A robot playing tic-tac-toe against a human

TICO Robot Plays Tic-Tac-Toe By Drawing On A Tiny Whiteboard

Tic-tac-toe (or “Noughts and Crosses”) is a game simple enough to implement in any computer system: indeed it’s often used in beginner’s programming courses. A more challenging project, and arguably more interesting and useful, is to make some kind of hardware that can play it in real life. [mircemk] built a simple yet elegant machine that can play tic-tac-toe against a human player in a way that looks quite similar to the way humans play against one another: by drawing.

The robot’s design and programming were developed at PlayRobotics, who named the project TICO. The mechanical parts are available as STL files, to be printed by any 3D printer, and a comprehensive manual explains how to assemble and program the whole thing. Since it’s all open source, anyone can build it from scratch and modify it to their liking. The pictures show the original design by PlayRobotics, while the video (embedded after the break) shows [mircemk]’s version, which includes a wooden frame that gives it a bit more presence.

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A wall clock with exposed circuit boards

Drunk Wall Clock Uses Convoluted Circuits To Display Time

Here at Hackaday we can never get enough of odd clocks, and we’re delighted to see [Dan O’Shea]’s creation called the Wifi-Telnet-FPGA-NTSC Drunk Wall Clock. That mouthful is an accurate description of what it does: at the heart of the device is an ESP32 that uses WiFi to connect to a Raspberry Pi. It then telnets into the system, logs in, and requests the current time using the Linux date command. So far, so ordinary.

The “FPGA” part is where it gets weirder: the ESP32 is hooked up to a VGA1306 board. This is a little PCB with an FPGA that emulates an OLED display and outputs the image to a VGA connector. [Dan] could have simply hooked up a VGA display to this, but instead went for another layer of complexity by converting the VGA signal to something resembling composite video, using nothing more than three resistors. The resulting “NTSC” signal is then fed into a small TFT display that shows the time.

The clock got its “drunk” label because the process of repeatedly running the date command and parsing its output is slow and prone to hiccups, resulting in a display where the seconds advance in a somewhat unsteady manner. This fits well with the overall aesthetic of the clock, which consists of a heap of PCBs held together with cable ties and electrical tape. Mounted on a round panel of recycled wood, it makes a beautiful wall ornament for any hacker lab.

We love projects like this that accomplish a simple task in a convoluted way, and there’s no shortage of needlessly complicated clocks, whether physically drawing the time or using machine-learning data. But if you simply like your clocks with their electronics exposed, check out this free-form LED clock or this neat circuit sculpture clock.

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A man watching money being shredded in a picture frame

Banksy-Like Stock Tracker Shreds Your Money When The Market’s Down

For anyone playing the stock market, and perhaps even more so for those investing in cryptocurrencies, watching the value of your portfolio go up and down can be a stressful experience. If you’d like to have a real-time display of your investments that adds even more stress, [Luis Marx] has got you covered. His latest project is a plexiglass case (video in German) that fills up with banknotes when your portfolio is up, and shreds those same notes when it’s down.

Inspired by an infamous Banksy artwork, [Luis] began by building a wood-and-plexiglass display case suitable for hanging on the wall in his office. He then installed a small paper shredder, modified with a servo so that it could be operated by an Arduino. Unable to find an off-the-shelf banknote dispenser, he designed and 3D-printed one, consisting of a spring-loaded tray and a motor-driven wheel.

A plastic box that dispenses a banknote

The project also includes a Raspberry Pi, programmed to fetch market data from online sources and calculate the net profit or loss of [Luis]’s portfolio. The resulting system is a rather disturbing visualization of the ups and downs of the market: having to sweep strips of green paper off your floor adds insult to the pain of losing money.

If you want a less painful way to keep track of your investments, try this Rocketship. For those interested in  traditional stock tickers, this ESP32 based one might be more to your liking.

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A smartphone with a robot vacuum in the background

Hacking A Robot Vacuum To Write A Replacement App

While internet-connected devices can be very useful around the house, and it is pretty cool to be able to monitor your dishwasher from half a world away, it’s important to be mindful of privacy and security issues. For instance, the Cecotec Conga 1490 robot vacuum [Rastersoft] bought came with an Android app, which upon installation asked for near-total access to the user’s phone. Not content with such an invasion of privacy, let alone the potential security implications, [Rastersoft] set to work trying to reverse engineer the robot’s communications (translated) to find out what exactly it was doing when online. He did this by configuring a Raspberry Pi as an access point, letting the vacuum connect to it, and logging all the data flowing through.

As it turned out, the robot phoned home to its manufacturer, reporting its serial number and some configuration settings. The server then passed control to the mobile app, but not without routing all subsequent commands through the remote server. Not only is this creepy, it also means that if the manufacturer were to shut down the server, the app would stop working entirely. [Rastersoft] therefore got the idea to write custom software to control the robot. He began by reconfiguring the Pi’s network setup to fool the vacuum into thinking it was connecting to its manufacturer’s server, and then wrote some Python code to emulate the server’s response. He was now in control of all data flowing back and forth.

After a lot of experimentation and data analysis, [Rastersoft] managed to decipher the commands sent by the app, enabling him to write a complete replacement app seen in the video after the break that includes control of all the vacuum’s standard actions, but also a new feature to manually control the vacuum’s movement. All code is available on GitHub for those who would like to hack their Congas too.

We think this is a great example of software hacking to future-proof devices that you own, while also mitigating many of the dangers to your security and privacy posed by the default software. The fact that the commands you send from your phone to your vacuum go all the way around the world, potentially being stored and read by others, is rather ridiculous in the first place. After all, we’ve already seen how robot vacuums could spy on you.

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An Atari 800 XL, partially covered in battery residue

Massive Cleaning Effort Saves Acid-Drenched Atari

Anyone who’s ever had to deal with the aftermath of a leaking battery knows how much damage such a failure can cause. Degrading batteries leak corrosive chemicals that eat away PCB traces, clog up connectors and generally leave everything looking nasty. Getting your gadget working again usually calls for lots of scrubbing, followed by patiently tracing suspect connections and restoring any broken ones.

We doubt, however, that anyone has ever gone through as much effort as [Lee Smith] has on his Atari 800 XL. This example was listed on eBay in a severely damaged state, having been stored under an entire box of leaking batteries. [Lee] put in a bid and, to his own bemusement, won the auction. He was now the proud owner of a classic gaming machine which was covered in a thick brown crust of battery residue.

A first inspection showed that the damage was more than skin-deep: even inside the computer’s case it was one big mess of crusty brown junk. [Lee] first spent several hours on the plastic case, using different cleaning agents and an ultrasonic bath, and managed to get the case almost spotless again. The keyboard presented a larger challenge however: not only did it require thorough cleaning of every single switch and keycap, the keyboard’s matrix on the PCB had several connections missing, which had to be restored using bodge wires.

With the keyboard working again, [Lee] turned to the mainboard. This turned out to be an even greater challenge, with several components (including a few custom chips) damaged beyond repair. With the help of a few eBay replacements parts and (again) countless hours of scrubbing, the mainboard started to look healthy again. After a few tests, [Lee] felt confident enough to hook up the entire system and turn it on. And his efforts had paid off: the battered Atari dutifully displayed its BASIC prompt, ready for its second lease of life.

We’ve seen before what kind of damage a leaking battery can do to an Amiga, or faulty caps to an Xbox. But both of these seem minor inconveniences compared to what happened to this poor Atari. Thanks to [Simon] for the tip.

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An electronics workbench with tools and drawers

IKEA Wardrobe Holds Entire Hardware Workspace

If you’re like us, you probably don’t finish a typical hardware project in one sitting. This doesn’t have to be a problem if you’re fortunate enough to have a dedicated workbench for your hacking activities; you simply leave your current project there, ready to continue when you have time again. But this is not always a workable option if you, or a housemate, needs to use the same desk for other tasks as well.

[!BATTA!] over at IKEAhackers ran into this problem, and solved it by building a complete electronics workstation inside a wardrobe. The base of this project is a storage unit called PAX, which is designed to store clothes and shoes but which also works just fine with project boxes. [!BATTA!] installed a variety of shelves and drawers to organize their collection of boxes and tools.

Not content with simple storage, [!BATTA!] decided to add a workbench, using a sturdy sliding tray that carries a working surface and a reinforced back panel to hold parts bins. Metal braces were added to prevent wobbliness, and the whole structure was bolted to a wall to prevent it from tipping over. When the workbench is not in use, the tray simply slides inside so the doors can be closed for a nice, clean look.

We really like the many clever storage solutions spread around the work area, such as a magnetic rail to hold hand tools and a “honeycomb” of PVC tubes for storing cables. Compact LED strips provide suitable lighting while a power strip with both mains and USB sockets brings juice to the tools and projects.

Modifying pieces of IKEA furniture is nothing new; we’ve seen them turned into arcade cabinets and MP3 players. We’ve also covered several well-organized workspaces, but none as compact as this one. Thanks to [IrregularShed] for the tip.

MC68k SBC with a monitor, keyboard and mouse

Motorola 68000 SBC Runs Again With A Raspberry Pi On Top

Single-board computers have been around a long time: today you might be using a Raspberry Pi, an Arduino, or an ESP32, but three decades ago you might find yourself programming a KIM-1, an Intel SDK-85, or a Motorola 68000 Educational Computer Board. These kind of boards were usually made by processor manufacturers to show off their latest chips and to train engineers who might use these chips in their designs.

[Adam Podstawczyński] found himself trying to operate one of these Motorola ECBs from 1981. This board contains a 68000 CPU (as used in several Macintoshes and Amigas), 32 kB of RAM, and a ROM program called TUTOR. Lacking any keyboard or monitor connections, the only way to communicate with this system is a pair of serial ports. [Adam] decided to make the board more accessible by adding a Raspberry Pi extended with an RS232 Hat. This add-on board comes with two serial ports supporting the +/- 12 V signal levels used in older equipment.

It took several hours of experimenting, debugging, and reading the extensive ECB documentation to set up a reliable connection; as it turns out, the serial ports can operate in different modes depending on the state of the handshake lines. When the Pi’s serial ports were finally set up in the right mode, the old computer started to respond to commands entered in the terminal window. The audio interface, meant for recording programs on tape, proved more difficult to operate reliably, possibly due to deteriorating capacitors. This was not a great issue, because the ECB’s second serial port could also be used to save and load programs directly into its memory.

With the serial connections working, [Adam] then turned to the aesthetics of his setup and decided to make a simple case out of laser-cut acrylic and metal spacers. Custom ribbon cables for the serial ports and an ATX break-out board for power connections completed the project, and the 40-year-old educational computer is now ready to educate its new owner on all the finer points of 68000 programming. In the video (embedded after the break) he shows the whole process of getting the ECB up and running.

[Adam] made a similarly clever setup with a Commodore 64 and an Arduino earlier. [Jeff Tranter] recreated a similar 68000 development board from scratch. And a few years ago we even featured our own custom-built 68k computer.

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