Star Wars Pit Droid Has A Jetson Brain

In the Star Wars universe, pit droids are little foldable robots that perform automated repairs on spacecraft and the like. They were introduced in 1999’s The Phantom Menace, and beyond the podracing scenes, are probably the only good thing to come out of that particular film.

[Goran Vuksic] wanted a pit droid of his own, and reasoned that if he was going to go through the trouble of sanding and painting all the 3D printed components so they look like the real bot, he might as well add some smarts to it. While this droid won’t be fixing podracers anytime soon, its onboard Jetson Orin Nano Developer Kit does pack a considerable amount of processing under that dome.

A webcam mounted in the bot’s eye socket is connected to the Jetson, which is running an image detection and identification routine based on the example code provided by NVIDIA. The single-board computer uses a relay to blink some LEDs on and off when a human is detected, and a pair of servos pan-and-tilt the bot’s head towards whoever has caught its gaze.

It’s no surprise that [Goran] picked the Jetson Orin over competing SBCs for this task — in our review of the Orin Nano Developer Kit a few months ago, we found it was able to hit nearly 200 frames per second while performing this sort of real-time image analysis. So there’s plenty of room to grow should he want to integrate more complex image recognition tasks.

For example, he could follow in the footsteps of [Kris Kersey], and put a functional data overlay on top of the video to give his bot Iron Man vision.

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Hackaday Prize 2023: Green Hacks Finalists

Time and tide wait for no hacker, even if they happen to spend their spare time working on the sort of eco-friendly projects that qualified for the Green Hacks challenge of the 2023 Hackaday Prize. This environmentally conscious round ended last month, and after plenty of carbon-neutral debate, our panel of judges have settled on their ten favorite projects.

As a reminder, the following projects will not only receive a $500 cash prize, but will move on to the Finals. They’ll then have until October to put the finishing touches on their creations in an effort to claim one of the final six awards, which includes the Grand Prize of $50,000 and a residency at the Supplyframe DesignLab. Although there can only be ten finalists for each round of the Hackaday Prize, we’d like to thank everyone who put the time and effort into submitting their Green Hacks. We’ve only got one Earth, and we’re all going to have to work together if we want to make sure it stays beautiful for future generations.

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Hackaday Podcast 230: Space Science, Superconductors, Supercaps, And Central Air

This week, Editor-in-Chief Elliot Williams and Managing Editor Tom Nardi start things off by tackling a pair of science stories, one that may or may not change the world, and the other that hopes to help us understand the very fabric of the universe. Afterwards they get to the important stuff: the evolution of Game Boy Camera hacking, the finer points of 3D print orientation, and mixing up electrically conductive concrete at home. From there the conversation shifts to a couple of 486 Turbo buttons, a quick yoke recipe, and a very handsome open source vacuum pickup tool. Stick around until the end to hear about the folly of humanoid robots, and the latest operating system to get the Jenny List treatment.

Check out the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Or download it yourself in fantastic MP3 format!

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Microsoft Now Offering Parts And Repair Guides For Xbox Controllers

We’re big fans of repairable hardware here at Hackaday, so much so that when we see a company embracing the idea that their products should actually be serviced rather than thrown in the trash, we like to call attention to it. Yes, that even includes when it’s Microsoft.

This community has had a mixed relationship with the Redmond software giant, to say the least. But we’ve still got to give them credit when they do something positive. Not only are they offering a full selection of replacement parts for both the standard and Elite Xbox controllers, they’ve also provided written instructions and step-by-step video guides on how to install your new parts.

For those of you who stopped playing console games when the controllers still only had two buttons, this might not seem like such a big deal. But considering a new Xbox Elite Wireless Controller will set you back a dizzying $180, it’s not hard to see why some folks would be excited about the possibility of swapping out the guts of the thing for $50.

Of course, these parts were already available from third party sellers, and iFixit naturally has repair guides for all the different flavors of Xbox controllers. Nothing about what Microsoft is doing here makes the Xbox controller fundamentally any easier to repair than it was previously. But the fact that the company isn’t treating their customers like adversaries is a step in the right direction.

Valve has been similarly open about the internals of the Steam Deck, though their presentation was a bit dramatic, and even Sony provided an official teardown video for the PS5. We’re not sure why these companies are willing to pull back the curtain when it comes to gaming hardware. Whatever the reason, we’re certainly not complaining.

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The Past, Present, And Future Of CircuitPython

Modern microcontrollers like the RP2040 and ESP32 are truly a marvels of engineering. For literal pocket change you can get a chip that’s got a multi-core processor running at hundreds of megahertz, plenty of RAM, and more often than not, some form of wireless connectivity. Their capabilities have been nothing short of revolutionary for the DIY crowd — on any given day, you can see projects on these pages which simply wouldn’t have been possible back when the 8-bit Arduino was all most folks had access to.

Limor Fried

Thanks to the increased performance of these MCUs, hackers and makers now even have a choice as to which programming language they want to use. While C is still the language of choice for processor-intensive tasks, for many applications, Python is now a viable option on a wide range of hardware.

This provides a far less intimidating experience for newcomers, not just because the language is more forgiving, but because it does away with the traditional compile-flash-pray workflow. Of course, that doesn’t mean the more experienced MCU wranglers aren’t invited to the party; they might just have to broaden their horizons a bit.

To learn more about this interesting paradigm shift, we invited the fine folks at Adafruit to the Hack Chat so the community could get a chance to ask questions about CircuitPython, their in-house Python variant which today runs on more than 400 devices.

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OLED Display Lets Vintage PC Engage Turbo Mode In Style

Back in the 486 days, it was common to see a “Turbo” button on the front panel of many PCs, which was used to toggle between the CPU’s maximum speed and a slower clock rate that was sometimes necessary for compatibility with older software. Usually an LED would light up to show you were running at this higher speed, or if your machine was very fancy, it might even have a numerical display that would show the current CPU frequency.

[Joshua Woehlke] wanted to add a similar display to his 486, but figured that with modern technology, he could do something a bit more interesting. Especially when he realized that the spot on his case where the two-digit LED display would have originally been mounted was the perfect size to hold a common 0.96″ SSD1306 OLED. From there it was just a matter of wiring it up to an Arduino and writing some code to display different graphics depending on the computer’s current CPU speed.

Just like the frequency indicators of yore, the Arduino doesn’t actually measure the CPU’s frequency, it’s simply reading the state of the Turbo LED on the front panel. When the LED is off the Arduino shows an image of a i8088 CPU on the screen to indicate the computer is running in compatibility mode, and when the LED is on, the screen shows the Cyrix Cx486 DX2 logo. When the button hasn’t been pressed in awhile, the display defaults to a star field screensaver.

Regular readers may recall we recently covered a similar project that used an Arduino to add a little flair to an era appropriate seven-segment LED display. We’d say there’s still a good deal of romanticism about computers having a big “TURBO” button you can smash whenever you feel the need for speed.

486 Gets Animated Turbo Button Thanks To Arduino

There was a point in time, excruciatingly brief, in which desktop computers often had a large “TURBO” button on their front panel. Some even featured an LED display that would indicate the current CPU frequency, providing visual conformation that your machine had leaped to a blistering 66 MHz.

The 486 that [someyob] is restoring had the Turbo button, but sadly there was just a simple LED to show whether or not it was engaged. But there was a window in the front panel where it seemed like a numerical display was intended to go, so they decided to wire up their own CPU indicator by sensing the state of the Turbo LED with an Arduino Pro Mini.

Now to modern audiences, this might seem like cheating. After all, the Arduino isn’t actually measuring the CPU speed, nor is it directly controlling it (that’s still done by the original Turbo button wiring). But the truth is, even back in the day, the CPU frequency displays faked it — they just toggled between showing two predefined frequencies depending on the state of the button. The arrangement [someyob] has come up with does the same thing, except now there’s some extra processing power in the mix, so the display can show some slick animations as it switches between 33 and 66 Mhz.

In the GitHub repository, [someyob] has provided the Arduino source code and schematics showing how the microcontroller was shoehorned into the existing front panel wiring without compromising its functionality. There’s even a brief video below that shows the display in operation.

Like the idea but don’t have a 486 laying around? Don’t worry. We’ve seen a similar panel built for modern machines that  just doesn’t look the part, it actually manages to be functional.

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