Hackaday Podcast 033: Decompressing From Camp, Nuclear Stirling Engines, Carphone Or Phonecar, And ArduMower

Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams are back from Chaos Communication Camp, and obviously had way too much fun. We cover all there was to see and do, and dig into the best hacks from the past week. NASA has a cute little nuclear reactor they want to send to the moon, you’ve never seen a car phone quite like this little robot, and Ardupilot (Ardurover?) is going to be the lawn mowing solution of the future. Plus you need to get serious about debugging embedded projects, and brush up on your knowledge of the data being used to train facial recognition neural networks.

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!

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Hands-On: CCCamp2019 Badge Is A Sensor Playground Not To Be Mistaken For A Watch

Last weekend 5,000 people congregated in a field north of Berlin to camp in a meticulously-organized, hot and dusty wonderland. The optional, yet official, badge for the 2019 Chaos Communication Camp was a bit tardy to proliferate through the masses as the badge team continued assembly while the camp raged around them. But as each badge came to life, the blinkies that blossomed each dusk became even more joyful as thousands strapped on their card10s.

Yet you shouldn’t be fooled, that’s no watch… in fact the timekeeping is a tacked-on afterthought. Sure you wear it on your wrist, but two electrocardiogram (ECG) sensors for monitoring heart health are your first hint at the snoring dragon packed inside this mild-mannered form-factor. The chips in question are the MAX30001 and the MAX86150 (whose primary role is as a pulse sensor but also does ECG). We have high-res ADCs just waiting to be misused and the developers ran with that, reserving some of the extra pins on the USB-C connector for external devices.

There was a 10€ kit on offer that let you solder up some electrode pads (those white circles with gel and a snap for a solid interface with your body’s electrical signals) to a sacrificial USB-C cable. Remember, all an ECG is doing is measuring electrical impulses, and you can choose how to react to them. During the workshop, one of the badge devs placed the pads on his temples and used the card10 badge to sense left/right eye movement. Wicked! But there are a lot more sensors waiting for you on these two little PCBs.

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The Tens Of Millions Of Faces Training Facial Recognition; You’ll Soon Be Able To Search For Yourself

In a stiflingly hot lecture tent at CCCamp on Friday, Adam Harvey took to the stage to discuss the huge data sets being used by groups around the world to train facial recognition software. These faces come from a variety of sources and soon Adam and his research collaborator Jules LaPlace will release a tool that makes these dataset searchable allowing you to figure out if your face is among the horde.

Facial recognition is the new hotness, recently bubbling up to the consciousness of the general public. In fact, when boarding a flight from Detroit to Amsterdam earlier this week I was required to board the plane not by showing a passport or boarding pass, but by pausing in front of a facial recognition camera which subsequently printed out a piece of paper with my name and seat number on it (although it appears I could have opted out, that was not disclosed by Delta Airlines staff the time). Anecdotally this gives passengers the feeling that facial recognition is robust and mature, but Adam mentions that this not the case and that removed from highly controlled environments the accuracy of recognition is closer to an abysmal 2%.

Images are only effective in these datasets when the interocular distance (the distance between the pupils of your eyes) is a minimum of 40 pixels. But over the years this minimum resolution has been moving higher and higher, with the current standard trending toward 300 pixels. The increase is not surprising as it follows a similar curve to the resolution available from digital cameras. The number of faces available in data sets has also increased along a similar curve over the years.

Adam’s talk recounted the availability of face and person recognition datasets and it was a wild ride. Of note are data sets by the names of Brainwash Cafe, Duke MTMC (multi-tracking-multi-camera),  Microsoft Celeb, Oxford Town Centre, and the Unconstrained College Students data set. Faces in these databases were harvested without consent and that has led to four of them being removed, but of course, they’re still available as what is once on the Internet may never die.

The Microsoft Celeb set is particularly egregious as it used the Bing search engine to harvest faces (oh my!) and has associated names with them. Lest you think you’re not a celeb and therefore safe, in this case celeb means anyone who has an internet presence. That’s about 10 million faces. Adam used two examples of past CCCamp talk videos that were used as a source for adding the speakers’ faces to the dataset. It’s possible that this is in violation of GDPR so we can expect to see legal action in the not too distant future.

Your face might be in a dataset, so what? In their research, Adam and Jules tracked geographic locations and other data to establish who has downloaded and is likely using these sets to train facial recognition AI. It’s no surprise that the National University of Defense Technology in China is among the downloaders. In the case of US intelligence organizations, it’s easier much easier to know they’re using some of the sets because they funded some of the research through organizations like the IARPA. These sets are being used to train up military-grade face recognition.

What are we to do about this? Unfortunately what’s done is done, but we do have options moving forward. Be careful of how you license images you upload — substantial data was harvested through loopholes in licenses on platforms like Flickr, or by agreeing to use through EULAs on platforms like Facebook. Adam’s advice is to stop populating the internet with faces, which is why I’ve covered his with the Jolly Wrencher above. Alternatively, you can limit image resolution so interocular distance is below the forty-pixel threshold. He also advocates for changes to Creative Commons that let you choose to grant or withhold use of your images in train sets like these.

Adam’s talk, MegaPixels: Face Recognition Training Datasets, will be available to view online by the time this article is published.

Hackaday Podcast 032: Meteorite Snow Globes, Radioactive Ramjet Rockets, Autonomous Water Boxes, And Ball Reversers

Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams recorded this week’s podcast live from Chaos Communication Camp, discussing the most interesting hacks on offer over the past week. I novel locomotion news, there’s a quadcopter built around the coanda effect and an autonomous boat built into a plastic storage bin. The radiation spikes in Russia point to a nuclear-powered ramjet but the idea is far from new. Stardust (well… space rock dust) is falling from the sky and it’s surprisingly easy to collect. And 3D-printed gear boxes and hobby brushless DC motors have reached the critical threshold necessary to mangle 20/20 aluminum extrusion.

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!

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UbaBOT Mixes Up 50 Cocktails To Quench CCCamp Thirst

[Steffen Pfiffner’s] tent during the Chaos Communication Camp is full of happiness delivered by something greater than alcohol alone. He’s brought a robot bartender that serves up a show while mixing up one of about 50 cocktail recipes.

The project is the work of five friends from Lake Constance (Bodensee) in southern Germany, near the borders with Switzerland and Austria. It started, as many projects do, with some late night drinking. The five were toiling to mix beverages more complex than your most common fare, and decided to turn their labors instead to robot making.

Since 2012, the project has gone through five revisions, the most recent of which the team calls Uba BOT. Delightfully, the cup tray which moves left and right on the front of the machine is connected using a strain gauge. This provides a way for the robot to sense the presence of a cup to avoid dispensing ingredients all over the bar itself. It also provides a feedback loop that verifies the amount of liquids and volume of ice added to the cup. Once everything’s in the cup, a rotary milk frother lowers itself into position to stir things up a bit.

A Raspberry Pi is in control of eighteen pumps that dispense both liquor and mixers. The team is still trying to work out a way to reliably dispense carbonated mixers, which so far have been a challenge due to over-excited foam. The software was originally based on Bartendro, but has since taken on a life of its own as these things often do. The first time you want a drink, you register an RFID tag and record your height, weight, and age which keeps track of your estimated blood alcohol content based on time and your number of visits to the robot. The firmware also tracks the state of each ingredient to alert a meat-based bar attendant of when a bottle needs replacing.

Join us after the break to see an explanation of what’s under the hood and to watch Uba BOT mix up a Mai Tai.

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The Badgies: Clever, Crazy, And Creative Ideas In Electronic Design

Engineering creativity comes to life when you have to design around a set of constraints. We can do just about anything with enough time, talent, and treasure, but what can you do when shackled with limitations? Some of the most creative electronic manufacturing tricks spring to life when designing conference badges, as the ability to built multiples, to come in under budget, and most importantly to have the production finished in time are all in play.

This happens at conferences throughout the year and all over the globe, but the highest concentration I’ve seen for these unique pieces of art is at DEF CON every year. I loved seeing dozens of interesting projects this year, and have picked a handful of the coolest features on a badge to show off in this article. I still love all the rest, and have a badge supercut article on the way, but until then let’s take a look at an RC car badge, a different kind of blinky bling, and a few other flourishes of brilliance.

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NFC Business Cards To FPGA Cubes, Skull Badges To Bandoliers, Here’s The Hardware From Breakfast At DEF CON

We had our biggest Breakfast at DEF CON ever on Sunday. So big, in fact, that the carefully laid plans went awry immediately.

This is the fifth year we’ve hosted the event, which kicks off the final day of DEF CON with some hardware show-and-tell. We really thought we had it all figured out, since this time we actually booked a space in Paris hotel. For the first three years we were just banditing the space — asking everyone to show up at this place and it’ll become an event. Last year we planned to have it in the Hardware Hacking Village, but the casino stopped us from bringing in pastries that morning and we ended up camping out in a dining area that wasn’t open until the afternoon.

Last weekend we had a cafe booked, with pastries and coffee on order. The only problem is that you are all too awesome. We had a couple hundred people show up and the cafe didn’t want us standing, which limited our space to the number of booth seats available. No worries, as is the tradition we spilled out into a lounge area on the casino floor and enjoyed ourselves!

Here’s some of the hardware that showed up at this gathering.

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