Mavic Mini Gets Custom Clear Case

Apparently, in the drone scene, sticker wraps are popular for a custom aesthetic. [Useless Mod] wanted to go a little further, however, and decided to build a full crystal enclosure for his Mavic Mini, facing some hurdles along the way. (Video, embedded below.)

The first stage of the build was disassembly, with the compact 249 gram drone requiring a deft touch to avoid damaging the delicate ribbon cables and mechanisms inside. With the drone stripped down to its bare components, a silicone mould was made of each individual piece of the case, with new parts being cast in clear epoxy. It’s not a job for the faint of heart, with many undercuts and complex features to contend with. However, [Useless Mod] managed to produce the parts and get it all back together.

An initial test flight ended poorly, when the drone entered an uncontrollable wobble due to the case not being fully assembled. However, with fresh internals and with everything properly put together, everything worked! It’s not a build we’d suggest for the inexperienced, as the moulds required are complex and the electronics quite fragile. The final result is a good one though, and it even weighs 10 grams less than the original casing!

For those in the US, the world of drones is set to change drastically in short order.

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Apple II Prints Off The Breaking News

These days, we’re alerted to the rise of Bitcoin and the fall of nations via little buzzes from the smartphones in our pocket. Go back fifty years or so and it was all a bit more romantic, with noisy teletype machines delivering hot tips straight to the newsroom for broadcast to the wider public. [Joshua Coleman] wanted a bit of that old fashioned charm, so set up a news printer at home with his old Apple II.

The Apple II in this case isn’t directly connected to the Internet. Instead, it talks to a modern Macintosh, acting as a serial terminal. The Macintosh then connects to a modern BBS that delivers news headlines over Telnet. The Apple II then routes the headlines as they come in to a beautiful Epson LQ-500 dot matrix printer, replete with vintage tractor feed paper. [Joshua] takes the time to highlight just what hardware is required, as well as how to set up the Apple II to redirect the serial output to the printer so the news automatically prints as it comes in.

It’s a fun and noisy way to stay up to date, and you can be sure that if you hear the printer really start going for it, you might want to switch on the TV for more information on just what’s going wrong at the present minute. Old computers may not have the grunt to really hang with the modern net, but they can make a charming interface for it; this SE/30 does a great job with Spotify, as an example. Video after the break.

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Pandemic Chip Shortages Are Shutting Down Automotive Production

Once upon a time, the automobile was a mostly mechanical beast, but no longer. Advanced electronics have weaved their way into the modern car, from engine to infotainment and climate control to the buttons now sprinkled throughout the passenger cabin. The gains in amenity and efficiency can’t be sniffed at, but it leaves manufacturers reliant on semiconductor suppliers to get cars out the door. Over the past year, it’s become much more complicated — with many automakers having to slow production in the face of integrated circuit shortages that can be traced back to Spring of 2020.

Shortages Rippling Through the Supply Chain

Production lines are set up for just-in-time manufacturing, where parts are delivered as needed. If there’s a delay in the supply chain, everything quickly grinds to a halt.

Unsurprisingly, the blame for this situation can be lain firmly at the doorstep of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Automakers were forced to scale back production as factories closed to avoid spreading the deadly virus. This meant slashing orders with suppliers, particularly as the just-in-time nature of modern automobile production means there’s little to no space to warehouse excess parts in factories. It coincided with a drop in automotive sales during the early part of lock down, as few contemplated new car purchases during the turmoil of March and April, 2020.

In this same period, demand for consumer electronics shot through the roof, as schools and businesses switched to remote operation. Webcams flew off store shelves, and companies spent great sums equipping their workers with laptops to enable their staff to work from home. With a shortage in that sector, semiconductor foundries switched production lines over to churn out the parts in greatest demand, scaling back on parts for automakers who had curtailed their orders.

As the year progressed, demand for new automobiles rose, often attributed to general fear of being exposed to the virus causing consumers to avoid public transportation. With limited production capacity, chip foundries can’t simply make more chips; instead, automakers have had to shut down production on some lines while they wait for deliveries to catch up with demand.

Honda, Toyota, Fiat-Chrysler, and Ford have all been impacted by the shortages. Tier-one supplier Bosch have noted the shortage is particularly acute in parts used for engine and transmission control units. With these parts being particularly specialised for automotive applications, it’s likely their comparatively small market has meant that foundries are focusing on shipping parts for consumer goods first thanks to their higher volumes. With lead times measured in months, it’s likely to be some time before car manufacturers can get back to full capacity.

You Need Every Part to Finish the Build

Semiconductor manufacturers like Infineon and NXP count automakers as some of their major customers, with their chips finding their way into everything from engine control units (pictured) to infotainment systems and seat controls.

It’s not the first time automakers have faced shortages, and it won’t be the last. A fire at a magnesium casting plant in 2018 led to widespread shortage of structural parts used by several makers. In 2012, a disaster at a German firm producing a chemical for fuel line coatings threatened to curtail production.

While having redundant supplies of critical components is desirable for automakers, it isn’t always practical in the modern marketplace. Chip fabrication plants cost over one billion dollars to build. Idle production lines don’t make money, so there is rarely spare capacity in this industry. Production runs are queued far in advance, with lead times to spin up a new run measured in months. Combine this with an aversion to keeping parts on hand due to the just-in-time nature of modern supply chains, and it’s clear that it’s a problem that promises to reoccur.

Short of a major cultural shift in automaking on a global scale, shortages aren’t going away any time soon. Instead, now and then, the average consumer will have to wait a little longer for that new car to roll off the line, and automakers will have to keep making frantic phone calls to suppliers to get parts on the boat. Of course, if you’re an armchair logistician yourself, sound off in the comments with your best ideas to solve this conundrum!

TV Detector Vans Once Prowled The Streets Of England

The United Kingdom is somewhat unique in the world for requiring those households which view broadcast television to purchase a licence for the privilege. Initially coming into being with the Wireless Telegraphy Act in 1923, the licence was required for anyone receiving broadcast radio, before being expanded to cover television in 1946. The funds generated from this endeavour are used as the primary funding for the British Broadcasting Corporation.

A typical TV licence invoice. Separate licences for black and white and color sets still exist, with 6000 B&W licences issued in 2019.

Of course, it’s all well and good to require a licence, but without some manner of enforcement, the measure doesn’t have any teeth. Among other measures, the BBC have gone as far as employing special vans to hunt down illegally operating televisions and protect its precious income.

The Van Is Coming For You

To ensure a regular income, the BBC runs enforcement operations under the TV Licencing trade name, the entity which is responsible for administering the system. Records are kept of licences and their expiry dates, and investigations are made into households suspected of owning a television who have not paid the requisite fees. To encourage compliance, TV Licencing regularly sends sternly worded letters to those who have let their licence lapse or have not purchased one. In the event this fails, they may arrange a visit from enforcement officers. These officers aren’t empowered to forcibly enter homes, so in the event a homeowner declines to cooperate with an investigation, TV Licencing will apply for a search warrant. This may be on the basis of evidence such as a satellite dish or antenna spotted on the roof of a dwelling, or a remote spied on a couch cushion through a window.

Alternatively, a search warrant may be granted on the basis of evidence gleaned from a TV detector van. Outfitted with equipment to detect a TV set in use, the vans roam the streets of the United Kingdom, often dispatched to addresses with lapsed or absent TV licences. If the van detects that a set may be operating and receiving broadcast signals, TV Licencing can apply to the court for the requisite warrant to take the investigation further. The vans are almost solely used to support warrant applications; the detection van evidence is rarely if ever used in court to prosecute a licence evader. With a warrant in hand, officers will use direct evidence such as a television found plugged into an aerial to bring an evader to justice through the courts.

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AI Learns To Drive Trackmania

Machine learning has long been a topic of interest for humanity, but only in recent years have we had broad access to great computing power to enable to the average person to dive in. [Yosh] recently decided to put an AI to work learning how to race in Trackmania.

After early experiments with supervised learning, [Yosh] decided to implement a genetic algorithm to produce an AI to drive in the game. The AI takes distance from the track walls as an input, and has steering and accelerator values as an output. Starting with 100 AIs in generation 1, [Yosh] iterated by choosing the AIs that covered the longest distance in 13 seconds. Once the AIs started to get the hang of the first few corners, he changed the training to instead prioritize the lowest time taken to traverse each of the checkpoints along the track.

The AI improved over time, and over 100 generations, got down to a 23.48s time on the test track, versus 19.63s for [Trabadia], a talented human. We’d love to see how much better the AI could do with more training. [Yosh] is trying more experiments, like providing extra feedback in the AI fitness function to keep it from hitting the walls. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a genetic algorithm used to train a racing AI, either. Video after the break.

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RGB Glasses Built From PCBs

Shutter shades were cool once upon a time, but if you really want to stand out, it’s hard to go past aggressively bright LEDs right in the middle of your face. A great way to achieve that is by building a pair of RGB glasses, as [Arnov Sharma] did.

The design intelligently makes use of PCBs to form the entire structure of the glasses. One PCB makes up the left arm of the glasses, carrying an ESP12F microcontroller and the requisite support circuitry. It’s fitted to the front PCB through a slot, and soldered in place. The V+, GND, and DATA connections for the WS2812B LEDs also serve as the mechanical connection. The right arm of the glasses is held on in the same way, being the same as the left arm PCB but simply left unpopulated. A little glue is also used to stiffen up the connection.

It’s a tidy build, and one that can be easily controlled from a smartphone as the ESP12F runs a basic webserver which allows the color of the glasses to be changed. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a flashy pair of LED shades either! Video after the break.

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3D Printing Without Support Material Thanks To An Additional Axis

Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) 3D printers which squirt out molten plastic layer by layer are by far the most popular type in general use. Most machines extrude plastic through a nozzle above print bed, and struggle to produce parts with overhangs without using support material. However, a German team of researchers have recently come up with a solution.

In a prototype built by researchers at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW), a standard Cartesian printer has a third rotary axis added, upon which the nozzle can rotate. Additionally, the nozzle is angled at 45 degrees to the print bed, rather than the usual perpendicular setup. This allows layers of a print to be built up in such a way that support material is not needed for the vast majority of typical overhangs. This is particularly useful for hollow parts, where removing support material can be particularly difficult.

The team believes that such technology could be implemented on existing printers by way of a simple upgrade kit, and we can imagine a few experimenters will be champing at the bit to try it out. If you do, be sure to drop us a line. Alternatively, consider using a marker to make removing supports easier. Video after the break.

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