As [Joshua Bird] began his foray into the world of film photography, he was taken back by the old technology’s sheer hunger for light. Improvised lighting solutions yielded mixed results, and he soon realized he needed a true camera flash. However, all the options he found online were large and bulky; larger than the camera itself in some cases. To borrow his words, “[he] didn’t exactly want to show up to parties looking like the paparazzi”. So, he set about creating his own compact flash.
Impressed by the small size and simple operation of disposable camera flashes, [Joshua] lifted a module out of an old Fuji and based his design around it. An existing schematic allowed him to attach the firing circuitry to his Canon’s hot shoe without the risk of putting the capacitor’s 300 volts through the camera. With that done, he just had to model a 3D-printed case for the whole project and assemble it, using a few more parts from the donor disposable.
Of course, as it came from a camera that was supposed to be thrown in the trash, this flash was only designed for a specific shutter speed, aperture, and film. Bulkier off-the-shelf flashes have more settings available and are more capable in a variety of environments. But [Joshua] built exactly what he needed. He now has a sleek, low-profile external flash that works great in intimate settings. We’re excited to see the photographic results.
This is not the first photography hacker we’ve seen breathe new life into disposable flashes. Some people see far more than a piece of camera equipment in old flashes, though, with aesthetically stunning results.
LEDs have become so ubiquitous in our projects that just hearing that term probably conjures images of tiny illuminated domes in an array of single-spectrum colors. It’s easy to forget that these efficient sources of light come in a variety of form factors, including the retro-tacular filaments that [bitborked] used to make his beautiful analog LED wall clock.
Aside from its aesthetics, this timepiece features some great design. A custom PCB acts as a hub for all the LED filament spokes. The onboard brains come in the form of an ESP32, which means it can keep extremely accurate time via NTP. WS2811 LED controllers, which we’re so accustomed to seeing alongside RGB LEDs that they almost feel strange to see here, provide the 12 volts required for each filament and make individual addressing a breeze.
[bitborked] takes advantage of that addressability to display other animations in addition to the standard clock face. They also plan to implement MQTT for eventual alerts from other home automation devices. When it comes to just telling time, you can discern the individual “hands” by differences in their brightness, which sadly does not show up as well in video as it does in real life.
We would certainly be happy to have this clock on our walls, and we hope to eventually see more of its PCB designs. In the meantime, though, we can drool over a more digital take on the LED filament clock. Although, filaments are certainly not required to make a beautiful LED timekeeper.
We love that part in Apollo 13 where the NASA engineers have to fit a square carbon dioxide filter in a round hole. We love basically every scene of The Martian where Mark Watney hacks together any piece of hardware he can get his hands on to survive on a hostile planet. What we love even more is watching actual NASA engineers trying out a hack and ordering the InSight lander to scoop sand on itself to increase the power from its solar panels.
InSight, which recently had its two-year mission to study the interior geology of Mars extended, has been suffering from a buildup of dust on its solar panels. This dust is only adding on to the expected power loss which occurs as the red planet approaches aphelion — the maximum distance from the Sun in its orbit. Attempts to shake the panels clear by pulsing their deployment motors were unsuccessful. Other solar-powered missions have experienced a cleaning effect from the Martian winds; however, despite seeing plenty of gusts, InSight has not seen any significant improvement.
Counterintuitively, operators instructed the lander to slowly trickle more dust and sand from its scoop close to (not on top of) one of the solar panels. As the wind blew, larger particles were carried by the breeze across the panels and bounced off the surface, carrying away some accumulated dust. While that may sound like a minuscule effect, the experiment resulted in about 30 extra watt-hours per Sol. Margins are still thin, and science instruments will still need to be disabled to conserve power. But this boost alone was enough to delay the powerdown for a few weeks.
There are so many exciting missions operating on Mars right now. Though, it’s also fun to take a look back at some of the earliest probes. And we’re always amazed at the resources NASA makes available for us to have some DIY fun.
Retro tech is cool. Retro tech that works is even cooler. When we can see technology working, hold it in our hand, and use it as though we’ve been transported back in time; that’s when we feel truly connected to history. To help others create small time anomalies of their own, [Dmitrii Eliuseev] put together a quick how-to for creating your own Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS) network which can bring some of the classic cellular heroes of yesterday back to life.
Few readers will be surprised to learn that this project is built on software defined radio (SDR) and the Osmocom-Analog project, which we’ve seen before used to create a more modern GSM network at EMF Camp. Past projects were based on LimeSDR, but here we see that USRP is just as easily supported. [Dmitrii] also provides a brief history of AMPS, including some of the reasons it persisted so long, until 2007! The system features a very large coverage area with relatively few towers and has surprisingly good audio quality. He also discusses its disadvantages, primarily that anyone with a scanner and the right know-how could tune to the analog voice frequencies and eavesdrop on conversations. That alone, we must admit, is a pretty strong case for retiring the system.
The article does note that there may be legal issues with running your own cell network, so be sure to check your local regulations. He also points out that AMPS is robust enough to work short-range with a dummy load instead of an antenna, which may help avoid regulatory issues. That being said, SDRs have opened up so many possibilities for what hackers can do with old wireless protocols. You can even go back to the time when pagers were king. Alternatively, if wired is more your thing, we can always recommend becoming your own dial-up ISP.
[Captain Disillusion] has earned a reputation on YouTube for debunking hoaxes and spreading a healthy sense of skepticism while having some of the highest production value on the platform and pretending to be some kind of inter-dimensional superhero. You’ve likely seen him give a careful explanation of how some viral video was faked alongside a generous dose of sarcastic humor and his own impressive visual effects. VFXcool is a series on his channel that takes deep dives into movies that are historically significant in the effects industry. For this installment, [Captain Disillusion]’s “intern”, [Alan], takes over to breakdown how filmmakers brought a futuristic spaceship to life in 1986’s Flight of the Navigator.
Making a movie requires hacks upon hacks, and that goes double in the era when the technology and techniques we now take for granted were being developed even as they were being put to film. The range of topics covered here is extreme: from full-scale props to models; from robotic motion control rigs to stop motion animation; from early computer graphics to the convoluted optical compositing that was necessary before digital workflows were possible. The tools themselves may be outdated, but understanding the history and the processes allows for a deeper insight into how we accomplish these kinds of effects today. And, really, it’s just so… cool.
[Captain Disillusion]’s previous VFXcool is all about the Back to the Future trilogy, and it’s a little shorter with more information on motion control rigs. We also love seeing how people make DIY effects in their own homes. LEGO actually seems like a pretty popular option for putting together whole scenes in amateur filmmaking.
Continue reading “Obsessively Explaining The Visual Effects In Flight Of The Navigator“
Even as technology keeps progressing, we find ourselves coming back to the classics again and again. Pong is quite possibly the classic game, and the Raspberry Pi Pico is one of the latest microcontrollers. So [Nick Bild] combined them expertly in his Pico Pong project, which includes gesture controls and a custom VGA output.
Rolling your own VGA signal is no simple feat, and this project takes full advantage of the Pico’s features to pull it off. Display data is buffered in memory, while a Programmable I/O (PIO) program reads straight from the buffer via Direct Memory Access (DMA) and writes straight to the display. This allows for nanosecond-precision while leaving the CPU free to handle inputs and run the game. Even with the display work offloaded, the ARM processor had to be massively overclocked at 258 MHz, well over its 133 MHz specs, to make things run smoothly. And still [Nick] found himself limited to a 640×350 resolution and serendipitously-retro-accurate monochrome color scheme.
Gesture controls come from a pair of IR light beams hooked up to the GPIO. IR LEDs shine up toward reflectors, and the light bounces back down to detectors. Blocking one of the beams causes your paddle to move up or down, which looks pretty responsive in the video (embedded below).
We’ve seen [Nick] play Pong before, though at that time it was handheld and based on the venerable 6502. And just recently we wrote about the Raspberry Pi Pico powering another classic game: Snake.
Continue reading “Pi Pico Project Plays Pong Perfectly”
Some days, we might be forgiven for believing Boston Dynamics has cornered the market on walking robots. They (and other players) are making incredible progress in their field, but three years ago Disney, trying to create autonomous, free-walking robotic actors for some of their more diminutive film characters, found none of the existing platforms were appropriate. So they set their Imagineering department to work on “Project Kiwi”, and we are now seeing the fruits of those efforts.
Research on bipedal robots has amassed over the years, and as the saying goes, if these Imagineers saw further it was by standing on the shoulders of larger robotic platforms. However, the Project Kiwi designers have made a laundry list of innovations in their process of miniaturization, from the “marrow conduit” cooling system which forces air through hollow bones, to gearing that allows actuators to share motors even across joints. The electronics are distributed around the skeleton on individual PCBs with ribbon flex cables to reduce wiring, and almost every component is custom fabricated to meet the complex size and weight requirements.
Even in this early prototype, Disney’s roots in life-like animatronics are evident. Groot’s movements are emotive, if a bit careful, and software can express a variety of personalities through his gaits and postures. The eyes and face are as expressive as we’ve come to expect (though a keen eye for seams puts off some definite Westworld vibes). Reportedly, this version can handle gentle shoves and contact, but we do spot a safety cable still attached to the head. So there’s probably some way to go before we’ll see this interacting with the general public in a park.
Disney’s Imagineering department has been doing some amazing work with robotics and they continue to make significant innovations in the more traditional fields of animatronics. It certainly looks like one of the coolest places to work right now, and now we’re itching to build our own bipedal friends to play with.
Continue reading “Disney Imagineering’s “Project Kiwi” Bears Groot”