Hackaday Podcast Ep22: King Of Power Banks, Great SDR Hacks, Sand Reflow, And Rat Rod Mower

Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys dig through the most interesting hacks from the past week. On this episode we take a look at a portable power bank build that defies belief. We discuss an all-in-one SDR portable, messing with restaurant pagers, and the software that’s common to both of these pursuits. There’s a hopping robot that is one heck of a PID challenge, and another robot that does nothing but stare you down. We bring it on home with great articles on pianos with floppy disks, and that satellite cluster you should be watching for in the night sky.

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 (48 MB of sweet, sweet audio)

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Mech Warfare: Like Driving A Building-Sized Robot Through A Busy City

The sound a set of machined robot legs tapping on concrete make is remarkable. If for nothing more, the video after the break is worth watching just for this. It’s what caught my attention when I first wandered by the Mech Warfare area at Maker Faire, as one of the competitors had their bot out wandering around as a demo during the setup day.

This is truly a hacker’s robotics competition. There are constraints, but there’s also a lot of room for freedom. Meet a dozen or so requirements and you be as creative as you want with the rest. My favorite part is that this is not a destructive event like many the battle-based robot TV shows that tend to turn my stomach. Instead, these robots each carry an electric AirSoft gun and seek to hit any of four target panels on their competitor’s robot. Continue reading “Mech Warfare: Like Driving A Building-Sized Robot Through A Busy City”

Hackaday Superconference Tickets And Proposals Are Live Right Now

Stop what you’re doing and get your ticket to the Hackaday Superconference. This is the ultimate hardware conference, November 15th, 16th, and 17th in Pasadena, California. It will sell out, especially the early bird tickets which are certain to be snapped up before the end of this day. (Edit: Early Bird tickets are already sold out, but you can still get the Early Bird price by submitting a talk).

Supercon is all about hardware creation. From prototypes and manufacturable designs, to one-off hardware art and products that have sold thousands, this is where you meet the people and hear the stories behind new and interesting feats of engineering. It’s a weekend filled with fascinating talks and mind-expanding workshops, but Supercon is so much more.

This is a Hacker Village where the greenest beginner and the grayest veteran sit shoulder to shoulder to solder, to code, to dream of the future, and to share stories of the past. We want you here, and you need to make it happen. Whether it’s professional development (yes! ask your boss to make this a business outing) or your hard-earned vacation, Supercon will recharge your batteries and top off your inspiration for the year to come.

Your Talk Here

The Call for Proposals is now open. We want you to speak at Supercon!

Yes, I’m talking to you. Core to the mission of the Hackaday Superconference is to encourage more people to speak publicly about everything that goes into designing and manufacturing hardware. This means we want first time speakers just as much as we want seasoned presenters. You will be celebrated at Supercon; the ethos of this community is warm, welcoming, and thankful that you took the time to help everyone learn something interesting.

Don’t stop to ask yourself if you should… yes, we want to read your talk proposal. No topic is too big or too small for consideration. This is your chance to give back as a thank-you to so many people who have helped you gather your own skills over the years. We stand on the shoulders of giants, it’s your turn to be giant.

True Believer Tickets

We like to think of our Early Bird tickets as a nod to the true believers out there. We haven’t published the speakers, the workshops, or really anything else. That info will be public as everything comes together, but by then it may be too late to get a ticket. Right now all we can tell you for certain is that there will be a big celebration to name the grand prize winner of the 2019 Hackaday Prize, there will be a ton of badge hacking on a mind-blowing hardware badge being designed by Sprite_TM (Jeroen Domburg), you will have way too much fun and get far too little sleep, and tickets will sell out. In other words, this will be awesome.

Need more convincing? You can watch the recap video from 2018, or dive into the weekend overview, badge-hacking, and competitive soldering roundups. I’ve never met anyone from the first four years of  Supercon who regretted buying early bird tickets. I’ve met plenty of people who regretted missing out. Don’t miss out on year five of the movement. This is your community, there is truly something for everyone, and Pasadena is a beautiful place to be in the middle of November. See you at Supercon!

Hackaday Podcast Ep20: Slaying The Dragon Of EL, Siege Weapon Physics, Dis-entangled Charlieplex, Laser Internet

Join editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys as they unpack all the great hacks we’ve seen this week. On this episode we’re talking about laser Internet delivered from space, unwrapping the complexity of Charlieplexed circuits, and decapping ICs both to learn more about them and to do it safely at home. We have some fun with backyard siege weapons (for learning about physics, we swear!), gambling on FPGAs, and a line-scanning camera that’s making selfies fun again. And nobody thought manufacturing electroluminescent displays was easy, but who knew it was this hard?

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 (78 MB of bodacious audio)

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Integrated Circuits Can Be Easy To Understand With The Right Teachers

For years I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around how silicon chips actually work. How does a purposefully contaminated shard of glass wield control over electrons? Every once in a while, someone comes up with a learning aid that makes these abstract concepts really easy to understand, and this was the case with one of the booths at Maker Faire Bay Area. In addition to the insight it gave me (and hundreds of Faire-goers), here is an example of the best of what Maker Faire stands for. You’ll find a video of their presentation embedded below, along with closeup images of the props used at the booth.

The Uncovering the Silicon booth had a banner and a tablecloth, but was otherwise so unassuming that many people I spoke with missed it. Windell Oskay, Lenore Edman, Eric Schlepfer, John McMaster, and Ken Shirriff took a 50-year-old logic chip and laid it bare for anyone who cared to stop and ask what was on display. The Fairchild μL914 is a dual NOR gate, and it’s age matters because the silicon is not just simple, it’s enormous by today’s standards making it relatively easy to peer inside with tools available to the individual hacker.

ATmega328 decapped by John McMaster was also on display at this booth

The first challenge is just getting to the die itself. This is John McMaster’s specialty, and you’re likely familiar from his Silicon Pr0n website. He decapped the chip (as well as an ATmega328 which was running the Arduino blink sketch with it’s silicon exposed). Visitors to the booth could look through the microscope and see the circuit for themselves. But looking doesn’t mean understanding, and that’s where this exhibit shines.

To walk us through how this chip works, a stack-up of laser-cut acrylic demonstrates the base, emitter, and collector of a single transistor. The color coding and shape of this small model makes it easy to pick out the six transistors of the 941 on a full model of the chip. This lets you begin to trace out the function of the circuit.

For me, a real ah-ha moment was the resistors in the design. A resistive layer is produced by doping the semiconductor with impurities, making it conduct more poorly. But how do you zero-in on the desired resistance for each part? It’s not by changing the doping, that remains the same. The trick is to make the resistor itself take up a larger footprint. More physical space for the electrons to travel means a lower resistance, and in the model you can see a nice fat resistor in the lower right. The proof for these models was the final showpiece of the exhibit as the artwork of the silicon die was laid out as a circuit board with discrete transistors used to recreate the functionality of the original chip.

Windell takes us through the booth presentation in the video below. I think you’ll be impressed by the breakdown of these concepts and how well they aid in understanding. This was a brilliant concept for an exhibit; it brought together interdisciplinary experts whom I respect and whose work I follow, and sought to invite everyone to gain a better understanding of the secrets hiding in the chips that underpin this technological age. This is exactly the kind of thing I love to see at a Maker Faire.

Continue reading “Integrated Circuits Can Be Easy To Understand With The Right Teachers”

Muscle Wire BugBot And A Raspberry Pi Android With Its Eye On You At Maker Faire

I spent a good chunk of Saturday afternoon hanging out at the Homebrew Robotics Club booth at Maker Faire Bay area. They have a ton of really interesting robot builds on display and I just loved hearing about what went into these two in particular.

It’s obvious where BugBot gets its name. The six-legged walker is the creation of [Mark Johnston] who built the beast in a time where components for robots were much harder to come by. Each leg is driven by a very thin strand of muscle wire which contracts when high voltage is run through it. One of the really tricky parts of the build was finding a way to attach this wire. It has a very low melting point, so trying to solder it usually results in melting right through. His technique is to wrap the wire around the leg itself, then slide a small bit of brass tubing over it and make a crimp connection.

At the heart of the little bug is a PIC microcontroller that is point-to-point soldered to the rest of the components. This only caused real problems once, when Mark somehow bricked the chip and had to replace it. Look close and you’ll see there’s a lot of fiddly bits to work around to pull that off. As I said, robot building was more difficult before the explosion of components and breakout modules hit the scene. The wireless control components on this were actually salvaged out of children’s RC toys. They’re not great by any stretch of the imagination, but it was the best source at the time and it works! You can find a demo of the robot embedded after the jump.

Ralph Campbell (left) and Mark Johnston (right)

An Android robot was on display, but of course, I was most interested in seeing what was beneath the skin. In the image above you can see the mask sitting to the left of the “Pat” skeleton. Ralph Campbell has been working on this build, and plans to incorporate interactive features like facial recognition and gesture recognition to affect the gaze of the robot.

Inside each of the ping pong ball eyes is a Raspberry Pi camera (actually the Adafruit Spy Camera because of its small board size). Ralph has a separate demonstration for facial recognition that he’s in the process of incorporating. But for me, it was the mechanical design of the bot that I find fascinating.

The structure of the skull is coat hanger lashed and soldered together using magnet wires. The eyes move thanks to a clever frame made out of paper clips. The servos to the side of each eye move the gaze up and down, while a servo beneath the eye takes care of left and right. A wooden match stick performs double duty — keeping the camera in place as the pupil of the eye, and allowing it to pivot along the paperclip track of the vertical actuator. It’s as simple as it can be and I find it quite clever!

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New Arduino Nano Line Rolls Out In Four Flavors At Maker Faire Bay Area

Arduino has announced a new line of Nano boards that will begin shipping next month. From the design, to the chips and features on the board, to the price, there’s a lot that is new here. I stopped by their booth at Maker Faire Bay Area for a look at the hardware.

Immediately noticeable is the new design for the pins on either side of the board, which has transitioned from through-hole to a castellated through-hole hybrid. The boards can be ordered with or without pin headers soldered in place. If you get them without, you can reflow these nano boards as modules on a larger PCB design. Recommended footprints are not yet available but I’m told they will be published soon.

The most basic model in this lineup is the “Nano Every”, a 5V board with the ATmega4809 at its center. This brings 48 KB of flash and 6 KB of RAM to the party, running at 20 Mhz. A really nice touch is the inclusion of power regulation that turns up to 21 V of input into the regulated 5 V for the chip, with the added bonus of sourcing up to 1 A for external components through the 5 V pin on one of the headers. For the hackers out there, you can choose to inject your unregulated power through the VIN line, or the USB header.

All of this is a really nice upgrade to the previously available Nano design, with the $9.90 price tag making it a really desirable board for your 8-bit microcontroller needs. The one critique that comes to my mind is that the pins are labeled nicely on the bottom silk screen, but I would also have liked to see these labels on the top layer. When used in a breadboard, or soldered to another PCB, pin labels will be hidden.

The rest of the Nano family center around more powerful chips. As mentioned above, the “Nano Every” board runs an 8-bit chip at 5 V, but the three different “Nano 33” boards have 32-bit chips running at 3.3 V. There’s an “IoT” version with an Arm Cortex-M0+ SAMD21 processor, 6-axis IMU, plus a uBlox NINA-W10 modules which is an ESP32-based board for WiFi, Bluetooth, and cryptography features. MSRP on this board is $18.

The “Nano 33 BLE” and “Nano 33 BLE Sense” boards both do away with the SAMD21 chip and utilize the Nordic nRF52480 which is part of the uBlox NINA-B306 modules and provide Bluetooth connectivity. At $19, the BLE flavor gets you a 9-axis accelerometer. For an additional ten bucks, the “BLE Sense” adds a slew of sensors: pressure, humidity, digital proximity, ambient light, gesture sensor, and a microphone. Pre-orders for these two are slated to begin shipping this July.

The new Arduino Nano designs bring a lot of power to a small footprint. I have to wonder if Arduino is looking to compete with ESP32 modules. The castellated edges on ESP32 modules have allowed them to pop up in all kinds of development boards and other products. The new Nano design continues the legacy of Arduino boards being prototype friendly, but adds the ability to include the boards in a product design based on surface mount assembly.