Chess Set From Car Parts

Chess has been around for an awfully long time, automobiles less so. However, there’s no reason the two can’t be combined, like in this chess set fashioned from automotive components.

The project was made as a gift, and is the sort of thing that’s quite accessible for an interested maker to attempt at home. Parts used to build the set include valves, valve springs, spark plugs, castellated nuts and pipe fittings. As the parts don’t actually need to be in good working condition, a haul like this could likely easily be had for less than $50 from the local pull-it-yourself wrecking yard — or free if you know a mechanic with some expired engines lying around.

The metalworking side of things involves trimming down and welding together the parts, before polishing them up and applying a coat of paint to create the white and black, or in this case, gold and black pieces.

Overall, it’s a fun weekend project that could be tackled in any number of ways depending on your creativity and taste. For a different take, check out this 3D laser cut chess set.

Run From the Sound of Footsteps in Blind Game of Tag

The human auditory system is a complex and wonderful thing. One of its most useful features is the ability to estimate the range and direction of sound sources – think of the way people instinctively turn when hearing a sudden loud noise. A team of students have leveraged this innate ability to produce a game of tag based around nothing but sound.

The game runs on two FPGAs, which handle the processing and communication required. The chaser is given a screen upon which they can see their own location and that of their prey. The target has no vision at all, and must rely on the sounds in their stereo headphones to detect the location of the chaser and evade them as long as possible.

The project documentation goes into great detail about the specifics of the implementation. The game relies on the use of the Head Related Transfer Function – a function related to how the ear picks up sounds relative to their position. This allows the FPGA to simulate the chaser’s footsteps, and feed the audio to the target who perceives the chaser’s position purely by sound.

It’s a great example of a gameplay mechanic that we’d love to see developed further. The concept of trying to find one’s way around by hearing alone is one which we think holds a lot of promise.

With plenty of processing power under the hood, FPGAs are a great choice for complex audio projects. A great project to try might be decoding MP3s.


Bitcoin Price Ticker

Are you a Bitcoin miner or trader, but find yourself lacking the compulsive need to check exchange rates like the drug-fuelled daytraders of Wall Street? Fear not – you too can adorn your home or office with a Bitcoin Price Ticker! The post is in Italian but you can read a translated version here.

It’s a straightforward enough build – an Arduino compatible board with an onboard ESP8266 is hooked up with an HD44780-compatible LCD. It’s then a simple matter of scraping the Bitcoin price from the web and displaying it on the LCD. It’s a combination of all the maker staples, tied together with some off-the-shelf libraries – it’s quick, and it works.

[Ed: Oh boo!  The images of the LCD were photoshopped.  Please ignore the next paragraph.]

What makes the build extra nice is the use of custom characters on the LCD. The HD44780 is a character based display, and this project appears to use a screen with two lines of sixteen characters each. However, a custom character set has been implemented in the display which uses several “characters” on the screen to create a single number. It’s a great way to make the display more legible from a distance, as the numbers are much larger, and the Bitcoin logo has been faithfully recreated as well. It’s small touches like this that can really set a project apart. We’d love to see this expanded to display other financial market information and finished off in a nice case.

If you’re wondering what you can actually do with Bitcoin, check out the exploits of this robotic darknet shopper. Oh, and Microsoft will take them, too.

Humans May Have Accidentally Created a Radiation Shield Around Earth


NASA spends a lot of time researching the Earth and its surrounding space environment. One particular feature of interest are the Van Allen belts, so much so that NASA built special probes to study them! They’ve now discovered a protective bubble they believe has been generated by human transmissions in the VLF range.

VLF transmissions cover the 3-30 kHz range, and thus bandwidth is highly limited. VLF hardware is primarily used to communicate with submarines, often to remind them that, yes, everything is still fine and there’s no need to launch the nukes yet.  It’s also used for navigation and broadcasting time signals.

It seems that this human transmission has created a barrier of sorts in the atmosphere that protects it against radiation from space. Interestingly, the outward edge of this “VLF Bubble” seems to correspond very closely with the innermost edge of the Van Allen belts caused by Earth’s magnetic field. What’s more, the inner limit of the Van Allan belts now appears to be much farther away from the Earth’s surface than it was in the 1960s, which suggests that man-made VLF transmissions could be responsible for pushing the boundary outwards.

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Building a Replica Final Cartridge III

The Commodore 64 was the computer of the 8-bit era, and remains the highest selling computer of all time. In addition to disk and tape drives, it also had a cartridge interface. A popular extension cartridge was the Final Cartridge III, which offered a variety of disk utilities and a GUI. [Greisi] was in possession of a no longer functional cartridge, and decided to reverse engineer the device.

[Greisi] started by desoldering all the ICs and mapping out a schematic for the board. The design centers around common parts for the era, such as a UV-erasable EPROM and some 74-series logic. [Greisi] decided to then modernise the design and make some improvements. Adding a fuse should avoid the cartridge catching on fire, and a bunch of decoupling capacitors on all the ICs should reduce noise. A FLASH chip is used instead of the old school UV-erasable part, which makes writing to the device much easier.

It’s a great build performed in a stunningly tidy workshop, and [Greisi] has provided the schematics and PCB designs to the public here. That means that many more users can build their own Final Cartridge III without having to hunt for original hardware which is growing scarcer. You can learn more about the Final Cartridge III on Wikipedia.

We’ve actually seen the Final Cartridge III before – used in this blinkenwall installation. Video below the break.

[Thanks Adrian!]

Continue reading “Building a Replica Final Cartridge III”

Art With Steppers And STM32

Automotive dashboards are something that largely go untouched in the average car’s life. Other than the occasional wipe with a damp cloth, they’re generally reliable for the life of the car and considered too tricky to repair as age sets in. Nevertheless, some hackers find themselves tinkering with them, and learn skills in the process, such as how to control stepper motors and talk to the CAN bus. Having done some projects in the past, [Dan] had some old tachometers lying around and decided to turn them into a piece of art.

The build is powered by an STM32 – a powerful ARM-based platform with plenty of IO and potential. [Dan] leveraged its capabilities to have the board generate music and react to its onboard accelerometer data while also driving the stepper motors from the old tachometers. The project was then completed by 3D printing a mounting plate and placing the tachometer assemblies into the back of an IKEA canvas print.

The end result is a piece of wall art that emits eerie stringed music while twitching around. It came about from [Dan]’s prior projects in working with dashboards. It’s a fun use of some well-earned hacking skills, but we reckon there’s even more potential. There’s a huge number of projects that could benefit from lightweight tiny actuators, and we’d love to see a robot made entirely out of junkyard dashboard parts.

For another dashboard hack, why not check out this beautiful Jeep desk clock?

Patents on MP3 Format Due to Expire

MP3 took off in the late 90s as the digital music format. It then proceeded to slaughter the CD, and launch the file sharing revolution as well. It’s a proud format that has roots stretching all the way back to the early 1980s, when the possibility of sending music over ISDN lines was first considered. Now the patents on it are beginning to expire and its licencing program has been terminated.

The MP3 standard was the property of Fraunhofer IIS, and the original licencing model was intended such that encoders would be expensive, and decoders relatively inexpensive. This would allow people to buy software to listen to MP3s cheaply, but the creation of MP3s would be expensive, and thus handled by studios and music labels. This all changed when a high-quality MP3 encoder was leaked to the public, and suddenly it became possible to readily convert your CDs at home into the MP3 format.

One hangover of this ownership of the MP3 standard was that when you installed certain FOSS software, such as Audacity or a Linux distro, you would find that you had to go and do some legwork to find an MP3 codec. That was because it wasn’t worth the legal trouble for the FOSS authors to arrange a workaround, and trading in proprietary software is the antithesis to everything they stand for.

However, now that more of the relevant patents are expiring, you can now expect MP3 support to be baked into more software. It may be more than a little late, with more advanced audio formats beginning to take over, but it’s great to know that Fedora, for one, is starting to include MP3 support with their releases.

If you’d like to read more about the history of the MP3, check out this great article from NPR. Fraunhofer have their own great history site, too. If all this talk of advanced audio formats has gotten you excited, check out this MP3 decoder written for the ESP8266.

[Thanks to Tim Trzepacz for the tip!]