The Circuit Sculpture Contest

Many artists are inseparably associated with their medium: Vincent Van Gogh had oil paint, Auguste Rodin had bronze, and Banksy has the spraycan and stencil. You have ICs, passives, wire, and solder. So often electronics are hidden away, but not today! We want to see you build electronic circuits that are beautiful in and of themselves.

This is Hackaday’s Circuit Sculpture Contest and we bet you already have everything you need to enter. Leave behind the drab flatland of 2D PCBs and break out into the third dimension! Or break away from the PCB entirely. Our inspiration comes from a few recently featured projects by Mohit Bhoite and by Eirik Brandal that show functional electronic circuits supported by their own wiring:

There’s something beautiful in these works. They take what would be unnoticed traces and bring them to the forefront of the project. The core of the challenge is simple: built a sculpture where an electronic circuit is the main building material (or medium if you prefer the artistic vernacular).

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Mining Airport WiFi Data: This Sunday Is The Worst Day To Fly

This is Thanksgiving weekend in the United States; the country’s most congested travel weekend of the year. It’s common knowledge, and it’s easy to infer that this holiday weekend is one of the busiest for air travel. But can you prove it empirically? Apparently so. [Bertrand Fan] filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the WiFi traffic at San Francisco International Airport and used the access point data from the past year and a half to show which days were most congested in the airport.

FOIA actually has its own website which boils down the act as follows:

The basic function of the Freedom of Information Act is to ensure informed citizens, vital to the functioning of a democratic society.

We’re not sure if this particular data mining hack falls under that description, but it’s good to know if you want information about what government is doing, you can get it and fast! From the first request to receiving the info was just 10 days.

Ghostscript was used to turn the PDF into a CSV which was then plotted on a graph. It shows that the heaviest WiFi usage was on 11/26/17, the Sunday after Thanksgiving. As you can see, the only thing returned was data used per day for each SSID (plus dates which aren’t shown in this screenshot). But in theory the more people stuck at the airport the more data they’ll consume, so the method is reasonable.

This was all just to color a conversation he was having with his parents about the weekend’s travel. It’s a long way to go to prove a point, but we had fun joining along in the ride!

[via Lobsters]

Fail of the Week: Did My Laser Cutter Tube Really Burn Out?

All the cool kids are doing it these days, or more like for many years now: you can get a laser cutter for a song if you don’t mind doing your own repairs and upgrades — you know, being a hacker. The downside is that some failures can really ruin your day. This is what [Erich Styger] encountered with his cutter that is just a bit more than a year old. This Fail of the Week looks at the mysterious death of a CO2 laser tube.

This is the infamous K40 laser cutter. Our own [Adam Fabio] just took one on a couple of months back and [Erich] even references Hackaday coverage of the K40 Whisperer project as what pushed him over the edge to make the purchase. We’ve followed his blog as he acquired the cutter and made upgrades along the way, but after an estimated 500 hours of use, a horrible teeth-gnashing screech sprung forth from the machine. [Erich’s] reaction was to hit the e-stop; that’s certainly why it’s there.

Chasing down the problem is a story well-told, but as is often the case with these FotW articles, in the end what caused the failure is not entirely known. We’d love to hear what you think about it in the comments below.

The investigation began at the power supply for the laser, but that didn’t yield any answers. Next he moved to the tube itself, noticing that the wire connection to the tube’s anode wasn’t soldered. The anode is an unknown material he suspects to be graphite and he found a video showing the “soldering” process for connecting a wire. (We added quotes to that as the video he linked doesn’t actually solder anything but the wrapped wire strands themselves.) The solution he found is a great tip to take away from the story. It’s a socket by TE Connectivity to which he soldered the wire. Assuming it’s power rated for the task, and won’t fall off during normal operation, this is a great way to do it.

But we digress. Even with the connection made, the old tube had to be replaced with a new one. It’s also notable that the portion of that anode inside the bad tube is orange in color when a new tube would be black like the part on the outside. Does this hint at why that tube died, and could this have been avoided? If you have insight, help us learn from this failure by leaving a comment below.

The Metal That Never Forgets: Nitinol and Shape-Memory

You’ve likely heard of Nitinol wire before, but we suspect the common base knowledge doesn’t go much beyond repeating that it’s a shape-memory alloy. [Bill Hammack], the Engineer Guy, takes us on a quick journey of all the cool stuff there is to know about Nitinol and shape-memory alloys.

The name itself is like saying Kleenex when you mean tissue, or using the V-word when you mean hook and loop fasteners. The first few letters of Nickel Titanium Naval Ordnance Laboratories combine to form the name of what is essentially a nickel-titanium alloy developed in 1962: Nitinol. It’s called shape-memory because you can stretch or bend it at room temperature and it will return to the original shape when heated at around 75 C (167 F). This particular metal can do that because its bonds form a “twinned structure” of rhombus shapes — bending or stretching moves those rhombuses (or rhombi, take your pick) but doesn’t change which atoms are bonded to one another.

Has this material science excursion bored you to tears yet? That’s why we love [Bill’s] work. He has always done a fantastic job of demystifying common mysticism and this is no different. The video below does a much better job of illustrating what we’ve described above, but also pull out a Nitinol engine for added wow-factor. A straight piece of Nitinol is bent into a loop around two pulleys. The lower pulley is submerged in hot water, causing the Nitinol to want to straighten out, but it loops back to the top pulley, bending and cooling in the air and creating a lever effect that drives the engine. We saw a more complex version of this concept last year.

You know those eyeglass frames you can bend in any way and they’ll  pop back to the original shape? They’re taking advantage of the super-elasticity of Nitinol. [Bill] also recounts uses as stents for medical applications, and oddball engineering tricks in the automotive industry.

It’s great to see the Engineer Guy back. Favorites of ours have been the science behind disposable diapers and the aluminum beverage can. More recently he released Faraday’s lecture series, wrote a book on airships, appeared on Outlaw Tech on the Science Channel, and started a family. Thanks for fitting these illustrative videos in when you can [Bill]!

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Disco Ain’t Dead: Blinky Ball Makes You Solder Inside a Dome

Disco balls take a zillion mirrors glued to a sphere and shine a spotlight on them. But what if the ball itself was the light source? Here’s a modern version that uses addressable LEDs in a 3D-printed sphere that also hides the electronics inside the ball itself.

Check out the video below to see the fantastic results. It’s a Teensy 3.6 driving a whopping 130 WS2812 LEDs to make this happen. (Even though the sphere has the lowest surface area to volume ratio.) There’s even a microphone and an accelerometer to make the orb interactive. Hidden inside is a 4400 mAh battery pack that handles recharging and feeds 5 V to the project.

For us, it’s the fabrication that really makes this even more impressive. The sphere itself is 3D printed as four rings that combine to form a sphere. This makes perfect spacing for the LEDs a snap, but you’re going to spend some time soldering the voltage, ground, and data connections from pixel to pixel. In this case that’s greatly simplified because the LEDs were sourced from AliExpress already hosted on a little circle of PCB so you’re not trying to solder on the component itself. Still, that’s something like 390 wires requiring 780 solder joints!

We love seeing an LED ball you can hold in your hand. But if you do want something bigger, try this 540 LED sphere built from triangular PCBs.

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It Happened at Supercon: Six Days of Fun in a Three Day Con

A weekend for people who love hardware, by people who love hardware. It’s a simple recipe and it makes a delicious event that we call the Hackaday Superconference. If you made it to Pasadena last weekend, I’m sure going back to work on Monday was difficult after three days of far too little sleep and way too much fun. (It was for me.) If you didn’t make it to the con, set a reminder for July 1st to start watching for next year’s early bird tickets. Don’t believe me? Okay, let’s step through the hype of a weekend we’ll all remember.

Check out the recap video above and then join me after the break for a photo-heavy expose of the weekend’s highlights.

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Dexter Robotic Arm Wins the 2018 Hackaday Prize

Dexter, an open-source, high-precision, trainable robotic arm has just been named the Grand Prize winner of the 2018 Hackaday Prize. The award for claiming the top place in this nine-month global engineering initiative is $50,000. Four other top winners were also named during this evening’s Hackaday Prize Ceremony, held during the Hackaday Superconference in Pasadena, California.

This year’s Hackaday Prize featured challenges with five different themes. Entrants were asked to show their greatest Open Hardware Design, to build a Robotics Module, to design a Power Harvesting Module, to envision a Human Computer Interface, or to invent a new Musical Instrument. Out of 100 finalists, the top five are covered below. Over $200,000 in cash prizes have been distributed as part of this year’s initiative where thousands of hardware hackers, makers and artists compete to build a better future.

Dexter: High Precision Robotic Arm

Dexter is the Grand Prize winner of the 2018 Hackaday Prize. This remarkable robotic arm design brings many aspects of high-end automation to an open source design which you can utilize and adapt for your own needs. In addition to impressive precision, the design is trainable — you can move the joints of the arm and record the motion for playback.

The image here shows position data from one arm being moved by a human, controlling another arm in real time. Each joint utilizes a clever encoder design made up of a wheel with openings for UV sensors. Sensing is more than merely “on/off”. It tracks the change in light intensity through each opening for even greater granularity. The parallel nature of an FPGA is used to process this positioning data in real time.

Hack a $35 Wearable to Build Mental Health Devices

Manufacturing custom electronics is a tricky, costly, and time-consuming process. What if you could sidestep most of that by starting with a powerful, proven consumer good that is modified to your specifications? This project takes existing fitness trackers and customizes the hardware and software to become sensor suites for mental health research. Dig into this one and see how they can help patients become aware of unconscious behaviors (like trichotillomania which is compulsive hair pulling) and change them over time.

Portal Point Generator

This project focuses on an alternative power source for times when traditional infrastructure is not functioning or simply not available. You may be familiar with generators made using DC motors. The Portal Point Generator replicates that simplicity, but goes beyond with instructions for building the generator itself for far greater efficiency. A winding jig is used to make the coils which are placed inside of the 3D printed generator parts along with permanent magnets to complete the build. Here you can see it in testing as a wind generator in Antarctica, but it is easily adapted to other applications like using water wheels.

EmotiGlass

There is a body of research that suggest a link between cardiac cycle and anxiety-producing visuals; you may have a different emotional reaction to the things you see based on what part of a heartbeat is occurring when your brain process information from your eyes. This could have profound implications in areas like PTSD research. EmotiGlass uses LCD screens to selectively block the wearer’s vision. This can be synchronized with heat beat, avoiding the instant where a negative emotional response is most likely. Think of them as 3D shutter glasses for mental health research.

PR-Holonet: Disaster Area Emergency Comms

Recovering from natural disasters is an enormous challenge. The infrastructure that supports the community is no longer in place and traditional communications simply cease to exist. PR-Holonet was inspired by the recovery process after hurricanes in Puerto Rico. It leverages the availability of commercial electronics, solar power sources, and enclosures to build a communications system that can be deployed and operated without the need for specialized training. Once in place, local devices using WiFi can utilize text-based communications transferred via satellite.

Congratulations to all who entered the 2018 Hackaday Prize. Taking time to apply your skill and experience to making the world better is a noble pursuit. It doesn’t end with the awarding of a prize. We have the ability to change lives by supporting one another, improving on great ideas, and sharing the calling to Build Something that Matters.