Bask In The Glory Of This 336 LED Digit Display

[Chris Combs] recently took the wraps off of an incredible art piece that he calls Road Ahead which uses 336 seven segment LED digits to create an absolutely gorgeous display. With a piece of smoked acrylic to slightly diffuse the orange glow of the LEDs, the end result has a distinctively retro look that we’d gladly spend all day staring at.

For those looking to dig a bit deeper, [Chris] has put together some very impressive documentation over on Hackaday.io that goes into plenty of detail on how he designed and built this beauty. From the design of the PCBs that carry all of the 0.3″ SMD displays to the custom software running on the Raspberry Pi 3 that powers it, there’s no technical stone left unturned.

According to the build log, this is the second version of the display. The first one was housed in a rather attractive wooden enclosure, but as [Chris] explains, that was precisely the problem. He wanted something that looked cold and unfeeling as the nearly 340 digits flashed away with potentially ominous intent. So he ditched the wooden case for a powder coated steel one that looks more like the front panel of a mainframe than something you’d pick up at the craft store.

Another interesting point explained in the write-up is how the Python software is designed to treat the hardware as a contiguous graphical display rather than just an array of independent digits. Grayscale images can be reproduced on the by using PWM to adjust the brightness of each segment’s corresponding “pixel”; though admittedly it takes a bit of imagination to see the intended image with a resolution this low.

This project reminds us of the incredible LED hexdump display we saw not that long ago, down to the PWM trickery for squeezing “graphics” out of these exceptionally non-graphical elements. With any luck, perhaps these are the opening shots in an arms race to see who can build the largest array of multi-segment LED displays.

Jen Costillo Explains Why Hackers Thrive In A Recession

If you haven’t noticed, this is an absolutely fantastic time to be a hacker. The components are cheap, the software is usually free, and there’s so much information floating around online about how to pull it all together that even beginners can produce incredible projects their first time out of the gate. It’s no exaggeration to say that we’re seeing projects today which would have been all but impossible for an individual to pull off ten years ago.

But how did we get here, and perhaps more importantly, where are we going next? While we might arguably be in the Golden Age of DIY, creative folks putting together their own hardware and software is certainly nothing new. As for looking ahead, the hacker and maker movement is showing no signs of slowing down. If anything, we’re just getting started. With a wider array of ever more powerful tools at our disposal, the future is very literally whatever we decide it is.

In her talk at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference, The Future is Us: Why the Open Source And Hobbyist Community Drive Consumer Products, Jen Costillo not only presents us with an overview of hacker history thus far, but throws out a few predictions for how the DIY movement will impact the mainstream going forward. It’s always hard to see subtle changes over time, and it’s made even more difficult by the fact that most of us have our noses to the proverbial grindstone most of the time. Her presentation is an excellent way for those of us in the hacking community to take a big step back and look at the paradigm shifts that put such incredible power in the hands of so many.

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A Water Cooled Gaming PC You Can Take With You

Have you ever been stuck in a hotel room wishing you brought your VR-capable gaming PC along with you? Well [thegarbz] certainly has, which was the inspiration for this absolutely gorgeous mobile rig affectionately known as “The Nuclear Football” that brings console-level portability to those who count themselves among the PC Master Race.

OK, fine. We’ll admit that the existence of gaming laptops means you don’t actually need to carry around such an elaborate contraption just to play Steam games on the go. But if you’re going to do it, shouldn’t you do it in style? More practically speaking, [thegarbz] says the cost of this project was less than what a gaming laptop of similar specs would have cost.

The Nuclear Football features a Ryzen 5 2600 processor, a NVIDIA 2070 Super graphics card, and 16 GB of DDR4 RAM. The water cooling gear is from Alphacool, and includes a custom controller that links to the computer and allows [thegarbz] to monitor temperatures and fan speeds via a widget on the desktop.

While not nearly as mobile, this machine does remind us of the water cooled “Big O” that packed all the current-gen consoles and a gaming PC into one glorious machine.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 Will Blow Up Very Soon, And That’s OK

They say you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, and there are few fields where this idiom is better exemplified than rocketry. It’s a forgone conclusion that when you develop a new booster, at least a few test articles are going to be destroyed in the process. In fact, some argue that a program that doesn’t push the hardware to the breaking point is a program that’s not testing aggressively enough.

Which is why, assuming everything goes according to plan, SpaceX will be obliterating one of their Falcon 9 boosters a little after 8:00 AM EST on Saturday morning. The event will be broadcast live via the Internet, and thanks to the roughly 70% propellant load it will be carrying at the moment of its destruction, it should prove to be quite a show.

This might seem like an odd way to spend $62 million, but for SpaceX, it’s worth it to know that the Crew Dragon Launch Abort System (LES) will work under actual flight conditions. The LES has already been successfully tested once, but that was on the ground and from a standstill. It allowed engineers to see how the system would behave should an abort occur while the rocket was still on the pad, but as the loss of the Soyuz MS-10 dramatically demonstrated, astronauts may need to make a timely exit from a rocket that’s already well on the way to space.

In an actual emergency, the crewed spacecraft will very likely be speeding away from a violent explosion and rapidly expanding cloud of shrapnel. The complete destruction of the Falcon 9 that will be carrying the Crew Dragon during Saturday’s test will serve to create the same sort of conditions the spacecraft will need to survive if the LES has any hope of bringing the crew home safely. So even if there was some way to prevent the booster from breaking up during the test, it’s more useful from an engineering standpoint to destroy it.

Of course, that only explains why the Falcon 9 will be destroyed during this test. But exactly how this properly functioning booster will find itself being ripped to pieces high over the Atlantic Ocean in a matter of seconds is an equally interesting question.

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A Behind The Scenes Look At Small Scale Production

Back in 2013, [Karl Lautman] successfully got his kinetic sculpture Primer funded on Kickstarter. As the name implies, you press the big red button on the front of the device, and the mechanical counter at the top will click over to a new prime number for your viewing pleasure. Not exactly a practical gadget, but it does look pretty slick.

These days you can still by your very own Primer from [Karl], but he tells us that the sales aren’t exactly putting food on the table. At this point, he considers it more of a self-financing hobby. To illustrate just what goes into the creation of one of these beauties, he’s put together a time-lapse video of how one gets built from start to finish, which you can see after the break.

Even if you’re not interested in adding a mathematics appliance to your home, we think you’ll agree that the video is a fascinating look at the effort that goes into manufacturing a product that’s only slightly north of a one-off creation.

The biggest takeaway is that you really need to be a jack of all trades to pull something like this off. From milling and polishing the metal components to hand-placing the SMD parts and reflowing the board, [Karl] demonstrates the sort of multi-disciplinary mastery you need to have when there’s only one person on the assembly line.

Small scale manufacturing isn’t cheap, and is rarely easy. But stories like this one prove it’s certainly possible if you’re willing to put in the effort.

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New Part Day: Arduino Goes Pro With The Portenta H7

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is traditionally where the big names in tech show off their upcoming products, and the 2020 show was no different. There were new smartphones, TVs, and home automation devices from all the usual suspects. Even a few electric vehicles snuck in there. But mixed in among flashy presentations from the electronics giants was a considerably more restrained announcement from a company near and dear to the readers of Hackaday: Arduino is going pro.

While Arduino has been focused on the DIY and educational market since their inception, the newly unveiled Portenta H7 is designed for professional users who want to rapidly develop robust hardware suitable for industrial applications. With built-in wireless hardware and the ability to run Python and JavaScript out of the box, the powerful dual-core board comes with a similarly professional price tag; currently for preorder at $99 USD a pop, the Portenta is priced well outside of the company’s traditional DIY and educational markets. With increased competition from other low-cost microcontrollers, it seems that Arduino is looking to expand out of its comfort zone and find new revenue streams.

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A Slightly Bent ESP8266 Sensor Platform

The ability to get professionally manufactured PCBs, at least small ones, for dirt cheap has had a huge impact on the sort of projects we see around these parts. It’s getting to the point where experimenting with PCB enclosures is not only a way to make your next project stand out, but an economical choice.

Which is how this ESP8266 sensor gadget from [Josef Adamčík] got its unique “folded over” look. The top panel is where the microcontroller and headers for various sensors live, the bottom panel is home to the TP4056 USB charging module, and the center panel provides mechanical support as well as holds the single 18650 cell. Rather than close the whole thing up with a fourth panel, he decided to leave it open so the battery can easily be removed. Plus, of course, it looks cooler this way.

Could [Josef] have fit all his electronics on a single 100 x 100 PCB and then put the whole thing into a 3D printed enclosure? Well, sure. But that’s been done to death at this point, and besides, he was looking for an excuse to get more comfortable doing PCB design. We think it also makes for a considerably more visual appealing final product than simply taking the “normal” way out.

Currently [Josef] has an SHT21 humidity/temperature sensor and a BH1750 light sensor slotted into the headers on the top side of the device, but they could just as easily be swapped out with something else if you wanted to do something a bit more exciting. We notice that homebrew air quality monitors are becoming increasingly popular.

Building bespoke enclosures from PCBs is a fantastic trick that frankly we’d love to see more of. It’s somewhat of an artform in itself, but if you’re willing to put the effort in to do it right the results can be truly phenomenal.