Number Crunching GPS For The DIYer

Many of us have had cause to add GPS to a project, whether it’s because we need an accurate timebase or just want to know where the bloody thing is. Normally, this consists of plugging in a cheap module and making sure the antenna has a good view of the sky. [Mike] wanted to dig deeper, however, and figure out just what goes into decoding a GPS signal and calculating a location fix.

[Mike]’s investigation combined several avenues of investigation. In terms of decoding live radio signals, he selected a KiwiSDR software defined radio. Combined with a Digilent Nexys 2 FPGA, it was now possible to get live data off the air and into the PC quickly for decoding. In concert with this, [Mike] used a sample of raw GPS data captured in Nottingham, UK in order to test his code. After much experimentation, [Mike] was able to get the data decoded with 700 lines of C code. Decoding three minutes worth of data took all night, but further development allowed things to be sped up over 200 times. For the curious, the code is up on Github to convert raw ADC samples into actual location fixes.

Armed with the wealth of resources online and the right hardware, [Mike] was sucessfully able to achieve his goal, and figure out just precisely where his house is, to boot. As a bonus, the whole project was inspired by a similar project posted in these very pages back in 2013! If you’re working on your own satellite-based projects, be sure to drop us a line.

3D Printing Damascus-like Steel

Recreating Damascus steel remains a holy grail of materials science. The exact process and alloys used are long ago lost to time. At best, modern steelworking methods are able to produce a rough visual simulacra of sorts that many still consider to be pretty cool looking. Taking a more serious bent at materials science than your average knifemaker, a group of scientists at the Max Planck institute have been working to create a material with similar properties through 3D printing.

The technology used is based on the laser sintering of metal powders. In this case, the powder consists of a mixture of iron, nickel and titanium. The team found that by varying the exact settings of the laser sintering process on a layer-by-layer basis, they could create different microstructures throughout a single part. This allows the creation of parts that are ductile, while remaining hard enough to be sharpened – a property which is useful in edged weapons like swords.

While the process is nothing like that used by smiths in Damascus working with Wootz steel, the general idea of a metal material with varying properties throughout remains the same. For those eager to get into old-school metalwork, consider our articles on blacksmithing. For those interested in materials research, head to a good university. Or, better yet – do both!

[Thanks to Itay for the tip, via New Atlas]

Tidy Laser Cut Packaging For PCBs With KiCAD

A laser cutter is a useful tool to have in any workshop. While many hackers use them for their cutting abilities, it’s important to remember that they can be great as engravers, too. [Wrickert] was well aware of this when he set his to work, producing attractive packaging for his Tindie orders.

[Wrickert] sells a variety of small PCB-based devices on Tindie, and it’s nice to have something to package them up with, rather than just sending a bare board. To do this quickly and effectively, KiCAD is used to help generate the packaging from the original PCB geometry itself. The board outlines are exported as an SVG file, reopened in KiCAD, and then used to create the required cardboard parts. The laser can then also be used to engrave the cardboard too.

It’s a tidy packaging solution that requires no messy inks or printers, and can be designed in the same software as the device itself. We’ve covered this area before, talking about what it takes to go from a home project to a saleable kit. If you’re in the game, you might find [Wrickert]’s hack to be just the ticket!

BlueRetro Is The Ultimate Console Controller Adapter

Retro consoles are great fun, packed with classic games and plenty of nostalgia. However, they also lack the polish and ergonomics of more modern hardware. Serious gamers will often find their original gamepads wearing out, too. A solution to all these problems and more is BlueRetro.

BlueRetro is a Bluetooth controller adapter for a wide variety of vintage console platforms. Developed by [Jacques Gagnon], it uses an ESP32 for its powerful wireless capabilities. One core of the ESP32 is used to speak Bluetooth and handle controller interfacing, while the other processor core handles speaking to the attached console.

The level of attention to detail is where this project really shines. [Jacques] has implemented many advanced features, like mapping axes to buttons and vice versa – essential when swapping controllers across varied systems. The output of BlueRetro is a DB25 connector, which is then used with adapter cabling to hook up to the controller ports of various consoles. It’s even capable of emulating multitap adapters for up to 7-player action.

In a video, [Jacques] shows off the hardware in use with his collection of vintage consoles, hooked up on a shelf with an impressive A/V switcher setup. It’s clear that this is the build of a hacker that doesn’t skimp on doing things the right way. We’ve seen his work before too, with a tidy RGB input mod for CRT TVs. Video after the break.

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FreeDVDBoot Opens Up The PlayStation 2 Like Never Before

For many generations, home consoles have featured copy protection. Aiming to stop users from playing pirated games as well as running homebrew code, hackers often race to find vulnerabilities shortly after each new launch. Of course, finding workarounds can sometimes be more of a marathon than a sprint. [Grifter]’s new hack may come many years after the PlayStation 2 has since faded from store shelves, but remains impressive nonetheless.

The goal was to find a way to run unsigned code on the PlayStation 2 without using any complex external hardware. Hacked memory cards, network interfaces, and other trickery were ruled out. Instead, sights were set on using the only other way in to the console – through the DVD drive.

The only burnable media the PS2 DVD drive will normally read comes in the form of DVD video discs. Thus, [grifter]’s search began in the code of the on-board DVD player software. After finding potential overflow targets in the code, it was possible to exploit these to run unsigned code.

It’s not yet a fully-polished piece of code, and [grifter] notes that additional work may be required to get the exploit working on all firmware versions of the console. Regardless, it’s as simple a hack as you could possibly ask for – burn the disc, and away you go! It reminds us fondly of the Sega Saturn hack exploiting the MJPEG interface. Video after the break. Continue reading “FreeDVDBoot Opens Up The PlayStation 2 Like Never Before”

Aggressive Indoor Flying Thanks To SteamVR

With lockdown regulations sweeping the globe, many have found themselves spending altogether too much time inside with not a lot to do. [Peter Hall] is one such individual, with a penchant for flying quadcopters. With the great outdoors all but denied, he instead endeavoured to find a way to make flying inside a more exciting experience. We’d say he’s succeeded.

The setup involves using a SteamVR virtual reality tracker to monitor the position of a quadcopter inside a room. This data is then passed back to the quadcopter at a high rate, giving the autopilot fast, accurate data upon which to execute manoeuvres.¬†PyOpenVR is used to do the motion tracking, and in combination with MAVProxy, sends the information over MAVLink back to the copter’s ArduPilot.

While such a setup could be used to simply stop the copter crashing into things, [Peter] doesn’t like to do things by half measures. Instead, he took full advantage of the capabilities of the system, enabling the copter to fly aggressively in an incredibly small space.

It’s an impressive setup, and one that we’re sure could have further applications for those exploring the use of drones indoors. We’ve seen MAVLink used for nefarious purposes, too. Video after the break.

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Faux Vintage Radio Gets AirPlay Upgrade

There’s plenty of vintage-styled hardware out these days, with quality and functionality being mixed at best. [Huan] found such a device in the form of an attractively-styled Bluetooth speaker. Deciding he could improve on the capabilities while retaining a stock look, he got down to hacking.

The aim of the project was to keep the original volume knob, buttons and screen, while replacing the internals with something a bit more capable. A Raspberry Pi Zero was sourced as the brains of the operation, with the Google Voice AIY hardware used as the sound output after early attempts with a discrete amplifier faced hum issues. An Arduino Pro Micro was pressed into service to read the volume encoder along with the buttons and drive the charlieplexed LED screen. Shairport Sync was then installed on the Pi Zero to enable Airplay functionality.

It’s a basic hack that nonetheless gives [Huan] an attractive AirPlay speaker, along with plenty of useful experience working with Arduinos and Raspberry Pis. We’ve seen similar hacks before, too. If you’re working on your own stereo resurrection at home, be sure to drop us a line!