introduction to CNC machines that you could possibly hope for, at least in terms of the physical build. But at the same time, an eggbot can let you get your hands dirty with all of the concepts, firmware, and the toolchain that you’d need to take your CNC game to the next level, whatever that’s going to be. So if you’ve been wanting to make any kind of machine where stepper motors move, cut, trace, display, or simply whirl around, you can get a gentle introduction on the cheap with an eggbot.

Did we mention Easter? It’s apparently this weekend. Seasonal projects are the worst for the procrastinator. If you wait until the 31st to start working on your mega-awesome New Year’s Dropping Laser Ball-o-tron 3000, it’s not going to get done by midnight. Or so I’ve heard. And we’re certainly not helping by posting this tutorial so late in the season. Sorry about that. On the other hand, if you start now, you’ll have the world’s most fine-tuned eggbot for 2020. Procrastinate tomorrow!

I had two main goals with this project: getting it done quickly and getting it done easily. That was my best shot at getting it done at all. Secondary goals included making awesome designs, learning some new software toolchains, and doing the whole thing on the cheap. I succeeded on all counts, and that’s why I’m here encouraging you to build one for yourself.

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Get Great 3D Scans with Open Photogrammetry

Not long ago, photogrammetry — the process of stitching multiple photographs taken from different angles into a 3D whole — was hard stuff. Nowadays, it’s easy. [Mikolas Zuza] over at Prusa Printers, has a guide showing off cutting edge open-source software that’s not only more powerful, but also easier to use. They’ve also produced a video, which we’ve embedded below.

Basically, this is a guide to using Meshroom, which is based on the AliceVision photogrammetry framework. AliceVision is a research platform, so it’s got tremendous capability but doesn’t necessarily focus on the user experience. Enter Meshroom, which makes that power accessible.

Meshroom does all sorts of cool tricks, like showing you how the 3D reconstruction looks as you add more images to the dataset, so that you’ll know where to take the next photo to fill in incomplete patches. It can also reconstruct from video, say if you just walked around the object with a camera running.

The final render is computationally intensive, but AliceVision makes good use of a CUDA on Nvidia graphics cards, so you can cut your overnight renders down to a few hours if you’ve got the right hardware. But even if you have to wait for the results, they’re truly impressive. And best of all, you can get started building up your 3D model library using nothing more than that phone in your pocket.

If you want to know how to use the models that come out of photogrammetry, check out [Eric Strebel]’s video. And if all of this high-tech software foolery is too much for you, try a milk-based 3D scanner.

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Jaromir Sukuba: The Supercon 2018 Badge Firmware

If you missed it, the Hackaday Supercon 2018 badge was a complete retro-minicomputer with a screen, keyboard, memory, speaker, and expansion ports that would make a TRS-80 blush. Only instead of taking up half of your desk, everyone at the conference had one around their neck, when they weren’t soldering to it, that is.

The killer feature of the badge was its accessibility and hackability — and a large part of that was due to the onboard BASIC interpreter. And that’s where Jaromir comes in. Once Voja Antonic had finalized the design of the badge hardware for our conference in Belgrade in the spring of 2018, as Jaromir puts it, “all we needed was a little bit of programming”. That would of course take three months. The badge was battle-tested in Belgrade, and various feature requests, speed ups, and bugfixes were implemented (during the con!) by Jaromir and others.

Firmware work proceeded over the summer. Ziggurat29 helped out greatly by finding ways to speed up the badge’s BASIC interpreter (that story is told on his UBASIC and the Need for Speed project page) and rolled into the code base by Jaromir. More bugs were fixed, keywords were added, and the three-month project grew to more like nine. The result: the badge was in great shape for the Supercon in the fall.

Jaromir’s talk about the badge is supremely short, so if you’re interested in hacking a retrocomputer into a PIC, or if you’ve got a badge and you still want to dig deeper into it, you should really give it a look. We don’t think that anyone fully exploited the CP/M machine emulator that lies inside — there’s tons of software written for that machine that is just begging to be run after all these years — but we’re pretty sure nearly everyone got at least into the basement in Zork. Dive in!

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Does Tesla’s Autosteer Make Cars Less Safe?

In 2016, a Tesla Model S T-boned a tractor trailer at full speed, killing its lone passenger instantly. It was running in Autosteer mode at the time, and neither the driver nor the car’s automatic braking system reacted before the crash. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigated the incident, requested data from Tesla related to Autosteer safety, and eventually concluded that there wasn’t a safety-related defect in the vehicle’s design (PDF report).

But the NHTSA report went a step further. Based on the data that Tesla provided them, they noted that since the addition of Autosteer to Tesla’s confusingly named “Autopilot” suite of functions, the rate of crashes severe enough to deploy airbags declined by 40%. That’s a fantastic result.

Because it was so spectacular, a private company with a history of investigating automotive safety wanted to have a look at the data. The NHTSA refused because Tesla claimed that the data was a trade secret, so Quality Control Systems (QCS) filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to get the data on which the report was based. Nearly two years later, QCS eventually won.

Looking into the data, QCS concluded that crashes may have actually increased by as much as 60% on the addition of Autosteer, or maybe not at all. Anyway, the data provided the NHTSA was not sufficient, and had bizarre omissions, and the NHTSA has since retracted their safety claim. How did this NHTSA one-eighty happen? Can we learn anything from the report? And how does this all align with Tesla’s claim of better-than-average safety line up? We’ll dig into the numbers below.

But if nothing else, Tesla’s dramatic reversal of fortune should highlight the need for transparency in the safety numbers of self-driving and other advanced car technologies, something we’ve been calling for for years now.

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Supercon: Ruth Grace Wong and Firmware From the Firehose

Firmware and software are both just code, right? How different could the code that runs Internet-scale distributed web stuff be from the code that runs a tiny microcontroller brain inside a personal hydroponics device? Night and day!

Ruth Grace Wong works in the former world, but moonlights as a manufacturing engineer with some friends. Their product had pre-existing firmware that contained (at least) one bug, and Ruth’s job was to find it. The code in question was written by the Chinese PCB engineer, who knew the electronics intimately but who had no software background, providing Ruth an opportunity to jump head-first into the rawest of raw embedded programming. Spoiler alert: she found the bug and learned a lot about firmware along the way. This talk follows her along the adventure.

“The code is very well documented, in Chinese” but the variable names are insanely non-descriptive. Similarly, while the PCB engineer knows full well what a 24C02 is, if you’re a software geek that might as well be Chinese. As you’d expect, web searches came to the rescue on both fronts.

The bug ended up hiding in a logical flaw in the PWM-setting code inside an interrupt service routine, and it kept the fan from ever coming full on. Once found, it was easily fixed. But getting to the point where you understand the codebase deeply enough to know where to look is four-fifths of the battle. Heck, setting up the toolchain alone can take a day or two.

If you’re a fellow software type, Ruth’s talk (embedded below) will give you a quick glimpse into the outer few layers of the onion that is embedded firmware development, from a familiar viewpoint. Give her quick and value-packed talk a watch! Grizzled hardware veterans will nod along, and maybe even gain a little insight into how our code looks to “them”.

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Supercon 2018: Mike Szczys and the State of the Hackaday

Every year at Superconference, Editor-in-Chief Mike Szczys gets the chance to talk about what we think are the biggest, most important themes in the Hackaday universe. This year’s talk was about science and technology, and more importantly who gets to be involved in building the future. Spoiler: all of us! Hackaday has always stood for the ideal that you, yes you, should be taking stuff apart, improving it, and finding innovative ways to use, make, and improve. To steal one of Mike’s lines: “Hackaday is an engine of engagement in engineering fields.”

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Voja Antonic: Designing the Cube

Voja Antonic designed this fantastic retrocomputing badge for Hackaday Belgrade in 2018, and it was so much fun that we wanted to bring it stateside to the Supercon essentially unaltered. And that meant that Voja had some free time to devote to a new hardware giveaway: the Cube. So while his talk at Supercon in November was ostensibly about the badge, he just couldn’t help but tell us about his newer love, and some of the extremely clever features hidden within.

It’s funny how the hardware we design can sometimes reflect so much on the creator. Voja designed then-Yugoslavia’s first widely used home computer (and published the DIY plans in a magazine!). Thousands were built from their kits. The Galaksija was a Z80-based design with a custom BASIC that was just barely squeezed into the available 4K of ROM. So you shouldn’t be shocked that the retro-badge has a working keyboard and a nice BASIC on board.

But let’s jump ahead to the Cube, because that’s even more of a passion project. On the outside, they’re very simple devices, with only a USB port and a sweet diffused LED ring visible. Aesthetic? Minimalistic? Beautiful, honestly.
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