Hackaday Podcast 101: Lasering And Milling Absolutely Everything

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams discuss our favorite hacks of the past week. We accidentally chose a theme, as most of the projects use lasers and are about machining work. We lead off with a really powerful laser that can directly etch circuit boards, only to be later outdone by an even more powerful laser using a chemistry trick to etch glass. We look at how to mix up your own rocket motors, bootstrap your own laser tag, and go down the rabbit hole of building tools for embedded development. The episode wraps up as we discuss what exactly NVMe is and where hardware hacking might take it.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (~65 MB)

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Remoticon Video: Pigweed Brings Embedded Unit Testing, Library Integration To Commandline

When it comes to embedded engineering, toolchains are the worst. Getting a new toolchain up and running correctly is often hard, and often prone to breaking when the IDE or other software is upgraded. A plethora of different toolchains for different hardware makes things even more murky, and if you want to get into time-saving tricks like automated testing, you’re in for a wild ride.

Those pain points led to the creation of the Pigweed project. As Keir Mierle demonstrates in this workshop from the 2020 Hackaday Remoticon, Pigweed is a set of libraries to make working with embedded development more hacker-friendly. The collection is accessed via commandline, and coordinates work with existing libraries to deliver unit testing, linting, static analysis, logging, and handling key-value stores, all alongside more commonly called-for tasks like compiling and flashing.

Demonstrated on a Teensy microcontroller and an STM32 Discovery board, the presentation drives home the utility of Pigweed, a Google project that was released as open source back in March of 2020. Graphical IDEs for these platforms are nowhere in sight, yet test firmware is built and flashed to these devices with relative ease. Unit testing, traditionally a sticky subject for on-chip applications, is demonstrated both emulated on the computer side, and running on the boards themselves. As the capabilities of microcontrollers have ballooned in recent years, writing tests for existing functions and confirming them during new development is becoming a must-have in your skillset.

There’s much more shown off here, so grab the workshop repository to follow along. It’s still considered experimental, and the irony of having to learn the intricacies of the Pigweed toolchain to ease the pain of other toolchains is not lost on us. However, most people reading will have their own affinity for the ability to use unified tools and commandline automation; this is a fascinating way to deliver a number of powerful software development techniques to low-level hardware projects.

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HackadayU Announces Rhino, Mech Eng, And AVR Classes During Winter Session

The winter lineup of HackadayU courses has just been announced, get your tickets now!

Spend those indoor hours leveling up your skills — on offer are classes to learn how to prototype like a mechanical engineer, how to create precision 3D models in Rhino, or how to dive through abstraction for total control of AVR microcontrollers. Each course is led by an expert instructor over five classes held live via weekly video chats, plus a set of office hours for further interaction.

  • Introduction to 3D using Rhino
    • Instructor: James McBennett
    • Course overview: Introduces students to Rhino3D, a NURBS based 3D software that contains a little of everything, making it James’ favorite software to introduce students to 3D. Classes are on Tuesdays at 6pm EST beginning January 26th
  • Prototyping in Mechanical Engineering
    • Instructor: Will Fischer
    • Course overview: The tips and tricks from years of prototyping and mechanical system design will help you learn to think about the world as a mechanical engineer does. Classes are on Tuesdays at 1pm EST beginning January 26th
  • AVR: Architecture, Assembly, & Reverse Engineering
    • Instructor: Uri Shaked
    • Course overview: Explore the internals of AVR architecture; reverse engineer the code generated by the compiler, learn the AVR assembly language, and look at the different peripherals and the registers that control their behavior. Classes are on Wednesdays at 2pm EST beginning January 27th

Consider becoming an Engineering Liaison for HackadayU. These volunteers help keep the class humming along for the best experience for students and instructors alike. Liaison applications are now open.

HackadayU courses are “pay-as-you-wish” with a $10 suggested donation; all proceeds go to charity with 2019 contributions topping $10,100 going to STEAM:CODERS. There is a $1 minimum to help ensure the live seats don’t go to waste. Intro videos for each course from the instructors themselves are found below, and don’t forget to check out the excellent HackadayU courses from 2020.

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Remoticon Video: Basics Of RF Emissions Debugging Workshop

These days we’re surrounded by high-speed electronics and it’s no small feat that they can all play nicely in near proximity to each other. We have RF emissions standards to thank, which ensure new products don’t spew forth errant signals that would interfere with the data signals traveling through the ether. It’s long been the stuff of uber-expensive emissions testing labs, and failure to pass can leave you scratching your head. But as Alex Whittimore shows in this workshop from the 2020 Hackaday Remoticon, you can do a lot of RF emissions debugging with simple and inexpensive tools.

Professionally-made probes in several sizes
Build your own probes from magnet wire
You can get a surprisingly clear picture of what kind of RF might be coming off of a product by probing it on your own workbench. Considering the cost of the labs performing FCC and other certifications, this is a necessary skill for anyone who is designing a product headed to market — and still damn interesting for everyone else. Here you can see two examples of the probes used in the process. Although one is a pack of professional tools and other is a bit of enameled wire (magnet wire), both are essentially the same: a loop of wire on which a magnetic field will induce a very small current. Add a Low-Noise Amplifier (LNA) and you’ll be up and measuring in no-time.
I really enjoyed how Alex started his demo with “The Right WayTM” of doing things — using a proper spectrum analyzer to visualize data from the probes. But the real interesting part is “The Hacker WayTM” which leverages an RTL-SDR dongle and some open-source software to get the same job done. Primarily that means using SDRAngel and QSpectrumAnalyzer which are both included in the DragonOS_LTS which can be run inside of a virtual machine.

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Hackaday Podcast 100: Arduino Plays CDs, Virtual Reality In The 60s, And Magical Linear Actuators

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys kick off the first episode of the new year with the best hacks the internet has to offer. There’s a deep dive into water-level sensing using a Christmas tree as an excuse. We ooh and ah over turning a CD-ROM drive into a CD player (miraculous tech of the previous century?). Do you have any use cases for ATtiny oscillator calibration registers? We look in on a hack that makes it dead simple to measure and set their values. The episode finishes up with a discussion of the constantly moving goal posts of virtual reality.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (~65 MB)

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Remoticon Video: Meta_Processing Is A Mashup Of Text And Block Programming

Very few people want to invent the universe before they blink their first LED. Sure, with enough interest a lot of folks will drill-down to the atomic level of technology and build their way back up. But there’s something magical about that first time you got your blinky to blink, and knowing how to write makefiles plays no part in that experienc). Now apply that to projects using smartphone as wireless interfaces… how simple can we make it for people?

Meta_Processing can translate the instructions into any of 14 languages

Jose David Cuartas is working to answer that very question and gives us a guided tour of his progress in this Meta_Processing workshop held during the Hackaday Remoticon. Meta-Processing is an IDE based on — as you’ve probably guessed — Processing, the programming language that unlocked higher-level functionality to anyone who wanted to perform visually-interesting things without becoming software zen masters. The “Meta_” part here is that it can now be done with very limited typing and interchangeably between different spoken languages.

The approach is to take the best of text programming and block programming languages and mash them together. In that way, you don’t type new lines, you add them with a click of the mouse and select the instruction you want to use on that line from a list. It means you don’t need to have the instructions memorized, and avoids typos in your code. The docs for that instruction will be shown on the bottom bar of the IDE to help you with parameters. And the kicker is that since you’re selecting the instructions, choosing any of the IDE’s 14 available spoken languages will update your “code” with translations into the new language.

In the workshop, video of which is included below, Jose demonstrates a number if interesting examples including audio, video, and user input, using a surprisingly small amount of code. The IDE even spawns a server on the network so that the apps you’ve written can be loaded by a smartphone. It has support for communicating with Arduino-compatible devices with digital read/write, analog read, and servo control. There’s even a fork of the project called Meta_Javascript that rolls in the ability to work with REST-like APIs.

People learn in many different ways. Having options like this to help people get to blinky very quickly is a great way to break down barriers to understanding and using computers.

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Boston Dynamics’ Dancing Bots Beg For Your Love A La Napoleon Dynamite

How do you get people to love you and sidestep existential fear of robots eclipsing humans as the solar system’s most advanced thinking machines? You put on a dance routine to the music of Berry Gordy.

The video published by Boston Dynamics shows off a range of their advanced robots moving as if they were humans, greyhounds, and ostriches made of actual flesh. But of course they aren’t, which explains the safety barriers surrounding the dance floor and that lack of actual audio from the scene. After picking our jaws up off the floor we began to wonder what it sounds like in the room as the whine of motors must certainly be quite impressive — check out the Handle video from 2017 for an earful of that. We also wonder how long a dance-off of this magnitude can be maintained between battery swaps.

Anthropomorphism (or would it be canine-pomorphism?) is trending this year. We saw the Spot robot as part of a dance routine in an empty baseball stadium back in July. It’s a great marketing move, and this most recent volley from BD shows off some insane stunts like the en pointe work from the dog robot while the Atlas humanoids indulge in some one-footed yoga poses. Seeing this it’s easy to forget that these machines lack the innate compassion and empathy that save humans from injury when bumping into one another. While our robotic future looks bright, we’re not in a rush to share the dance floor anytime soon.

Still, it’s an incredible tribute to the state of the art in robotics — congratulations to the roboticists that have brought use here. Looking back eleven and a half years to the first time we covered these robots here on Hackaday, this seems more like CGI movie footage than real life. What’s more amazing? Hobby builds that are keeping up with this level of accomplishment.

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