PSP Turned Robot Remote With Custom Software

There’s no question that Sony’s PlayStation Portable (PSP) was an impressive piece of hardware when it was released in 2004, but for all its technical wizardry, it wasn’t able to shake Nintendo’s vice-like grip on the handheld market. Perhaps that explains why we still see so many nostalgia-fueled hacks for Nintendo’s Game Boy and Dual Screen (DS) systems, while PSP hacks tend to be few and far between.

But looking at projects like this one that turn the PSP into a capable robot controller (video, embedded below) we can’t help but wonder if the community has been missing out. Thanks to an open source software development kit for the system, [iketsj] was able to write a WiFi controller program that can be run on any PSP with a homebrew-compatible firmware.

The other side of the equation is a simple robot powered by an ESP8266. To take control of the bot, the user connects their handheld to the WiFi network being offered by the MCU and fires up the controller application from the main menu. It’s all very slick, and the fact that you don’t need to make any modifications to the PSP’s hardware is a huge plus. From the video after the break we get the impression that the remote software is pretty simplistic in its current form, but we imagine the only really limitations are how good you are at writing C code for what by today’s standards would be considered a fairly resource constrained system. We’d love to see that widescreen display lit up and showing live first-person video from the bot’s perspective.

Many of the PSP hack’s we’ve seen over the years have been about repurposing the hardware, or in some cases, replacing the system’s internals with something raspberry flavored. Those projects have certainly been interesting in their own ways, but we really like the idea of being able to push a largely stock system into a new role just by writing some custom code for it.

Continue reading “PSP Turned Robot Remote With Custom Software”

Fighting Back Against Dodgy Dyson Batteries

If you’ve ever worked with multi-cell rechargeable battery packs, you know that the individual cells will eventually become imbalanced. To keep the pack working optimally, each cell needs to be analyzed and charged individually — which is why RC style battery packs have a dedicated balance connector. So if you know it, and we know it, why doesn’t Dyson know it?

It’s that question which inspired [tinfever] to start work on the FU-Dyson-BMS project. As you might have surmised from the name, [tinfever] believes that Dyson has intentionally engineered their V6 and V7 batteries to fail by not using the cell balancing function of the onboard ISL94208 battery management IC. What’s worse, once the cells get as little as 300 mV out of balance, the controller considers the entire pack to be shot and will no longer allow it to be charged.

These missing resistors deserve justice.

Or at least, that’s what used to happen. With the replacement firmware [tinfever] has developed, the pack’s battery management system (BMS) will ignore imbalanced cells so you can continue to use the pack (albeit at a reduced capacity). Of course the ideal solution would have been to enable cell balancing on the ISL94208, but unfortunately Dyson didn’t include the necessary resistors on the PCB. Though it’s worth noting that earlier versions of the board did have unpopulated spots for them, lending some credence to the idea that their omission was intentional on Dyson’s part.

But not everyone is onboard with the conspiracy theory. Over on the EEVBlog forums, some users pointed out that a poorly implemented cell balancing routine can be more problematic than not having one at all. It’s possible that Dyson had some bad experiences with the technology in earlier packs, and decided to move away from it and try to compensate by using higher-quality cells. That said, at least one person in the thread was able to revive their own “dead” battery pack by installing this unofficial firmware, so whether intentional or not, it seems there’s little debate that usable batteries are indeed being prematurely marked as defective.

Proper cell balancing is key even in DIY projects, so we do have to agree that it seems more than a little unusual that Dyson would intentionally turn off this important feature in their packs. But the jury is still out on whether or not Sir James is trying to pull a fast one on his customers — as Hanlon’s Razor states, “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”.

Continue reading “Fighting Back Against Dodgy Dyson Batteries”

An Illuminating Look At A Wolf 5151 Light Source

While originally designed to put light where the sun don’t shine for medical purposes, [Nava Whiteford] says the Wolf 5151 Xenon endoscopic light source also works well for microscopy and general optical experiments, especially since you can get them fairly cheap on the second hand market. His cost just $50 USD, which is a steal when you consider a replacement for its 300 watt Olympus-made bulb will run you about 200 bucks alone.

That said, [Nava] recently moved on to a more compact light source, and figured that was a good enough excuse to crack open the Wolf 5151 and see what makes it tick. In this particular post he’s just looking at the optical side of things, which is arguably the most interesting aspect of the device. Helpfully, the whole assembly is mounted to its own sled of sorts that can be pulled from the light source for a closer examination.

A Steampunk dimmer switch.

Beyond that expensive bulb we mentioned earlier, there’s a thick piece of what appears to be standard plate glass being used as an IR and UV filter. [Nava] suspects this component is responsible for keeping the rest of the optics from overheating, which is backed up by the fact that the metal plate its mounted to appears to feature a K-type thermocouple to keep an eye on its operating temperature. Forward of that is a unique aspheric lens that features a rough spot to presumably scatter the light at the center of the beam.

Our vote for the most fascinating component has to go to the Neutral Density (ND) filter, which is used to control the intensity of the light. In a more pedestrian light source you could just dim the bulb, but in this case, the Wolf 5151 uses a metal disk with an array of holes drilled into it. By rotating the disc with a DC motor, the lens can be variably occluded to reduce the amount of light that reaches the aperture, which connects to the fiber cable.

While it’s perhaps no surprise the build quality of this medical gear is considerably beyond the commercial gadgets most of us get to play with, it still doesn’t hold a candle (no pun intended) to the laser module pulled from a Tornado jet fighter.

Kindle, EPUB, And Amazon’s Love Of Reinventing Wheels

Last last month, a post from the relatively obscure Good e-Reader claimed that Amazon would finally allow the Kindle to read EPUB files. The story was picked up by all the major tech sites, and for a time, there was much rejoicing. After all, it was a feature that owners have been asking for since the Kindle was first released in 2007. But rather than supporting the open eBook format, Amazon had always insisted in coming up with their own proprietary formats to use on their readers. Accordingly, many users have turned to third party programs which can reliably convert their personal libraries over to whatever Amazon format their particular Kindle is most compatible with.

Native support for EPUB would make using the Kindle a lot less of a hassle for many folks, but alas, it was not to be. It wasn’t long before the original post was updated to clarify that Amazon had simply added support for EPUB to their Send to Kindle service. Granted this is still an improvement, as it represents a relatively low-effort way to get the open format files on your personal device; but in sending the files through the service they would be converted to Amazon’s KF8/AZW3 format, the result of which may not always be what you expected. At the same time the Send to Kindle documentation noted that support for AZW and MOBI files would be removed later on this year, as the older formats weren’t compatible with all the features of the latest Kindle models.

If you think this is a lot of unnecessary confusion just to get plain-text files to display on the world’s most popular ereader, you aren’t alone. Users shouldn’t have to wade through an alphabet soup of oddball file formats when there’s already an accepted industry standard in EPUB. But given that it’s the reality when using one of Amazon’s readers, this seems a good a time as any for a brief rundown of the different ebook formats, and a look at how we got into this mess in the first place.

Continue reading “Kindle, EPUB, And Amazon’s Love Of Reinventing Wheels”

Round LCDs Put To Work In Rack Mount Gauge Cluster

Like many of you, we’re intrigued by the possibilities offered by the availability of affordable round LCD panels. But beyond the smartwatches they were designed for, it’s not always easy to come up with an appropriate application for such non-traditional displays. Digital “steam gauges” are one of the first ideas that come to mind, so it’s perhaps no surprise that’s the direction [Tom Dowad] took his project. But rather than just one or two gauges, he decided to go all out and put eight of them in a 1U rack mountable unit.

What do you need eight faux-analog gauges for? Beats us, but that’s not our department. Now [Tom] has a whole row of indicators that can be used to show whatever it is he likes to keep an eye on. The fact that the device is actually controlled via MIDI may provide us a clue that there’s a musical component at play (no pun intended), but then, it wouldn’t be the first time we’d seen MIDI used simply as a convenient and well supported way of synchronizing gadgets. Continue reading “Round LCDs Put To Work In Rack Mount Gauge Cluster”

MakerBot And Ultimaker To Merge, Focus On Industry

Nine years ago, MakerBot was acquired by Stratasys in a deal worth slightly north of $600 million. At the time it was assumed that MakerBot’s line of relatively affordable desktop 3D printers would help Stratasys expand its reach into the hobbyist market, but in the end, the company all but disappeared from the hacker and maker scene. Not that many around these parts were sad to see them go — by abandoning the open source principles the company had been built on, MakerBot had already fallen out of the community’s favor by the time the buyout went through.

So today’s announcement that MakerBot and Ultimaker have agreed to merge into a new 3D printing company is a bit surprising, if for nothing else because it seemed MakerBot had transitioned into a so-called “zombie brand” some time ago. In a press conference this afternoon it was explained that the new company would actually be spun out of Stratasys, and though the American-Israeli manufacturer would still own a sizable chunk of the as of yet unnamed company, it would operate as its own independent entity.

MakerBot has been courting pro users for years.

In the press conference, MakerBot CEO Nadav Goshen and Ultimaker CEO Jürgen von Hollen explained that the plan was to maintain the company’s respective product lines, but at the same time, expand into what they referred to as an untapped “light industrial” market. By combining the technology and experience of their two companies, the merged entity would be uniquely positioned to deliver the high level of reliability and performance that customers would demand at what they estimated to be a $10,000 to $20,000 USD price point.

When MakerBot announced their new Method 3D printer would cost $6,500 back in 2018, it seemed clear they had their eyes on a different class of clientele. But now that the merged company is going to put their development efforts into machines with five-figure price tags, there’s no denying that the home-gamer market is officially in their rear-view mirror. That said, absolutely zero information was provided about the technology that would actually go into said printers, although given their combined commercial experience, it seems all but a given that these future machines will use some form of fused deposition modeling (FDM).

Now we’d hate to paint with too broad a brush, but we’re going to assume that the average Hackaday reader isn’t in the market for a 3D printer that costs as much as a decent used car. But there’s an excellent chance you’re interested in at least two properties that will fall under the umbrella of this new printing conglomerate: MakerBot’s Thingiverse, and Ultimaker’s Cura slicer. In the press conference it was made clear that everyone involved recognized both projects as vital outreach tools, and that part of the $62.4 million cash investment the new company is set to receive has been set aside specifically for their continued development and improvement.

We won’t beat around the bush — Thingiverse has been an embarrassment for years, even before they leaked the account information of a quarter million users because of their antiquated back-end. A modern 3D model repository run by a company the community doesn’t openly dislike has been on many a hacker’s wish list for some time now, but we’re not against seeing the service get turned around by a sudden influx of cash, either. We’d also be happy to see more funding go Cura’s way as well, so long as it’s not saddled with the kind of aggressive management that’s been giving Audacity users a headache. Here’s hoping the new company, whatever it ends up being called, doesn’t forget about the promises they’re making to the community — because we certainly won’t.

With Rocket Lab’s Daring Midair Catch, Reusable Rockets Go Mainstream

We’ve all marveled at the videos of SpaceX rockets returning to their point of origin and landing on their spindly deployable legs, looking for all the world like something pulled from a 1950s science fiction film.  On countless occasions founder Elon Musk and president Gwynne Shotwell have extolled the virtues of reusable rockets, such as lower operating cost and the higher reliability that comes with each booster having a flight heritage. At this point, even NASA feels confident enough to fly their missions and astronauts on reused SpaceX hardware.

Even so, SpaceX’s reusability program has remained an outlier, as all other launch providers have stayed the course and continue to offer only expendable booster rockets. Competitors such as United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin have teased varying degrees of reusability for their future vehicles, but to date have nothing to show for it beyond some flashy computer-generated imagery. All the while SpaceX continues to streamline their process, reducing turnaround time and refurbishment costs with each successful reuse of a Falcon 9 booster.

But that changed earlier this month, when a helicopter successfully caught one of Rocket Lab’s Electron boosters in midair as it fell back down to Earth under a parachute. While calling the two companies outright competitors might be a stretch given the relative sizes and capabilities of their boosters, SpaceX finally has a sparing partner when it comes to the science of reusability. The Falcon 9 has already smashed the Space Shuttle’s record turnaround time, but perhaps Rocket Lab will be the first to achieve Elon Musk’s stated goal of re-flying a rocket within 24 hours of its recovery.

Continue reading “With Rocket Lab’s Daring Midair Catch, Reusable Rockets Go Mainstream”