Solar Power For Chernobyl’s Second Generation of Electricity

When featuring cool hacks repurposing one thing for something else, we prefer to focus on what we could get our hands on and replicate for ourselves. Not this one, though, as nobody else has the misfortune of being responsible for 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles) of radioactive contaminated land like the government of Ukraine. Trying to make the best of what they have, they’ve just launched a pilot program working to put up solar power farms inside the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone.

This is sure to invite some jokes in the comments section, but the idea has merit. Thirty years of weather has eroded the worst aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion. That area is no longer immediately lethal and people have been making short visits. Spanning from safety inspectors, to scientists, to curious adventurers with questionable judgement making television shows. Supposedly, by following rules on what not to do, it’s possible to keep radiation exposure of a short visit down to the level experienced by frequent fliers. But that’s still too much radiation for long-term stay. That means no homes, office parks, or factories. No agriculture either, as plants and animals grown in the area should not be eaten.

So what’s left? That’s what Ukraine has been struggling with, as it tried to figure out something positive to offset the headaches of monitoring the area.

Well, next to the defunct power plant is the electric distribution infrastructure it used to feed into, and photovoltaic power generation requires little human oversight. Some maintenance will be required, but hopefully someone has worked out how to keep maintenance workers’ cumulative exposure to a minimum. And if this idea pans out, clean renewable energy would start flowing from the site of one of the worst ecological disasters of our era. That makes it a worthwhile hack on a grand scale.

[via Gizmodo]

Tindie Guides That Hackaday Prize Entry Into Your Hands

The Hackaday Prize invites everyone to focus on specific challenges with encouragement of prize money and motivation of deadlines. But what happens after the award ceremony? While some creators are happy just to share their ideas, many projects need to get into the real world to make their full impact. Several past prize winners have used their award as seed money to start production and go into business. Recognizing this as something worth supporting, a new addition this year is Tindie’s Project to Product program.

Tindie is a marketplace for makers to sell to other makers, hence a natural place for Hackaday.io projects to find an audience. (And many have found success doing so.) For Project to Product, two Hackaday Prize semifinalists will receive support from mentors to transition their hand crafted project into something that can be produced in quantity. In addition to engineering support, there’s also funding (above and beyond their prize winnings) towards their first production run. In exchange, Tindie asks for the first production run to be sold exclusively on Tindie marketplace.

Of course, some entries are ahead of the curve and already available on Tindie, like Reflowduino and Hexabitz. We know there are more creators with ambition to do the same, putting in effort cleaning up their design and sorting out their BOM (Bill of Materials) towards production. They’ve done a lot of work, and we hope Tindie can give them that final push. They see their invention become reality, Tindie gets cool new exclusive products for the marketplace, and the rest of us can buy some to play with. Everyone wins.

If this sounds like something you want to join in as a creator, there’s still time. The final Musical Instrument Challenge is accepting entries for one more week. Better hurry!

(Disclaimeroo: Supplyframe, which owns Hackaday and is a sponsor of the Prize, also owns Tindie.)

Sounding A Sour Note Can Save People From A Sour Stomach (Or Worse)

We’ve covered construction of novel music instruments on these pages, and we’ve covered many people tearing down scientific instruments. But today we’ve got something that managed to cross over from one world of “instrument” into another: a music instrument modified to measure a liquid’s density by listening to changes in its pitch.

This exploration started with a mbira, a mechanically simple music instrument. Its row of rigid metal tines was replaced with a single small diameter hollow metal tube. Filling the tube with different liquids would result in different sounds. Those sounds are captured by a cell phone and processed by an algorithm to calculate the difference in relative density of those liquids. Once the procedure was worked out, the concept was verified to work on a super simple instrument built out of everyday parts: a tube mounted on a piece of wood.

At this point we have something that would be a great science class demonstration, but the authors went a step further and described how this cheap sensor can be used to solve an actual problem: detecting counterfeit pharmaceuticals. Changing composition of a drug would also change its density, so a cheap way to compare densities between a questionable sample against a known good reference could be a valuable tool in parts of the world where chemistry labs are scarce.

For future development, this team invites the world to join them applying the same basic idea in other ways, making precise measurements for almost no cost. “Any physical, chemical, or biological phenomena that reproducibly alters the pitch-determining properties of a musical instrument could in principle be measured by the instrument.” We are the ideal demographic to devise new variations on this theme. Let us know what you come up with!

If you need to do quick tests before writing analysis software, audio frequency can be measured using the Google Science Journal app. We’ve seen several hacks turning a cell phone’s camera into instruments like a spectrometer or microscope, but hacks using a phone’s microphone is less common and ripe for exploration. And anyone who manages to make cool measurements while simultaneously making cool music will instantly become a serious contender in our Hackaday Prize music instrument challenge!

[via Science News]

Turn Your Teddy Bear Into A Robot With Yale’s “Robotic Skin”

Despite what we may have seen in the new Winnie the Pooh movie, our cherished plush toys don’t usually come to life. But if that’s the goal, we have ways of making it happen. Like these “robotic skins” from Yale University.

Each module is a collection of sensors and actuators mounted on a flexible substrate, which is then installed onto a flexible object serving as structure. In a simple implementation, the mechanical bits are sewn onto a piece of fabric and tied with zippers onto a piece of foam. The demonstration video (embedded below the break) runs through several more variations of the theme. From making a foam tube (“pool noodle”) crawl like a snake to making a horse toy’s legs move.

There’s a serious motivation behind these entertaining prototypes. NASA is always looking to reduce weight that must be launched into space, and this was born from the idea of modular robotics. Instead of actuators and sensors embedded in a single robot performing a specific function, these robotic skins can be moved around to different robot bodies to perform a variety of tasks. Such flexibility can open up more capabilities while occupying less weight on the rocket.

This idea is still early in development and the current level prototypes look like something most of us can replicate and improve upon for use in our projects. We’ve even got a controller for those pneumatics. With some more development, it may yet place among the ranks of esoteric actuators.

Continue reading “Turn Your Teddy Bear Into A Robot With Yale’s “Robotic Skin””

Two Bit Circus Took The Tech We Love And Built An Amusement Park

Carnival games are simple to pick up, designed to provide a little bit of entertainment in exchange for your game ticket. Given that the main point is just to have some silly fun with your friends, most game vendors have little reason to innovate. But we are people who play with microcontrollers and gratuitous LEDs. We look at these games and imagine bringing them into the 21st century. Well, there’s good news: the people of Two Bit Circus have been working along these lines, and they’re getting ready to invite the whole world to come and play with them.

“Interactive Entertainment” is how Two Bit Circus describe what they do, by employing the kinds of technology that frequent pages of Hackaday. But while we love hacks for their own sake here, Two Bit Circus applies them to amuse and engage everyone regardless of their technical knowledge. For the past few years they’ve been building on behalf of others for events like trade shows and private parties. Then they worked to put together their own event, a STEAM Carnival to spread love of technology, art, and fun. The problem? They are only temporary and for a limited audience, hence the desire for a permanent facility open to the public. Your Hackaday scribe had the opportunity to take a peek as they were putting on the finishing touches.

Continue reading “Two Bit Circus Took The Tech We Love And Built An Amusement Park”

DARPA Goes Underground For Next Challenge

We all love reading about creative problem-solving work done by competitors in past DARPA robotic challenges. Some of us even have ambition to join the fray and compete first-hand instead of just reading about them after the fact. If this describes you, step on up to the DARPA Subterranean Challenge.

Following up on past challenges to build autonomous vehicles and humanoid robots, DARPA now wants to focus collective brainpower solving problems encountered by robots working underground. There will be two competition tracks: the Systems Track is what we’ve come to expect, where teams build both the hardware and software of robots tackling the competition course. But there will also be a Virtual Track, opening up the challenge to those without resources to build big expensive physical robots. Competitors on the virtual track will run their competition course in the Gazebo robot simulation environment. This is similar to the NASA Space Robotics Challenge, where algorithms competed to run a virtual robot through tasks in a simulated Mars base. The virtual environment makes the competition accessible for people without machine shops or big budgets. The winner of NASA SRC was, in fact, a one-person team.

Back on the topic of the upcoming DARPA challenge: each track will involve three sub-domains. Each of these have civilian applications in exploration, infrastructure maintenance, and disaster relief as well as the obvious military applications.

  • Man-made tunnel systems
  • Urban underground
  • Natural cave networks

There will be a preliminary circuit competition for each, spaced roughly six months apart, to help teams get warmed up one environment at a time. But for the final event in Fall of 2021, the challenge course will integrate all three types.

More details will be released on Competitor’s Day, taking place September 27th 2018. Registration for the event just opened on August 15th. Best of luck to all the teams! And just like we did for past challenges, we will excitedly follow progress. (And have a good-natured laugh at fails.)

Before Sending A Probe To The Sun, Make Sure It Can Take The Heat

This past weekend, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe took off for a journey to study our local star. While its mission is well covered by science literate media sources, the equally interesting behind-the-scenes information is a little harder to come by. For that, we have Science News who gave us a look at some of the work that went into testing the probe.

NASA has built and tested space probes before, but none of them were destined to get as close to the sun as Parker will, creating new challenges for testing the probe. The lead engineer for the heat shield, Elizabeth Congdon, was quoted in the article: “Getting things hot on Earth is easier than you would think it is, getting things hot on Earth in vacuum is difficult.” The team used everything from a concentrated solar facility to hacking IMAX movie projector lenses.

The extreme heat also posed indirect problems elsewhere on the probe. A rocket launch is not a gentle affair, any cargo has to tolerate a great deal of shock and vibration. A typical solution for keeping fasteners in place is to glue them down with an epoxy, but they’d melt where Parker is going so something else had to be done. It’s not all high technology and exotic materials, though, as when the goal was to verify that the heat shield was strong enough to withstand up to 20G of acceleration expected during launch, the test team simulated extra weight by stacking paper on top of it.

All that testing should ensure Parker can perform its mission and tell us a lot of interesting things about our sun. And if you got in on the publicity campaign earlier this year, your name is along for the ride.

Not enough space probe action for the day? We’ve also recently featured how creative hacking gave the exoplanet hunter Kepler a second lease on life.